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March 19, 2012

National/Politics

Anti-worker legislation hurts women, people of color the most
By Mark Gruenberg, Press Associates, 18 March 2012

ORLANDO, Fla. - Anti-worker legislation being pushed at the federal and state levels has a disproportionate impact on women and minorities, according to the AFL-CIO and independent researchers…. “The public sector is the single most important source of employment for African-Americans,” Pitts added. “During 2008-2010, 21.2% of all black workers are public employees, compared with 16.3% of non-black workers. Both before and after the onset of the Great Recession, African-Americans were 30% more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector.” When states cut workers, African-Americans get disproportionately hurt. But it’s not just African-Americans who suffer from numerous anti-worker laws:… Ohio, Wisconsin and other GOP-run states stripped collective bargaining rights for virtually all public workers, though a referendum overturned Ohio’s ban. The day before the Ohio vote, AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Lee Saunders said the Ohio ban “hurts people who work in public transportation, like my dad did for many years as a bus driver in Cleveland…Did you know in Ohio and around the country, one-fifth of all public-sector employees are African-American? That makes the public sector the largest employer of African-American workers in this nation.”

Labor's David vs. GOP's Goliath
Dick Meister, San Francisco Bay Guardian,  03.16.12 - 9:37 am

Organized labor is doing exactly what it must do to combat the onslaught against unions being waged by Republican politicians nationwide, throwing lots of money and lots of ground troops into the election campaigns of Democrats – most especially President Obama's campaign for re-election.... Unions expect to spend $400 million this year on national, state and local elections, fully one-fourth of it coming from a key AFL-CIO affiliate, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. …

GOP candidates begin wooing new delegates
By JOSH LOFTIN Associated Press, Mar 16, 2012 at 2:58 PM MDT
                    
...Based on media reports from around the state and postings on Twitter from caucus attendees, many attendees were frustrated by the tea party-affiliated group FreedomWorks, which spent more than $600,000 on advertising attacking Hatch. That could pose a problem for Liljenquist, because many people associate him with the group....

GOP on budget: Bitten, but not shy
JAKE SHERMAN, POLITICO, 3/18/12 6:07 PM EDT

....This time, Republicans believe they can avoid a repeat of last year’s debacle, when Democrats used a similar far-reaching budget plan by Ryan as a political bludgeon. This time, the GOP thinks it has cover. First, the 2013 budget — expected to be marked up in committee Wednesday ahead of a floor vote next week — will incorporate Sen. Ron Wyden’s Medicare premium support plan. Including that compromise, hashed out by Ryan and Wyden, is meant to blunt any opposition to tinkering with Medicare. And Republicans never tire of reminding that President Barack Obama sliced from Medicare in his health reform plan and admits the program needs further tinkering....Aided by Cantor and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the budget would lower spending levels to $1.028 trillion — well below the caps put in place by the debt ceiling deal last year.

Hurray for Health Reform
By PAUL KRUGMAN, New York Times, Published: March 18, 2012

It’s said that you can judge a man by the quality of his enemies. If the same principle applies to legislation, the Affordable Care Act — which was signed into law two years ago, but for the most part has yet to take effect — sits in a place of high honor.

Obama’s evolution: Behind the failed ‘grand bargain’ on the debt
Peter Wallsten, Lori Montgomery and Scott Wilson, Washington Post, Published: March 17, 2012

...What happened? Obama and his advisers have cast the collapse of the talks as a Republican failure. Boehner, unable to deliver, stepped away from the deal, simple as that. But interviews with most of the central players in those talks — some of whom were granted anonymity to speak about the secret negotiations — as well as a review of meeting notes, e-mails and the negotiating proposals that changed hands, offer a more complicated picture of the collapse. Obama, nervous about how to defend the emerging agreement to his own Democratic base, upped the ante in a way that made it more difficult for Boehner — already facing long odds — to sell it to his party. Eventually, the president tried to put the original framework back in play, but by then it was too late. The moment of making history had passed. The actions of Obama and his staff during that period in the summer reflect the grand ambitions and the shortcomings of the president’s first term....

Grover Norquist: Emperor of no
By Neil Swidey, Boston Globe Magazine, March 18, 2012

Through the decades, as president of the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), Grover Norquist made his case against taxes to anybody who would listen. With his willingness to spend liberally to support politicians who backed his views, and even more liberally to punish those who didn’t, he became a player in Washington, admired by some and loathed by others. Yet outside the Beltway, he remained largely unknown. Until last year.

Federal contractors donate to 'super PAC' backing Romney
By IAN DUNCAN AND MATEA GOLD, Kansas City Star, March 17, 2012

WASHINGTON -- A "super PAC" that has spent more than $35 million on behalf of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has accepted donations from federal contractors despite a 36-year-old ban against such companies making federal political expenditures. At least five companies with government contracts gave a combined $890,000 to Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC, a review of federal contracting records and campaign finance data shows.

Editorial: The Wrong Way to Shake Up Congress
New York Times, March 19, 2012

The Campaign for Primary Accountability, as the super PAC is known, has raised nearly $1.8 million for attack ads against liberal and conservative incumbents of both parties. A spokesman says it targets only House members with multiple terms, facing contested primaries in districts dominated by one party, and where the PAC’s polling shows voters’ discontent with their representation.

Missouri: GOP Senate Candidates Don’t Know State’s Minimum Wage
By Joshua Miller, Roll Call, At the Races blog, Posted at 7:07 p.m. on March 16    
       
Memo to candidates — especially rich ones — running for the federal office: know what the minimum wage is in your state. Today it was clear that the three declared GOP candidates running for Senate in Missouri didn’t get the memo, giving easy ammunition to Democrats looking to attack the opponents of vulnerable Sen. Claire McCaskill (D). At a debate on St. Louis’ KMOX radio station today, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), businessman John Brunner and former state treasurer Sarah Steelman all flubbed the question of what the minimum wage is.

Republican legislatures move to preempt local government
By Josh Goodman, Stateline.org, Monday, March 19, 2012

…Many of these state lawmakers have accused the federal government of adopting an imperious, one-size-fits-all mentality and of subverting the rightful powers of states. At the same time, many high-profile debates in the Tennessee Capitol over the last two years — on topics such as local wage rules and local non-discrimination rules, among others — have centered on the state trying to limit the power of localities to make decisions for themselves. To some critics, that’s a sign of hypocrisy. What conservative supporters of these laws argue, though, is that localities sometimes use their power in ways that are inconsistent with values the state holds dear, such as defending property rights and reducing government regulation. Their case is that the only way the legislature can enact its vision for government is to use the power it has, not delegate it to others. Most of the legislation in Tennessee hasn’t passed yet and some of it seems unlikely to pass soon. Still, in Tennessee and elsewhere, it’s clear that for conservative lawmakers local control is just one principle, a principle that sometimes is superseded by others….

Study: 8 states get 'F' on corruption
By MJ LEE, POLITICO, 3/19/12 6:21 AM EDT

Eight state governments received a failing F grade when it comes to transparency, accountability and anti-corruption efforts, while not a single state earned an A, according to a comprehensive new study released Monday. Michigan, North Dakota, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia received failing grades in the State Integrity Investigation – an analysis of all 50 state governments conducted by the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International.

Right-to-Work Laws, Explained / Anti-union laws are spreading to new states. But do voters know what right-to-work really means?
Nicole Pasulka, Mother Jones, Fri Mar. 16, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

So what is a right-to-work law, anyway? The basics:  No American worker can be forced to join a union. But most unions push companies to agree to contracts that require all workers, whether they're in the union or not, to pay dues to the union for negotiating with management. State right-to-work laws make these sorts of contracts illegal, meaning that workers in unionized businesses can benefit from the terms of a union contract without paying union dues. (Under federal law, unions must represent all workers covered by a contract, even if some of those workers are not members of the union and do not pay for the union's representation.)

Unions are fighting the expansion of these laws, which currently apply in 23 US states. A coalition of lawmakers, manufacturers, tea partiers, and big conservative think tanks want to see them passed in the rest of the US.

Opinion: The Corporate Disclosure Assault / Unions and liberal activists are using proxy rules to attack business political speech.
Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2012, 6:28 p.m. ET

Shareholder proxy season is coming up, and along with it a new batch of politicized shareholder resolutions. The underreported story this year is the flowering of a long-planned political campaign intended to stop companies from exercising their free-speech rights to influence government. Corporate directors need to know what they're up against. The campaign is traveling under the assumed name of "disclosure," which sounds innocuous and is hard for CEOs and corporate boards to oppose. The specific target is to get companies to publicly disclose what they spend on politics—their donations to candidates or PACs, how much they spend on lobbying ...

GASB Proposal Addresses Government Combinations and Disposals of Government Operations
Sunherald.com, Friday, Mar. 16, 2012

NORWALK, Conn. -- The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) today issued for public comment a proposed Statement that would provide U.S. state and local governments with standards for financial reporting regarding government combinations (mergers, acquisitions, and transfers of operations) and disposals (sales and transfers) of government operations. The GASB is seeking public comment on its proposals, which are contained in its Exposure Draft, Government Combinations and Disposals of Government Operations.
       
Bank of America: Too Crooked to Fail/ The bank has defrauded everyone from investors and insurers to homeowners and the unemployed. So why does the government keep bailing it out?
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, March 14, 2012 10:55 AM ET
        
The three lenders also pioneered ways to sell their toxic pools of mortgages to suckers. Bank of America's typical marketing pitch to a union or a state pension fund involved a double or even triple guarantee.....But ultimately, Bank of America was knowingly selling a defective product – and down the road, that product was bound to blow up on somebody innocent. "A teacher or a fireman goes to work and saves money for their retirement via their pensions," says Manal Mehta, a partner at the hedge fund Branch Hill Capital who spent two years researching Bank of America. "That pension fund buys toxic securities put together by Wall Street that were designed to fail. So when that security blows up, wealth flows directly from that pension fund into the hands of a select few." ...We now know that Bank of America routinely conspired with other banks to make sure it paid low prices for the privilege of managing the moneys of various cities and towns. ...

State/Local

AL: Alabama looks to ban school bus driver cell phone use
The Associated Press, Sunday, March 18, 2012

Alabama is looking to join a host of other states that prohibit school bus drivers from using mobile phones while transporting children around the state. The state House of Representatives passed legislation Wednesday that would allow school bus drivers to use their cell phones only in the case of an emergency or if the bus is parked or pulled over securely on the side of the road.

CA: Calif. court rules nurses can give anesthetics
By Bob Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle

Nurses who are trained as anesthetists do not need a doctor's supervision to give anesthetics to California hospital patients, a state appeals court has ruled.

CA: REGION: CalPERS move to cost Riverside County up to $23 million
By DAVE DOWNEY, North County Times, Friday, March 16, 2012 7:00 pm

Riverside County could see annual pension payments of nearly $200 million increase by $13 million to $23 million, as a result of last week's move by the nation's largest public pension system to lower its expectations for investment returns, a county official said.

CA: Untouchable Pensions May Be Tested in California
By MARY WILLIAMS WALSH, New York Times, Published: March 16, 2012

When the city manager of troubled Stockton, Calif., had to tell city council members why it was on track to become the biggest American city yet to go bankrupt, it took hours to get through the list. There was the free health care for retirees, the unpaid parking tickets, the revenue bonds without enough revenue to pay them. On it went, a grim drumbeat of practically every fiscal malady imaginable, except an obvious one: municipal pensions. Stockton is spending some $30 million a year to pay for them, but it has less than 70 cents set aside for every dollar of benefits its workers expect....Calpers does not want cities like Stockton going back on their promises, and it argues that the state Constitution bars any reduction in pensions — and not just for people who have already retired. State law also forbids cuts in the pensions that today’s public workers expect to earn in the future, Calpers says, even in cases of severe fiscal distress. Workers at companies have no comparable protection.

CO: Workers’ seniority, pay rules up for debate / Governor requested changes; one shortens personnel board terms.
Posted: Associated Press, Saturday, March 17, 2012 12:00 am

DENVER — Colorado is closer to making its biggest revisions in some four decades to how state employees are paid, hired and fired. A House committee last week voted unanimously in favor of a measure to change decades-old personnel protections. The bill includes revised pay standards and big changes to the so-called ‘‘bumping’’ rule, in which senior employees could ‘‘bump’’ newer hires if they’re laid off. The rule would be eliminated for most employees, but not those within five years of retirement.

FL: State Appeals Ruling Striking Down Law Requiring State Workers Contribute to Pensions
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, Published: Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 8:19 a.m.

TALLAHASSEE | An appeal of a ruling that struck down a requirement that public employees contribute to their pensions is going to the Florida Supreme Court. The 1st District Court of Appeal on Friday agreed to send the state's appeal directly to the justices.

IA: Branstad warns of layoffs after Supreme Court decision
Mike Wiser, Sioux City Journal, Posted: Friday, March 16, 2012 7:04 pm

Gov. Terry Branstad contends an Iowa Supreme Court decision that called his use of a line-item veto "unconstitutional" may lead to closing more state offices and the layoff of 200 state workers....At issue was Branstad's line-item veto of Senate File 517 last year. The governor eliminated language in the bill that required the state spend money to operate the same number of unemployment offices that were open at the time the bill passed. But the governor used some of the money appropriated for the offices for other purposes. That led to a lawsuit by a group of Democratic lawmakers and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61 President Danny Homan.

IL: Local Cook County Governments Face 'Unsustainable' Property Taxes
Caitlin Devitt Bond Buyer, March 14 2012

Local governments in Cook County, Ill., have raised property taxes nearly 50% during the last 10 years, mostly to keep pace with growing pension and employment benefits, and are moving along an “unsustainable” path that could eventually force some into bankruptcy, a Chicago-based public policy group warns in a new report. Property tax collections by the county’s local governments rose to $11.69 billion in 2010 from $7.89 billion in 2000, according to the report released by the Heartland Institute, a fiscal analyst and free-market think tank, with the support of the Illinois Policy Institute.

IL: Local comm center may be closed
Lois Westermeyer, Pontiac Daily Leader, Posted Mar 17, 2012 @ 07:47 AM

Pontiac, Ill. — With all of the clamor created concerning the possible closing of Dwight and other correctional centers, not many heard the commotion over possible losses of telecommunication centers at Illinois State Police districts, including Pontiac’s District 6. Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget proposal not only includes shuttering state correctional and mental health facilities, but calls for the consolidation of 20 telecommunication centers within local State Police headquarters into four regional call centers, located in Chicago, Sterling, Springfield and DuQuoin....Anders Lindall, public affairs director for Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents the radio command operators, said it is not only the loss of jobs, but the increase of dangers that has telecommunicators upset.

IL: New DCFS director says fixes will safeguard against fraudulent billing
Christy Gutowski, Chicago Tribune, March 19, 2012

The new director of the state's child-welfare agency told skeptical House members that problems with lax oversight that allowed fraud schemes to go unchecked for years have been corrected….At issue was alleged "large-scale fraud" worth more than $18 million uncovered last fall by state investigators reviewing grants and contracts held by George E. Smith during a three-year period, according to a state report. Smith did business with several state agencies and universities, the report says. But DCFS, which gave Smith's companies nearly $9 million, was the hardest hit, according to the agency's inspector general. Smith has not been charged with any crime…The Tribune recently reported that DCFS is violating critical terms of a federal consent decree that set acceptable levels for new case assignments for investigators….Jason Kay, a lobbyist for Council 31 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said union leaders consider the caseload levels a crisis. He said DCFS staff has been reduced by one-third in the last 12 years and that Calica's plan to fix it appears "inadequate."

IL: Board supports Dwight prison
By Cynthia Grau, Pontiac Daily Leader, Posted Mar 16, 2012 @ 10:14 AM

Pontiac, Ill. —The Livingston County Board met Thursday evening to discuss continuing support of operations at Dwight Correctional Center, continued work with the Law and Justice Center and the Historic Livingston County Courthouse, roadwork from the Highway Committee and a presentation from the Livingston County Public Health Department. The board voted unanimously to continue its support of the operations of the Dwight Correctional Center after Joe Pluger, staff representative for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, gave a short presentation describing the support they have been getting and what kind of work they have ahead of them...

KS: House rejects state worker pay amendment
By Tim Carpenter, THE CAPITAL-JOURNAL, Posted: March 16, 2012 - 5:47pm

The House narrowly rejected Friday an amendment providing $8.5 million to bring wages of state government's most underpaid workers closer to private-sector levels....Mah said state workers hadn't been provided raises since 2009 and  earned  an average of $3,600 less than counterparts in the private sector. She said 1,500 people on the state's payroll earned low enough salaries to qualify for food stamps. A report by the Kansas Department of Administration showed 87 percent of the state's classified, or civil service, employees were paid at below-market rates.

MD: Unions plan protest against Balto. Co. pension bill / County Council vote on Kamenetz legislation set for Monday
By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun, March 19, 2012

Union members from around Baltimore are planning a rally Monday to protest legislation by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz that would reduce some county employees' pension benefits. County Council members are scheduled to vote Monday on the proposal, which would end the practice of letting members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees use overtime in their pension calculations. AFSCME represents workers in the county's Department of Recreation and Parks, the Department of Public Works, and other agencies. The union is the only one in the county whose pension benefits are based on compensation that includes overtime...."[Other unions] realize that this is not a pension issue; this is a labor-rights issue," said Ryan Genovese, staff representative for AFSCME Council 67.

MI: Snyder signs bill limiting union dues collection   
Associated Press, 7:32 PM, Mar. 16, 2012

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a measure Friday banning public schools from automatically deducting union dues from the paychecks of teachers and other employees, a move that unions consider another attack on collective bargaining rights.

MI: Gov. Snyder to unions: Back off petition drive against right-to-work
Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press, March 19, 2012

Gov. Rick Snyder, who has tried repeatedly to discourage conservatives in his party from pursuing right-to-work legislation, now wants unions to back off pushing a ballot proposal that would make such a law unconstitutional….But organizers of labor's Protect Our Jobs initiative say they have no plans to back off. And Michigan business leaders say they are prepared to "fight fire with fire" in what could shape up as a major test of the respective strengths of management and unions in the lead-up to the Nov. 6 election.

MO: Nixon vetoes discrimination, workers' comp bills
CHRIS BLANK, Associated Press, March 16, 2012, 7:00PM ET

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday vetoed for the second consecutive year legislation that would have changed rules for lawsuits alleging workplace discrimination and blocked changes to the workers compensation system also pushed by Republicans and business groups.

MS: Are state workers the new targets?
David Hampton, 7:06 PM, Mar. 16, 2012

Last week, the Senate approved a bill to remove state Personnel Board "civil service" protections from state employees. This was long sought by former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and now by Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. They say it is needed to "rightsize" government. Read that: Fire at will....Republican officials have gotten mileage in other states going after highly paid, Democratic, union, public workers. That's not the case in Mississippi. State employees are mostly underpaid, work hard and don't get involved in the politics of their bosses. Barbour's move to reduce benefits of the Public Employees Retirement System got state employees' attention. Removing Personnel Board protections affects more than 25,000 state employees. It should get their attention, too.

NM: New contract to ensure city uses 'sweat-free' uniforms
Julie Ann Grimm, New Mexican, Posted: Sunday, March 18, 2012

Business that supply uniforms for employees of the city of Santa Fe now have to certify that apparel isn't from sweatshops. City purchasing director Robert Rodarte is preparing to seek bids for a large uniform contract that Santa Fe will need to issue before June. Although consumers in retail stores can expect to pay more for goods manufactured by United States union labor, Rodarte said the city expects to pay less money for the new uniform contract than the last one….Fewer than half of city workers wear uniforms, Rodarte said. Those included in the contract that will go to bid in mid-April are members of the city's local bargaining unit of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, among them bus drivers, utility division field staff and trash collectors.

NV: Sandoval: Pay could be restored for state workers if things improve
Associated press, 7:43 PM, Mar. 16, 2012

The process of building the state budget for the next two years is under way in preparation of the 2013 Legislature, and Gov. Brian Sandoval’s office says if tax revenues show continued signs of improvement, he will consider restoring lost pay, as well as merit and longevity increases for state workers.

NV: Some of Nevada’s youngest citizens hurt by budget cuts
By David McGrath Schwartz, Las Vegas Sun, Sunday, March 18, 2012 | 2 a.m.

A 1-year-old with Down syndrome had his every-other-week physical therapy cut in half after the state told his parents there wasn’t money for more frequent sessions.

The state would not pay for a 2-year-old with speech and cognitive disabilities to see therapists more than twice a month. Again officials cited the battered state budget. These cases and others, detailed in a complaint against the state, triggered an internal state investigation last month. Together they reveal a troubling fact about the impact of Nevada’s austere budget: Services to the state’s youngest children are being curtailed and sometimes not provided at all because of a lack of funds.

NY: Budget plans cut 13 to 22 full-time jobs
By Richard E. Baldwin, Buffalo News, Updated: March 16, 2012, 8:26 AM

NIAGARA FALLS — There will be at least some layoffs for the 2012-13 school year, School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco said Thursday. Hoping for the best, but fearing the worst, Bianco gave the School Board four separate budget-reduction plans ranging from the preferred plan, calling for the elimination of 13 full-time jobs, to a worst-case disaster plan that would eliminate 22 full-time positions. Each plan also calls for the elimination of 63 part-time employees.

NY: Big Pharma's Jagged Little Pill / A class-action suit might halt marketing brand-name drugs via subsidy coupons
By Robert Klara, Adweek.com, March 19 2012

As acting counsel of DC 37, a New York-based union health plan that covers 313,000 members, Audrey Browne is naturally hyperconscious of the rising cost of prescription drugs. “We monitor the money flying out the door,” she says, “and we watch every penny.” Today, 75 percent of union plans’ pennies are being used to pay for brand-name medications—and many of these drugs are being purchased by members using drug company-issued coupons that subsidize their co-pays. DC 37 isn’t just worried about this trend. It’s suing over it.

NY: Report is grim for St. Lawrence County’s CHHA
By MARTHA ELLEN, Watertown Daily Times, SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 2012

CANTON — A financial report on St. Lawrence County’s Certified Home Health Agency paints a gloomy picture for its future, but some legislators say they still have questions they want answered before they cast their votes...The trend across the state has been for counties to close or sell their CHHAs. As of November, 39 county CHHAs have closed or are in the process, and 12 county CHHAs, including St. Lawrence, are considering closing or selling....Legislator Donald A. Peck, R-Gouverneur, who has a previous commitment on the night of the expected vote, said that the Civil Service Employees Association might be willing to talk about an eight-hour day for the agency staff, but that he was pessimistic about the overall chance of keeping the CHHA.

OH: Council Approves Raises
Written by Nancy Bowman, Tippecanoe Gazette, Friday, 16 March 2012 19:16

A 2 percent raise is on its way for Tipp City employees who are members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The increase was included in a fact finder’s report issued after the city and union were unable to reach an agreement on wages as part of their contract....

OR: Amid freeze, Ore. hired 1,931 state workers    
by Associated Press, Posted on March 18, 2012 at 5:52 PM

SALEM -- Amid a three-month government hiring freeze, Oregon hired 1,931 new employees, most for temporary positions, according to a state agency. In those three months, an exception committee pored over 2,376 requests to fill jobs despite a hiring freeze that Gov. John Kitzhaber ordered in November after learning that tax revenue declines could require spending cuts, The Statesman Journal reported Sunday.

PA: AFSCME workers rally in Philadelphia

Joe Piette, Worker’s World, Published Mar 18, 2012 11:10 PM

Hundreds of city workers in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Councils 47 and 33 rallied on March 8 in Love Park in Philadelphia near City Hall to demand that the city administration come to the bargaining table to negotiate a fair contract. The last wage increase that Philadelphia’s 10,857 blue-collar and 3,500 white-collar workers received was on July 1, 2007. Health and welfare contributions have been frozen as well. AFSCME President Pete Matthews estimated that the city has saved a total of $145,637,489 during the four years that the workforce has been working under the terms of the old contract. After the rally, workers flooded the weekly meeting of the City Council to press for their demands.

PA: Illinois pension reform group sweeps into Philadelphia
By Kevin McCorry, WHYY, March 16, 2012        
                                             
...The group, Taxpayers United of America, hopes knowledge of the high-end figures will energize the public to rally against what it sees as a corrupt and unsustainable tax-payer-supported government retirement program. Included among those they'd like to see advocating on their behalf are the lower-earning members of municipal employee unions themselves....The Nutter Administration says the only way to close the pension gap is by renegotiating labor contracts with the city's two non-uniformed municipal-workers unions: District Councils 33 and 47. The former represents roughly 10,000 "blue-collar" workers, and the latter roughly 3,000 "white collar" ones...Union officials claim that they shouldn't be held responsible for what they see as the city's poor financial management.
"They've gotten into this jam because of their actions," said Bob Bedard, spokesman for district council 47. "The city didn't put its share into the fund, and while they've skipped payments, the union members have continued to pay their share."

PA: Lurch to the right worries some Republicans
CHARLES THOMPSON, The Patriot-News, Sunday, March 18, 2012, 11:00 AM                     

House and Senate leaders in both parties recite one common priority: “Jobs, jobs, jobs.” But so far this year, social issues have dominated the attention of the state Capitol. Conservative lawmakers — and their liberal opponents — have mixed it up in rapid succession over a Year of the Bible resolution, voter identification and abortion issues...Some lawmakers say they are simply trying to strike while the iron is hot. They hope to deliver on what they see as a mandate from Pennsylvania’s socially conservative base while they have the power to do something about it. ...Some outside and inside the GOP wonder if the focus is going to hurt them in November. They warn it could alienate moderate Republicans and independent voters, the voters who often decide elections.

RI gov. unveils plan to cut local pension costs
David Klepper, Associated Press, March 15, 2012

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Thursday announced his long-awaited plan to give cities and towns greater power to reduce benefits to retired municipal workers -- something mayors across the state say is vital to restoring their fiscal health. Chafee, an independent, also proposed giving leaders in the state's most distressed communities more oversight of education costs, an end to required teacher raises based on seniority, and relief from the requirement that safety monitors ride along on school buses.


VA: Laws Ghostwritten by Conservative Group, Activists Say
Mechelle Hankerson, Woodbridge Patch, March 16, 2012

Several bills before the 2012 General Assembly resembled model laws proposed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a politically conservative think tank funded by major corporations.

WA: Questions remain about Fort Worden proposal
By Charlie Bermant, Peninsula Daily News, March 17, 2012

...It has been proposed that the local public development authority take over all or part of the management of Fort Worden State Park and develop it into an academic campus, called a lifelong learning center, that offers a series of educational and recreational options. ...The state Parks and Recreation Commission has told the public development authority to submit a business plan by November....The state Parks and Recreation Commission is expected to consider a proposal for a takeover of the park later this month....Jeanine Livingston, a representative of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said she would like to hear specifics about what businesses would be brought to the park to alleviate the projected $700,000 operational shortfall, and how these businesses plan to get enough customers.
Related: Port Townsend Leader: Frustration at Fort Worden forum: Where are the details?

WA: Are pension cuts 'class warfare' or 'reform'? Lawmakers differ / One state labor-union leader is calling a Republican proposal to cut pension benefits for future state employees an act of “class warfare.”
BRAD SHANNON, New Tribune, Updated: 03/18/12 7:10 am

...The plan – which Sen. Zarelli outlined on Thursday as part of a revised Senate Republican coalition budget – is one of the most controversial pieces of a financial puzzle that Democratic and Republican budget negotiators are expected to haggle over this week in the special session that began March 12.
Zarelli says his plan actually saves $2.3 billion over 25 years. A preliminary estimate from the state Actuary’s Office is that the net gain is closer to $1.7 billion – even with the skipped payment....The Washington Federation of State Employees is flatly rejecting the pension-cutting idea. The union has plastered its 40,000 general-government and university-employee members with emails urging them to rally lawmakers against the “Zarelli-style” pension cuts. Greg Devereux, executive director of the federation, said the early retirement cuts save nothing this year and are “chump change” in the next budget cycle.
Related: Public News Service: State Workers' Pensions Central in WA Budget Battle

WA: Aberdeen comes to agreement with AFSCME workers
By Steven Friederich, The Daily World, Updated: 11:40 am - March 16, 2012

The Aberdeen City Council approved a new three-year contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees that grants city employees some raises, but also saves the city on medical premiums. The contract was approved unanimously late Wednesday night following an executive session. Most of the non-fire and non-police city employees had been working without a contract since the beginning of last year. City Attorney Eric Nelson said the contract is retroactive from 2011 to 2013. AFSCME workers receive no raises for 2011, but get a 3 percent salary hike this year and a 3 percent increase for next year.

WI: Under Siege, Wis. Gov. Walker Faces Defeats, Blunders—and Looming Recall
By Roger Bybee, In These Times, Friday Mar 16, 2012 3:27 pm

...Early last year, The New York Times reported that Walker and Republican majorities in the Wisconsin legislature were ramming through radical anti-public-sector union legislation—much of it drawn from the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council—at “warp speed.” In March, lawmakers passed a law eliminating virtually all collective bargaining rights for public workers. But as this year’s legislative session draws to a close, and a recall election looms, Walker's political future is far from certain. His remarkable losing streak during the last few months is a product of court rulings and massive public outcry against his policies and agenda...

Senator Pam Galloway Resigns Seat On Wisconsin Legislature, GOP Loses Senate Control
John Celock, Huffington Post, Posted: 03/16/2012 4:00 pm Updated: 03/16/2012 5:48 pm       

A Wisconsin state senator facing a June primary election abruptly resigned Friday, plunging the Senate into a tie and shaking up the state's political landscape. Sen. Pam Galloway (R-Wausau) announced she would be resigning effective Saturday from the seat she has held since her November 2010 election. In a statement on her website and Facebook page, Galloway said that she was resigning in order to deal with family issues....Galloway's resignation also sets up a 16-16 tie in the Senate until the June 5 election.

WI: Unified teachers, educational assistants union has new director
Journal Times staff, Saturday, March 17, 2012 5:25 am

Jack Bernfeld is the new executive director of the entity that oversees Racine Unified’s teachers’ and educational assistants’ unions....But Bernfeld said Friday he comes to Racine’s educational unions from a Wisconsin affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a national union representing government employees and workers at some nonprofits.

WI: Public employees pushing back some of new disciplinary rules

STEVEN VERBURG, Wisconsin State Journal, Posted: Monday, March 19, 2012 6:00 am

Public employees are pushing back some of the new disciplinary rules that were imposed as part of the controversial 2011 repeal of legal union rights for most government workers in Wisconsin. The Jefferson County Board last week loosened a proposed discipline standard after unions protested, and Columbia County employees are winning a series of changes to a controversial policy that top officials wrote behind closed doors to prevent employee input….“The standards being adopted in many of the counties are a very low threshold for employers and offer very little protection for workers,” said Martha Merrill, lead research analyst for the Madison-based American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 40 who recently surveyed public workers in the state.