Hudson Reporter – UC Mayor supports Manhattanview Health Care union workers in picket for health insurance

UNION CITY — Around 15 employees of Union City’s Manhattanview Health Care Center wore purple shirts with “99%” emblazoned in yellow on the front and walked back and forth to the beat of a metal bucket dented almost in half with a spoon before hurrying off at ten minutes to three to make their evening shift on time. Another 15 employees then took over, many after completing their morning shifts.

They came to continue the non-strike picket in protest of the fact that all of them, many whom have worked at the nursing home for over ten years, are in danger of losing their health insurance if they do not renew their union contract that has been under negotiation for over a year.

The workers who man the front lines of the operation – from housekeeping to nursing to linens to recreation – are all part of the New Jersey Union 1199 SEIU of United Healthcare Workers East. The irony of the possible loss of health insurance, union Communications Coordinator James Canonge explained, is that these workers, whose very business is health and wellbeing, are at risk of losing their own.

Mayor and state Senator Brian Stack had planned to join the picketers Wednesday afternoon, but was unable due to scheduling conflicts.

“I support them one hundred percent,” Stack said in a phone call. “They deserve decent wages. These are people who work extremely hard taking care of people at various stages of their lives when they most need it in the nursing home.”  Read more…

via Hudson Reporter – UC Mayor supports Manhattanview Health Care union workers in picket for health insurance.

Former Ashland cop seeking reinstatement – Framingham, MA – The MetroWest Daily News

ASHLAND —

Former police Sgt. Greg Fawkes’ attorney has asked the town to reinstate Fawkes, the lawyer said yesterday.

Attorney John Becker yesterday said he faxed the grievance to Town Manager John Petrin on Tuesday afternoon.

Becker, who represented Fawkes in the disciplinary hearing in April that led to Fawkes’ firing last Thursday, said the town violated his client’s police contract.

“One of the arguments is that this was retaliation for Sgt. Fawkes’ union activities, including the no-confidence vote,” Becker said yesterday.

Members of the police union in January took a 17-1 vote of no confidence in Chief Scott Rohmer, and some members filed a whistleblower complaint against the chief.

Fawkes was suspended in March and investigated for allegedly harassing resident Bill Cavanagh in June after Cavanagh allegedly flirted with Fawkes’ wife, Adrienne.  Read more…

via Former Ashland cop seeking reinstatement – Framingham, MA – The MetroWest Daily News.

State bar is drawn into East Haven police panel fray- The New Haven Register – Serving New Haven, Connecticut

EAST HAVEN — Town Hall has filed a grievance against former town attorney Patricia Cofrancesco, Mayor Joseph Maturo Jr. confirmed this week.

Filed with the bar’s Statewide Grievance Committee, the matter is the latest in the Maturo administration’s ongoing battle with Cofrancesco, who weeks ago stopped representing police commissioners the mayor sought to remove from their posts.

Cofrancesco was the town attorney during the administration of Democratic Mayor April Capone, who lost to Maturo, a Republican, in November.

Town officials and Cofrancesco would not discuss the issue. Maturo referred questions to his attorney, Lawrence Sgrignari, who said the situation is confidential.

A representative of the Statewide Grievance Committee said the panel can’t disclose the grievance, but the person who files the grievance can talk about it. If there is cause found for a hearing, one is scheduled and information about the complaint is made public. It can take about 90 days for a determination to be made in a case. It is unclear when the grievance was filed.

Last month, a hearing was scheduled seeking to remove three Democratic police commissioners from their posts if Cofrancesco did not cease representation of them. Cofrancesco had been hired by the board, controlled by Democrats appointed by Capone.  Read more…

via State bar is drawn into East Haven police panel fray- The New Haven Register – Serving New Haven, Connecticut.

Madigan announces possible pension reform deal in Springfield – Chicago Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD — House Speaker Michael Madigan announced a possible breakthrough late Wednesday on a pension reform deal just hours after facing bitter GOP accusations of slashing juvenile diabetes funding to punish two Republican leaders with diabetic children.

The Chicago Democrat’s surprise announcement appeared to signal a newfound willingness to back off his demand that suburban and Downstate school systems, universities and community colleges, rather than the state, shoulder a $26 billion tab for employee pensions.

“I had an interesting meeting this morning with Gov. Quinn and I was surprised the governor disagreed with me on the issue. He agrees with you. He agrees with the Republicans, and he thinks we ought to remove the shift of normal costs out of the bill,” Madigan said shortly before the House adjourned Wednesday night.

The speaker said sponsorship of pension-reform package he controlled would shift to House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) and be heard before a House committee on Thursday morning, the day lawmakers are set to conclude their spring session.

The move came after a day of stalemate and acrimony over a pension deal, which is designed to right the state’s massively underfunded pension systems by making current and retired state employees and teachers accept lower post-retirement pension increases in exchange for keeping state-subsidized health care as retirees.  Read more…

via Madigan announces possible pension reform deal in Springfield – Chicago Sun-Times.

San Jose Shows the Way Out of Public-Pension Sinkhole – Bloomberg

Democratic leaders in California’s capital point to Silicon Valley’s economic rebound as proof that their ham-fisted tax policies aren’t strangling business growth. Yet San Jose, the high-tech hub and California’s third-largest city, is writing off those legislators in Sacramento as it tackles the toughest budget issues on its own.

On June 5, San Jose voters will almost certainly pass a measure that would give current city workers this choice: stay in the current pension system and increase contributions to help pay off the city’s unfunded pension liabilities, or choose a lower-benefit option. Thanks to San Jose’s charter provisions, officials say they can do what courts haven’t allowed in other locales: pare benefits for current public employees.

Most pension-reform efforts elsewhere apply only to new hires. Although those efforts are important — San Diego, California’s second-largest city, is finally voting on a measure to fix its disastrous system — they will not stem short-term fiscal crises. San Jose, facing pension obligations that have soared 350 percent in a decade and now consume more than 20 percent of the general fund, has decided to attack the heart of the problem. Mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat, eked out a pension- reform majority from a 10-member City Council with only one Republican member and nine Democrats, who, Reed told me, range from liberal to liberal.  Read more…

via San Jose Shows the Way Out of Public-Pension Sinkhole – Bloomberg.

Can unions fight Super PACs? – Salon.com

No one was surprised this winter when the AFL-CIO and its major unions endorsed President Obama’s reelection. Despite decades of enrollment decline, the AFL-CIO remains the largest membership organization in progressive politics, and it is a much relied-upon ally in Democratic election campaigns. But faced with a post-Citizens United landscape and armed with hard-fought lessons, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is pledging a “big change” in how the federation does politics.

“Before, we used to build everybody else’s structure,” says Trumka, “and now, we’re going to build our own structure.” He says to expect three changes: more focus on door-to-door organizing rather than TV ads; more funds toward building a permanent, independent political infrastructure and less towards candidates’ coffers; and more outreach beyond union households.

What could this look like for Obama’s reelection effort in Ohio or Elizabeth Warren’s Senate campaign in Massachusetts? Less direct campaign cash from unions and fewer union-backed TV ads on their behalf. More union volunteers, acting apart from the Democratic campaign, persuading and mobilizing people to vote for the candidates. And an organization pledged to better hold the candidates accountable if they win.  Read more…

via Can unions fight Super PACs? – Salon.com.

Firm linked to Minnesota bridge collapse receiving contracts | Grand Forks Herald | Grand Forks, North Dakota

MINNEAPOLIS — An engineering company linked to the 2007 interstate bridge collapse in Minneapolis continues to work for the city, receiving more than two dozen contracts in the last five years.Despite Gov. Mark Dayton’s hesitation in doing business with URS Corp., the city has awarded the California company contracts totaling more than $9 million. Most recently, the Minneapolis City Council authorized staff to negotiate a $1 million contract with URS to study transit options.URS was a consultant studying the state-owned I-35W bridge when it collapsed and killed 13 people. URS agreed to pay $52 million to settle a lawsuit filed by victims who claimed the firm failed to spot structural problems. URS did not admit any fault.The Star Tribune says URS is also bidding to design the new Stillwater Bridge over the St. Croix kroy River.

via Firm linked to Minnesota bridge collapse receiving contracts | Grand Forks Herald | Grand Forks, North Dakota.

North Las Vegas City Manager Tim Hacker Wants to Suspend Portions of Fire Contract

North Las Vegas City Manager Tim Hacker will ask the city council to suspend portions of the city’s contracts with labor unions to help balance North Las Vegas’ budget while maintaining police and fire services.

The city’s unions are calling on the state to intervene and take over management of North Las Vegas.

Hacker’s request, announced in a news release last Wednesday, is to be considered at a special council meeting June 1. The move comes as the city faces a state-mandated deadline to present a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year.

North Las Vegas leaders say a down economy and high foreclosure and unemployment rates have caused revenue streams to dry up and left the city with a $33 million budget gap to plug.

Police and firefighter unions have thus far resisted the city’s calls for freezing annual raises and other recessions.

Earlier this month, the North Las Vegas City Council approved a budget that would cut about 200 police, firefighters and Teamsters union jobs if concession agreements weren’t made. In a news release Wednesday, Hacker said the time to move was now but that layoffs weren’t the answer. The ratio of public safety workers to residents in North Las Vegas already is among the lowest in Southern Nevada, the city said.

“We have sought reasonable concessions, but the unions have refused to come to terms. Now, we must take action,” Hacker said in the release. “Public safety is our No. 1 objective. Without taking this action, we would be forced to lay off large numbers of police and firefighters. We don’t want to take them off the streets, where we already are stretched thin, and could risk compromising the health, safety and welfare of the city’s residents and businesses.”

Hacker has prepared a resolution that would authorize the temporary suspension of some terms of the city’s existing collective bargaining agreements with the North Las Vegas Police Officers Association, the North Las Vegas Police Supervisors Association and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1607.

Those terms include the suspension of raises, holiday sell-back pay and uniform allowances. Hacker maintains state law authorizes the city to suspend certain terms of collective bargaining agreements for North Las Vegas to remain solvent and protect public safety and welfare while in the grips of an ongoing economic recession.  Read more…

via North Las Vegas City Manager Tim Hacker Wants to Suspend Portions of Fire Contract.

Why Wisconsin’s recall election matters to Obama and Romney – Political Hotsheet – CBS News

(CBS News) In less than a week, voters in Wisconsin decide if they want to keep their Republican governor, Scott Walker, who has been at the forefront of controversial policies that have divided Democrats and Republicans in the state and nationally. But the outcome of the recall election against Democratic challenger Tom Barrett, Milwaukee’s mayor, could have much broader implications for the presidential race in November.

“The Wisconsin recall is what the Spanish Civil War was to World War II,” Mordecai Lee, a governmental affairs professor at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, told Hotsheet. Lee said the state is “a warm up, a testing ground” for the presidential race.

Once again a battleground

Although Wisconsin has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in every election since 1984, the state is considered a key battleground this year. President Obama beat Republican John McCain by 13 percent in 2008, but Republicans made massive inroads in 2010, winning the governorship and taking control of the state legislature. In addition, Tea Party-backed Ron Johnson defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, a favorite of progressives.

“This state is up for grabs in the recall election and it’s up for grabs this fall,” said Mike McCabe, Executive Director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks political spending in elections.

Walker has drawn ire from the left, especially unions, over the bill he signed to curtail collective bargaining rights for public sector workers, which caused weeks of protests in the state last year and boycotts by Democratic lawmakers. The unions and activists collected around one million signatures to bring about the recall, which is nearly half the number of voters who turned out to vote in 2010.

via Why Wisconsin’s recall election matters to Obama and Romney – Political Hotsheet – CBS News.

Judges left out of pension reform | Evanston Now

SPRINGFIELD — Legislation intended to curb the rising cost of public pensions in Illinois would reduce the benefits for recipients, except for the judges.

Judges receive the highest average annual pension of any public employee, yet their benefits would remain untouched, according to legislation introduced by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The nearly 1,000 retired judges earn an average annual pension of more than $112,000. The average public employee retiree draws an average annual pension of about $40,000.

At the heart of Madigan’s legislation is a stark choice for current employees and retirees.

One, choose between smaller cost-of-living increases and remain eligible for retiree health care. Or two, get larger COLAs but be ineligible for retiree health care. The changes are borne from an attempt to slow the ballooning cost of public pensions, which is increasing from $4.2 billion this year, to $5.1 billion next year. How much the state would save won’t be known until employees and retirees choose an option.

Unions say the choices are unconstitutional, that they reduce benefits for current retirees, no matter what recipients decide. Reducing benefits for current retirees could violate Illinois’ constitutional provision, calling pension benefits an unbreakable contract, unions say.

If the current changes to public pensions manage to squeak out of the General Assembly and get Gov. Pat Quinn’s OK, the public unions would probably sue the state.

Ultimately, the fate of the legislation would be decided by the justices of the Illinois Supreme Court, who, coincidentally, are members of the public pension Judges’ Retirement System.

“I would call this buying off the judges. It’s a very sad situation, but it’s inevitable,” said Ann Lousin, a professor at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago who helped draft the Illinois Constitution in 1970.  Read more…

via Judges left out of pension reform | Evanston Now.