WAMC: LA mayor eyes possible referendum on pension reform (2012-06-14)

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) – Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said on Thursday he was prepared to take public pension reform directly to voters next year after recent referendums approved cutting pensions in two of California’s biggest cities.

“We’re proposing it to the City Council. If they don’t pass it, we’re going to put it on the ballot,” Villaraigosa told Reuters in Orlando where he is presiding as president of the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Villaraigosa, a Democrat, said he also wanted to raise the city’s retirement age to 67 from 55.

As part of his pension reform proposal, Villaraigosa also wants to cap maximum pensions at 75 percent of salary and reduce the cost-of-living adjustments on pensions.

Pension reform is among the leading challenges facing many mayors across the United States. On Thursday, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said municipalities nationwide were grappling with a $200 billion aggregate unfunded pension liability.

Last week, voters in San Diego and San Jose, California’s second and third largest cities, voted overwhelmingly to cut city worker pensions.

In San Jose, the liberal capital of Silicon Valley, the measure will force employees, including police and firefighters, to pay sharply more for retirement or see a sharp drop in benefits.

More conservative San Diego passed a measure to put new employees on a 401(k)-style plan in which the city guarantees how much it will contribute to retirement plans, not how much retirees will get.

Several mayors interviewed during the conference in Orlando said they were in the process of reforming city pension plans.

John Marchand, mayor of Livermore, California, and a former county-employed water quality chemist, said his city and its unions expected to work out a deal without the need of a referendum.

“That’s a little heavy-handed. We prefer to work it out with our employees. We all understand something needs to be done,” Marchand said.

Frank Ortis, mayor of Pembroke Pines, Florida, is also president of Florida’s International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Ortis said his city’s union decided on its own to shut down its unsustainable pension plan and the city was now trying to come up with a new retirement system to replace it.

In a survey of various cities’ plans to deal with pension shortfalls released by the conference, Binghamton, New York, reported that it dealt with pension financing through employee attrition.

The city came out in full support of defined benefit plans for public employees and decried those who would use public employees as scapegoats for an economic collapse that it attributed to Wall Street deregulation in the 1980s and ’90s.

via WAMC: LA mayor eyes possible referendum on pension reform (2012-06-14).

Father’s Day Labor Union Wisconsin Walker Waltz

Not many people know that the president of the largest association of business and industry in Louisiana grew up in a union household. My dad was a member of the firefighters’ branch of the AFL-CIO for over 30 years. He grew up poor, was very blue collar, was a darned good firefighter (retired as assistant chief), and felt for years that the ordinary working man deserved the representation that came from affiliation with a union. I remember gatherings in my home in my early years where my dad and my uncles who belonged to private-sector unions extolled the power of organized labor and its special place in the fabric of a rising middle class.

But times changed and so did my father’s viewpoint. His first questioning of unions centered on the tactics of the epitome of labor bosses in the ’60s and ’70s – the United Auto Workers union. That privileged class gained unparalleled wages and benefits by constantly threatening strikes that would shut down the “Big Three” automobile manufacturers and playing each against the other utilizing a “patterned bargaining” strategy. My father was bewildered by the fact that workers garnering unbelievable (at the time) wages and benefits would be so antagonistic toward the employers who paid them. He had the very old-fashioned notion that there should be some loyalty between the workers and the company that gave them an outstanding standard of living.

The ’80s arrived and my then-retired father reacted to Ronald Reagan’s firing of the air traffic controllers’ union (PATCO) workers who tried to call what they thought was Reagan’s “bluff” to fire any of them who struck. My dad was a Democrat who loved Ronald Reagan. I’ll never forget my question to him when Reagan dropped the hammer on PATCO: “Do you support firing public-sector union members who strike?” His answer was unequivocal: “When your job is to protect the public, you do not strike. My only regret,” he said, “was that all of their leaders did not go to jail.”

I guess my dad was an anachronism, a dinosaur of sorts. He had this old-fashioned notion that, when you worked for the public, you served it with commitment and honor. His service in World War II would never let him rationalize any circumstance in which a guardian of public safety could leave his post and expose the public to danger in order to leverage the situation for personal gain.

But the unions today are not your father’s unions. They are also incrementally falling into two opposing camps: private-sector unions that increasingly see the impact of stifling government regulations (XL pipeline, “climate change” regulations, etc.) on their livelihood and public-sector unions that support any plan that grows government by increasing government control over the economy. If folks like my dad and union supporters of his age like Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington State were alive today, they would clearly communicate to the unions—public and private—how their excesses were fueling their decline.

Perhaps at some point modern-day union leaders will come to their senses and realize that laundering taxpayer dollars from the private-sector into public-sector union coffers to reward elected officials who provide them with unsustainable wages and benefits is a scam that has run its course. If that realization does not set in, the frustration of the taxpayers who see the services they are supposed to receive from government deteriorate while a chosen few profit greatly will only increase. The recent Wisconsin public-employee union warfare with Governor Scott Walker was not an aberration. Taxpayers will gladly support reasonable pay and benefits for government workers who provide necessary services and who consider themselves part of the organic community, not parasites feeding off of the organism. The choice is up to the unions.

via Father’s Day Labor Union Wisconsin Walker Waltz.

St. John School Board extends contract with teachers union | NOLA.com

The St. John the Baptist Parish School Board has agreed to a one year contract extension with its teachers union. The contract is identical to the one already in place with the St. John Association Educators with one exception — a provision that keeps the terms of the contract the same unless they are contradictory to Act 1 or Act 2, the two education-reform measures passed during the recent legislative session.

“It’s just a very smart way to approach this,” board member Russ Wise said. “The current contract is due to expire the 30th of the month and it would have left our employees and everybody else in a state of chaos as we try to find out what legal effect this will have. The education system in the state is going to be in chaos in the coming year.”

Act 1, which expands the state’s voucher program, and Act 2, which sets new guidelines for tenure, pay-for-performance and evaluations, are already being challenged in court. The Louisiana Federation of Teachers last week filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of both acts and the Louisiana School Boards Association is gearing up for a lawsuit expected to be filed by the end of the month challenging Act 2.

The St. John Parish School Board has joined school boards across the state, including neighboring St. Charles Parish, in agreeing to participate and share the costs of that suit.

“If you’re not in a parish represented by a union contract, who knows what will happen,” Wise said. “This allows the dust to settle. A one-year extension is the way to go.”

The contract extension in St. John comes a week after School Board members in Jefferson Parish voted against extending a contract with its union. Among the reasons given by Jefferson board members was that the contract is in direct conflict with the state’s new education reforms.

The St. John union had originally asked for a five-year contract extension, but SJAE President Carolyn Batiste said the union is satisfied with the one-year term and will likely sign off on it after having it reviewed by an attorney.

“A year is better than not having it at all,” she said. “We want the community to know we’re working with the School Board. We hope they realize in Baton Rouge what’s going on in St. John and that’s that we take care of ourselves.”

The board approved the contract unanimously, with board member Sherry DeFrancesch absent, at a special meeting on Thursday.

If the union signs off on the contract, it will go into effect July 1 and end on June 30, 2013.

•••••••

via St. John School Board extends contract with teachers union | NOLA.com.

In defense of vital public servants – Friday, June 15, 2012 | 2 a.m. – Las Vegas Sun

Ken Hamm, Las Vegas

Friday, June 15, 2012 | 2 a.m.

How could a person running for the office of the president of the United States say we do not need more firefighters, more policemen and more teachers? Has he forgotten the sacrifice those police officers and firefighters made on 9/11? On that day they did what they were hired to do and more without regard for their own safety or how much they were getting paid. I believe these people do this every day. Everyone knows there is not a 9/11 every day, but there could be, and I appreciate them being there.

As for teachers, there is no more noble profession. We hinder them from using their ability to educate our children, then blame them when they fail. If these professionals are hindered from speaking up for themselves, then we, the people of this country, need to speak up for them.

They will have my support and those of the people I know and respect.

via In defense of vital public servants – Friday, June 15, 2012 | 2 a.m. – Las Vegas Sun.

Union to vote on American Crystal Sugar contract offer | Minnesota Public Radio News

ST. PAUL, Minn. — About 1,300 workers locked out of their jobs at American Crystal Sugar will get another chance to vote on the company’s contract proposal next week.

The workers have been locked out since they first rejected the company’s proposal on July 31.

The vote will be taken June 23, said John Riskey, president of Local 167G of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union.

“After consulting with our members from all the Crysal Sugar facilities, the union officers decided to hold another vote on what company executives have called their last, best and final offer,” Riskey said.

Riskey said the contract is essentially the same as the one union members rejected on Nov. 1, which the union said undermined job security. American Crystal Sugar rejected a counter-proposal from the union last week.

Union leadership is not taking a stance on the vote, which requires a majority for approval.

Representatives for the company have said they are preparing to hire new workers for the upcoming sugar-processing season.

via Union to vote on American Crystal Sugar contract offer | Minnesota Public Radio News.

Why we need pension reform – Global Public Square – CNN.com Blogs

Why we need pension reform

By Fareed Zakaria

A day after Governor Scott Walker won his recall election, the New York Times wrote, “The biggest political lesson from Wisconsin may be that the overwhelming dominance of money on the Republican side will continue to haunt Democrats.” Democrats have drawn much the same conclusion. “You’ve got a handful of self-interested billionaires who are trying to leverage their money across the country,” said David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s senior campaign strategist. “Does that concern me? Of course that concerns me.”

But then how to explain the landslide victories in San Jose and San Diego of ballot measures meant to cut public-sector retirees’ benefits? What should concern Axelrod far more is that on the central issue of the recall–the costs of public-sector employees–the Democratic Party is wrong on the substance, clinging to its constituents rather than doing the right thing.

Warren Buffett calls the costs of public-sector retirees a “time bomb.” They are the single biggest threat to the U.S.’s fiscal health. If the U.S. is going to face a Greek-style crisis, it will not be at the federal level but rather with state and local governments.

via Why we need pension reform – Global Public Square – CNN.com Blogs.

City insurance costs rising » Local News » The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

CLINTON — City of Clinton employees might have to chip in for some of their medical benefits starting next year, according to City Administrator Jeff Horne.

Despite switching medical insurance plans to save money, Clinton city employees’ medical insurance rates will rise 15.3 percent as of July 1 under a year-long contract approved by the Clinton City Council on Tuesday.

The city’s insurance committee will address the system currently in place over the next year.  Under the current system, both union and non-union city employees do not contribute anything to their monthly premium.

A tax levy, as well as different taxes and fees paid by taxpayers, cover costs depending on the type of employee.

While there will be no levy increase this year, efforts to catch up with the rising costs will need to be made next year. These efforts will not necessarily be made through the tax levy, Horne said.

The city saw an 18 percent rate increase for medical insurance in 2011 after switching from Wellmark Alliance to United HealthCare in 2010.

According to Tim Kearns, of RJ Lee Associates,  benefits consultant to the city, the trend for increases in medical coverage is 9 percent. Kearns said in the coming years he would like to see no more than a 7.5 percent increase.

Currently, the monthly cost for a single person is $490 and the cost for a family is $1,413. Beginning July 1, singles will cost $616 and a family will cost $1,795 per month.

Among the causes of rising monthly costs, Kearns said, is the number of claims that exceed $50,000 in protection such as those relating to heart disease, cancer and other expensive ailments.

“Not only are the costs increasing, but they’re protections you have to have,” Kearns said Tuesday to the City Council.

The city currently uses a self-funded plan it designed and United HealthCare administers. Kearns was frank with the City Council on the need to evaluate the viability of the current plan.

Under the current city-designed plan, the deductible is $250 for a single person and $500 for family coverage.

“To be frank, your plan is very, very old…your plan is very rich,” Kearns said to the City Council

Kearns suggested negotiating with United HealthCare to better serve the city’s needs.

If it isn’t compliant by the winter of 2013, Kearns suggested the city begin a request for proposal process to find a new health care provider.

The city’s hands are slightly tied, however. In addition to requiring the city to cover the costs of medical insurance, the contracts the city has with the police, fire and AFSCME union, state any change in carrier, coverage or manner of handling claims shall be equal to or better than the Wellmark plan.

Whatever the case, Horne said, the city needs to establish a plan to improve employee health as a means to lower premiums. He suggested implementing an evaluation system for employees as well as more strict wellness plans.

“We have to make fairly major changes,” Horne said. “We want a sustainable plan that’s a reasonable cost, that’s also good to the employees.”

Ward 2 Councilwoman Julie Allesee agreed.

“If we don’t (make changes) we’re not going to have the availability of the number of employees…You either have to cover it or reduce employees and we can’t do that.”

The City Council approved the agreement 6-1, with Paul Gassman, Ward 4, dissenting.

via City insurance costs rising » Local News » The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa.

Hermantown coach accused of giving alcohol to minors | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

An assistant coach for the Hermantown High School boys and girls golf teams was arrested in Shakopee, Minn., early Thursday morning, accused of furnishing alcohol to minors.

According to the Shakopee Police Department, the 26-year-old coach was arrested about 3 a.m. at a hotel in Shakopee. Three people were issued tickets for underage consumption of alcohol.

Reached by phone Thursday night, the coach said he had no comment on the arrest. Hermantown Activities Director Beth Clark did not return a recorded message from the News Tribune seeking comment.

Hermantown was taking part in the Minnesota State Golf Tournament in nearby Jordan this week, finishing second as a team in Class AA Wednesday.

Police said the arrest report would be sent to the Scott County attorney this morning for a charging decision. According to state statute, procuring alcohol for a minor is a gross misdemeanor.

via Hermantown coach accused of giving alcohol to minors | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

Funding cuts imperil safety, Minneapolis firefighters say | StarTribune.com

Four Minneapolis firefighters, three of whom fought a major church fire in May, told a legislative hearing on Thursday that reduced staffing in their city’s Fire Department endangered firefighters and the public.

Five firefighters were injured, one seriously, in the blaze that destroyed the Walker Community United Methodist Church. A news release promoting the State Capitol hearing, hosted by state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, said it would discuss how the injuries “were, in part, the result of cuts to public funding to fire departments.”

But only one of the four firefighters said he felt cutbacks were a factor in the Walker fire injuries, but did not spell out why.

The others were more general, noting that the national standard for the number of firefighters on an engine was four, while the city’s department only has three, making it more difficult to do the job.

Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel attended the hearing but was not asked to speak.

He said afterward that the injuries at the Walker fire were not a result of understaffing in the department, currently at 392.

He said the department was first alerted by a smoke alarm in the church, and when fire was discovered by the first three firefighters to arrive, reinforcements were called in.

“Do I think we need more depth in the department? I think we do,” he said. “Every chief would like to meet the national standard of four on every apparatus.” But he said the city has “a quality” fire department.

Torres Ray and Sen. Scott Dibble, both Minneapolis DFLers, decried state aid cutbacks and urged more funds for fire departments and other city needs.

Fire Capt. Joe Mattison, who suffered third-degree burns in the fire, said the city no longer has a first-class department.

Mark Lakosky, president of the city’s firefighters union, blamed reduced staffing for longer response times.

Minneapolis City Council Member Gary Schiff called for “a statewide investment” in firefighter funding. Council Member Elizabeth Glidden said she was grateful a recent federal grant was making it possible to call back six firefighters who were laid off.

via Funding cuts imperil safety, Minneapolis firefighters say | StarTribune.com.

Post Wisconsin Public Sector Union Power – To the Victor Belongs the Spoiled Food

As evidence that public sector unions still carry significant clout after last week’s drubbing in the recall election of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, union school cafeteria workers in the Sharpsville Pennsylvania School District won a significant victory this week, gaining the right to eat all of the expired and outdated food they wish, and they won’t even have to pay for it.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) filed the grievance in 2011, based on the allegation that the school district “violated established past practice” by charging cafeteria workers for food or drinks that couldn’t be sold or consumed by students.

This included food or drinks with expired dates or that had been reheated. Safe food standards and regulations prohibit such items from being sold or served to students.  But the district has agreed to a settlement, and cafeteria employees may now consume all the free expired food they please, but they acknowledge it is at their own risk.

I would imagine this settlement is a potential threat to the area’s homeless population, as it could significantly reduce the amount of consumables distributed via the cafeteria waste bins. No one was available for comment from the Fraternal Order of Dumpster Diving (FOODD).

There was also no word on whether these employees must actually sign a waiver prior to consuming such food, or if the assumption of risk is just, well, an assumption.  I am left to wonder what the potential liability is for the employer, should an employee consume expired food on the job and become ill as a result. I am also left to wonder who would really want to fight for the right to eat expired food for free.

Of course, the district position wasn’t much better, since they simply wanted to charge the employees for food they couldn’t sell.

I suppose in this day and age you choose the battles you think you can win.

via WorkersCompensation.com CompNewsNetwork – Post Wisconsin Public Sector Union Power – To the Victor Belongs the Spoiled Food.