Injunction to be sought to block Unit 5 busing plan

SPRINGFIELD — In a unanimous vote Thursday, the Educational Labor Relations Board sought to block efforts by Unit 5 schools to outsource bus service.

The board voted to seek an injunction against Unit 5’s decision to hire Ohio-based First Student for bus services, which are currently handled in-house. Unit 5 bus drivers voted last August for union representation under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“We’re pleased with the decision,” said Renee Nestler, an AFSCME representative. “We were glad the decision was unanimous, and that it came very quickly.”

The board’s vote is the latest move in the fledgling union’s months-long effort to prevent the outsourcing of Unit 5 bus services. School officials have said the bus system is understaffed and often late, while employees have said their suggestions for improving the system’s efficiency has gone unheeded.

Nestler said the Education Labor Relations Board will file its injunction with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. After that, the process moves to the McLean County Circuit Court.

In a statement to reporters Thursday, Unit 5 Superintendent Gary Niehaus said the district will move forward with the plan, adding the board went the route of outsourcing the buses because it would save taxpayers $1.5 million over the three-year contract.

“While this is not a surprise, it is disappointing,” Niehaus said. “We believe we made the right decision by contracting with First Student, and Unit 5 will continue to move forward with its plans. Approximately 120 current Unit 5 bus drivers and 50 current monitors have

already been interviewed and received conditional employment with First Student. The company is processing more applications of current drivers and monitors daily.”

Job concerns

Nestler said AFSCME’s disagreement with the school district stems from concerns not all workers will be rehired and the belief the district made the move to push back against members’ efforts to unionize.

“We believe Unit 5 decided to go forth in retaliation against our members for joining AFSCME, and that Unit 5 has not bargained with us in good faith over the course of negotiations,” Nestler said.

via Injunction to be sought to block Unit 5 busing plan.

Pension reform ballot measure fails in Calif. Senate | news10.net

SACRAMENTO, CA – At this point, pension reform will not be on the November ballot.

The proposal failed to get enough votes on the Senate floor Thursday.

Senate Republicans were pushing hard for a public vote. The governor’s 12-point reform plan raises the retirement age to 67 and offers hybrid pension schemes that blend smaller guaranteed pensions with a more volatile 401K-style plans.

“The results of the elections in the cities of San Diego and San Jose (when voters passed local pension reform measures) — they have sent a strong message statewide: this Legislature needs to act and we need to act now,” said Sen. Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach.

The bill was defeated during a contentious 24-to-13 vote.

Top Democrats have long argued pension reform is too complicated to put in the hands of voters.

“Come on, you want to be a part of the comprehensive solution? You want to be part of the comprehensive solution here in California and in this Legislature?” said Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. “Then participate in all parts of governance, not just the parts that you find to be the most politically appealing.”

Steinberg told members that pension reform would be taken up during this legislative session but after the budget is delivered.

California’s pension obligation drags down the state budget by billions of dollars every year.

In fact, critics argue, if unchecked, the pension system could be underfunded by $500 billion over the next 20 years.

The deadline for getting pension reform on the November ballot, through a vote of the Legislature, is June 28.

via Pension reform ballot measure fails in Calif. Senate | news10.net.

Supreme Court delivers blow to public sector union fee hikes

The Supreme Court dealt a chastening blow to the liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and organized labor Thursday, ruling 7-2 to reverse a decision that would force nonmembers of public-sector unions in California to pay a fee that would help to finance the unions’ activities.

Associate Justice Samuel Alito, a George W. Bush nominee, delivered the opinion of the court, with a concurring opinion by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and dissent were given by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

The case centered on a California regulation that allowed unions to charge employees in a particular “agency shop” annual fees to pay for union activities, even if the employees opted not to join the union.

In June 2005, a local branch of the Service Employees International Union sent out a notice telling employees in its shop what the monthly dues for the year would be, but also gave notice that the fee could be increased at any time without additional notice. Shortly after, SEIU would propose a temporary increase of 25 percent in employee fees in order to fund a pro-union political campaign.

When an employee called SEIU offices to complain about fee increases for political purposes, an area manager told the employee that nothing could be done and adding that “we (the union) are in the fight of our lives,’” according to court accounts. The employee would later become a plaintiff in the case.

While SEIU would later refund the fees, Alito said that nothing would stop the union from attempting to collect similar fees in the future, and maintained that a “live controversy” based on the strictures of the First Amendment, remained to be resolved.

“The First Amendment creates ‘an open marketplace’ in which differing ideas about political, economic, and social issues can compete freely for public acceptance without improper government interference,” he wrote. “…Closely related to compelled speech and compelled association is compelled funding of the speech of other private speakers or groups.”

Especially striking, Alito said, was the fact that the fees the unions were forcing employees to pay went to combat a ballot initiative that would have allowed them not to pay those fees if they chose.

“Thus, the effect of the SEIU’s procedure was to force many nonmembers to subsidize a political effort designed to restrict their own rights,” Alito wrote.

Ultimately, Alito stated, while public-sector unions can express views on political and social issues and require dues or fees, they must give ample notice of the fees to be assessed and cannot charge non-members without their consent.

A concurring opinion by Sotomayor and Ginsburg, two of the court’s most liberal justices, agreed that the First Amendment would allow non-union members a chance to opt out of political contributions, but said the majority had addressed constitutional issues outside of the scope of the case and regarding the unions’ charging nonmembers in general.

Breyer and Kagan dissented, saying the union had provided adequate notice and a rebate process for its constituents.

via Supreme Court delivers blow to public sector union fee hikes.

Quinn, lawmakers hung up on pension reform – chicagotribune.com

Negotiations between Gov. Pat Quinn and legislative leaders about public employee pension reform hit another roadblock Thursday, with talks morphing from a discussion about retirement benefits to education funding equality in Illinois.

The issues became entwined as Democrats continue to push a proposal that would shift some pension costs from the state now pays on to suburban and Downstate school districts. Republicans oppose the plan, saying it would force property taxes to rise as schools try to recoup the extra costs.

GOP leaders say the cost-shift idea shouldn’t be connected to pension reform because it’s a school funding issue, and on Thursday asked for more time to study how money is distributed to schools across the state.

Quinn said Senate Republicans requested a year to go over the facts. But the Democratic governor would only agree to give them five weeks, saying every day pension reforms don’t happen the system adds another $12.6 million to the existing $83 billion debt.

“We’ll give them all the information, have all the studies that we can possibly muster, but ultimately we have to come to moving the ball forward,” Quinn said. “We have to get fundamental, comprehensive pension reform.”

A spokeswoman for Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno of Lemont said she did not ask for a year to go over education data, but suggested it could take months and stretch into next year.

Earlier this week, Quinn’s office released information that it says shows schools could easily absorb the extra pension costs when phased in over several years. But Republicans say the data raised more questions than answers.

By asking for more time to study education funding, Republicans are attempting to force Democrats to back away from the cost-shift idea. Either Democrats peel that portion off and move forward with broader pension reforms this summer, or Republicans can put the blame on Democrats for inaction during the fall election.

“When you don’t want to talk about the free lunches for local school districts, you talk about school funding,” said House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

But Madigan said he was confident an agreement could eventually be reached, saying it can be difficult to move plans forward in Springfield “but if you stay with it, there will be accomplishments.”

“This is a lingering issue, we’re continuing to work on the issue, we’re not walking away from it,” Madigan said. “It’s very complicated.”

via Quinn, lawmakers hung up on pension reform – chicagotribune.com.

Government Unions Stall San Diego Pension Reform

Collective bargaining privileges are facilitating the San Diego Municipal Employee Association’s (MEA) ability to wreak havoc over voter-approved pension reform. These privileges elevate union special interest over the public’s interest in maintaining fiscal solvency.

In June 5 elections, San Diego voters overwhelmingly supported ballot measure Proposition B, which reforms city employees unsustainable pensions needed to avoid bankruptcy. The initiative gained ballot access after 116,000 signatures were collected. It then passed with 66 percent approval.

The pension reform requires new city employees (except police) to switch to 401(k) plans, instead of a defined-benefit plan, in order to limit the city’s contributions and liability to pensions. Plus, government workers will gain certainty over their retirements, an improvement over a pension fund that depends on government policy. In addition, the measure puts a five-year freeze on pension payout amounts to workers. The city’s independent budget analyst estimated savings to be $950 million over 30 years.

The public championed the initiative due to the San Diego pension system’s nearly $2.2 billion deficit, which was caused by collective bargaining agreements that increased pension benefits without appropriate increases in funding. Yet throughout Prop B’s campaign, MEA continues to thwart the will of the voters with legal challenges to invalidate enacting Prop B.

Prior to the election, MEA filed a complaint to the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to forbid Prop B from appearing on the ballot. PERB, which operates with similar pro-union bias as the National Labor Relations Board, filed suit on behalf of MEA asking for a court injunction. The judge refused PERB’s request.

Now that Prop B passed, MEA is challenging the validity of the pension reform on different grounds. The San Francisco Chronicle reports, “unions contended the measure was actually the brainchild of San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, who, with the help of other city officials, allegedly used private citizens as fronts to dodge the city’s obligations to its workers.”

The city’s obligation, which is stymieing pension reform, is governed by California labor law, which requires municipalities to meet and confer (non-binding negotiations) with unions before enacting legislation that affect union member benefits. Even when cities are in severe financial distress, government union collective bargaining power and inane protocol accompanying it can hold taxpayers hostage. San Diego’s duty to hear MEA’s demands is the loophole needed to postpone enacting Prop B.

A recent ruling from California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recognized the union’s complaint, declaring it had “some evidence” in its allegations against the mayor, which sent the lawsuit to PERB to settle the union’s claims. Any PERB decision will be subject to court review, further delaying the desperately crucial cost-savings Prop B would otherwise be generating.

The privilege of collective bargaining in the government sector is unsustainable. It greases the wheels for unions to sit on both sides of the negotiating table where union bosses can use their immense political influence to gain lavish contracts. In California, government unions’ capacity to manipulate public policy has gone too far. MEA’s power over whether or not Prop B is enacted is the difference between nearly $1 billion or nothing to taxpayers. If government collective bargaining privileges are not rescinded, California’s current political system of rewarding special interests at the expense of the taxpayer will further undermine the state’s financial stability.

via Government Unions Stall San Diego Pension Reform.

Pension Reform Must Preserve Retirement Security for Hardworking People

WASHINGTON, DC -Eileen Kirlin, Executive Vice President of the 2.1 million-member Service Employees International Union, issued the following statement in response to a new report released this week by the Pew Center on the States that uses data from two years ago to paint an inaccurate picture of the condition of public pension funds:

“It’s critical for policy makers to have accurate, up-to-date data on pension funds as they consider the impact that proposals for drastic pension reform will have on hardworking families.

“It’s no secret that in recent years some public pension systems have faced challenges due to the failure of some elected leaders to adequately fund pension obligations over many years and the recent Wall Street-induced economic crisis. At the same time, the economic crisis and fragile recovery has meant that states are collecting less revenue to meet their many obligations.

“The nation is moving toward a troubling trajectory in which the solution for budgetary problems at the local, state and federal level is to take more and more away from working, middleclass families.

“Pensions keep hardworking people out of poverty during their retirement. All working people should have the promise of security in their later years. But the nation is on the verge of a retirement crisis due to the breakdown of our retirement system. We can neither continue to brush off this crisis nor ignore research showing that many of the draconian reforms to pension systems are often politically motivated and would have unintended negative consequences on taxpayers.

“Eliminating traditional pension plans in favor of 401(k)-style defined contribution plans may actually deepen the burden on taxpayers because 401(k)s are more costly by design, don’t address existing unfunded liabilities, and often fail to provide retirees with adequate income, leading to increased poverty rates and demand for public services among the elderly.

“The solution for state pension shortfalls does not lie in drastic reforms that take more away from hardworking people. Instead, we must work together to find solutions that protect taxpayer dollars and improve retirement security for all American workers.”

With 2.1 million members in Canada, the United States and Puerto Rico, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in the Americas. Focused on uniting workers in healthcare, public services and property services, SEIU members are winning better wages, healthcare and more secure jobs for our communities, while uniting their strength with their counterparts around the world to help ensure that workers–not just corporations and CEOs–benefit from today’s global economy.

via Pension Reform Must Preserve Retirement Security for Hardworking People.

COLUMN: Mutiny in Madison: Walker’s pyrrhic victory | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

“Mutiny on the Bounty” was one of my all-time favorite books in high school. Love of the sea and my lifelong dream of someday visiting Tahiti both were likely inspired by the classic novel based on an 18th-century historical event involving British First Mate Fletcher Christian leading mutineers in overthrowing the sadistic Capt. Bligh to take command of the HMS Bounty.

One of the main reasons the book endures is its hard-to-accept, hard-to-forget ending: Rather than a happily-ever-after cliché or a good-triumphs-over-evil moral, the book concludes with the surprising vindication of the hated Bligh, and the criminal conviction of the sailors who dared stand up to him.

Which is the same kind of hangover many are left with following the Wisconsin recall election. Rather than being evicted from the governor’s mansion in only the third recall attempt in U.S. history, Scott Walker survived a statewide mutiny with 7 more percentage points than his challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. And the many thousands of mutineers, including protesters who earlier occupied the capitol building in Madison, along with the volunteers who collected petition signatures and the workers who felt betrayed after voting for him the first time around, now see themselves as punished by legislation that denies their collective-bargaining rights.

Walker supporters have been proclaiming the election result as a great victory, as well as a mandate for targeting organized labor across the country. But celebrators forget that this was not a conventional election to choose a new governor; it was rather a do-over necessary for a sitting governor to save his skin. It was not unlike when a student has to overcome an F grade with a make-up exam: His passing essentially constituted a grade of D; he was hardly vaulted to the head of the class; and he certainly doesn’t have a mandate to continue with similar behavior.

Back in Portsmouth, England, during the court martial of the Bounty mutineers, Capt. Bligh was not exonerated of his wrongdoings. But even as the court acknowledged Bligh’s violent and destructive acts, it had to rule against the mutineers to avoid setting a dangerous precedent that could jeopardize the traditions and framework of the royal navy and the monarchy itself.

Similarly, Wisconsin’s election did not exonerate Walker of his treachery in having originally hidden from voters his intentions to attack labor. Exit polls showed that many citizens voted against the recall not because they sympathized with the behind-the-back-dealing governor; rather, they objected to the recall itself as being an anomaly that upset the natural order of things and as an overreaction to maneuvers by Walker that should have been opposed through conventional means.

So where does that leave Wisconsin and the rest of the country?

Yes, Walker gets to stay in Madison for at least another two years.

But the fight for workers’ benefits and rights is not only not over, it has really just begun.

On Walker’s side, money pumped into Wisconsin from Republican and Tea Party groups from out of state, at a rate that gave him three times as much as his opponent, paid for a divide-and-conquer advertising campaign to persuade Wisconsin’s average Joes that teachers and health-care workers were the ones robbing their prosperity.

New York billionaires like the Koch brothers financed political action committees that tried to convince a voter, for example, in a small town like Hayward, who gets by working three jobs as a bartender, logger and Wal-mart cashier, that taking away a teacher’s right to ask for a raise would somehow improve his own plight.

These PACs tried to harness that Hayward voter’s resentment but at the cost of his own best interest since the only thing that has ever raised a non-union worker’s wage or his standard of living has been the influence of those very unions.

On labor’s side, workers must make it clear to the electorate that it’s not the local kindergarten teacher who’s to blame for the country’s financial woes. The greed and recklessness of institutions like J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America and A.I.G., ravaged pension funds and wrecked the economy, which drained tax bases and busted state budgets.

So workers must fight for tighter regulation of these companies, which have thus far been shielded from reform by Republicans in Washington and by cohorts like Walker who instead scapegoat underwater homeowners, public workers, retirees, and labor unions while giving bailouts and tax breaks to the very CEOs responsible for the recession.

The U.S. has prided itself as a nation in which workers have had the right to speak, to assemble, to bargain for the best price to pay, or the best wage to earn. Any threat to the contrary is a threat to us all.

David McGrath of Hayward is an emeritus professor of English at the College of DuPage in Illinois. He also is a past member of the United Retail Workers, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association. Contact him at profmcgrath2004@yahoo.com.

via COLUMN: Mutiny in Madison: Walker’s pyrrhic victory | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

U.S. Supreme Court Deals Defeat to Public-Sector Unions – The School Law Blog – Education Week

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday made it more difficult for public-employee unions to extract special fee assessments from non-members for expenses such as ballot battles.

And over sharp dissents, the court required such unions, including teachers’ unions, to gain the “opt-in” consent of non-members to face such special fees, instead of the more prevalent practice of making the employees take steps to “opt out.”

“When a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union must provide a fresh Hudson notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the court in Knox v. Service Employees International Union.

It was the latest defeat for teachers’ unions and other public-sector labor organizations in recent years at the high court, adding to their other recent woes in the political arena in a number of states. The vote was 7-2 on the basic issue of whether the unions must provide an extra Hudson notice for special assessments. The accounting statements are named for a 1986 decision known as Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson.

But the court effectively voted 5-4 in favor of the idea that the unions may not extract funds from nonmembers without their “affirmative consent.”

“We’re very concerned about that part of the opinion,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said in reading part of his dissent from the bench on Thursday. His dissent on the special-notice and “opt-in” requirements was joined by Justice Elena Kagan.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in an opinion concurring in the judgment joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said she agreed that a special notice was required for special assessments intended to fund “solely political lobbying efforts.”

But she said that with the “opt-in” ruling, Justice Alito and the rest of his majority—Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas—was breaking “our own rules” to “address unnecessarily” a constitutional issue that wasn’t fully briefed and argued.

“Moreover, while the majority’s novel rule is, on its face, limited to special assessments and dues increases, the majority strongly hints that this line may not long endure,” Sotomayor said.

The case involves the intricate area of labor law involving the “agency fees,” or service fees that public-sector unions charge nonunion members for collective bargaining benefits and other permissible costs. Several of the Supreme Court’s key precedents in this area involve teachers’ unions, though the case decided on Thursday arose from a unit of the SEIU that represents California state employees.

The high court has sided with anti-union forces on related issues in several recent cases, and the new decison is likely to be influential as teachers’ unions and other public-employee labor organizations gear up to respond to state legislative measures aimed at curbing their collective bargaining rights.  read more…

via U.S. Supreme Court Deals Defeat to Public-Sector Unions – The School Law Blog – Education Week.

CCSD approves union contract – Farmington Daily Times

KIRTLAND – Bus drivers working in the Central Consolidated School District stood to receive a $500 bonus for perfect attendance this coming school year under the final draft of a collective bargaining agreement between the district and its unions.

That language was removed Tuesday before the governing board approved the master contract at its regular school board meeting. The board voted 4-1 in favor of the contract, which spells out salary schedules and other agreements between the district and its two employee unions.

The approved draft does not include bonuses for bus drivers.

“I have a hard time voting for something that’s illegal,” board member Randy Manning said during the Tuesday meeting.

The district cannot legally offer bonuses to employees for services not rendered because they are paid with public money.

“There’s nothing they have to do but show up to work,” Manning said of the bus drivers.

The proposed bonuses were presented about 18 months after the district offered $1,000 stipends to all employees, at a total cost of about $1 million. In exchange for the stipends, employees were required to attend a short inservice meeting.

The Attorney General’s Office still is considering whether those stipends were an illegal use of public money.

Manning on Tuesday argued that while the Attorney General’s Office still is debating the legality of the last round of bonuses, the district would be ill-advised to approve another set. Manning cast the sole

vote against the agreement, though the bus driver bonuses were stricken from the contract before it went for a final vote.

Phil Kasper, human resources director for the district, told the board the bonuses were an incentive to keep bus drivers from taking absences.

“It was not our intention to be a bonus, but rather an incentive,” Kasper said. “We wanted to give a payment incentive to all drivers and recognize the service of not taking absences. …The provision was so drivers understood that the first day’s absence would cost them far more than a day’s pay.”

The district’s attorney, Arthur Melendres, advised the board to strike the bonuses from the contract.

“You must require something additional to driving a bus,” he said.

Manning also raised concerns about a revised salary schedule that was included in the agreement. The district plans to change the way it rewards teachers for years served and education received.

For example, included in the agreement is language that cuts pay incentives for teachers with the highest education levels and years in the classroom while boosting pay for younger teachers.

The goal, Kasper said, was to “start evening things out.”

“We had employees who were grossly overpaid and employees who were grossly underpaid,” he said. “All employees will be on a salary schedule that is transparent and makes sense. There are significant discrepancies” in how people are paid.

The salary schedule, according to Superintendent Don Levinski, was revised to allow the district to offer teacher wages that are competitive with other area districts.

“It gives us stability for a number of years,” Levinski said Tuesday. “It makes CCSD competitive.”

According to Kasper, 89 percent of union members voted in favor of the agreement.

Also on Tuesday, the board voted unanimously in favor of selling $8 million in bonds and calling $7.7 million in existing bonds. By calling bonds issued 10 years ago, the district can refinance and save taxpayers an estimated $300,000 in interest, Melendres said.

“All taxpayers will benefit,” he said. “This is a pretty significant opportunity to benefit the community as a whole.”

The additional $8 million in bonds will be sold July 17 and approved at the board meeting that evening. The funds will be used to renovate the three Shiprock elementary schools and begin work on a new school in Naschitti.

via CCSD approves union contract – Farmington Daily Times.

Council gives first reading only to police union contract | The Tribune

Second reading given to AFSCME pact

In a specially called meeting, the Ironton City Council Wednesday gave first reading to a new contract with the Fraternal Order of Police Local 75 and second reading to an agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 771.

The absence of two council members left only five in attendance, meaning the rules could not be suspended and either matter given the three readings required for passage. Council member Dave Frazer was at a doctor’s appointment out of town and fellow member Beth Rist also did not attend.

Council Chairman Mike Lutz called two more special meetings, one for 5:30 p.m. today and another for 5:30 p.m. Friday to allow for the required number of readings.

Both contracts call for police and public works meet the council-mandated seven-and-a-half percent budget cut by not returning laid off employees to their jobs. AFSCME has six employees laid off; there are two police officers laid off. The firefighters union chose to cut the department food budget and each employee’s clothing allowance to make its budget cut.

Council meets on the third floor of the Ironton City Center.

via Council gives first reading only to police union contract | The Tribune.