Public sector union’s long-time political director retiring – TheHill.com

Larry Scanlon, national political director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), is retiring from his post.

Scanlon will set up his own firm after 38 years in the labor movement that included nearly 17 as the political director for the country’s largest public-sector union. The move comes after AFSCME elected Secretary-Treasurer Lee Saunders as its new president and the union faced a harsh loss in the Wisconsin recall election against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) earlier this month.

Scanlon told The Hill that he thought Saunders should have a chance to pick his own political team. Saunders was considered a protégée of Gerry McEntee, who was AFSCME’s president for about 30 years and a big-time player in Democratic Party and labor politics.

“We have a new president who is going to be building a new team that is going to be taking us into the next decade,” Scanlon said. “President McEntee is retiring, and I am going out with him. … It seemed to be a good time to let them pick someone for the long haul.”

Scanlon, 62, said the Wisconsin fight — inspired by Walker’s push to end collective bargaining rights for some public workers — emphasized the need for an around-the-clock political director for AFSCME. Scanlon said he was having trouble meeting those demands.

“I just don’t have the stamina for the job that I once had, which is really important considering the scope of the fights we are in and the scope of our program. … This is 24/7. You have to be a general on the front lines,” Scanlon said. “I couldn’t be out so much out there on the front lines and that reinforced the fact that they needed a new political director.”

Scanlon’s last day at AFSCME is Friday. He plans to stay involved in politics, including working with the Campaign Group, a Democratic political consulting firm.

“He is one of the smartest and best political minds walking around Washington,” said Doc Sweitzer, a co-founder of the Campaign Group, about Scanlon.

Scanlon also plans to form his own consulting firm, called the Scanlon Consulting Group, to help AFSCME and other clients with any kind of political work, including independent expenditures, from time to time.

“It will be something to keep me occupied occasionally,” Scanlon said. “I will be able to take on projects that I want to do and work as much or as little that I want to.”

Hired in June 1974, Scanlon’s first job in labor was as a field service assistant in New York’s Hudson Valley for the Civil Service Employees Association, AFSCME’s largest local affiliate.

The University of Notre Dame graduate would later join AFSCME in Washington, getting involved in some of its biggest fights, including the Wisconsin recall battle and pushing back against former President George W. Bush’s Social Security privatization effort.

Scanlon said labor has come under attack and that it’s fighting for its existence as new Republican governors and state legislatures from the 2010 elections have targeted unions.

“I think we are literally in a fight for survival. … The right-wing kind of folks, the libertarians, are asking ‘why do public workers have pensions and benefits?’ and are trying to take those away. They instead should be asking why don’t we have those?” Scanlon said. “If labor doesn’t survive, this country won’t survive.”

AFSCME’s political power has expanded over the years as Scanlon helped to lead the charge. The political director believes one of his first political program budgets at the union — for the 1996 election cycle, specifically — was no more than $20 million. Now, that same budget is about $100 million for the 2012 election cycle.

“We are under attack in a lot of states, from the state legislature level, the governor level, to the explosion of ballot initiatives. We are also taking on our own fights,” Scanlon said.

AFSCME is still searching for Scanlon’s replacement, but he wasn’t worried that the union would miss a step as the November elections draw closer.

“We are cooking right along here. No problem,” Scanlon said. “[Saunders has] hit the ground running and he knows the scope of the fights that we are in. He’s pledged the full measure of our resources, continuing the program that McEntee started, for not just the federal level but also the state and local levels.”

via Public sector union’s long-time political director retiring – TheHill.com.

Utah Corrections breached contract, former officers allege | The Salt Lake Tribune

Thirty-six officers who worked in transportation and one SWAT unit member at the Utah State Prison allege in a newly filed complaint that the Utah Department of Corrections breached a pay agreement that assured they would receive higher wages.

The officers are seeking back pay, retirement fund contributions and interest on the earnings they claim they should have received under a long-standing agreement.

According to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in 3rd District Court, a former deputy warden implemented a higher pay rate for transportation officers because corrections had trouble attracting and retaining such employees. The agreement adopted in 1996 provided an 11 percent salary incentive, equivalent to a four-step pay differential, to transportation and SWAT officers on the basis of the complexity of the assignment, knowledge and specialized training required. The Utah Department of Corrections also agreed that if an officer was within three or fewer steps of the top pay scale, it would provide an incentive increase to close that gap.

But Tom Patterson, current corrections director, subsequently did away with the pay differential, the lawsuit says. The transportation officers subsequently filed a grievance, which led to adoption of a new agreement in 2000 between the currently employed officers and the Utah Department of Corrections that, among other things, reinstituted the pay differential. The department also agreed to extend essentially the same deal to newly hired transportation officers.

In 2008, the department shifted the transportation unit into a straight-line career ladder pay scale like that used for other corrections’ employees, the lawsuit states, once again eliminating the pay differential. Transportation officers did not become aware of the policy change until the fall of 2010, when the unit again filed a grievance alleging the department had breached its agreement.

About a year later, Patterson rejected the grievance, denying any basis for the workers’ complaint, the lawsuit says. Attempts to resolve the dispute failed, leading to the lawsuit.

In their lawsuit the officers bolster their claim by pointing to the fact that back in 2008, shortly after the pay scale was altered, Patterson provided back wages and retirement fund contributions to another officer who filed an individual grievance about his earnings.

The department “breached this covenant of good faith and fair dealing by unilaterally changing the terms of the agreements and failing to abide by the promises it made in the agreements,” the lawsuit states.

Mike Haddon, the department’s executive coordinator, declined to comment because the litigation is pending.

Attorneys for the officers were not immediately available for comment about the lawsuit.

via Utah Corrections breached contract, former officers allege | The Salt Lake Tribune.

Former Wisconsin high school teacher, football coach pleads to drug charges | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota

ANTIGO, Wis. — A former Antigo High School football coach and retired special education teacher has been sentenced to six months in jail after pleading guilty to drug charges.

Scot Peterson, 55, entered the pleas to 13 charges including manufacturing marijuana. Thirteen other charges were dismissed.

A criminal complaint says Peterson admitted selling marijuana to friends for five years.

Peterson was also sentenced Thursday to four years of extended supervision. Several other educators in the Antigo and Merrill school districts have also been charged or are under investigation.

WSAW-TV says Petersen had previously pleaded not guilty to all 26 charges in Langlade County Circuit Court.

via Former Wisconsin high school teacher, football coach pleads to drug charges | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

2 big blows to government unions mean hope for taxpayers | Arizona Capitol Times

June was not a good month for government labor unions.

Early in the month, they lost a big election in Wisconsin that was being watched nationally. And later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that dealt a blow for constitutional free speech rights and against unions.

Keep in mind that when we talk about labor unions today, it’s overwhelmingly about public sector unions. Among private sector workers, union membership has been on a long decline. For example, according to Unionstats.com, private sector union members came in at

15 million or 24.2 percent of private sector workers in 1973, versus 7.2 million and only 6.9 percent in 2011.

The story is basically the opposite in the public sector. In 1973, government labor union members registered 13.6 million, or 23 percent of government workers. In 2011, 20.5 million public sector union members accounted for 37 percent of government workers.

The decline of unions in the private sector has meant a more dynamic and productive workforce, and therefore, increased income and expanded opportunities for individuals willing to work smarter and harder.

In contrast, a larger union workforce in government means increased compensation for members, including wages, salaries, and all kinds of benefits, while designing workplace rules that limit productivity and create more positions to be filled by union members.

Public sector unions also are the most dominant force in politics working for big government. During good economic times, when revenues flow into government coffers, public sector unions push for higher pay and increased staff. When economic times are tough and/or when taxpayers fight the costs of runaway government, public sector unions implement a take-no-prisoners defense of government.

That led to the recall election held on June 5 in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, had the nerve to do what he promised during his 2010 campaign, i.e., push to limit public employee collective bargaining, and have government employees chip in more to cover lavish pension and health care benefits.

Government unions didn’t like this, and led the charge for Walker’s recall. And the unions made it not just a Wisconsin issue, but a national cause.

The result: Walker not only won by a larger margin – by 53 percent to 46 percent – than generally predicted in the polls, but he actually earned a larger share of the vote (53 percent), than he did when winning the governorship in 2010 (52 percent).

No matter how you slice, dice or spin it, there’s no way getting around this being a big loss for public sector unions. And it raises interesting questions. For example, is this a warning to other states with big public sector unions that taxpayers have had enough? And what about the presidential and congressional elections this November, as the Democratic Party’s largest, most organized and most well-funded backers are, without a doubt, government unions?

The government union take-no-prisoners strategy also led to a loss in the Supreme Court in Knox vs. SEIU.

In 2005, then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special election, with two ballot propositions opposed by public sector unions. If Proposition 75 had passed, it would have hit the union gravy train by changing state law regarding union fees for political activities. Since California law imposes an “agency shop,” i.e., all employees being represented by the union, nonunion employees must pay, if they do not opt out, fees for union political activity. Prop. 75 would have required that nonunion employees must opt in on such fees. That would have been a tremendous funding hurdle for unions.

Ironically, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) imposed an additional political fee to fight Prop. 75, but gave nonunion employees no opt out.

Given this blatant violation of free speech, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 against the SEIU. In Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion, joined by four others on the court, it was pointed out, “If Proposition 75 had passed, nonmembers would have been exempt from paying for the SEIU’s extensive political projects unless they affirmatively consented. Thus, the effect of the SEIU’s procedure was to force many nonmembers to subsidize a political effort designed to restrict their own rights.” The majority summed up, “This aggressive use of power by the SEIU to collect fees from nonmembers is indefensible.”

It’s also worth noting what the majority said about the general opt-out on political spending that’s been allowed by past courts. The majority noted that “requiring objecting nonmembers to opt out of paying the nonchargeable portion of union dues – as opposed to exempting them from making such payments unless they opt in – represents a remarkable boon for unions.” By approving opt-out schemes, the majority noted that “our prior decisions approach, if they do not cross, the limit of what the First Amendment can tolerate.” And later: “Our cases have tolerated a substantial impingement on First Amendment rights by allowing unions to impose an opt-out requirement to all.”

Labor unions have no special place that should allow them to infringe upon First Amendment free speech rights. The Supreme Court finally raised this important issue. Let’s hope in a future case, it directly rules on the matter.

Like I said, June was a bad month for government labor unions. But if you’re a taxpayer, June provided some hope.

via 2 big blows to government unions mean hope for taxpayers | Arizona Capitol Times.

Pension Reform: Could Michigan Be A Model State?

Appalled by the $22.4 billion fiscal millstone that the public teacher pension fund (MPSERS) has become, Michigan lawmakers hope to make long-overdue structural reforms. In particular, the Michigan Senate is now considering a new “Hybrid” pension plan that would bring retirement benefits more in line with the defined-contribution plans so often utilized by the private sector. If Michigan — a state whose economic struggles are well documented — can achieve fiscal stability, the rest of America should take note.

While Hybrid systems cannot wreak any more havoc than defined-benefit plans do now, they still bear similar risks. If the “normal cost” of MPSERS — the amount needed to prefund a year’s worth of retirement benefits — is inaccurate, the state risks the possibility of a severe shortfall in the pension fund. In other words, Hybrid plans assume a certain rate of return on investment in order to work. As is true with defined-benefit plans (which promise a certain payoff upon retirement), both taxpayers and teachers suffer when those investment predictions prove overly-optimistic.

The good news is that, by offering a 401(k) option, a Hybrid system can lessen the chance of underfunding. The advantage of a 401(k) program, as noted by a June 26 editorial in The Detroit News, is that future taxpayers never pay for the overly optimistic promises made by politicians today. Unfunded liabilities simply do not occur in this sort of arrangement, otherwise known as a defined-contribution plan.

A Hybrid pension system can also create good outcomes for educators. The 401(k) is portable, meaning that teachers can take their savings with them when they leave the school district. By including the 401(k) option, the Hybrid plan offers flexibility for younger teachers who may not want to work as an educator for an entire career.

By way of contrast, defined-benefit programs often lock a teacher into a single district where they stay in order to avoid seeing their nest egg squashed. Many public school teachers throughout the U.S. risk losing up to 50 percent of their pension if they decide to transition into other careers.

As Chad Aldeman and Andrew J. Rotherham observe, DB plans also “back-load benefits so that teachers accrue substantial pension wealth in their last years in the classroom.” With such cash incentives, DB plans reward teachers financially for holding on even if they feel burned out. Reforming or eliminating defined-benefit plans would give teachers the flexibility to make career choices that suit them, rather than worrying about their longevity in a particular school district.

Unsurprisingly, the Michigan Education Association (MEA) stands by this structure of incentives. They argue that the new plan imposes a “hefty financial burden” on current and future workers. But the MEA seems bent on cleverly disguising what the Hybrid system actually does. It will remove pensions from the control of politicians (and their dangerously myopic actuaries) and place them firmly in the hands of individual teachers — where it should have been in the first place.

Some Democrats oppose the Hybrid system on the grounds that it breaks the political promises made to teachers. But they underestimate the moderate nature of the proposal. Teachers with old defined-benefit plans can hold on to them, while recently hired educators (and future hires) can choose from MIP or the 401(k) options. Other opponents of the bill assume that the presence of short term “transition costs” justify blocking long-term structural reforms, but these arguments do not hold water either.

Here is the biggest piece of evidence for adopting a Hybrid plan: every new Michigan state employee (excluding teachers) has already enrolled in a 401(k) program. Shockingly, the sky has not fallen. Michigan’s unfunded pension obligations have actually decreased by several billion dollars. Dare I say it — Michigan’s public sector is doing just fine. There is no good reason why the educational system cannot do the same.

via Pension Reform: Could Michigan Be A Model State?.

2,000 University of Toledo workers approve new union contract – Toledo Blade

University of Toledo workers who are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees approved a one-year contract extension today with the university.

The union represents about 2,000 employees at the school’s Health Science campus. The agreement extends the final year of a three-year contract approved in October, 2010, that covered the period from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2012.

That pact included a 2 percent pay raise in November, 2010, and the next year a 3 percent raise, including a lump-sum performance bonus. Employees agreed to higher health-insurance premiums and dropped a vacation and sick time cash-out policy.

Terms of the contract would remain the same from the last year of the previous contract. Extending the contract for another year should have negligible costs to the university.

The UT Board of Trustees had approved the contract extension June 18.

via 2,000 University of Toledo workers approve new union contract – Toledo Blade.

Fire Union Contract Increases Wages, Pension Contribution – Oak Creek, WI Patch

The city of Oak Creek and the firefighters’ union have come to terms on a contract similar to the police union deal approved in March.

Under the three-year agreement, Local 1848 members get a 3 percent wage increase the first two years and 2 percent in the last year. But employees will also make contributions to the Wisconsin Retirement System of 3 percent in 2012 and 2.9 percent (or the state-adjusted rate) the next year.

The agreement also eliminates health insurance for retirees and their spouses when they become eligible for Medicare. That reduces the city’s Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB) liability by some $6 million to $7 million, city officials said.

In exchange, the city will pay out a total of $209,000 into current employees’ pension account — a one-time payment equal to 150 hours based on a rate of $33.17 per hour.

All told, the net increase to the city is roughly $70,000, according to a report to council members.

The contract also allows the city to implement changes in the health plan design.

Labor Attorney Rob Buikema, who represented Oak Creek in the negotiations, said the city wanted the fire union contract to be consistent with other city employees.

“In light of Act 10, with bargaining rights still intact for police and fire, that was achievable, but at a higher cost,” Buikema said. “You can say, clearly, that we have achieved consistency with insurance and the post-65 elimination and the WRS payment, but obviously there had to be a corresponding wage increase.”

Buikema praised the city’s Personnel Committee and the firefighters union for reaching a voluntary settlement.

“In any bargain, there’s give and take. There had to be a lot of give and take here,” he said. “I think it says a lot about the union and the city that we were able to achieve a voluntary settlement, especially as challenging as several of the issues are.”

Oak Creek aldermen agreed, saying negotiations got intense at times and it took concessions from both sides.

“This was an agreement that was fair to both sides,” said Alderman Tom Michalski, who is also a member of the Personnel Committee. “While we went ahead with some wage increases for the next three years, I think the big picture is the OPEB costs that will be paid back ten-fold.

“I’m on other taxing bodies (Milwaukee Area Technical College) and I know that other taxing bodies are really struggling to meet their OPEB financial responsibilities, and this is one way to do it. I’m just happy to say we’re going down a path for the future of the city to have these under control.”

The council approved the agreement on a 5-0 vote. Alderman Ken Gehl, who opposed the police union contract because it increased wages, was not present for that portion of the meeting.

The council has also approved a salary increase for Finance Director Mark Wyss.

Wyss took on additional duties of comptroller, which previously resided with the city clerk, City Administrator Gerald Peterson said. His salary is now at $96,175, up from $85,064.

“I believe that a reclassification of this position within our wage scale, making its pay on par with Police Department captains and the deputy fire chief position, is appropriate and justified,” Peterson said.

via Fire Union Contract Increases Wages, Pension Contribution – Oak Creek, WI Patch.

New superintendent of West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan schools to start Monday – TwinCities.com

  After the somewhat abrupt departure of their last leader and nearly a year under an interim superintendent, West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan schools will welcome a new leader next week.

Nancy Allen-Mastro, an educator with 30 years of experience who last worked as an assistant superintendent with the Bloomington schools, will take over the superintendent post from interim leader Tom Nelson on Monday, July 2.

Throughout her career, Allen-Mastro has taught, served as a principal and held several leadership positions.

“All of that experience I can pull together and move into a lead role,” Allen-Mastro said. “It is the right time in my career.”

The school board’s willingness to look to the future and the involvement of the community drew her to the district, Allen-Mastro said. She repeatedly pointed to the district’s recent “strategic redesign plan” as an example of how the board was “forward thinking.”

The plan, presented to board members earlier this year after months of work by a committee, outlines ways the district could be more efficient and improve the way it educates students. It includes embracing things like technology, new instruction techniques, shared services and alternative revenues.

“That really was an appealing document for me,” Allen-Mastro said. “It fit with my interest as an educator. There are some pretty bold things in there.”

One of her first steps will be to help lay the groundwork for some of the proposals in the strategic

plan.

“It’s hard for a school district to change,” she said. “I want to find that sweet spot between what the community wants and is ready for and what the staff wants and is ready for. We’re all moving into the 21st century. It’s a nice time to be thinking differently about schools.”

Mark Spurr, school board chairman, said he and fellow board members were excited to have Allen-Mastro beginning her time with the district. “I know she has a lot she wants to get done in her first hundred days,” he said.

The board picked the district’s next leader after a meticulous effort involving a candidate profile, a national search and numerous daylong interviews.

In selecting Allen-Mastro from the three finalists, Spurr noted her communication skills and data-driven approach to education.

Both the board chair and the incoming superintendent believe the new administration will be able to “hit the ground running” next week.

Allen-Mastro said Nelson’s work as interim superintendent over the past year helped make the prospects for an easy transition possible. Nelson stepped in last year, after former superintendent Jay Haugen accepted a position with Farmington schools.

“I think it will be a smooth transition, in part because of the work Tom Nelson did,” Allen-Mastro said. “He set it up for the next person to be successful.”

via New superintendent of West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan schools to start Monday – TwinCities.com.

Union Bosses: Are They Con Men?

The definition of a con man is “a dishonest person who uses clever means to cheat others out of something of value.” Nowadays, a fitting synonym for “con man” may very well be “union boss.”

The good news: con men get caught.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court ruled against union bosses in Knox v. Service Employees Int’l Union, Local 1000. The court explained the basis for the case:

In June 2005, respondent, a public-sector union (SEIU), sent to California employees its annual Hudson notice, setting and capping monthly dues and estimating that 56.35% of its total expenditures in the coming year would be chargeable expenses. A nonmember had 30 days to object to full payment of dues but would still have to pay the chargeable portion.

After this 30 day opt-out period, however, the SEIU imposed an additional surcharge to fund its political activism surrounding the 2006 election. This left non-members powerless, and many were forced to fund political positions with which they did not agree. Like con men, SEIU was cleverly circumventing the law in order to cheat non-union members of their first amendment rights.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court dealt a huge blow to unions looking to take advantage of non-union members. Now unions must allow workers to opt-in to special short-term assessments for political advocacy, rather than opting out. Additionally, employees can no longer be charged with “interim assessments.”

Sadly, SEIU is not the only union using tactics typically reserved for con men.

An Alamogordo public defender filed a complaint with the New Mexico Public Employee Labor Relations Board against the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) New Mexico Council 18 on June 26 for similar reasons. Earlier this year, Nancy Fleming began receiving delinquency notices from a collection agency for failure to make union payments since 2006. The catch – she was not aware that she was even represented by a union.

The worker was never informed by the AFSCME of representation and she was never asked if she wanted to be a member or pay union dues to the union.

New Mexico is not a right-to-work state, which means non-union members must still pay some union dues to keep their jobs. However, not all jobs in New Mexico are unionized and federal law requires union officials to inform all workers about where their union dues are being spent.

In other words, the AFSCME should have informed Nancy Fleming of two things:

Where her union dues were being spent; and

As a prerequisite to the first point, that she was represented by a union.

AFSCME did neither. Similar to SEIU, AFSCME decided to circumvent the law and take advantage of workers in hopes of a larger paycheck.

There is a solution to the problem, however. Both of these cases involved non-union (or uninformed) members in forced unionism states. If California and New Mexico were to follow the lead of 23 other states that have already instituted Right-to-Work provisions, unions such as SEIU and AFSCME would need to think of more innovative ways of filling their coffers.

via Union Bosses: Are They Con Men?.