Labor Notes: November 2012

[Published before the election]  Michiganders are set to vote on a state constitutional amendment that would vastly expand the power of labor unions and become a model for the rest of the country. Proposal 2, known as the “Protect Our Jobs Amendment,” would enshrine unions’ collective-bargaining powers in the state constitution, invalidating any “existing or future” state laws that “abridge, impair, or limit” those powers. Union contracts would take priority over state law. Much of the reform legislation passed under Gov. Rick Snyder (R) could be invalidated, including reforms that require government workers to pay 20% of their healthcare premiums, make it easier to fire incompetent teachers, and protect the privatization of food, busing, and custodial services from collective bargaining agreements. Prop 2 would likely invalidate Public Act 4, which allows emergency managers to rewrite union contracts in order to save fiscally distressed local government entities. Michigan would be prohibited from becoming a right-to-work state, and opponents say that more than 170 existing state laws could be affected. Unions spent an estimated $8 million just getting the measure on the ballot.

Supporters admit that even they don’t know how far Prop 2’s effects would extend. A union lawyer said the amendment’s “interaction with existing constitutional provisions, laws, and ordinances will be determined by the courts on a case-by-case basis.” Much like Obamacare, it appears we’ll have to pass it to find out what’s in it.
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed several measures that unions supported, including (as reported by Ira Stoll of one that would have created state-mandated meal breaks, sleep periods, and rest breaks for domestic employees such as nannies and home health aides. In his veto message, Brown cited the possible “economic and human impact on the disabled or elderly person and their family of requiring overtime, rest, and meal periods for attendants who provide 24-hour care” and “fewer jobs for domestic workers,” and he asked “How would the state actually enforce the new work rules in the privacy of people’s homes?” Another veto killed legislation to make it a crime for farmers not to provide farm workers with “suitably cool” water and “continuous ready access to an area of shade sufficient to allow the body to cool.” You know unions have overreached when they lose even Jerry Brown!

The new movie Won’t Back Down takes on the issue of education reform and has been the target of union protests. In the film, a working-class mother, fed up with the treatment of her dyslexic daughter at a failing school, teams up with a teacher to trigger a parent-teacher takeover of the school. American Federation of Teachers boss Randi Weingarten denounced the movie (“the most blatant stereotypes and caricatures I’ve ever seen”), which, for anyone who cares about the nation’s children, makes it the must-see film of the year!

The infamous “Local 1199,” the largest union local in the country and an affiliate of the SEIU, is the target of a lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Two companies that own and operate nursing homes in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts claim that 1199, which represents healthcare workers, engaged in a “shake-down” campaign of threats, intimidation, personal harassment, false accusations of Medicare billing fraud, and acts of sabotage—such as tampering with medication records—that endangered the lives of nursing home residents. 1199 has close ties to the Obama administration: Patrick Gaspard, who spent nine years as 1199’s executive vice president for politics and legislation, served as director of the White House Office of Political Affairs and is now executive director of the Democratic National Committee. As noted by the Capital Research Center’s Matthew Vadum in his book Subversion Inc., Gaspard donated $40,000 to ACORN in 2007-08. Since his union salary was less than $112,000 in 2007, that makes Gaspard a very generous man.

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