Labor Notes (from this month’s Labor Watch)

From the May 2013 issue of the Capital Research Center publication Labor Watch:

President Obama nominated Thomas Perez, head of the civil rights division of the Justice Department, to be Secretary of Labor. As we go to press, Perez’s nomination faces hurdles. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has put a “hold” on the nomination and demanded that Perez answer questions about his failure to enforce requirements in the 1993 “Motor Voter” law that keep dead persons and other ineligible people off states’ voter rolls.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans have charged that Perez cut a “secret deal behind closed doors” with officials of St. Paul, Minnesota. Allegedly, Perez dropped cases involving bad paperwork on “stimulus” projects—cases that might have returned $200 million to the federal government—in return for the city’s dropping its appeal of a housing case.

Why was the housing case important? Because it could have given the Supreme Court an opportunity to overturn the doctrine of “disparate impact,” which allows the government to make false charges of racial discrimination based on racial bean-counting. (Among other things, Perez has used “disparate impact” to sue banks and force them to make loans to people who aren’t credit-worthy.) Leftists like Perez don’t want the Supreme Court to hear such a case—at least, not until President Obama gets a majority on the Court.

On March 28, Michigan officially became a right-to-work state, although it will take a while for everyone to benefit from the new law as union contracts expire and are re-negotiated. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy spearheaded the research that showed the advantages of right-to-work. Now the Center has created a new website on the issue: MIWorkerFreedom.org, which includes a feature that lets workers generate a letter invoking their right to stop paying union dues.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker and supporters of state-level union reforms chalked up another victory. Previously, unions targeted Walker, his lieutenant governor, pro-reform state legislators, and even state Supreme Court justices who voted not to strike down the reforms. But the reformers have won almost every contest, and the issue appears to have been settled for the near-future by the victory—with 57% of the vote—of Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack. That means the state’s highest court has a 4-3 majority in favor of respecting the reforms, a majority that’s likely to continue for some time.

Pro-reform forces also defeated unions in two local elections, including one in the union stronghold of Milwaukee County, where membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees fell from about 9,000 in 2011 to roughly 3,500 now. Statewide, public-sector union membership fell from 50% to 37% in just one year, 2011 to 2012. Nothing reveals more clearly how trapped workers have been by union bosses.

In Indiana, the state’s Supreme Court threw out by 5-0 a teachers’ union challenge to the state’s voucher program. In Colorado, the state Court of Appeals upheld that state’s only private school choice program, in Douglas County.

Many voucher programs across the country target students who attend failing schools, as determined by drop-out rates, test scores, etc. Meanwhile, in some jurisdictions, test scores now help determine teachers’ and administrators’ salaries. The result? In many places, manipulation of data or outright cheating.  As the Wall Street Journal noted, “When Florida passed voucher legislation in 1999, 78 schools received failing grades. The next year, miraculously, there were none and thus no one qualified for a voucher.” In Atlanta, an investigation caught teachers using X-Acto knives and lighters to open and reseal test booklets, or holding parties where students’ answers were corrected. Some 180 teachers and administrators are believed to have participated; 34 have been indicted. Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers blamed the tests, saying the Atlanta case “crystallizes the unintended consequences of our test-crazed policies.”

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