April 1, 2011 Volume 112 Number 7
GOP mounting attacks on unions nationwide
Remember the union picket line slogan, "Take one of us on, take all of us on?" This year, statehouse Republicans across the country are giving new meaning to that: They appear to have resolved to "take all of us on." Around the country, bills are being pushed to strip collective bargaining rights from public employees, eliminate the prevailing wage and project labor agreements for construction workers, hamper union dues collection, and eliminate wage scales and seniority protections. Most of the Republican governors and majority leaders didn't campaign on union-busting, but they're going to extraordinary lengths to seize this moment to weaken and destroy unions.
Here are some state-by-state highlights:
A bill stripping Idaho teachers of most of their collective bargaining rights was signed into law March 17 by Gov. Butch Otter. The bill limits collective bargaining to compensation (salaries and benefits), limits the length of contracts to one year, and allows school boards to impose their terms if no agreement is reached by mid-June. It eliminates "evergreen" clauses from labor agreements; requires unions to document that they represent over 50 percent of employees before bargaining can begin; requires labor negotiations to be conducted in public meetings; eliminates continuing contracts and puts all teachers on one- or two- year contracts; eliminates seniority as a factor in layoff decisions; and requires performance evaluations to include feedback from parents and objective measures of growth in student achievement. Opponents of the bill filed initial paperwork with the secretary of state and will decide by mid-April whether to ask voters to overturn the law via referendum.
To get on the 2012 general election ballot, they would have to turn in petitions with signatures of 47,432 Idaho voters no more than 60 days following the end of the legislative session. Meanwhile, other bills heading to passage would set up a teacher merit pay program, and require districts to buy a laptop computer for every high school student, without providing any state money to pay for that.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage last weekend removed a 36-foot mural depicting the state's labor history from the Department of Labor headquarters. The 11-panel piece in part depicts a 1986 paper mill strike and "Rosie the Riveter" at Bath Iron Works. Artist Judy Taylor won a 2007 competition to create the mural to depict the "History of Labor in the State of Maine." Further, the names of conference rooms are being changed to make them more "business friendly." One of the room names being changed is the "Perkins Room," named for Frances Perkins, the first female secretary of labor and promoter of New Deal policies that improved workers' rights on the job. Perkins championed labor reforms after the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire that resulted in the deaths of 146 garment workers in New York City. March 25 was the 100th anniversary of that tragedy.
Republican Gov. John Kasich, elected in November with 49 percent of the vote, is pushing legislation to decimate public employee collective bargaining rights. It would end public employees' right to negotiate pensions and health benefits. Public worker strikes would be banned, and workers would face fines and be docked two days pay for every day they participate in a strike. The bill would do away with binding arbitration as alternative to strikes for police and firefighters. It would let elected officials impose their contract offers when negotiations break down. It would replace salary schedules based on step increases with merit pay and a salary range. Public charter school employees would be stripped of all collective bargaining rights. The bill also abolishes continuing contracts for teachers, requires teachers to be paid based on "performance," and bans teachers from bargaining over class sizes. It even bars public employees from talking with elected officials about any topic that could become a subject of bargaining.
When the bill didn't have enough votes to pass a Senate committee, the Senate leadership removed from the committee a Republican who was opposed to the bill and replaced him with one who favored it. The Ohio state Senate passed it 17-16 on March 2. On the day this issue went to press, the bill was scheduled for a House hearing, where Republicans have a 59-40 majority.
If it becomes law, unions will to try to overturn it via ballot referendum. To place the issue on a statewide ballot and put the law on hold, signatures must be collected from over 231,000 registered voters by July 6.
When the Indiana statehouse opened its 2011 session, Republican legislators aimed a loaded shotgun at organized labor. One bill would make Indiana a "right to work" state where dues would be optional in union-represented workplaces. Other bills would end the requirement to pay the prevailing wage on public construction projects; ban project labor agreements; ban automatic deduction of union dues for teachers; expand charter schools; increase state-funded vouchers for private school tuition; and strike down local minimum wage laws. There's even a bill to ban employers from recognizing unions on the basis of "card check," which if passed would defy a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that such laws are pre-empted by federal legislation.
When it became clear the right-to-work bill would pass the Legislature, Democratic lawmakers left the state to deprive Republicans of the two-thirds quorum they need to do business. They holed up for 36 days in a hotel in Urbana, Illinois, before returning to the Capitol March 28. Republican leaders agreed to drop the right-to-work measure, but other anti-union bills remain. The legislative session is supposed to conclude at the end of April.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law March 16 a bill to give state-appointed emergency financial managers the power to void and rewrite public employee collective bargaining agreements — in local jurisdictions facing financial stress.
Currently, four local jurisdictions have been placed under control of emergency financial managers, but dozens more could be, particularly as Snyder is proposing a $1.73 billion business tax cut.
The Florida House voted 80-39 March 16 for a bill that would put all teachers hired from here on out on year-to-year contracts, and pay them according to a yet-to-be-developed merit pay system. Then March 25, a bill passed 73-40 to ban automatic payroll deductions of public employee union dues. The bill would also require written authorization by union members for dues to be used for political activities. Another bill would force unions to send a letter to members explaining their right to decertify.
A bill passed by the Alabama Legislature in December bans school employees from having their union dues directly deducted from their paychecks. On March 18, a federal judge put a temporary halt to the law, saying it violates rights to free speech and equal protection.
A Republican House committee approved a budget bill March 24 that would make public sector workers "at will" employees if and when their contracts expire. It would also end the automatic collection of union dues out of paychecks and force annual re-certifications for public employee unions. Republicans have strong majorities in both houses. The governor, a conservative Democrat, hasn't yet committed to vetoing the bill. Republicans could have enough votes to override a veto.
Defying a month-long uprising, Republican majorities passed a draconian anti-union law proposed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker. It requires unionized public-sector units to vote every year to determine whether workers still want to remain unionized; requires public-employee unions to bargain new contracts every year, but bars them from negotiating anything but base wages; and limits public employee wage increases to the consumer price index unless voters approve higher raises via a referendum. It allows state officials to fire workers for striking, or for missing work for three unexcused days; halts state collection of union dues and gives union-represented public employees the right to pay no dues; requires public employees to pay half the cost of their pensions and 12.6 percent of their health care premiums; and eliminates collective bargaining rights altogether for University of Wisconsin employees and for home health care workers.
But a legal challenge has put the law on hold. The measure was pushed through March 9 without giving a 24-hour public notice, and a judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing the law from taking effect until that issue is ruled on. The challenge is expected to be decided by the State Supreme Court, which has a one-vote conservative majority. But that outcome could rest on the results of an April 5 Supreme Court election, which pits a conservative incumbent against a more progressive challenger.
Meanwhile, opponents of the new law are busy working to recall eight Republican state senators, and have vowed to begin a recall of Walker next January.
If you ever thought solidarity was charity for the other guy, think again. Solidarity is collective self-preservation. It's a group survival ethic, and working people as a class are going to need it.
Anti-union forces are feeling their oats. If they succeed in turning private sector workers against public sector workers, in pitting parents against teachers, teachers against the teachers union, it won't be long before they come after the stragglers.
Now would be the time to lend a hand and get involved.
© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.