Entries in Unions (2)


As Unions Reel, Pension Reforms Gain Support

Image Source/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The labor movement was dealt a few blows Wednesday night, and not just in the whirlwind recall election in Wisconsin.

In California, voters in San Diego and San Jose decided to change pension rules, approving ballot initiatives that would reduce benefits for public workers. Support for the ballot questions was definitive, despite unions’ opposition, indicating that voters there view pensions as a key contributor to inflated budgets.

In an era of austerity, concerns about pensions are finding a place not just in Republicans’ playbooks. Scott Walker, the Republican governor who survived the Wisconsin recall Tuesday night, has noted that pension reform efforts have taken root in liberal Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and California, too. Walker, of course, got into the recall battle by curbing some collective bargaining rights of state workers.

In Massachusetts last year, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a pension bill that raised the minimum retirement age to 60, from 55. His newer effort aims to stop public workers from getting unemployment money while they’re getting pension payments.

In Rhode Island, Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who has already signed a pension reform bill into law, is seeking to let cities cut benefits to retired public workers. He’s drawn opposition from unions that have said they’d fight the proposal in court if necessary, while mayors have said the measure would alleviate budget pressures.

And in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has tried to cut budgets by raising the retirement age for most government workers to 65 from 62, and lower the amount of money given to workers after retirement to 50 percent of their salary, from 60 percent.

Christina Tobin, the vice president of Taxpayers United of America, a group that pushes for pension reform across the country, said she has seen support for pension reform from a range of voters that includes members of the Tea Party and factions of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“Pensions are the number-one budgetary problem in the United States,” Tobin said. “The system is unsustainable. If we don’t reform it, the system will collapse and the paychecks will stop coming.”

Advocates for changing pension rules across the country see signs that their movement is getting attention. Jon Coupal, the president of a taxpayers association, told The New York Times after Tuesday night’s votes in San Diego and in San Jose that “the appetite for pension reform in California is huge,” and that he hoped the measures would inspire other cities to act.

That would probably lead to more fights with union leaders. One of the biggest faces of the labor movement, Richard Trumka, the president of the AFL-CIO, reacted to the Democrats’ loss in Wisconsin Tuesday night by telling reporters that “the new model that Wisconsin’s working families have built won’t go away after one election; it will only grow.”

“Working families are more committed than ever to creating an economy that works for all,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Teacher Tenure Under Fire as States Try to Cut Deficits

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It took the Los Angeles school district five years at a cost of $3.5 million to fire six teachers for poor performance, An investigation by a L.A. area weekly newspaper found.

In Washington, D.C., 75 teachers were dismissed for alleged incompetence in 2008. One teacher was let go for playing DVDs in class, another missed 20 days of work in two months. All ended up being reinstated by an arbitrator.

The story is similar in New York City where hundreds of teachers considered too inept to teach are kept out of classrooms, but continue to collect full salaries and benefits.

"The administration there has decided that it's actually harmful to children to have them in classrooms and yet the public is still responsible for continuing to pay full salary and benefits for these people year in and year out," said Michelle Rhee, former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools and Founder of StudentsFirst. "That's absolutely a waste of taxpayer dollars."

An even louder chorus of critics is attacking unionized public school teachers for their tenure and seniority rules, job protections that make it difficult to remove bad teachers.

On Thursday, the head of the largest national teachers union responded to the continued criticism by offering a major concession, a proposal to make it easier and faster to fire even tenured teachers who are not making the grade.

"Under the proposal, a teacher deemed 'unsatisfactory' would be required to submit to an improvement plan which could last anywhere from a month to a year," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "If administrators and peer experts thought the teacher had not improved, they would refer it to an arbitrator who would decide within 100 days to keep or dismiss the teacher."

Under the new proposal it would still take as long as 15 months to remove a teacher who's ultimately determined unfit to be in a classroom.

Many of the teacher's union protections have already been eroded and thousands of teachers are being fired as states and cities cut their budgets to close deficits.

In Providence, Rhode Island, all 1,900 teachers just received termination notices, ahead of what are expected to be massive layoffs. The city's mayor says state law will allow the dismissals outside of seniority rules.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio