Tag Archives: unions

Danger list: A look at the Republican agenda for 2017

Republicans emerged from the November elections holding their greatest level of power in decades. Not only will Republicans control the White House and Congress, but the GOP also will hold 33 governors’ offices and have majorities in 33 state legislatures. A look at the GOP agenda for state legislative sessions.

ABORTION

• Ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

• Ban dilation and extraction abortions, a procedure more commonly used in the second trimester.

• Lengthen the time women must wait to have an abortion after receiving counseling about its effects.

• Block government funding from going to abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.

BUSINESSES

• Reduce or eliminate corporate income taxes.

• Relax business regulations and professional licensing requirements.

EDUCATION

• Expand the availability of vouchers, scholarships or tax credits that allow taxpayer money to cover K-12 tuition costs at private schools.

• Expand opportunities for charter schools.

GUNS

• Allow people with concealed gun permits to carry weapons on college campuses.

• Reduce the costs for concealed gun permits and ensure that permits from one state are recognized elsewhere.

•  Allow people to carry concealed guns without needing permits or going through training.

LAWSUITS

• Limit how much money plaintiffs can win in medical malpractice and personal injury cases.

• Restrict where lawsuits can be filed in an attempt to prevent plaintiffs from bringing suit in jurisdictions perceived to be favorable.=

• Restrict who can qualify to provide expert witness testimony.

• Reduce the rates used to calculate interest on monetary judgments.

UNIONS

• Enact right-to-work laws, which prohibit workplace contracts that have mandatory union fees.

• Restrict the collective bargaining powers of public employee unions.

• Require members of public employee unions to annually affirm their desire for dues to be deducted from paychecks.

• Curtail or repeal prevailing wage laws, which set minimum pay scales on public construction projects.

On the Web

Pew’s Stateline reports.

 

 

Report: Fight for $15 wins $62 billion in raises over 4 years

The Fight for $15 marked its fourth anniversary this week with strikes, protests and civil disobedience from coast to coast. A report from the National Employment Law Project says since the movement’s launch in New York in 2012, the Fight for $15 has won nearly $62 billion in raises.

 

“The Fight for $15’s impact towers over past congressional action because it has been propelled by what workers need — not what moderate compromise might allow,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, in a news release. “As a result, workers have been fighting for and winning much bigger raises for much more of the workforce than ever before.”

The NELP analysis quantifies the impact of the Fight for $15. Some key findings:

• Since the Fight for $15 launched in 2012, underpaid workers have won $61.5 billion in raises from a combination of state and local minimum wage increases from New York to California and action by employers ranging from McDonald’s to Walmart to raise their companies’ minimum pay scales. This includes the additional annual income that workers will receive after the approved increases fully phase in.

  • Of the $61.5 billion in additional income, two-thirds is the result of $15 minimum wage laws that the Fight for $15 pressed for in California, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, SeaTac and Washington, D.C.
  • At least 19 million workers nationwide will benefit from raises sparked by the Fight for $15.
  • 2.1 million workers won raises in November, when voters approved minimum wage ballot initiatives in Arizona ($12 by 2020), Colorado ($12 by 2020), Maine ($12 by 2020), Washington State ($13.50 by 2020), and Flagstaff, Arizona ($15 by 2021).

The raises sparked by the Fight for $15 are beginning to reverse decades of wage declines that have resulted in 43 percent of the workforce, or 60 million workers, being paid less than $15 per hour.

Across the United States, the median wage rose 5.6 percent last year, the largest increase since at least the 1960s, according to the report.

Supreme Court declines to reopen Walker campaign case

The U.S. Supreme Court will not take up an appeal on the John Doe 2 case, permanently ending a probe into Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign against a recall.

The high court declined to reopen the John Doe 2 investigation, leaving in place the state supreme court’s decision that halted the John Doe probe into whether the Republican governor illegally coordinated with outside interest groups, specifically the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth. The state court’s decision was considered highly partisan.

In the probe, prosecutors were looking into whether Walker’s campaign coordinated with conservative groups on campaign ads in 2012. The governor was fighting off a recall effort after he signed his bill stripping public unions of collective bargaining rights.

The Wisconsin Justice Initiative on Oct. 3 said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision highlights a need to reform state judicial campaign laws.

“This unfortunate decision doesn’t erase the perception that money corrupted the deliberative process of the Wisconsin Supreme Court,” WJI executive director Gretchen Schuldt said. “That court’s majority took too much in campaign funds from too many players with interests in the case. The money raises suspicions that will never go away.”

The state should bar judges from participating in cases that include or might affect campaign donors, according to WJI. Also, judges should be blocked from participating in cases involving groups or individuals who have provided endorsements in the judges’ races.

“The integrity of the state supreme court has rightly been called into question,” Schuldt said. “The court itself does not want to restore it and the U.S. Supreme Court does not want to restore it. It is up to Wisconsin voters to insist that their legislators enact laws that will ensure the state supreme court is the pride of Wisconsin, not the huge embarrassment it is now.”

Iowa County District Attorney Larry Nelson, Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm issue a joint statement after learning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision: “We are disappointed by today’s Supreme Court order denying our Petition for Certiorari. The state supreme court decision, left intact by today’s order, prohibits Wisconsin citizens from enacting laws requiring the full disclosure of disguised contributions to a candidate, i.e., monies expended by third parties at the direction of a candidate for the benefit of that candidate’s election. We are proud to have taken this fight as far as the law would allow and we look forward to the day when Wisconsin adopts a more enlightened view of the need for transparency in campaign finance.”

Wisconsin Club for Growth president Eric O’Keefe, according to Wisconsin Public Radio, said, “From its inception, this proceeding was a politically motivated attack and a criminal investigation in search of a theory.”

The high court announced the decision without explanation on Oct. 3, the court’s first day of the fall term. The order said, “The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.”

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

 

AFT: Labor unions and shared prosperity

On the occasion of Labor Day, a message from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on the importance of the labor movement to American workers and communities:

Today is Labor Day—and there’s a good reason it’s a national holiday. By organizing together and fighting collectively, workers have been able to better their lives and the lives of their families. So rather than think about Labor Day as the last gasp of summer or bemoan the loss of union clout, let’s redouble our efforts to re-create an enduring middle class.

Income and wealth inequality rivals levels last seen in the Gilded Age. The American dream has slipped away from those who are working hard to make it. And rather than confronting these realities, many — particularly on the right — turned to union bashing and restricting labor rights that rendered people powerless to address inequities. The result: stagnating wages and stifled hopes for men and women who worked hard and played by the rules.

But we continue to fight — to fight for higher wages, fair contracts, professional development, safety measures, and resources for our members and their students, their patients and the others they serve.

America’s educators, healthcare professionals and public service workers know this firsthand. After the Great Recession, some on the right seized the political moment to vilify teachers and assault the labor movement that gives them a voice. In the aftermath, a study by a University of Utah economist showed that, in the four states that successfully weakened teachers’ right to bargain together, public school teachers’ wages fell by nearly one-tenth. That’s a statistic we as educators and public servants simply cannot afford.

Conversely, robust unions help everyone — not just the people who form them—and a growing body of research demonstrates that. There’s a multiplier effect. Through unions, we lift up our communities, strengthen the economy and deepen our democracy. If unions were as strong today as in 1979, according to a timely new study by the Economic Policy Institute, nonunion men with a high school diploma would earn an average of $3,016 more a year. And the Center for American Progress has found that kids who live in communities where unions are strong have a better chance to get ahead.

Workers in unions earn, on average, 27 percent more than their nonunion counterparts. The National Women’s Law Center has found that unions close the pay gap for women, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research has found that black workers see outsized gains from union representation. It’s a powerful reminder of the link between organized labor and economic success.

You see the union advantage in our advocacy as well. When the recession devastated the construction sector and put millions of Americans out of work, the American labor movement came together with the goal of raising $10 billion to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Five years later, our pension funds have reallocated $16 billion for infrastructure investments, including rehabilitating New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, turning it into a travel hub befitting a great modern city and creating good American jobs in the process.

In hospitals and patient care settings across the country, our members have been leading the fight against workplace violence.

And in the classroom, unions are critical partners in giving kids the chance to succeed. A 2016 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that where teachers unions are strong, districts have a better track record of building the quality of our teaching force — keeping stronger teachers and dismissing those who are not making the grade. Through unions, teachers fight for the tools, time and trust that educators need to tailor instruction to the needs of our children, to help them reach for and achieve their dreams.

Here at the AFT, we take that work seriously—for example, curating Share My Lesson, a free digital collection of lesson plans and resources for educators used by nearly a million people. In fact, Share My Lesson has more than 750 lessons about Labor Day!

Despite years of right-wing attacks on unions, a 2015 survey found that a majority of Americans would join a union if they had the choice. They know what a union offers: a voice in their workplace, the opportunity to negotiate wages and benefits and the ability to retire with dignity and security.

Indeed, despite all the attacks waged against us, the AFT—which celebrated our 100th anniversary at our national convention this summer—has grown over the past several years, with well over 1.6 million K-12 and higher education educators and staff, state and local employees, and nurses and other healthcare professionals as members. And now we are seeing more vulnerable workers — such as adjunct faculty and graduate students, teachers at charter schools and early childhood educators—seeking to join our ranks. In the private sector, tens of thousands of low-income workers have joined the Fight for 15 and the union movement because they know a union will help them get long-denied wage increases.

We have taken on the fight for adjuncts and early childhood educators from Pennsylvania to California — many of whom work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. These are the people who teach our youngest children, and they’re the ones who educate our college students; they deserve to live above the poverty line while doing this critical work.

Graduate students at Cornell University are celebrating the recent National Labor Relations Board decision that reinstates the right of graduate workers at private universities to organize. They are building momentum and talking to hundreds of fellow grad students about the power of collective bargaining, and are excited about the prospect of winning union recognition and joining more than 25,000 AFT graduate employees at public institutions who already enjoy the benefits of a contract.

The aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II led our country to understand we were all in it together. We established the GI Bill and other educational access and equity programs; management and labor respected each other, with unions being the voice of labor; and the middle class thrived.

Now, as income inequality is again at its height, let’s remember on this Labor Day what a strong labor movement has done—and can do again—to help workers, our communities, the economy and our democracy grow and thrive.

The rise and demise of a West Virginia coal mine

On the day Victor Clark retired after 26 years at the Hobet coal mine in West Virginia, the bosses called him to the office for a surprise.

His wife, daughter, and sons Rocky and Tony, both miners, turned out for ice-cream, pop and a farewell toast for a man who had been at the West Virginia strip mine since the beginning. “You felt appreciated,” Clark, 87, remembered of that day in January 1990.

When son Tony left the same mine in 2012, there was no fuss. “They had my job posted before I was out the door,” Tony said.

In a generation, the Hobet mine transformed from a small, founder-run operation to a company cheered in three different incarnations by Wall Street and twice bankrupt — a twisting path mirroring the fortunes of a U.S. coal industry whose output is at its lowest level in decades. Operating 25 miles south of Charleston in the belly of West Virginia, Hobet is a case study of a once-rich industry in decline.

Coal supporters blame competition from natural gas, weak demand from China and government pollution controls they call a “war on coal.” All those forces hampered an industry where the largest investor-owned companies are mired in bankruptcy.

Yet there’s something more to the coal story and the fall of industry behemoths. Like the onetime family-run Hobet mine, the coal sector transformed from a blue collar bastion known for dirty, dangerous work to one noted for its dizzying mode of buy and sell.

Some coal insiders believe the industry’s quest for fast profits through corporate maneuvers brought peril, not promise. As companies sought new investments, they shed union mines and left worker benefits in jeopardy. Those same companies piled up debt as they acquired rivals.

Bob Murray, an outspoken coal baron who founded Murray Energy, believes a drive for short-term profits pushed publicly-traded companies to the brink.

“I watched it go on and shook my head,” Murray said. “Everyone was shoving liabilities to someone else.”

As a privately held company, Murray Energy did not face the same investor pressure for quick returns. Still, the industry’s larger challenges are testing the Ohio miner. Murray Energy said last month it may be forced to lay off thousands of miners.

Those cutbacks have some asking whether any coal company can survive this industry-rattling decline.

Since last year, Arch Coal, Peabody Energy and Patriot Coal have all gone bankrupt. Each was tethered, at one point or another, to the Hobet mine – a site with a history shaped by mining advances, near disasters, striking workers and market swings.

Investors applauded for years before those industry leaders reached the edge. Patriot Coal shares soared in the first years after it took hold of union mines once controlled by Arch and Peabody. Wall Street helped leading companies acquire rivals in a 2011 buyout binge that crashed a few years later.

Arch Coal and Peabody Energy declined to discuss past business deals for this story. The companies have previously said critics are misguided in second-guessing deals in hindsight. When Arch sold the Hobet mine to a private equity firm in 2005, the buyer was “a strong, well-capitalized” entity, the company said.

Today, Hobet is owned by a conservation group and no longer producing coal. The mine is a scene of rubble and retaining ponds where sycamore, pine and cedar forests once stood. Toxic runoff must be steered clear of tributaries that feed the Ohio River. A decades-long cleanup awaits.

There’s uncertainty, too, for miners.

For Andrew Adkins it’s a matter of leukemia medicine costing $1,200 a month. He could die without his pills, yet the health care plan for Adkins and about 800 other retired Hobet miners and their families expires at year’s end. Miners who went on strike in the 1990s to protect their health plan said they never expected this.

“They’re doing away with everything we were promised,” said Adkins, a Vietnam veteran who relies on the low cost and open access of his health plan. Adkins, 71, is eligible for Medicare, but that carries its own costs and limitations.

For mining families in West Virginia and beyond, a blur of Wall Street deals altered the industry’s decades-old pledge to mining communities.

DAWN OF A COAL MINE

The Hobet mine was born in 1974 under a man named Fil Nutter – part of a West Virginia prospecting family that controlled a construction company, limestone pit and small-time coal mines.

Nutter was a “typical coal operator” of the era with the charm and hustle needed to thrive in the mountains, said Homer Toler, an early employee. “He liked to party, get drunk and worked his ass off,” Toler said.

When a land speculator named Granville Lee “Jimmy” Linville acquired the right to a forested plot 25 miles south of Charleston, Nutter brought the financing and connections. They went into business together.

Underground mines were joined by strip mines: workers blasting, or ‘shooting,’ the surface until they reached coal and then pushed everything else down the mountainside.

“Shoot and shove,” in common parlance. The method left behind poisoned streams and peaks sheared in half.

Nutter, who died in 2009, knew the brutality of coal mining. One brother was killed in a bulldozer accident at a strip mine, and the Hobet workforce was shaped by defiance.

Just a few summits from the Hobet mine stands Blair Mountain, site of a bloody scene in 1921, where at least 10,000 miners stood down strikebreakers, sheriffs and coal bosses.

“If you owned a mine in this area, it was going to be union,” said Wayne Chambers, founding member of the United Mine Workers of America local at Hobet.

Hobet grew from a hill and valley called Dog Hollow. Soon one shift became two. Streetlights were installed so laborers could work around the clock to fulfill a contract with a power plant in the state capital, Charleston.

The less than 90,000 tons of coal produced in 1975 ballooned to nearly a half-million tons by 1978. Some miners say they dared believe Jimmy Linville’s prophecy: “Men, you’ll retire from this job.”

A NEW EARTH MOVER

In the coal patch that stretches from southern West Virginia to central Pennsylvania, miners must pull countless loads of worthless rubble out of the ground before reaching the precious black rock. Hauling that waste, or “spoil,” is a costly concern.

Nutter had a method that satisfied West Virginia officials, but then Congress set national standards with the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Mining companies were to take more care with spoil and restore vanished mountains to their “approximate original contour.”

New rules meant higher costs. The year the law was passed, Nutter sold out to Ashland Oil of Kentucky. The new operator attacked the problem of spoil with an audacious piece of equipment.

It was a dragline: a towering crane-and-bucket that could carry in one scoop what several dump trucks might haul.

The dragline came in pieces and took 18 months to assemble. The contraption grew to a 20-story tower and slung a giant bucket from a half-mile of steel cable.

At first sight, miners feared the dragline might end their jobs. But the mammoth machine is probably what kept Hobet running through market ups and downs over the years, those same workers say.

In 1984, the first full year of operating the dragline, Hobet produced 1.8 million tons of coal. That was more than double previous output, according to data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Jobs were abundant, with over 200 miners, and spirits were high. Workers and bosses fraternized at the Hobet cookout each summer, the families fishing and tossing horseshoes.

In these flush times, miners were unafraid to strike.

From May until nearly Christmas in 1993, workers were off the job to protect their health plan. “We won that one. We won them all,” recalled former miner Adkins.

In the end, though, the health and pension plans at Hobet were difficult to sustain. Pensions had defined benefits, which relied on a share of miner wages going to pay retirees. Layoffs and cutbacks to the workforce could upend that model.

The Hobet health plan had uncommonly low deductibles.

“We took smaller pensions, smaller hourly wages to protect our health insurance,” said Ronald ‘Yogi’ Pauley, a United Mine Workers leader at the Hobet mine for 30 years.

Former managers agree the health plans were exceptional.

“These would have been called ‘Cadillac’ health plans,” said Ken Woodring, who started as a Hobet mine manager in the 1970s and retired as an Arch executive in 2004. “They were manageable when health costs were low in the 1960s and 1970s. But those costs kept rising.”

DEBT AND PROMISES

The fate of miners was closely tied to a changeable coal market known for long winning and losing streaks.

In September 1995, as Hurricane Opal crashed through the Gulf of Mexico, fear of a natural gas shortage drove coal prices higher.

Within months, utilities burned through coal inventories until they reached lows not seen since Fil Nutter put his claim on Dog Hollow.

Steady, reliable coal was proving itself again. Investors liked the turnaround story and Ashland helped conceive Arch Coal as a shareholder-owned company in July 1997. Hobet was now under Arch Coal’s corporate umbrella.

In the era of answering to Wall Street, Woodring said, mining knowledge could take a backseat to marketing. It was important that executives be comfortable with investors, analysts and stock pickers.

Steven Leer, 45 at the time, had helped market Valvoline motor oil for Ashland before leading the coal division. When Arch Coal was formed, Leer was tapped as chief executive and paid in Wall Street fashion, with bonuses, country club memberships and other perks. Much of his compensation was tied to the company’s performance. If the share price climbed, Leer could redeem stock options for cash.

Leer did not respond to interview requests.

Deals were one way to get investors’ attention, and Leer’s first big acquisition in 1998 was emblematic of a borrow-and-buy growth strategy.

Arch used more than a billion dollars in debt to take hold of new leases and rival operations in the West. Further deals would anchor the company in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. There, union power was weak and mines had vast reserves of low-sulfur coal in demand under new pollution controls.

Still, Arch Coal had promises to keep at Hobet and other eastern mines where current and former workers were owed hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits. These were “onerous” liabilities, credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s reported.

Arch Coal could not shift its miner liabilities, so it tried to control them. With bigger machinery and longer hours, the Hobet mine could boost output without hiring more miners.

After five years under Arch, Hobet was producing a record 5 million tons of coal, according to government data. That was 1.5 million tons more than Ashland produced in its last year of management.

Production was up but the culture became more focused on the bottom line, some former miners say.

Hobet managers summoned to Arch’s St. Louis headquarters came back describing cost-savings and “the Arch Way” of management that kept a steady eye on spending, said Ronnie Vance, a Hobet manager.

In Novembers past, Ashland had tolerated deer season when more than 15 percent of the workforce sought an absence. No more.

COAL CRUSH

Coal fever spread through the 2000s. Asian demand rose with the economy and natural gas output was flat, keeping up demand for coal.

Amid record revenue, one cost remained a blot on the Arch Coal balance sheet: more than $400 million in miner health and pension costs.

By 2005, investor hunger for coal had spread beyond Wall Street. ArcLight Capital Partners, a Boston private equity group, wanted a toehold in the coal business and Arch Coal found a way out of some stubborn costs.

ArcLight bought Hobet and three other West Virginia mines and named the new enterprise Magnum Coal. The deal included the miner health and pension plans.

The welfare of thousands of miner families was no longer tied to the deep-pocketed Arch Coal. Miners fretted about their private equity bosses and the sector’s reputation for flipping companies for investors.

Could Magnum shoulder miner health and welfare plans? Miners had to wait and see. “The union leadership told us there was nothing we could do,” said labor leader Pauley.

The Magnum transaction “clears the decks” for more growth, Leer told analysts on a conference call in January 2006. Arch shares climbed 3.6 percent.

In 2007, Leer took a $10 million payout – his biggest in a career with Arch Coal that earned him more than $40 million, a Reuters review of securities filings found.

WALL STREET AND COAL

Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal company, conceived Patriot Coal in 2007 to house its union mines and about $750 million in worker liabilities. Eventually, Patriot Coal bought Magnum Coal.

By 2011, rising coal prices ignited a new spree of deals. This time coal companies borrowed big for industry-shaping buyouts.

Alpha Natural Resources acquired Massey Energy for $7.1 billion in 2011. In December, Peabody Energy acquired MacArthur Coal of Australia for $5.1 billion. Arch Coal bought rival International Coal Group in May for $3.4 billion, with Leer envisioning a “coal franchise poised for growth.”

In the end, the deals were poorly timed. Asian coal demand was tapering, and the new drilling technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, pushed natural gas prices to 10-year lows.

Alpha Natural Resources declined to comment on the 2011 deals.

Mike Quillen, who founded Alpha in 2002, believes coal executives erred by trying to keep up with the steady rhythms of Wall Street.

“Debt will kill you in the coal business,” said Quillen, who stepped down as Alpha’s chairman in 2012. “And it’s cyclical. But everybody just got caught up in the idea that high coal prices would go on forever.”

The industry paid for that misjudgment.

Alpha Natural Resources filed for bankruptcy in August 2015; a federal judge in July approved its plan to exit bankruptcy. Peabody Energy filed for bankruptcy in April 2016. Arch Coal, which filed for bankruptcy in January 2016, suffered cost overruns at its Leer Mine of West Virginia, named after its executive.

“If it weren’t for those deals, these companies would be solvent,” said John Hanou, an independent coal industry analyst who helped lead market research at Wood Mackenzie and Hill & Associates in Annapolis, Maryland.

Quillen said that’s not so clear-cut. “Everything is negative for the industry right now. There’s no way of knowing how long any company might have survived,” he said.

The coal industry will come through this downturn smaller and with fewer publicly-owned companies, he said. “But I don’t think the major acquisitions were the single catalyst.”

TOXIC LEGACY

Today the remnants of decline are visible at the Hobet mine.

The weathered piles of spoil and valley fills are leaching selenium, a healthful nutrient in trace amounts but a toxin in larger doses. A 2008 study, presented in federal court, found deformed fish and warned of catastrophe, requiring a cleanup.

Patriot Coal, the last major operator at the Hobet mine, outlined more than $400 million in pollution liabilities after its first bankruptcy in 2012. At the same time, miners learned their health benefits would vanish.

The company-sponsored policy relied on cash from coal operators that are now bankrupt and so those contributions are due to end.

When Patriot went bankrupt again last year, the company was sold in pieces.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has said he hopes the Hobet site will be fit for commercial development. But there are no concrete plans yet.

On the land where the dragline first trod, there’s a slurry impoundment rather than the wildlife habitat promised by executives in the original permit. This summer, the dragline will be idled.

Pro-Walker group expanding focus nationally

A conservative Wisconsin group that’s filed lawsuits in defense of several of Gov. Scott Walker’s most contentious proposals announced plans to expand its work nationally.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty’s new Center for Competitive Federalism will focus on filing lawsuits and issuing policy statements targeting what it sees as federal overreach, leaders of the effort said at a Capitol news conference.

Three right-wing Republican office holders in the state — Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, state Sen. Duey Stroebel and state Rep. Dale Kooyenga — participated in the announcement and praised the group’s work.

Likening the federal government to “Big Brother,” Stroebel said he hoped the initiative would bring about a national effort to reject federal government overreach “so we can all push back together.”

Rick Esenberg, WILL’s president and chief attorney, said the national push would be funded over three years with $800,000 from the Bradley Foundation, which until his retirement this year had been led by Michael Grebe, Walker’s former campaign chairman.

The foundation is providing an additional $300,000 to the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, which is partnering with WILL on the new center.

Noting the connection to Walker, the leader of a liberal advocacy group said WILL’s new venture was created to advance the governor’s agenda.

“All the lawsuits and propaganda they file isn’t going to change the fact that Gov. Walker has failed the people of Wisconsin over and over and over again,” said Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now.

WILL has been active in helping defend some of the highest-profile, conservative laws passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Walker in recent years.

The group fought against lawsuits filed by unions that tried unsuccessfully to stop Walker’s law that effectively ended collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers.

It also sided with Walker in a lawsuit seeking an end to a secret John Doe investigation into his 2012 recall campaign and conservative groups that supported him. That probe ended after a conservative state Supreme Court declared nothing illegal occurred.

Esenberg, at the news conference, took a jab at the presumptive presidential nominees in both parties, saying if either of them were involved in trying to draft the Constitution today it would be a “hot mess.”

He and others at the news conference cited numerous examples of what they said was overreach of the federal government, including initiatives by President Barack Obama to enact clean power plant laws, expand Medicaid and guarantee transgender public school students access to bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

“We’re seeing the results of the federal government gone wild in the United States of America,” Stroebel complained.

Ross said the arguments made against powers of the federal government were “exactly the same as those made in the 1950s and 1960s by those trying to deny African Americans the same protections as white people under the law.”

Court: Milwaukee can’t enforce worker residency requirement

Milwaukee can no longer enforce a long-standing residency requirement that public workers, including teachers, live within city limits, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled this week.

The court ruled 5-2 that Milwaukee’s residency rule is subject to a state law barring such restrictions.

It’s a win for Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republicans who control the Legislature and passed the requirement three years ago, overcoming opposition from Milwaukee’s Democratic leaders and others who warned the change would devastate the city’s economy.

The ruling reverses a state appeals court decision that the residency requirement could not be superseded by the 2013 state law.

Milwaukee has required its more than 7,000 employees to live within the city boundaries since 1938.

The state law prohibits local governments from enforcing any residency requirements beyond requiring police and firefighters to live within 15 miles of the government unit. It applies statewide, but Milwaukee officials, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and other opponents argued that Milwaukee was clearly the focus as Wisconsin’s largest and mostly Democratic city and the loudest defender of the residency requirement.

The police and firefighter unions that challenged Milwaukee’s refusal to follow the law backed Walker in his gubernatorial campaigns, including the two times he defeated Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

A call to Barrett’s office for comment was not immediately returned.

Walker supported the law as a way to give public workers more freedom on where they live.

But supporters of residency requirements generally argue that there is a benefit to having public workers live in the communities they serve. They say it increases response time and ensures the workers have a vested interest in the area.

Opponents say employees shouldn’t be denied the right to live where they like. And they say a residency requirement could limit applicants and inhibits promotions.

 

The city argued before the Wisconsin Supreme Court that the state law could not be enforced in Milwaukee because it did not affect all cities, towns, counties, villages and school districts in the state equally. That’s a violation of Wisconsin’s “home rule” amendment in the state constitution, Milwaukee argued.

But unions representing police and firefighters in the city that brought the lawsuit argued that the state law trumps the “home rule” authority, and the residency requirement is applied uniformly statewide.

Justice Michael Gableman, writing for the court’s conservative majority, agreed with the unions and state law takes precedent over the city’s residency requirement because it applied equally statewide.

“The Legislature has the power to legislate on matters of local affairs when its enactment uniformly affects every city or every village,” Gableman wrote.

The two dissenting justices — Ann Walsh Bradley and Shirley Abrahamson — disagreed, saying the state’s “home rule” amendment gives cities such as Milwaukee the power to self-govern, allowing them greater autonomy over local affairs.

The Supreme Court’s decision reverses a state appeals court ruling that found there was no evidence that the state law barring local residency requirements had an equal effect statewide. It is expected to affect only Milwaukee because its residency requirement was uniquely tailored to the city.

GOP will seek stay on right-to-work ruling Monday morning

A Madison judge entered a final order Friday declaring Wisconsin’s right-to-work law unconstitutional, finalizing a decision he handed down last week in favor of unions, and setting the stage for state attorneys to appeal.

State Justice Department officials lost no time in announcing they’d file a request Monday morning to put the ruling on hold while an appeal is settled.

“We wholeheartedly disagree with (the) decision and final order. We will seek a stay and immediately appeal the decision. I am confident the law ultimately will be upheld and Wisconsin will remain a Right-to-Work state,” Attorney General Brad Schimel said in a statement.

Right-to-work laws prohibit businesses and unions from reaching agreements that require all workers, not just union members, to pay union dues. Twenty-five states have such laws. Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed Wisconsin’s version early last year.

Three unions — the AFL-CIO’s Wisconsin chapter, Machinists Local Lodge 1061 and United Steelworkers District 2 — filed a lawsuit challenging the law. They contended it amounted to an unconstitutional taking of services since it essentially means that unions must represent workers who don’t pay dues.

Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust agreed in an April 8 decision. His order Friday formalizes that ruling.

Schimel had questioned whether Foust’s decision had statewide reach. But the judge’s order declared the sections of the law prohibiting unions from collecting dues from non-members — the crux of the law — null and void and enjoined the state from enforcing those provisions.

“That’s what we’ve been asking for from the very beginning,” said Fred Perillo, the unions’ lead attorney. “That’s not just null and void in Dane County. It’s not limited geographically or just to the named plaintiffs.”

 

Public sector unions prevail in Supreme Court case

Public sector unions triumphed before the U.S. Supreme Court this week when the justices preserved a vital source of cash for organized labor, splitting 4-4 on a conservative challenge that had seemed destined for success until Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month.

The case brought by non-union public school teachers in California had targeted fees that many states force such workers to pay unions in lieu of dues to fund collective bargaining and other activities.

A loss in this case would have deprived unions representing teachers, police, transit workers, firefighters and other government employees of millions of dollars annually and diminished their political clout.

The outcome illustrated the impact on the court of the Feb. 13 death of Scalia, the long-serving conservative justice who almost certainly would have cast a decisive vote against the unions. But by virtue of splitting 4-4, the justices affirmed a 2014 lower-court ruling that allowed California to compel non-union workers to pay the fees.

“The death of Justice Scalia has proved a disaster for public sector workers who have their paychecks raided by unions,” said Iain Murray, vice president for strategy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.

Evenly divided court

The court, evenly divided with four liberals and four conservatives, left intact a 1977 legal precedent that allowed such fees, which conservatives have long abhorred. Conservatives for years have tried to curb the influence of public sector unions, which typically back the Democratic Party and liberal causes.

“The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected a political ploy to silence public employees like teachers, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, higher education faculty and other educators to work together to shape their profession,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association teachers union.

The case reached the high court after a Washington-based conservative group, the Center for Individual Rights, sued on behalf of lead plaintiff Rebecca Friedrichs, an elementary school teacher in Anaheim, and nine other teachers. They argued the fees infringed upon the free-speech rights of non-union workers under the U.S. Constitution.

‘A DISASTER’

During Jan. 11 oral arguments in the case, Scalia was still on the bench, giving the court a majority of five conservatives. The conservative justices during the arguments voiced support for the non-union teachers.

It is the second case in which the court has split 4-4 since Scalia died, with more likely in the coming months, perhaps including major cases on abortion, voting rights and contraception insurance coverage.

It remains unclear when Scalia will be replaced. Senate Republicans have vowed to block confirmation of President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, centrist appellate judge Merrick Garland. Republicans fear Garland’s confirmation would tilt the court to the left for the first time in decades.

At issue in the case decided were so-called agency fees equivalent to union dues, currently mandatory for non-union workers under laws in about half the states including California. The decision means the status quo remains, with the unions able to collect fees from non-union workers.

California’s non-union teachers pay the union, which has 325,000 members, around $600 annually in mandatory fees for collective bargaining.

The non-union teachers’ lawyers said they plan to ask the court to rehear case.

“With the death of Justice Scalia, this outcome was not unexpected,” said Terry Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights.

The split decision means there is “ongoing doubt about the constitutionality of its forcible collection of millions of dollars in dues,” Pell added.

About 5 million public sector employees are subject to union contracts that include mandatory fee provisions, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which backed the non-union teachers.

Organized labor had expressed worries that a ruling throwing out the fees would give employees less incentive to join public-sector unions because they would get all the benefits of collective bargaining undertaken by unions without having to pay for it.

The teachers who filed the lawsuit in 2013 asked the justices to overturn the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that allowed laws that permitted public sector unions to collect fees from workers who were not members as long as the money was not spent on political activities.

Agency fees are already banned in 25 states that have so-called right-to-work laws. In those states, unions still represent workers but membership rates are lower. Federal employee unions also cannot collect such fees.

The ruling comes as a relief to organized labor because unionized civil servants in states without right-to-work laws comprise its main power base.

The court last week also split 4-4 split in a loan discrimination case.

Last month, Dow Chemical Co opted to settle a class action case pending before the court for $835 million, citing Scalia’s death as a reason. Scalia was seen as a reliable vote for class action defendants.

Wisconsin needs to be welcoming place for immigrant workers

Thousands rallied on Feb. 18 in Madison to protest two pieces of legislation. The bills deal with restrictions on issuing local identification cards and a ban on “sanctuary cities,” where police and other public employees are not allowed to ask about someone’s citizenship status.

It’s critical that Wisconsin be a welcoming place for Latino and other immigrant workers who play such an important role in many parts of the economy.

Dairy farmers face significant struggles in finding and retaining workers because of the demands of the job. This is a very real problem and one that poses a major threat to our farms as well as the host of businesses and services connected to dairy.

Dairy accounts for $43.4 billion of Wisconsin’s annual economy, almost half of agriculture’s overall impact. Immigrants, particularly Latinos, are key.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison study in 2009, the most recent available, found that about 40 percent or 5,300 of all employees on dairy farms in the state were immigrants, with 90 percent of them from Mexico.

Ultimately, federal immigration reforms are needed to provide some avenue for those workers to remain in the country regardless of their status.

The state bills could have limited practical impact, but they signal that Wisconsin does not value immigrants’ contributions.

That’s not the sort of message we should be sending. Driving away immigrant workers is not the answer.

Editor’s note: The Dairy Business Association is a nonprofit organization of Wisconsin dairy farmers, milk processors, vendors and business partners.