Russ Pohl

Representatives of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 63 (ILWU) agreed to a labor contract with port operators associated with the Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor Employers Association.

The deal, announced Tuesday, ends an eight-day strike that began when the port’s clerical workers walked off the job after complaining that they had been working for the last two years without a contract. The strike idled 10,000 dockworkers, effectively shut down 10 port terminals and halted trade into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“I am pleased to announce that an agreement has been reached between labor and management that will bring to an end the eight-day strike that has cost our local economy billions of dollars,” L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement.

Mayor Villaraigosa’s concerns about the strike are well-founded, considering the effects of a port shutdown would  be felt beyond Southern California. According to Colliers International, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the two busiest ports in the United States and North America, both equipped to accommodate a combined 14 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo per year and make up around 40 percent of all U.S. container imports. According to Fox News, the shutdown of the two ports has kept $760 million of goods per day from being unloaded. Bloomberg reported the strike’s economic cost totaled $1 billion per day.

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Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan abandoned efforts this week to gather signatures for a ballot initiative to reform the city’s public pension plan. Riordan said he didn’t think he could acquire 300,000 signatures by the December 28 deadline to get his measure, which would require city workers to contribute more toward their pensions and convert all employees to 401K-type plans, on the May ballot.

It will come as no shock that Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents public service workers in Southern California, and the Los Angeles Police Protective League led the opposition to Riordan’s initiative.

Tyler Izen, the president of the L.A. Police Protection League, said Riordan’s plan was “both simplistic and costly … for the taxpayers.” But what is truly costly is avoiding reform. According to the Los Angeles Times, the city’s pension shortfall hinders its ability to balance its budget. Miguel Santana, L.A.’s chief financial officer, said the faces a $222 million budget shortfall now and a $427 million gap by 2014-15.

“We’re always in crisis mode,” Santana said. “We’re always trying to close that shortfall.”

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We all know it as the labor union that took down snack food company Hostess, but what exactly is the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) and what else has it been involved with recently?

According to its website, the BCTGM was “one of the pioneers of the North American labor movement” that began when the Bakery and Confectionery Workers International Union of America was organized in 1886. The Bakery and Confectionary Workers International Union later merged with the American Bakery and Confectionery Workers’ International Union in 1969. In 1978, the Tobacco Workers International Union merged with the Bakery and Confectionery Workers International Union of America, which created the Bakery, Confectionary, and Tobacco Union (BC&T).

In 1999, The American Federation of Grain Millers union (AFGM) union, formed in 1936, merged with the BC&T, creating the BCTGM union that exists today.

The BCTGM is under the affiliation of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). The union represents workers for several big snack food companies, which include Hershey’s, General Mills, Kellogg’s and Nestle.

After Hostess announced it would close because of the strike, which the BCTGM pursued despite advice to the contrary from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, union president Frank Hurt said in a statement the union showed “tremendous courage, solidarity and devotion to principle” and was “well aware of the potential consequences of their actions,” which amounted to forcing a large company to close shop and put 18,500 workers out of their jobs.

BCTGM also has called for a nationwide boycott of American Crystal Sugar products in response to the company’s lockout of union employees on Aug. 1, 2011, after the BCTGM turned down an offer that would have given union workers a 13 percent pay raise over five years, with certain benefit cuts in healthcare and seniority.

The BCTGM’s leadership includes Frank Hurt, who has been President of the union since 1994, has been involved in the union’s activities since 1972. BCTGM’s Secretary-Treasurer David B. Durkee is also a lifelong union member, joining the BC&T in 1973.

Post image for Unionization Bad For TSA, Worse For Passengers

Along with the rising cost of bag fees, the most notorious nuisance air travelers must endure before reaching the terminal is the security checkpoint line. Travelers must frantically search and strip themselves and their baggage of anything that is made of metal or contains a certain amount of liquid. Depending on the airport you are at, after removing your shoes, belts, watches, and cell phones, travelers then walk into a full body scanner, which creates a semi-nude X-ray photo meant to detect any dangerous weapons within the travelers clothes. Whether these machines are effective or not is another issue entirely. (Earlier this year, CEI filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit questioning the legality of the government’s deployment of these scanners.)

Of course, if you planned out your trip to the airport ahead of time, hopefully you can put your belt on and tie your shoes quickly enough to make it to your flight.

So why do air travelers put up with this security routine? According to Gallup, while many Americans question the effectiveness of these screening methods, 54 percent of Americans say that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the government agency within the Department of Homeland Security that oversees airport security, is doing a good job at keeping air travelers safe.

Despite this passive acceptance of the TSA, the agency has been broiled in controversy that could possibly explain why Americans question the agencies security methods. ABC News has recently released a list of the top U.S. airports for TSA employee theft firings and an investigation into the prevalence of these theft cases.

While these cases of theft show that air travelers are probably not being adequately protected by the TSA, those who work within the agency seem to be more concerned with their own job security than the security of the passengers.

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After the 2012 election, labor unions celebrated what was seen as an overall victorious election season for their organizations. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka bragged that labor’s political organization provided the support necessary for Barack Obama to win re-election.

“We did deliver those states,” said Trumka during a recent press conference, referring to Nevada, Wisconsin, and Ohio. “I think without the efforts of organized labor, those three states would have been different — none of those three would have been in the president’s column.”

He may be right. Big Labor’s political outreach was also successful in securing union favored ballot initiatives in several states.

Acting accordingly with the state’s determination to commit fiscal suicide, California gave labor unions their largest victory of the night by passing Proposition 30, a union backed ballot initiative which raises the state’s sales tax and the income tax rate of the state’s highest earners (ostensibly on the behalf of the state’s education system). At the same time, California voters also rejected Proposition 32, which would have banned corporate and union political donations to state and local candidates.

Since California’s political landscape renders these victories unsurprising, Big Labor also scored wins in red states that Gov. Mitt Romney carried easily. In Idaho, the defeat of Propositions 1 and 2, which would have reformed the state’s education system, was a victory for the Idaho Education Association. A similar initiative in South Dakota, which would have eliminated teacher tenure and instituted merit pay, was also defeated.

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Pro-Charter Is Pro-Choice

by Russ Pohl on November 1, 2012 · 2 comments

in Labor

This November, Washington could become the 42nd state to authorize charter schools. Washington residents will vote on Initiative 1240, which if passed will “allow a maximum of up to 40 public charter schools to be establish over a five-year period as independently managed public schools operated only by qualified nonprofit organizations approved by the state,” according to the measure’s ballot language.

Opponents of Initiative 1240, including the Washington Education Association (WEA), claim charter schools in Washington would hinder the state’s constitutional responsibility to fund education.  The WEA’s political action website says the measure would “drain millions from Washington’s K-12 public schools” into privately run charter schools—even though charter schools are publicly funded institutions and thus do not take money away from public education.

A more likely explanation for the unions’ opposition is the loss of its monopoly over public education finances. Another reason is the possibility it could make it harder to gain new members. Most charter schools are not unionized and organizing campaigns are expensive.

Critics of the initiative also claim it violates the state’s constitution because it discriminates against some students, since not every child will be able to attend a charter school. The Washington Constitution’s Article IX says the state will provide public education “without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.” However, the ballot language states charter schools will “be free and open to all students just like traditional public schools” and prevents charter school officials from handpicking students.

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As of July 2012, the unemployment rate of greater Clark County, Nevada, which includes the desert oasis of Las Vegas, is at 12.9 percent, compared to the national rate at 7.8 percent. The state of Nevada as a whole suffers from the highest state unemployment rate in the country at 12.1 percent. Vegas was also hit hard when the housing bubble burst, with many homes lost between 60 to 65 percent of their value since 2007. Currently, Nevada ranks sixth in the nation for highest housing foreclosure rates in the nation.

The people of Las Vegas are struggling to turn their town and their fortunes around. Unfortunately, local unions are standing in their way.

On October 13, 2012, a coalition of local downtown Las Vegas business owners called the “Downtown Las Vegas Alliance,” sponsored an event called “Rediscover Downtown,” which was meant to draw attention to businesses in the downtown area north of the famous Las Vegas Strip. Sadly, the local Culinary Workers Union decided to disrupt the event at several locations.

The purpose of the protest was to bring attention to the union’s health and retirement benefits, which the union is trying to retain after their recent contract expired in June at many downtown Las Vegas locations, including the Golden Nugget and Main Street Station. Negotiations for new contracts between casino management and union reps have been contentious: casinos are demanding concessions from unions due to flat or declining gaming revenue.

Unions aren’t having any of it, and have decided instead to throw their very public temper tantrum. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal lamented: “It’s one thing to rain on someone’s parade. It’s entirely another to spray down a celebration with fire hoses — and then expect to be rewarded.”

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Although Chicago public school teachers returned to their classrooms on Sept. 19, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) today officially ratified the contract to end the strike, which lasted seven school days. The new deal was approved by 79.1 percent of the CTU membership.

The three-year contract includes a new teacher evaluation system — a reform championed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — which will take into account students’ standardized test scores. Other reforms that Mayor Emanuel touted and were granted in the contract were the extension of the school day and giving Chicago school principals more power over the hiring process of teachers.

The CTU succeeded in striking down merit-based pay for teachers and guaranteeing that laid-off teachers will have a higher preference to be rehired by the Chicago school district. The CTU also scored pay raises averaging 17.6 percent over the next four years.

The Chicago School Board has yet to officially approve the deal.

The Chicago Tribune reports the guaranteed pay increases under the new contract will cost the school district another $74 million a year. Given the recent Moody’s Investor’s Services credit downgrade of the Chicago school system, it looks like the new contract agreement does practically nothing to address the dire fiscal situation facing Chicago.

So, not all that much here to celebrate.

Right now, Washington is one of nine states that does not allow charter schools to compete with the public school system. That could change this November, when Washington residents vote on Initiative 1240.

This is not the first time Washington voters have considered allowing charter schools in the state. Voters have rejected similar initiatives three times: in 1996, in 2000, and in 2004.

So why do the backers of Initiative 1240 believe this time is different? Perhaps partly because 1240 is being promoted by a well-funded campaign whose supporters include Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen. According to a recent Elway Poll, a polling firm based in Washington state, 47 percent of Washington residents now favor 1240′s passage, while 38 oppose.

This change in Washington is also sign of a larger, national effort to increase charter school education. The Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top” program includes a charter school initiative. In 2011, Gov. Paul LePage of Maine signed legislation making the state the most recent to authorize the existence of charter schools. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is now set to expand the presence of charter schools in Chicago in the wake of the recent teachers strike.

While Washington could possibly become the forty-second state to authorized charter schools, a powerful teachers union has un-surprisingly come out as the leading organization in the state working against the measure. The Washington Education Association’s (WEA) political action website serves as the main campaign against Initiative 1240.

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Post image for Saving The Game: Botched Calls And Legitimacy In The NFL

As a Seattle Seahawks fan living in Washington, D.C., I was excited for my team’s nationally televised Monday night game against the Green Bay Packers. Since I spend most of my year living far away from Seattle, I very rarely get the chance to watch Seahawks regular season games, unless they are playing a nearby regional team.

Like many other people who watched the game, I could not believe what I was seeing when they replayed the last play. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a last second pass into the end zone towards Golden Tate. The pass was initially intercepted by Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings, while Tate wrestled him for possession of the ball. The call was ruled as a simultaneous possession of the ball and the touchdown was given to Seattle, giving them the win over Green Bay. While I will always like watching the Seahawks win, seeing them win in such a bogus fashion strips all the enjoyment out of watching the game.

Unfortunately, this is not the only isolated incident of botched calls this season.

The Sunday before the Green Bay/Seattle game saw its share of suspicious refereeing. During the New England/Baltimore game, a field goal kick at the end of the fourth quarter that appeared to barely miss the goal on the right was called good, giving Baltimore the win. On the same day during overtime between Detroit and Tennessee, a penalty called on Detroit that should have resulted in a 15 yard loss was instead called as a 27 yard loss, which helped Tennessee win the game.

So what is behind the bad calls?

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