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ere the TRUTH starts. Public Pension Reform. Law Enforcement News. Officer Down News. Collective Bargaining. Corruption. - See more at:
Where the TRUTH starts. Public Pension Reform. Law Enforcement News. Officer Down News. Collective Bargaining. Corruption. - See more at:

Officer Down

Monday, February 28, 2011

UNION: (National) Wis. union files labor complaint over bargaining

--Good move. Keep the pressure on the governor.--

STORY AT Daily Herald

By Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin's largest public employees union has filed a complaint alleging Gov. Scott Walker is engaging in unfair labor practices by refusing to negotiate with it.

The complaint filed Monday by the Wisconsin State Employees Union asks the state labor relations board to extend its contract and require Walker's administration to engage in collective bargaining.

The complaint comes as Walker is seeking to strip most public employee unions of collective bargaining rights, except for inflationary wage increases. Walker's plan has passed the Assembly but stalled in the Senate because Democrats fled the state.

State employees have been working under an extension of their contract that ended in mid-2009. But Walker is canceling the contract extensions effective March 13.

Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie declined to comment on the complaint.

R.I.P.: Park Ranger Julie Weir


Park Ranger Julie Weir
United States Department of the Interior - National Park Service
U.S. Government
End of Watch: Thursday, February 24, 2011

Biographical Info
Age: 39
Tour of Duty: 11 years
Badge Number: Not available

Incident Details
Cause of Death: Automobile accident
Date of Incident: Thursday, February 24, 2011
Incident Location: Nebraska
Weapon Used: Not available
Suspect Info: Not available

Park Ranger Julie Weir was killed in an automobile accident on I-80 near Kearney, Nebraska.

Ranger Weir was on official travel status while relocating from her permanent position at Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to a field training assignment at Yosemite National Park in California.

Her vehicle went out of control during a heavy snow storm, crossed into oncoming traffic, and collided with a tractor trailer.

Ranger Weir had served as a seasonal law enforcement park ranger with the National Park Service for 11 years and had just graduated from FLETC as a full-time law enforcement ranger.

Agency Contact Information

United States Department of the Interior - National Park Service
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240
Phone: (202) 208-6843

UNION: (National) Facts overshadowed in debate over Wis. union bill

--This move in Wisconsin by Gov Walker is nothing more than him trying to keep his promises to his big money backers that he will destroy the public sector unions to make it easier for the big business CEO's to keep their employees in line.--

STORY AT Chicago Tribune

Associated Press
9:15 AM CST, February 28, 2011

The facts have been overshadowed by rhetoric at the Wisconsin Capitol, where protesters and politicians have been engaged in a tense standoff over the governor's proposal to strip most public employees of their collective-bargaining rights.

Gov. Scott Walker insists the state is broke and must make drastic spending cuts. Unions believe Republican leaders are trying to wipe them out. Two weeks into the debate, The Associated Press assessed the claims in an effort to shed light on what's at stake.

Walker says his plan is needed to ease a deficit that is projected to hit $137 million by July and $3.6 billion by mid-2013.

The budget as it stands now is balanced, and Walker is under no legal obligation to make changes. But by mid-summer, the state could come up short on cash to pay its bills, largely because of a projected $169 million shortfall in its Medicaid program.

Walker's plan comes up with the money for this year by refinancing debt to save $165 million and forcing state employees to pay for half the cost of their pensions and twice their current health care premiums. That is equivalent to an 8 percent pay cut.

Those increases in benefit contributions would raise $30 million by July and $300 million over the next two years.

But the flashpoint is his proposed elimination of collective bargaining rights. Nearly all state and local government workers would be forbidden from bargaining for any wage increases beyond the rate of inflation.

Walker argues the sweeping step is necessary to balance the budget not only over the next two years but into the future. School districts, cities, counties and other local governments need the flexibility, he says, to deal with more than $1 billion in state aid cuts Walker will announce Tuesday in his two-year budget plan.

That's certainly one way to tackle the problem, but it's not the only solution.

Walker has refused even to consider some of the other ways to raise the massive amount of money needed. He repeatedly has said his measures are the only way to fix the state's budget problems now and for the long term as he proposes deep cuts to state and local governments in his upcoming two-year budget.

He also is resolved not to raise taxes — an option used by Democrats who controlled the Legislature when the state faced a deficit that was nearly twice as large as the one Walker inherited. The Democrats also relied heavily on federal stimulus aid, which the state does not have available this time around.

Not raising taxes and not tapping federal aid leaves Walker with few alternatives other than reducing the money the state gives to schools and local governments or reducing Medicaid to the extent allowed under federal law.

Aid to schools and local governments is more than half of the entire state budget. Medical assistance programs are 9 percent, as is funding for the state prison system and money for the University of Wisconsin system. Walker won't make cuts to the prisons, but he's expected to make deep reductions in higher education.

As for Medicaid, Walker gives himself as much leeway as possible under the bill that passed the Assembly early Friday but remains hung up in the Senate because of 14 AWOL Democrats who skipped town to stymie efforts to vote on the proposal in that chamber.

Walker's bill gives his administration the power to make any changes necessary to Medicaid to save money, regardless of current law and without approval of the Legislature. Medicaid is a $1.2 billion part of the budget, but even with the freedom the bill gives him, Walker will be hamstrung by federal law that limits how many cost-saving changes states can make without a waiver.

Walker's new health department secretary, Dennis Smith, is a former federal Medicaid official who has advocated that states drop out of the program entirely. That position and others taken by Smith are worrisome to advocates for the poor, disabled and elderly, who are largely the beneficiaries of the program.

Walker has not released details of what he may cut in Medicaid. At least some of the cuts will be contained in his budget coming out Tuesday.

But the key to that plan, according to Walker, is ending collective bargaining rights. Doing that isn't about busting unions, Walker argues, but balancing budgets.

If he's intent on using cuts in state aid to balance the budget, eliminating collective bargaining does go a long way to achieving one of his key goals — giving local communities the ability to deal with the reductions.

With 3,000 units of government in Wisconsin, all in various stages of contractual negotiations, eliminating collective bargaining may be the only way they could quickly deal with the cuts, said Todd Berry, president of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

Walker has also threatened that if the bill doesn't pass, up to 1,500 people may be laid off by July in order to achieve the savings necessary to balance the budget, with another 6,000 layoffs by the middle of 2013, with an equal number on the local level.

That layoff threat is a real possibility if schools are going to see a large cut in aid and have their ability to raise property taxes restricted, Berry said.

"If 80 percent of your budget is personnel, and you're having state and your property tax revenues reduced while your costs are going up, you can't solve your problem without addressing compensation," Berry said.

In that case, "you only have two choices — reduce the number of people or keep the people and reduce the amount of compensation," he said.

Karen Bloczynski, a fourth-grade teacher in Marshfield, said she expects to be laid off under Walker's plan. With 35 years of experience and a $70,000 salary, Bloczynski said she's more expensive than younger colleagues.

Bloczynski said she's sent letters to a local electrician, a furniture store and several restaurants warning them they're likely to feel the effect.

"Teachers spend money in their communities," she said.

Teachers have been a large part of the protests that have enveloped the Capitol for 11 days, including a massive 68,000 person demonstration. The statewide teachers union represents about 39,000 people.

The central part of Walker's argument is that government workers have long escaped painful cuts that those in the private sector have had to bear. That ignores the fact that under Walker's predecessor, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, state workers were forced to take furlough days that amounted to a 3 percent pay cut. State employees have also not had a raise for more than two years.

Even so, Walker has portrayed public employees as the "haves" and private workers as the "have nots," saying government workers can afford trims to their salaries and benefits because on average they earn more than private-sector workers.

This is true as a straight average, but several national reports of public versus private pay say it's also misleading.

In a report released in December 2010, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average state/local government worker earns $40.10 an hour in salary and benefits. The same report found the average private worker earns $27.68 an hour in salary and benefits.

But the report was quick to note that this is not a direct comparison. Government workers tend to be better-educated than their private-sector counterparts, and government jobs are more likely to be professional or managerial as opposed to the many more manufacturing and sales jobs in the private work force.

In fact, studies that compare salaries and benefits for similar jobs between the public and private sectors show that government workers lag.

An April 2010 report by the Center for State & Local Government Excellence — a nonpartisan, Washington-based group with Republicans and Democrats on its board of directors — found that in 2008, state workers nationwide earned 11 percent less and local workers earned 12 percent less than private workers with comparable education levels.

The same study found that in Wisconsin between 2000 and 2008, total compensation for state and local workers was less than comparable private sector workers.

Jeff McArthur, a sergeant at Black River Correctional Center, estimated under Walker's plan he would lose about $400 a month from his $45,000-a-year salary. The 41-year-old father of three said his family would definitely feel the difference.

"The first things that are going to go are luxury things," McArthur said. "We'll cut back on our cable. We'll cut back on our cell phones. We won't take family trips, stuff like that. We are not rich. We just want to have a good middle class life. We're not looking to be rich. We're just looking to get by."

NEWS: (Chicago) Daley wants Weis to stay on a while

STORY AT Chicago Tribune

By Hal Dardick
Tribune reporter
12:59 PM CST, February 28, 2011

Mayor Richard Daley today said he expected police Superintendent Jodi Weis to stay in his post through the end of Daley's term, even though Weis' contract expires tomorrow.

"It's only about two months," said Daley, whose term runs until May 16, when Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel will be sworn in. Emanuel has said he plans to find a new superintendent because morale among the rank and file has been poor under Weis.

But Daley, speaking at a press conference to promote national gun-regulation efforts, also said he has yet to ask Weis to stay until the new mayor takes the helm.

Weis, who usually speaks at such press conferences, was not on hand, but when asked if there was a reason for that, Daley responded, "No." Weis spokeswoman, Lt. Maureen Biggane, said she did not know why Weis wasn't there but it was possible he had another commitment.

Over the weekend, Weis said the mayor had yet to ask him to stay on through the end of his term.

The superintendent was roundly criticized by all six candidates for mayor in the recent election, in part because of the high-profile murders that occurred under his watch last year even as the overall murder rate dropped.

Before he was brought in as superintendent in early 2008 to address issues of police misconduct, Weis was an FBI supervisor.

NEWS: (Chicago) Top cop Jody Weis on his future: 'We'll see'

"Which way did he go George, which way did he go?

STORY AT Chicago Tribune

Police superintendent's contract expires Tuesday, and Emanuel has said he'll replace him

By Tara Malone and Jeremy Gorner, Tribune reporters
7:00 PM CST, February 27, 2011

Two days before his contract was set to expire, Chicago police Superintendent Jody Weis remained noncommittal on Sunday about his future as the city's top cop.

He said he has not spoken with Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, who pledged during the campaign to replace Weis.

"We'll see what happens," Weis said during a news conference at police headquarters that announced the selection of a city officer to serve as part of a federal intelligence-gathering effort along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Weis said he would like to remain in Chicago after his three-year, $310,000-a-year position as police superintendent ends. His contract is set to expire Tuesday.

"When this position ends, I'll look into doing something else. I'd like to do something here in Chicago," he said.

Hired by Mayor Richard Daley in 2008 following several high-profile police scandals in the department, Weis remained on the political hot seat as he battled perceptions of high crime, complaints about having too few officers and an image as an outsider. Weis came to the department after years with the FBI, becoming the first outsider to run the department in nearly 50 years.

"As for me," Weis said, "let's wait and see what happens next."

LEGAL: (SCOTUS) Supreme Court says dying victim's statement can be used in court

STORY AT Chicago Tribune

The 6-2 Supreme Court ruling breaks somewhat from recent rulings forbidding the use of 'hearsay' statements to police, creating a new rule for when officers are dealing with 'an ongoing emergency.' The decision, says Justice Antonin Scalia in his dissent, leaves the Constitution 'in shambles.'

By David G. Savage, Washington Bureau
11:14 AM CST, February 28, 2011

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a shooting victim's statement to the police at a crime scene can be used in court, even if the victim later dies and cannot testify at a trial.

The 6-2 decision retreats somewhat from recent rulings by the high court that held that the Constitution strictly forbids prosecutors from using "hearsay" statements to the police unless the witness testifies. The 6th Amendment says an accused person has a right to be "confronted with the witnesses against him."

Justice Antonin Scalia, though a conservative, has been the court's foremost champion of the view that this right to confront accusers should be strictly followed.

With Scalia in dissent, the justices announced a different rule for cases in which police deal with "an ongoing emergency." If officers arrive at a crime scene, they can ask a victim or witnesses about what happened and later testify in court as to what was said, the court said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said there is a difference between dealing with an emergency and investigating a crime. If an officer hears something during a crime-scene emergency, that statement can be used in court, she said. However, if the officers are investigating an earlier crime and ask questions of witnesses, those statements cannot be used unless the witness testifies.

The case began when Detroit police responded to a call that a man had been shot in the parking lot of a gas station. The victim, Anthony Covington, said he had been shot by "Rick." He told officers where Rick lived. Covington was taken to a hospital and later died.

Police also found blood on the back porch of Richard Bryant's home. An officer testified that the victim identified "Rick," and Bryant was convicted of murder. The Michigan Supreme Court overturned his conviction on the grounds that the victim's out-of-court statement should not have been used against Bryant.

The Supreme Court reversed that decision in Michigan vs. Bryant and said the victim's statement could be used because the "primary purpose" of the police questioning was to deal with an "on-going emergency."

In a high-voltage dissent, Scalia said the decision "distorts" the Constitution and "leaves it in shambles."

"Instead of clarifying the law, the court makes itself the obfuscator of last resort," he wrote. Only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed with him.

UNION: (National) Unions Debate What to Give to Save Bargaining

--The unions are at least willing to sit down and negotiate. More than we can say about the politicians.--

STORY AT New York Times

February 27, 2011

As Wisconsin’s governor and public employees square off in the biggest public sector labor showdown since Ronald Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers in 1981, government employees’ unions in a range of states are weighing whether to give ground on wages, benefits and work rules to preserve basic bargaining rights.

It is not yet clear whether Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin will succeed in his quest to strip public employee unions of most of their bargaining rights. But by simply pressing the issue, he has already won major concessions that would have been unthinkable just a month ago.

Some of Wisconsin’s major public sector unions, faced with what they see as a threat to their existence, have decided to accept concessions that they had been vigorously fighting: they said they would agree to have more money deducted from workers’ paychecks to go toward their pensions and health benefits, translating into a pay cut of around 7 percent.

But Mr. Walker is not settling for that. He said that those concessions were “an interesting development, because a week ago they said that’s not acceptable.”

In Tennessee, where teachers are fighting a bill that would repeal the 1978 law that gave them the right to bargain collectively, they have already signaled that they would be willing to make some concessions on tenure, said Jerry Winters, the manager of government relations for the Tennessee Education Association, which represents 52,000 teachers. And he said negotiations could be tough in the current atmosphere.

“When you’re fighting to keep the very right to have collective bargaining, it’s going to have some impact on what you do in your bargaining,” he said.

The sudden spate of bills seeking to eliminate or weaken collective bargaining — and the fierce protests by unions trying to preserve those rights — are largely a product of November’s elections. Those elections brought a new class of conservative Republican governors to power, including Mr. Walker and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, who is also taking aim at collective bargaining. Republicans won control of both houses of 25 state legislatures, up from 14.

Now some of those newly powerful Republicans have decided to check the power of public sector unions, saying they have long used their political influence to win wages and benefits that the lawmakers believe are not affordable. Democrats, however, see the anti-union bills as an effort to weaken organized labor, which has long been one of their major sources of support.

Several Republicans seeking to overhaul labor laws said that they felt strong constituent support for taking on public sector unions. These unions have lost considerable popular support in recent years from private sector workers, many of whom no longer enjoy the job protection, health benefits and, especially, pension plans that many state and local workers still have.

Mr. Walker, who has called public sector workers “haves” and private sector workers “have-nots,” said in an interview last week that he was looking for a long-term solution to Wisconsin’s budget problems. “We’re asking for a reasonable amount from state and local workers,” he said, “and most people in the private sector will say what we’re asking for is pretty modest.”

Robert B. Reich, who was secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, said he saw the effort to curtail bargaining rights as a politically motivated act by Republican governors. “Wisconsin state workers have already signaled their willingness to give the governor what he wants in concessions — they just don’t want to give up the right to bargain,” said Mr. Reich, one of the more liberal voices in the Clinton White House. “We’re likely to see the same pattern across the country. This is exactly the pattern we’ve seen over the last 20 years in the private sector.”

But some labor leaders said the governors were overreaching, and could create a measure of public sympathy for government employees’ unions by shifting the conversation from whether they earn overly generous benefits to whether they should have the right to negotiate at all. “I think it’s been a galvanizing force, a seminal moment for American labor,” said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Art Pulaski, the chief officer of the California State Labor Federation, said the Wisconsin standoff could encourage some Republican governors to take a harsher stance in bargaining. “But for those with a more moderate stance, those not tied to the Republican strategy, I think they’re going to hold back, and say: ‘Wait a minute. The response is so vigorous and spontaneous and strong, we have to be careful how far we go on this,’ ” he said.

But focusing national attention on public employees’ benefits could put unions on the defensive in many states. Thomas A. Kochan, a professor of industrial relations at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he thought unions were increasingly recognizing reality. “There has to be a new bargain in the public sector on pension costs and health care costs, and to get out front on it,” he said. “That helps them take that issue off the table and to focus on the issue of worker rights and the attack on unions.”

Anti-union groups, seeing this as their moment, are urging governors not to settle for economic concessions. Tim Phillips, head of Americans for Prosperity — a conservative, free-market advocacy group that was created and financed in part by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch — said Mr. Walker should push for a “complete victory.”

“If you just did the cuts to pension and benefits without the changes to collective bargaining,” Mr. Phillips said, “it helps in the short term, but over the long term, benefits will creep back up again.”

Several union members protesting at Wisconsin’s Capitol last week said they did not think the unions were losing by offering concessions to preserve their right to bargain. “I don’t feel that you lose when you give something to gain something,” said Rachelle LaFave, 36, a mail carrier from Madison. “That’s how democracy is supposed to work.”

Bryan Kennedy, president of the Wisconsin branch of the American Federation of Teachers, said preserving bargaining was crucial. “Most of our contracts are about the working conditions, about grievances and hours and vacation and sick leave and when our breaks are and what our schedules look like,” he said.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican who has been assertively trying to scale back public employees’ benefits, pointed out that many unions had gotten state legislatures and governors to award their members benefits that the local cities and counties they were negotiating with did not want to give.

“The thing that kind of makes me laugh about this whole conversation is you have union leaders now talking about the sanctity of collective bargaining,” said Mr. Christie, who said he had no plans to take away bargaining rights in New Jersey. “But the collective bargaining situation is not that way when they don’t get what they want. When they don’t get what they want, they go to the legislature. And then they legislate those benefits that they couldn’t get at the collective bargaining table.”

Mayors, whose bargaining powers are often set by state law, have been watching the battle closely. Several cities — including Newark and Camden, N.J. — were forced to lay off police officers when their unions failed to agree to concessions. In Toledo, Ohio, Mayor Michael P. Bell is watching with added interest.

As a young firefighter, Mayor Bell was laid off for a year before he was rehired. He eventually rose to chief. When he took office last year as an independent, he faced a $48 million deficit. He closed part of it by winning union concessions, after threatening to impose them by invoking a little-used law that lets mayors do so in “exigent circumstances.” Now, he said, he supports bargaining rights but wants to find a way to give the city power to alter contracts in hard times.

“In local governments and even in our school system, there’s no ability to hit a reset button — the only option that a lot of cities have is to lay off a large amount of people,” Mr. Bell said. “Nobody’s going to come to your city if you don’t have police officers or firefighters, or you’re not picking up your trash.”

Kate Zernike and Sabrina Tavernise contributed reporting.

UNION: (National) Meet Your Government Workers


Monday, Mar. 07, 2011
By Amanda Ripley

On Sept. 6, 1791, a government worker named Robert Johnson rode his horse through a Pennsylvania forest. An unlucky man, Johnson. He was assigned to collect the first domestic tax ever imposed by the U.S. government — a whiskey tax designed to help pay down the nation's mounting debt.

That night, 15 or 20 of Johnson's fellow Americans came thrashing through the trees, stripped him naked, cut his hair and tarred and feathered him. It was the first raid in what would come to be known as the Whiskey Rebellion — an uprising that ended only when President George Washington sent 13,000 troops to restore order.

Since the beginning, Americans have resented government workers' asking for money. The distrust ebbs and flows, but the less financial security we have, the angrier we get. Since the 1970s, the only recession that has not been accompanied by a spike in distrust of the government was the one in which the 9/11 attacks occurred.

Right now, it may feel as if we are living through just another trust contraction. The air is charged with fiscal obscenities — some of which are true. State pension systems are underfunded by $1 trillion to $2 trillion, depending on who is doing the guessing. But this time is different. The American government worker is at a crossroads, and what happens next will determine the long-term competitiveness of the whole country. Both sides of the debate, the unions and the GOP governors, are furious. One side is filing lawsuits, comparing elected officials to Egyptian dictators and demanding promises be kept, markets be damned; the other is calling for an end to collective bargaining for workers, sweeping cuts and, most of all, revenge.

But the opportunity before us is not to shrink or grow government: it's to make it smarter. Over the past three decades, nearly every other job in America has gone through the productivity wringer. Starting with manufacturers and moving through retail and professional services, we have had our jobs galvanized by technology, stripped bare by efficiency metrics and honed by competition. It has been a grueling journey, but it's the primary reason America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world.

Now it's the government's turn. If we seize upon this crisis to make basic changes — to start rewarding public employees in part on the basis of how effective they are, for example — we could do more than just stabilize our budgets; we could raise our entire economy.

For now, the efficiency gap between the public and private sectors is holding us all back. The U.S. ranked 68th (out of 139 countries) in terms of wastefulness of government spending in the 2010-11 World Economic Forum report on global competitiveness. Experts put our public-sector productivity about 10 years behind that of the rest of our workforce. If public workers could halve that gap, the annual savings would ring in at $100 billion to $300 billion, according to a new study by the McKinsey Global Institute. That would mean the equivalent of a recurring stimulus package every three to eight years.

"The choice of cut more or tax more is not acceptable. You have to do it better," says Lenny Mendonca, a McKinsey senior partner who has spent 20 years analyzing productivity. "Right now, the conversation is all about the near-term cuts. But over the long term, the only way out of this is massive productivity improvement."

Cuts must be made, particularly to unsustainable pensions, but seeing them through the lens of productivity looks very different from slashing and burning through with the blinders of ideology on. Washington state senator Rodney Tom has introduced a bill to require school districts to make necessary teacher layoffs based on performance ratings, as opposed to by seniority alone. That's reform based on results. Then there are Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's proposed pension and health care changes, which would exempt police officers, state troopers and firefighters — who have among the most expensive benefits. That's change based on politics, which is how we ended up here to begin with.

We know we can do government better because it's already happening. America is a carnival of high- and low-functioning bureaucracies. In North Carolina, the pension system is just fine, thank you. That's because public officials and pension-fund managers there have consistently minimized risk, assumed a realistic rate of return on their investments and paid what was owed into the system. "It's not magic," says Elizabeth Kellar, head of the Center for State and Local Government Excellence. "It really is a matter of fiscal discipline over time." By comparison, officials in New Jersey and Illinois have recklessly underfunded their pensions, in some cases granting retroactive benefit increases without paying for them.

People who study government performance can rattle off a list of the better-run states and cities in the country: Virginia, Washington and Utah; Phoenix, Austin and Portland, Ore. These places have almost nothing in common except that their leaders decided to make more policy choices based on data and measure their results — and they got rank-and-file workers to buy into their vision.

It's risky to generalize about 21.6 million government workers (akin to generalizing about the 108 million people in the private sector, from IHOP to Apple). But let's get a few things straight right from the beginning.

None of them are faceless bureaucrats. They are regular people but more educated and a bit older than the average American. In Ohio, 1 out of every 7 employed people works in government. In New Jersey, the number is closer to 1 in 6. That state's governor, Chris Christie, is at war with the teachers' unions, but his own late mother worked for a board-of-education office and was a mandatory union member for 25 years.

Many Americans think of Washington when they think of government workers. But the vast majority are state and local employees. The country has 2.2 million federal civilian workers — compared with 19.4 million at the state and local levels. While more than half of Americans think federal workers are overpaid, federal pensions and salaries are actually less generous on average than those of many state and local jobs.

So what do these 19 million people do all day? Almost half work in education, which rivals health care for the most wasteful sector in America. The rest are mostly police officers, firefighters, social workers, nurses and prison guards. In other words, they have the jobs that have always been politically sacrosanct, which may explain why they are the last to join the 21st century.

Are they overpaid? Researchers have had many boring fights over this question, partly because it is impossible to answer with precision. (New Jersey, for example, has 600 school disctricts, each with its own rules. Pennsylvania has more than 3,000 pension plans.) But the studies comparing government and private-sector workers with similar levels of education, age and experience usually find that government workers earn less in salary.

But money isn't everything. The biggest difference between public and private workers is how they get paid. Government workers get more of their total compensation in the form of benefits — especially health care and retirement funds. Some studies have tried to compare all-in compensation, which is really the only sensible thing to do. Those studies have generally still concluded that public workers make slightly less, all things considered.

Except that those studies are not truly considering all things. The data about health and pension benefits for government workers is badly flawed at the moment. It's missing billions of dollars that have not been paid by many local and state governments to fulfill their legal obligations. So most studies cite figures for what governments and their workers are putting into the system — not what may actually be paid out in the future.

Now we're getting to the heart of the matter. In many states, we simply don't know how much public workers will make in total. We just know that the amount will swing between outrageous and reasonable depending on the job and town. In some California locales, under increases passed by elected officials during the Internet boom, public-safety workers can pull down truly swank livings, given their salaries, health benefits and guaranteed pension payouts. At least on paper, some firefighters are the dotcom millionaires you never heard about.

That said, the typical career public employee who put in at least 30 years of service in California and retired two years ago is collecting about $67,000 a year in pension payouts. That's a healthy figure, but remember that about half of California's public workers (like 25% of government workers nationwide) aren't allowed to collect (or pay into) Social Security, due to an old legal fight about the federal government's right to tax state workers. Recently, lawmakers lowered benefits for future state hires and raised contribution rates for some current and future workers. But as in other states, case law generally considers the benefits for current and past employees untouchable as a contractual matter, so changing those dotcom payouts will require a brutal fight.

But wait — even if we knew exactly how much all those benefits are worth, our equation would still be missing the value of one of the most important benefits of all, one that most of us lost years ago. Job security is the gold-plated benefit of the 21st century. How much is it worth? No one knows for sure, but in experiments people value certainty at very high levels. And though public workers have suffered job losses in the past year (and will suffer more this year), the government remains the most reliable employer in the country. Compared with before the recession, there are only 1% fewer employees at the state and local levels, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The federal civilian workforce is actually 12% larger than it was in November 2007. Meanwhile, the number of private-sector employees has declined 6.5%.

If we really want more effective governance, we should tie these generous benefits to meaningful outcomes. In Singapore, Cabinet ministers and top civil servants have had their pay increased to compete with private-sector earnings since the 1970s. That means the government attracts the best and brightest candidates, and they are harder to corrupt. But when the rest of the country loses money, so do they. In 2008, Singapore's Prime Minister and senior civil servants took 15%-to-20% pay cuts to reflect recessionary losses (which brought the Prime Minister's pay to a measly $2 million). Last year, when Singapore's economy grew by 15%, civil servants received bonuses worth more than two months of salary.

As anyone who works in the private sector knows, there is no perfect way of measuring performance. But that's not an excuse to do nothing. The best organizations use a mix of subjective and objective data tied to the actual job mission and then either repurpose or remove those who rank in the bottom tier — and give more money and responsibility to the top tier.

The government can pull this off. The U.S. Foreign Service, for example, maintains a competitive up-or-out policy. Every rank essentially has an expiration date. Anyone who is not promoted within that set amount of time must leave the Foreign Service altogether. But in most of America, taxpayers have little reason to trust that public-sector workers have been hired, promoted, paid or laid off according to how well they have served the public's interests; if they had, then sizable pensions would be easier for the rest of us to swallow.

This anachronism is unsustainable, and the most forward-looking labor leaders will tell you so. Andy Stern is the former president of the 2.2 million — member Service Employees International Union. "The only job security for public workers in the long run is quality and efficiency," he says. "People want efficient services ... There has to be a massive push, and I would hope unions will try to lead it, toward quality and productivity."

Lately, politicians in Wisconsin, New Jersey and Indiana have blamed unions for their states' fiscal crises. But the truth is, the unions could do nothing without the agreement of legislators, mayors, city councils and school boards. Eliminating collective-bargaining rights will not fix the main problem, which is a lack of healthy incentives. But we know by now that incentives can change, even in government.

Following the last recession, Georgia's then governor, Sonny Perdue, vowed to revolutionize government performance. Sound familiar? That's because leaders in 24 other states did the same thing over the past decade. Most of them failed. But five states actually delivered on their promises in a serious way.

Georgia was one of those places. Perdue plastered all over the state the motto "Faster. Friendlier. Easier." His task force produced 130 recommendations to make government smarter. Of those, 127 have now gone into effect. Motor-vehicle titles now take five days (not six weeks) to process. Parents can sign their kids up for Medicaid in 15 days, down from 113 days. The state's 32 call centers report monthly performance data, including average hold times (three minutes as of 2010).

In 2008 the Pew Center on the States ranked Georgia among the best-managed states in the country. In 2010, Perdue was named one of Governing magazine's public officials of the year. Around the same time, all three rating agencies rewarded Georgia the highest bond rating, a triple A.

Perdue, who was term-limited out of office in January, understood this mission as an existential one: "On the campaign trail, Georgians told me that they felt like government wasn't working for them, and I promised to change that ... Government is like a co-op. We are all owners and users, and we are all better off when it works." At least four other states — Virginia, Minnesota, Texas and Kentucky — made their bureaucracies smarter over the past decade, implementing more than half the performance-boosting recommendations made by their commissions. What happened in the other states? Not much. They failed to turn proposals into reality — sometimes because no single senior-level person was accountable for seeing the effort through and sometimes because the task forces did not work with the legislature to get it done. "You need a group focused on delivery. It sounds so generic, but it's not there now," says Mendonca, the McKinsey productivity expert. "The problem is not ideas. The problem is making it happen."

Colorado is trying. Last year, teachers' unions, state employees' unions, retirees, state patrol officers and legislators from both sides of the aisle agreed to pension reforms — including caps on annual cost-of-living adjustments for current and future retirees. The state also passed a groundbreaking law tying teachers' job security to measures of students' progress, including test scores.

When Brandon Shaffer, the Democratic president of the Colorado state senate, talks about these victories, he speaks as though he's discussing a painful personal matter. "Nobody enjoyed voting for pension reform," he says. His mother is a retired teacher, and his wife currently teaches fifth grade. "We knew it was urgent, and it would just get worse if we procrastinated."

Colorado still has plenty of problems. A lawsuit has been filed to overturn the pension reforms. And if the economy falters again, more changes may be needed to keep the fund solvent. But Shaffer says he has been surprised by taxpayers' reactions so far. "People come up and thank me for stabilizing the [pension] system. Usually those are people in the system themselves."

Shaffer says politicians from other states have contacted him to hear how Colorado did it. He tells them that what mattered the most was that he and the former Republican minority leader trusted each other. "We linked arms and said, 'We're doing this together, no matter what.' The outside forces couldn't control the process." He also reminds them that voters actually crave a more meritocratic government. "People aren't against making a tough decision in hard times," he says. "But they want to know that it's a rational decision."

Ripley is a Bernard L. Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation

-- With reporting by Katy Steinmetz / Washington

UNION: (National) Are public unions our convenient economic scapegoats?

--Yes, we are very convenient scapegoats for the politicians. It is very easy to turn public opinion against us.--


February 28, 2011 8:35 am

The recent labor protests (and counter-protests) in Wisconsin are part of a long tradition of politicians letting public unions take the heat for government fiscal woes.

By Elizabeth G. Olson, contributor

The tumultuous scenes in Wisconsin's capital -- with public workers fiercely defending their collective bargaining rights and opponents calling for their curtailment -- might seem to come out of nowhere.

But the recent events in Madison are part of a long, and rocky, history between public employees and the governments they serve -- a relationship that often turns especially sour during harsh economic times.

The vast majority of states have allowed collective bargaining for some 50 years, and three-fourths of states allow it for most or all public sector employees.

"It's largely been non-controversial, and the basic right to bargain has been well established for decades," says Joseph Slater, a professor of labor law at the University of Toledo College of Law.

Such rights became commonplace after World War II. In 1959, Wisconsin, ironically enough, became the first state to allow public employees to bargain collectively.

But despite the middle-class financial security that union-negotiated pacts bring to workers, their ranks have steadily diminished over the years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that last year just under 12% of American workers were unionized. That figure was lower than previous years, and was nearly half the 20.1% of unionized workers recorded in 1983, the first year such information was collected officially.

Union membership for public sector workers, however, has always been a rocky proposition for the American public. The latest federal figures, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, show that union membership among public sector workers was 36.2% last year, a rate about five times higher than the 6.9% for private sector workers -- a divide that appears to have been widened by the troubled economy.

The current conflict, which already has spread to Ohio and Indiana, states that are also facing crippling budget problems, highlights a continuing public unease over whether public workers should unionize.

The inflammatory issue has cropped up from time to time, notably when former President Ronald Reagan fired the nation's air traffic controllers en masse when they refused to return to work after striking for better working conditions.

The issue surfaced again during the George W. Bush years over whether government employees who work in homeland or airport security could join unions, and have the right to strike. And, public resentment and anger flared recently when Detroit automakers needed federal assistance to dig out of their financial hole, some of which was blamed on overly generous wage and benefit packages for unionized auto workers.

This time, gaping shortfalls in state budgets have pushed the contentious issue to the fore, as public officials scramble to slash expenditures without taking the universally unpopular step of raising taxes.

Some officials blame generous union-negotiated health and other benefits for budget overruns. Scott Walker, Wisconsin's Republican governor, is trying to limit union bargaining strictly to wages, and eliminate negotiation over other aspects including working hours, health care and vacations. So far, the state's assembly -- without a quorum that requires Democratic lawmakers -- voted to strip public workers of their collective bargaining rights in an early-morning vote last Friday, but the conflict is far from settled.

Union critics, such as James Sherk, a labor economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation, call union benefits "gold-plated" and far more generous than what other workers receive -- using money, he maintains, that should be spent on services or returned to taxpayers.

Public unions, he says, "don't negotiate over how to divide profits, they negotiate for the government to spend more on their members."

As a result, he said, "unionized government employees enjoy benefits that few private-sector workers can dream of." That includes job security, retiring with a full pension in their mid-50s, contributing little or nothing to their health-care costs and ample health benefits.

These benefits, he argues, "are driving state and local governments into insolvency." Retirement plans for state and local governments are "$3 trillion in the red."

Despite what are viewed as steep overruns generated by public benefits programs, are unions and public employee benefits really to blame for the enormous budget crises throughout the nation?

"Unionized workers didn't sow the seeds of the economic downturn, deregulation of the financial industry did," says Robert Bruno, a University of Illinois professor of labor and employment relations. "We've suffered billions in losses because of greed, gross mismanagement and illegal activity in the financial industry."

"Unions are an easy target because the largest cost in a state budget is always labor," says Bruno, who studies employee and union issues. "Why are we scapegoating teachers? Is the American love affair with capitalism so irrational that it knows no bounds?"

Joseph Slater at Toledo's law school agrees: "It's easy to paint a portrait of public workers as overpaid, not working very hard and being fat cats on the tax dollar. But there's no correlation between collective bargaining and the state budget crises."

For example, huge state pension obligations - which have grabbed headlines because of state underfunding, and which Sherk points to as a major deficit-maker for states, are not the result of collective bargaining.

"The vast majority of states have pensions set by law, not by collective bargaining," Slater says. "So it's a common misperception that these costs are a result of collective bargaining."

For now, cash-strapped states are not allowed to go bankrupt, but negotiated public employee benefits and wages could be wiped out if states like Wisconsin or Ohio require a bailout from the federal government.

If states were allowed to declare bankruptcy, Bruno says, "that could spell the wholesale destruction of all state-based union contracts, as well as provisions for pensions and health care.

"In one broad stroke, you could de-unionize the public sector," says Bruno.

Labor supporters fear that in the short-term labor unions may well be dealt a major blow. President Barack Obama did not help, says Bruno, when he ordered a two-year freeze of government employee salaries as part of trimming the federal government deficit.

"He sent a signal that public sector workers do not merit a raise, therefore they are part of the problem," Bruno says.

Abridging worker rights "can do serious damage to a modern working economy," he says. "A whole lot more is at risk than balancing the budget in a few states."

But by trying to eviscerate collective bargaining, officials also may "tap into the American sense of fair play and things could change," he adds, "Americans don't like bullies."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

PENSION: (Illinois) Editorial: Quinn ducking pension issue

--Quinn is not going to say a word until Madigan and Cullerton say it is ok. This is nothing but a puppet administration in Springfield. They are going to wait until everything quiets down and then try and ram some bill down our throats like they always do.--

EDITORIAL AT Chicago Sun-Times

Gov. Quinn knows what it’ll take to pull Illinois from the brink of bankruptcy, but he’s got his priorities wrong.

On Thursday, the same day we implored the governor in an editorial to get to work on one key solution — negotiating with public employee unions for major pension and health-care concessions — he gave a speech before the City Club of Chicago in which he went out of his way to duck the issue.

Quinn talked about the “green economy” and broadband technology and high-speed rail and “smart-grid” electricity and such. And only then — we almost missed it — did he vaguely mention the need “to make sacrifices in the present.”

But everybody in the room understood the code.

At a news conference later, he finally managed to utter the word “pensions,” saying “we’re hopeful of working together on that.”

Quinn bristles at criticism that he won’t take on the unions. He likes to point out that he incurred the wrath of the state’s unionized employees last year when he signed into law a bill creating a two-tier pension system, with future employees getting less.

But it was House Speaker Mike Madigan who did the hard work on that bill, pushing it through in a single day. And it may be Madigan who has to do the hard work again, squeezing the unions for further concessions.

While Quinn talks about smart grids.

UNION: Wisconsin budget battle touches all 50 states


(CNN) -- A coalition spearheaded by liberal advocacy group held rallies across the country Saturday in support of public employees and others outraged at the Wisconsin budget-cutting bill they consider an attack on unions. and other liberal and labor groups held noon events at all 50 state capitals.

"Save the dream, we are reunited," a group shouted in Washington, D.C.

The focal point of the protests was the Wisconsin Capitol, where a light snow and cold temperatures failed Saturday to deter about 70,000 who drummed, chanted and marched.

"Hey, hey, ho, ho, Governor Walker has got to go," chanted the group rallying in Madison.

There were no incidents during the protest, said Joel DeSpain, spokesman for the Madison Police Department

The Wisconsin Assembly has passed a Republican bill that would strip most state workers of the bulk of their collective-bargaining rights.

Among other things, the measure would require workers -- with the exception of police and firefighters -- to cover more of their health care premiums and pension contributions. Collective bargaining would be limited to wages, though any pay increases beyond the inflation rate would be subject to voter approval.

In Olympia, Washington, two raucous competing rallies over the union fight in Wisconsin drew more than 2,000 people, according to CNN Seattle affiliate KIRO.

More than a half dozen union members decried the bill, while a smaller protest of Tea Party members and conservative groups was held on the Washington Capitol steps. Many of those demonstrators filled petitions to "Stand with Walker."

Saturday's marchers in Wisconsin got a boost from Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who said Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich, who also wants to cut collective bargaining rights, "aren't just asking workers to tighten their belts, they're demanding they give up their uniquely American rights as workers."

Solis, attending a meeting of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C., said public employees should be "treated with respect and dignity." They have made concessions in several states, she said.

The fight over the Wisconsin bill appears far from over. It still must clear the Wisconsin Senate, a step that is likely to prove far more contentious.

Fourteen Democratic senators have fled to neighboring Illinois to prevent a quorum from voting on the issue.

Walker on Friday reiterated his call for Democrats to return to the Legislature, defending the bill.

"Collective bargaining is a fiscal matter," said Walker, who toured multiple state districts Friday in an effort to pressure the absentee lawmakers. Democrats said the governor's proposal is tantamount to union-busting.

Saturday's protesters in Wisconsin continued their refrain against the governor.

"What they're doing here is trying to kill unions, period," said Jean Ross, a Minnesota nurse who came to show solidarity. "They've created a fiscal crisis and blamed the victims. Well, we are all victims here."

At a Thursday night news conference, Walker said if the Legislature does not pass his budget bill, state aid to local governments could be cut, brushing off critics who said the legislation will destroy public employee unions in the state.

"Wisconsin state employees have the strongest civil protections in the country. That's not going to change in this bill," Walker said. "It's not about the union boss coming in from other parts of the country. It's about whether we protect the taxpayers and the workers."

The state had faced a suggested deadline Friday to balance the budget. The crucial date is March 16, state officials said. Wisconsin is confronted with a $137 million budget shortfall by June 30 and a $3.6 billion gap by 2013.

CNN's David Ariosto, Ted Rowlands and Eric Fiegel contributed to this report

UNION: (National) Wisconsin Dem vows to fight GOP plan as union supporters rally here

--I usually stay away from the politics of all of this. I blame all politicians for the mess we are in. I support my fellow public employees in this mess.--

STORY AT Chicago Sun-Times

Staff Reporter/
Last Modified: Feb 27, 2011 02:11AM

Union workers and supporters ignored wintry weather Saturday as they rallied downtown to protest efforts by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to strip most public employees in that state of their collective bargaining rights.

The rally came as one of the 14 runaway Wisconsin senators said in an appearance at Operation PUSH Headquarters on the South Side that she and the other Democratic legislators won’t return home until the GOP governor agrees to negotiate on his plan to end collective bargaining for public workers.

“His agenda is wrong for Wisconsin, and we’re standing our ground,” Wisconsin State Sen. Lena Taylor said.

Organizers estimated about 2,000 people braved snow and cold winds to attend the rally outside the James R. Thompson Center. There were no arrests, police said.

“We want to let Wisconsin workers know we support them,” said Tom Beck, a city worker and member of Carpenters Local 13, who carried a sign reading “United We Stand, Divided We Beg.”

Many of the workers at the rally want to make sure efforts in Wisconsin to curb union benefits don’t spread to other states, including Illinois.

“There’s a ripple effect that worries me,” said Beck, a union member for nearly 35 years. “Collective bargaining has brought us this far. I put my kids through college and make a decent living because I’m in a union.”

Some of those at the labor rally said they want to demonstrate that union workers will stick together to defend their rights.

“I think it’s important to stand by union members regardless of what state they’re in,” said Mike Murray, an English teacher at Stagg High School in Palos Hills, who attended the protest with his wife, Tanja, and their two young daughters. “They’re going to be fighting the same fight that we are. This is kind of a watershed moment for everybody nationwide.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said the stalemate in Wisconsin is a pivotal moment in the struggle for labor rights.

“What’s at stake in Wisconsin is a basic concept of American liberty and freedom,” Durbin said, drawing applause and roars from the crowd. And Durbin made sure the Democratic senators — all of whom, like Taylor, fled Wisconsin to deprive the Republican-majority Senate of the quorum it needs to vote on Walker’s proposed budget — knew they are “always welcome in Illinois.”

The Republican-controlled Wisconsin Assembly on Friday approved the budget that includes the curb on collective bargaining rights, which Walker and GOP leaders have argued is necessary to cut expenses and help erase a deficit.

At PUSH, Taylor scoffed at those claims, contending Walker’s effort is aimed at breaking state unions and curbing their political influence rather than at balancing the budget.

“He’s tried to run this train right over Wisconsin workers,” Taylor said.

But she held out cautious hope that continuing union pressure will prompt GOP leaders in Wisconsin to ultimately accept a compromise that would keep union rights intact.

“I see it ending in favor of the workers,” she said.

UNION: Union battle in the Midwest a pull for political power

--The issue being played out right now I think goes even deeper than described in this article.
Big private sector businesses want to see the public sector unions busted as a way to protect themselves from a resurgence of workers rights groups in the private sector. 
The financial demise of many retirees that were forced into 401k's shows that the system does not work for employees. 
If they do not bust the public unions you will see private sector unions rise up once again and then the big business CEO's will not be able to take multi-million dollar bonuses every year.--

STORY AT Chicago Tribune

Republican governors are going up against organized labor, hitting at the heart of the Democratic Party, which depends heavily on union money and manpower.

By Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times
9:23 PM CST, February 24, 2011

The labor fight blazing in Madison, Wis., and other state capitals is more than a feud over budgets or the rights of government employees. It is a battle that could fundamentally change the practice of politics in this country, with enormous consequences in 2012 and beyond.

By striking at organized labor, a pugnacious group of Republican governors is hitting at the heart of the Democratic Party, which banks heavily on union money and manpower. That explains the resistance from the White House, Democrats in Congress and, most fiercely, their liberal allies from New York to California.

"This is all about pure political power," said Paul Maslin, a party strategist whose office is just a block from Wisconsin's Capitol. "If they break the unions here, it will spread state by state, nationwide."

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has proposed deep cuts in benefits for most state workers, saying the belt-tightening is necessary to help close a projected $3.6-billion deficit. Labor unions have agreed to cuts in retirement and healthcare plans; if givebacks were the only issue, the impasse would presumably have ended by now.

But Walker, a newly elected Republican, has gone further by seeking to strip state employees of most of their collective bargaining rights. He would also make it harder for unions to organize state workers and collect dues, moves that could diminish labor's clout and deplete its coffers, ultimately hurting Democrats who lean on that support.

Republican governors in Ohio and elsewhere are eyeing similar moves, in what amounts to the greatest threat to organized labor since President Reagan fired striking air traffic controllers in the early 1980s.

Walker and his allies see the moves as a necessary corrective after years of generous contracts that have grown economically unsustainable. "It's not about busting unions, but going back to elementary high school math," said Phil Musser, a GOP consultant and former director of the Republican Governors Assn. "You have [government workers] essentially enjoying an outmoded set of benefits that have no bearing on the macroeconomic situation, either in the states or nationally."

But Democrats see something more insidious: an attempt to undermine the party and its candidates by toppling one of its financial pillars. It is all the more alarming, they say, after last year's landmark Supreme Court decision freeing corporations, which heavily support the GOP, to make unlimited campaign contributions.

"It's very simple. Wealthy individuals and corporations can still give six-, seven-, eight-figure checks to all the candidates, state parties and causes they want to," said Michael Fraioli, a Democratic strategist who works closely with organized labor. "If you take away unions and their ability to organize … you cut at the heart of our financial support."

He and others point, for instance, to the billionaire Koch brothers. One of the groups they financially back, Americans for Prosperity, has been organizing pro-Walker demonstrations in Madison.

Republicans, fueled by the fervency of the budget-cutting "tea party" movement, made big gains in November, seizing control of the House, winning a majority of governorships and fortifying their ranks in state legislatures. They see their victory as a mandate to shrink the size and scope of government, including the number of state and federal workers.

The Midwest has become a focal point of that effort for good reason.

No region of the country has suffered a more devastating loss of high-paying manufacturing jobs or private-sector union positions, which makes the ranks of unionized government employees — with their job security, healthcare and guaranteed pensions — a source of resentment.

"There may have been a time when government employees needed protection and needed reform, but that was a long time ago," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a prospective GOP presidential hopeful, told Ohio Republicans in a speech Wednesday night. He is waging his own fight with unions back home, over legislation that includes a bill to limit collective bargaining for teachers.

"Public jobs grew while private jobs were lost," Daniels said. "Public salaries went up while private sectors are shrinking. It's time to interrupt that loop, in the public interest."

There is the danger, of course, that Republicans are overreaching, as they say President Obama and Democrats did after their big victories in 2008.

Walker, for one, seems to have overstated things by claiming he campaigned on his collective bargaining proposal "all throughout the election."

"Anybody who says they are shocked on this has been asleep for the past two years," he said.

However, a scouring of the record by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and PolitiFact Wisconsin found no public statements in which the governor outlined his controversial position before taking office.

More broadly, it is not clear whose side voters are on.

A USA Today/Gallup Poll found that 61% of those surveyed would oppose a law in their state similar to the Wisconsin proposal denying public workers most of their bargaining rights.

And while public attitudes toward organized labor are not especially favorable — just 45% expressed a positive view in a recent Pew Research poll — attitudes toward big corporations were similarly middling, at 47% positive.

That is why union leaders have highlighted the behind-the-scenes role of the Koch brothers, who heavily contributed to Walker's campaign, and seek to portray the fight in Wisconsin and elsewhere as a battle against corporate greed.

"This is a payback to the big CEOs and to lobbyists that spent billions of dollars in the last election going after the workers in various states," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," with some hyperbole.

Finding solace where they can, Democrats point to the passion in their ranks — and other liberal groups have announced plans for demonstrations Saturday in all 50 state capitals, including Sacramento — and say it bodes well for turnout in 2012. "People aren't happy, but it's got them fired up," said Fraioli, the Democratic strategist. "It's almost like they needed something like this to get their chins up off the ground after the 2010 election."

Still, he conceded, it is never a good thing to fight from a defensive crouch. "We're not working for jobs, or trying to advance things," Fraioli said. "We're just trying to hang on to what we've got."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

NEWS: (Chicago) 3 dead, 2 shot including officer on Far North Side

--Word is the officers injuries are not life threatening and he should be ok. Praying for a quick recovery.--

STORY AT Chicago Tribune

By Carlos Sadovi, Jeremy Gorner and Duaa Eldeib
Tribune reporters
9:11 PM CST, February 26, 2011

Two people were found dead in a North Side apartment shortly before suspects in the slayings shot a Chicago police officer and crashed during a chase a short distance away Saturday evening, officials said. Police fatally shot one suspect after the chase.

Chicago police were on the 5800 block of North Winthrop Avenue at about 5:30 p.m. where two people were found stabbed to death, officials said, citing preliminary information. A third person who was believed to be stabbed there was taken in critical condition to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

After the attackers left the apartment building, a Chicago police officer attempted to stop a vehicle suspected in the crime. Gunfire erupted from the vehicle, which contained at least three people, and the officer was wounded in the leg, officials said. The shooting happened near the intersection of Broadway and Thorndale Avenue, officials said.

After the shooting, police pursued the vehicle from Broadway and Thorndale to Devon and Greenview Avenues, where the vehicle crashed to a stop, officials said.Police fatally shot one person who had been inside the vehicle, while two people were taken into custody, officials said.

Officials from the Cook County medical examiner's office said that a total of three people were pronounced dead as a result of the incidents -- the two apparent stabbing victims and the suspect shot by police.

Witnesses near where the black pickup truck crashed said they saw at least one man being led off in handcuffs, and saw a police officer place a white sheet over another person.

The officer shot earlier was taken to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston in good condition with a leg wound, officials said.

Traffic was rerouted around the active crime scenes.

About a dozen onlookers gazed from the Red Line stop at Thorndale and Broadway, near the scene of where the officer was shot.

On the ground level, several more stood outside Castle Liquors, a convenience store down the block from the crime scene.

Keenan Morgan was about to leave his home behind Moody's Pub -- a restaurant located across the street from where the shooting happened -- when he heard what sounded like gunfire blasts.

"I heard 'Boom, boom, boom! Pow, pow, pow. It was very unexpected,” said Morgan, 23.

At the other roped-off crime scene near Glenwood and Devon Avenues, witnesses said they saw a short chase involving a pickup and several police cars westbound on Devon.

The chase ended with the truck trying to turn south on Greenview Avenue, where shots were fired, witnesses said.

One witness, Chris McGlynn, was at Cunneen's Tavern near where the chase ended.

"I was just sitting here having a beer when I saw a whole bunch of cops chasing somebody in a truck, when I heard what I thought were gunshots," McGlynn said. "It was pretty much a wall of blue lights," he said of the steady stream of police cars.

A bartender at Cunneen's, where one man was taking pictures of the taped-off crime scene with his phone, said she saw a dark-colored pickup speed down Devon around 5:45 p.m.

"It sounded like it had a flat tire, and that's what caught my attention. I thought maybe it was going to careen into our window," she said.

Patrons rushed to the window to see what happened, she said.

"It's scary," she said. "It's scary to have something like this happen so close."

Brittany Rolling was sitting next to her sister at a nearby hair salon when she saw a black pickup barrel down the street. She saw a number of police cars follow behind, then heard at least two gunshots, she said.

She walked a block down to Greenview and pulled out her cell phone to begin recording.

"I don't know who got shot, but I saw police carry a body from the black pickup," she said. "I saw them cover it with something white."

Across the street at Devon Market, workers said the store was full with customers when the chase unfolded outside their window.

One customer was walking out as the gunshots rang out and immediately dropped to the floor, they said.

"I saw (police) handcuff a guy," said employee Samra Ezafic.

Rich Wamsley, who lives a block away from the scene, said he went out for some fresh air and was shocked by the police tape and flashing lights.

"It's pretty crazy," he said. "Wow. It's a scary thing to happen in our own neighborhood."

NEWS: (Chicago) Police 'outmanned' by growing gang population

FROM ABC 7 Chicago


February 25, 2011 (CHICAGO) (WLS) -- In this Intelligence Report: "Outmanned." Street gang membership in Chicago and the suburbs is at least twice as big as city and outlying police departments.

It's due in part to a surge in the Chicago region's gang population related to Mexican cartels taking hold of illegal drug sales.

There are more gangbangers in metro Chicago than there are residents in Orland Park and Glenview combined, at least 100,000 gang members, according to the latest intelligence from a top federal enforcement agency in Chicago.

The growing gang population is a problem for outmanned police and an employment resource for the Mexican drug cartels.

Chicago and suburban police say between 75 and 100 street gangs operate criminal rackets. Authorities say the crime index, especially the murder count, is a barometer of whether there is peace between gangs.

"It ain't just the Chicago got the feds, the U.S. Marshals...anybody picking up guns is gonna do fed time," said parolee Emoney Green.

Green was among 60 parolees and current and former gang members who were frisked and searched Thursday night before attending a summit with Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis and top Chicago police officials.

Although police didn't talk, saying the summit was not public, some in attendance said it was to cool tempers and tension and prevent street violence. But some said those in attendance hold little sway over gangbangers.

"The people I see is the people that's no longer affiliated," said Lamont Burr, an ex-gang member. "We can't tell these young guys what to do. We might go down there every week and tell them to put the guns up. They put 'em up, but then it's right back, more violence."

For law enforcement, the growing gang problem is compounded by two Mexican drug cartels that have recruited Chicago street gangs to distribute cocaine, heroin and marijuana.

"You've got over 100,000 gang members," said Jack Riley, Special Agent in Charge for the Chicago Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration. "At some point those cartels have to interface with the street gang members that control the dope that's going out on the street. That to me is what I refer to as a choke point. There's the opportunity for violence to flare up between the cartels and the street gangs as they're both positioning themselves to make money."

This week, Riley coordinated federal drug agents in Chicago who were involved in a nationwide takedown of Mexican drug cartels. More than 100 drug suspects were arrested, and millions of dollar in cash and dope were seized along with dozens of guns.

NEWS: (Franklin Park) Derailment causes traffic backups

--Sounds like a mess--

STORY AT Pioneer Press

February 25, 2011


A train derailment in Franklin Park caused traffic backups and in the west suburbs as well commuter delays all day Friday.

The derailment occurred around 11 a.m. on the railroad tracks owned by Canadian National which cross the Metra tracks.

Patrick Waldron, spokesman for Canadian National, said the incident was very minor involving one railroad car. He said one set of wheels on a railroad car came off the tracks.

"It's a very minor incident," he said. "It involves one car and it is upright."

Meanwhile, motorists and pedestrians in Elmwood Park and River Grove could not cross the tracks at Grand Avenue and Harlem and Thatcher Avenues. River Grove police put up roadblocks at the railroad crossing at Thatcher and Grand Avenue.

Meg Reile, spokeswoman for Metra, said there would be a small delay of about 10 to 15 minutes due to the incident, but they would still be transporting passengers. Only one of three railroad lines that run along the same route was shut down due to the derailment.

She said those who get off at the train at the Elmwood Park stop, who park their cars in the Metra parking lot on the north side of the tracks, will be taken to their vehicles via shuttle.

Waldron said there were no injuries as a result of the derailment and crews are working to fix the problem. He said they should have the track clear by the end of the day, Friday.

He said the cause of the incident is still under investigation.

UNION: Fiscal discipline or the end of unions?

I don't think it will be the end of unions but it is definitely a hard charge at union busting on the part of politicians. Got to keep that big business money coming into their coffers.--


Washington (CNN) -- For many in labor unions, the political battles in Wisconsin, Ohio and now Indiana are seen as nothing short of a frontal assault on their very existence.

But what's happening in those states and elsewhere -- a push by Republican governors to control state budget shortfalls by going after union pensions, wages and benefits -- may have, instead, energized union supporters and polarized public opinion in favor of the labor movement.

A USA Today/Gallup poll shows that 61 percent of Americans oppose eliminating or restricting collective bargaining rights for public employee unions.

Governors in Indiana and Ohio are following the lead of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in his attempt to limit the power of public employee unions in his state.

"There has been a coordinated campaign for the last 30 years to undermine the American middle class by weakening the power of workers to collectively bargain to raise their wages," said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents nearly 2 million workers, many of them public employees.

She contends that corporate America, in an effort to keep middle-class wages in check, doled out hundreds of millions of dollars to support Republicans running for statewide offices.

"We don't think that retirement security is wrong," Henry said. "What's really wrong is that 50 percent of us don't have access to it and that corporate CEOs earn 400 times what the average American worker earns."

According to, a nonpartisan organization that tracks state campaign contributions, organized business interests -- including real estate, transportation, construction and lobbying groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- donated $878 million to gubernatorial and other state candidates across the country during the 2009-10 election cycle. That includes more than $21 million to the campaigns of Wisconsin's Walker and Ohio's Gov. John Kasich.

Organized labor, on the other hand, donated far less to state campaigns: $225 million, according to the nonprofit organization.

But Walker said Tuesday that his moves are not about going after unions.

"Despite a lot of the rhetoric we've heard over the past 11 days, the bill I put forward isn't aimed at state workers, and it certainly isn't a battle with unions," he said.

Still, the looming threat has forced labor to focus their energies. The AFL-CIO, the SEIU and the Teamsters have put their differing agendas aside and have banded together, busing thousands of protesters to Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana and speaking with one voice in campaigns online. Teamsters President Jim Hoffa arrived in Madison on Wednesday to support the unions' efforts.

They have also gotten some organizational support from Democratic groups such as Obama's Organizing for America. And labor supporters from as far away as Egypt have been sending money and even pizza to Madison help the protesters.

Meanwhile, Democratic state lawmakers in Indiana, mimicking their Wisconsin brothers and sisters, failed to show up at a House hearing Tuesday, effectively blocking a Republican-supported bill that would reduce private-sector union rights. They are reportedly holed up across the state border in Illinois.

Republicans who are pushing those kinds of bills are playing hardball. Walker threatened that if Democrats don't return to the statehouse by Friday, he'll lay off as many as 1,500 public employees. Other Republican lawmakers are blaming the unions' selfishness for further damaging fragile states' economies.

"We only need to look at Camden, New Jersey," said Ohio state Sen. Shannon Jones, who is behind that state's anti-union legislation. "It's an example of where the union refused to renegotiate, and now that city is suffering a 45 percent reduction in the size of its police force because management had no choice."

In January, Camden Mayor Dana Redd cut the city's police force nearly in half, citing budget shortfalls. She said she had no choice because she was unable to secure the $8 million in budget concessions she needed to save jobs.

Jones also contended that going after union costs is one way to tackle the tough budget decisions lawmakers face.

"We've got a projected $8-plus billion budget deficit that we have to deal with," she said. "And we're not like Washington. We can't just print more money and pawn it off on our children. We've got to balance these budgets."

R.I.P.: Police Officer Fred Thornton


Police Officer Fred Thornton
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
North Carolina
End of Watch: Friday, February 25, 2011

Biographical Info
Age: 50
Tour of Duty: 28 years
Badge Number: Not available

Incident Details
Cause of Death: Explosion
Date of Incident: Friday, February 25, 2011
Weapon Used: Not available
Suspect Info: Not available

Officer Fred Thornton was killed when a flash-bang device detonated as he handled SWAT equipment.

He had just returned home following a SWAT call out to serve a warrant and was attempting to render his equipment safe when the flash-bang discharged, causing massive injuries. He was transported to a local hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Officer Thornton had served with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department for 28 years. He is survived by his wife and four children.

Agency Contact Information

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department
601 East Trade Street
Charlotte, NC 28202
Phone: (704) 336-7600

UNION: (Wisconsin) State Capitol will remain open; police group says it stands with protesters

--Even though the new laws will not apply to some of the police officers, they are still standing with their fellow public employees. Hats off to you folks. Stay strong.--

STORY AT {Wisocnsin Journal-Sentinel}

By Don Walker of the Journal Sentinel
Updated: Feb. 25, 2011 12:21 p.m.

Authorities at the State Capitol say they won't close the building, but want to start moving out large items.

At the same time, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association issued a statement that they stand with the protesters.

Jim Palmer, executive director of the WPPA, said in a statement released Friday morning that Gov. Scott Walker should keep the building open and allow the protesters to stay.

There had been speculation on Friday that the effort to move out tables, chairs and other items from the building was the beginning of an effort to move protesters out. But the state Department of Administration said Friday that the building would not be closing at 4 p.m. Friday, as had been rumored.

"Capitol Police are working with protest organizers to begin removal of some large items that could pose fire hazards such as mattresses, folding tables and chairs," the state agency said.

Palmer's statement, issued before the Department of Administration statement, said "the protesters are cleaning up after themselves and have not caused any problems."

"The fact of that matter is that Wisconsin's law enforcement community opposes Governor Walker's effort to eliminate most union activity in this state, and we implore him to not do anything to increase the risk to officers and the public. The costs of providing security can never outweigh those associated with a conflict."

Palmer said he had asked members of his group to come to the Capitol to sleep amongst the throngs of protesters.

"Law enforcement officers know the difference between right and wrong, and Governor Walker's attempt to eliminate the collective voice of Wisconsin's devoted public employees is wrong," Palmer said. "That is why we have stood with our fellow employees each day and why we will be sleeping among them tonight."

In an interview, Palmer said he had already heard from some of his members who plan to join the protesters beginning Friday night.

"We can't sit idly by and see our collective bargaining rights go away," Palmer said.

The WPPA serves almost 11,000 active and retired members from over 380 locals. Palmer said his group represents town and city police departments around the state, as well as sheriff's deputies. State Capitol police, University of Wisconsin police and the City of Milwaukee Police Department are not members of the WPPA.

Walker's budget-repair bill specifically exempts public-safety workers, but many law enforcement groups have criticized Walker's proposed legislation.

Friday, February 25, 2011

OPEN POST: Amendment 2 - Right to Bear Arms

*Date of post changed to keep at top of Blotter (Posted on February 22, 2011)*

Amendment 2 - Right to Bear Arms. Ratified 12/15/1791.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The only requirement to this post is that all comments remain civil. I know these discussions can get emotional.

OK, lead heads, have at it.

My opinion is simple. Yes, people should have the right to carry a concealed weapon with certain requirements being met.

You don't have to like my ideas but they are just that, ideas. They do not make my opinion wrong or right.

- You will be subject to a background check.
- You will have to go through a class.
- You will have to carry a permit at all times you are armed.
- You will have to qualify on a regular basis and only carry what you are qualified to carry (revolver or semi-auto).
- The fact that you posses a Concealed Weapons Permit will be LEADS info that pops up if the police run your name (deal with it).
-What you own and posses in your home is your business. You can only carry a hand gun.

And I will not debate what ifs. You want my opinion there it is. You will abide by all state and federal laws. The simple fact you carry a weapon does not mean you can just shoot bad guys.
Whatever state you live in, follow those laws.
I was a cop in Illinois, I know Illinois law.
I am not required to know your state laws unless I plan to visit there while armed.

And, just so we are all on the same page. I am retired/disabled. However my permit is federal and is good all over the United States. And, yes, I believe personal permits should become state reciprocal.

And to be considerate to everyone, I will even lock this post at the top of the blotter for a couple of days so you can all get it out of your systems.

*Date of post changed to keep at top of Blotter (Posted on February 22, 2011)*

PENSION: (Illinois) Truth and tremors

--So, if all these politicians (Republicans and Democrats alike) say that we need to pay more in order to fix the problems they caused who is going to insure they pay at least the proper amount of their portion on time, every time?
They are responsible for the trouble we are in, not the employees. They should be held accountable to fix it without any ramifications to the employees--

STORY AT {Chicago Tribune}

February 19, 2011

"We're all familiar with the inadequate funding of the state pension systems. Again, tough decision-making, telling people 'You're not going to get everything you thought you were going to get,' telling people 'You may have to pay in more.' Not easy stuff. So we all better get ready for it."

— Speaker Michael Madigan

to the Illinois House, Feb. 8, 2011.

Most earthquakes that jostle Chicago register so low on the Richter scale that they're easily ignored. But Illinois taxpayers shouldn't overlook two weeks of subtle tremors from Springfield: The seismic charts suggest that Speaker Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and Gov. Pat Quinn at long last realize that Illinoisans cannot afford all the public employee benefits our politicians have promised.

These shifts haven't brought a Wisconsin-style backlash from Illinois public sector workers, many of whom accept that without prompt reforms, they won't get checks from depleted pension funds. The statements from Democratic leaders should, though, have voters urging their lawmakers to, yes, rein in retiree benefits — not just for tomorrow's workers, but for today's. Legislators will hear protests from public employee union leaders; they also need to hear encouragement from tapped-out taxpayers.

Follow the ripples of recent days:

• Madigan's Feb. 8 warning of tough votes on pension reforms came with a sideswipe at free retiree health care: "Same story. People are accustomed to one level of benefit. They're going to be told we're going to change that. It's not going to be as good as it used to be."

Madigan has been less vocal than other Democratic leaders in pretending that tighter pension rules for workers hired after Jan. 1 of this year also create savings in taxpayers' pension costs for current workers. Not so. Illinois' unfunded pension and retiree health obligations run north of $120 billion — the worst of any state's burden on citizens, their children and grandchildren. Madigan knows all this.