Big Labor, Democrats in political break-up

For decades, labor unions and the Democratic party have gone together like Romeo and Juliet, Mickey and Minnie, and Tom and Katie. By law, unions are nonpartisan, but it's no secret their ideals usually mesh closer with Democratic than Republican philosophy and platforms. In Stark County, OH though, the love affair is over, at least for the time being. Not quite a divorce, but most definitely a legal separation.

"This is not about anything personally, but we're not getting the respect that's due," said Mike McElfresh, second vice president of the Hall of Fame Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

Effective immediately, the council and its unions - which represent 30,000 workers - won't donate money, walk door-to-door or make phone calls in support of Democratic political candidates in Stark County. The council sent a letter two weeks ago to the county Democratic Executive Committee, informing them of the move. It was signed by 31 local labor leaders - representing every group from a teacher's union to roofers.

"We could have got 85 or 100 signatures if I'd have wanted to," said Daniel Sciury, president of the council. "We ... deserve a hell of a lot more than we've been getting from them."


The knock-down, drag-out that severed the relationship centered on the summer appointment of a Democrat to fill a vacant seat on the county board of elections. It's only a $16,000-a-year job, but that's not the point, Sciury said. It was the way that slot was filled that forced labor leaders to take a stand, though the relationship already was on the rocks.

"It goes way beyond that," Sciury said.

He said unions put as many as 50 people on the street in the county on a weekend, in support of state and national Democratic candidates. Many politicians who hold seats on the party's executive board forget that, he said.

On July 24, county Democratic Chairman Johnnie Maier recommended attorney Samuel Ferruccio Jr. to fill the elections board seat. The four-member elections board is comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats, whose responsibility is overseeing all elections in Stark.

Labor leaders, though, believe they'd earned a seat. One of their own, William Sherer, held a seat for a dozen years. So when board member Randy Gonzalez resigned, they figured they'd get his empty chair alongside Maier at the elections board table. They suggested McElfresh for the post.

Maier said Ferruccio earned 51 votes and McElfresh only 14 from the executive committee.

"We had an election," Maier said. "It was a very democratic process."


Maier characterizes the rift as a "family misunderstanding."

Sciury said Maier underestimates the council's resolve.

"He's wrong," Sciury said.

The only exceptions to the rule - the council still supports Democrat William Healy in his bid to unseat Republican Janet Weir Creighton as Canton mayor, and will support candidates who also are members of the council, such as Canton City Councilman Joe Carbenia.

In the Sept. 10 letter from the council to the executive committee, signers demanded a seat on the elections board, 20 more seats on the executive committee, and more seats on committees and boards governed by the Democratic party.

Maier said he wants to work out problems with union leaders, and added he's willing to negotiate.

"We will continue to stand for them ... for all working-class families; that's who we are as a party," he said.

Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern was out of the country and unavailable for comment, but Sciury said Redfern has asked to meet with him to try to help fix the differences.

"Usually, these things tend to work themselves out," said Randy Borntgrager, a state party spokesman.

Though the number of unionized employees in the U.S. has shrunk from one in every five workers to about one in every 10 during the past 25 years, they remain a prized group for many Democrats. In 2006, labor parties donated $66 million to Democrats, compared to $8 million for Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group.


Democratic party balks at Big Labor demands

Still steamed that their nomination for a seat on the Board of Elections was not the choice of the Stark County (OH) Democratic Party, area labor unions will no longer donate money or time to the party’s political activities. “It’s very, very serious and it’s not going to go away fast,” Stark County AFL-CIO President Dan Sciury said.

Labor balked when its choice to fill a vacancy on the Board of Elections was not the pick of the party in July. The party’s executive committee, instead, chose attorney Sam Ferruccio Jr. to serve. The vacancy was created by Jackson Township Fiscal Officer Randy Gonzalez who cannot serve during a year when he is running for re-election.

The unions picked Mike McElfresh, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 540, for the seat. But a 51-14 vote favored Ferruccio. Since then, the labor movement has been reviewing its options.

In a letter dated Sept. 10 and signed by 32 labor members, the unions demand 20 additional seats on the executive committee as well as the Board of Elections post. Until then, they will boycott their typical role in campaign fundraising, door-to-door and phone bank activities.

Sciury called the relations between the 30,000-member labor union and the party “seriously strained.”

Labor will endorse state Rep. Jamie Healy in his race for Canton mayor, as well as labor candidates. Sciury said labor made an exception for Healy since he was not present for the vote.

“If there are some misunderstandings and disagreements with the party and one of its constituent groups that’s a disagreement or misunderstanding that I would address with them whenever they’re interested in sitting down and talking about it,” said Stark County Democratic Party Chairman Johnnie Maier Jr. “I certanly won’t debate it or negotiate it or discuss it through the media. That’s inappropriate. But this is a family disagreement.”

Having a seat is symbolic for labor, McElfresh said. It held a place on the board up until two years ago, when Maier Jr. filled one of two seats.

“This is about recognizing the hard work of the labor community,” McElfresh said. “We have hundreds of hundreds of members working hard for Democratic candidates.”

Sciury said the dispute between labor and the party had been building for months and the Board of Elections seat was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“It’s as serious as anything that’s happened,” Sciury said. “The best thing about this is it’s solidified the labor community more than ever.”

McElfresh said labor unions play an important role in the party. The party, he said, once carried its banner, working hard for better standards of living, wages and pensions of the working class.

“They seem to be falling away from that,” he said.

He said there is “across the board discontent” with the party.

“Dan and others have always said that organized labor is a non-partisan organization,” Maier said. “They are not a partisan organization. But most people perceive them as a group that does support Democrats and the reason is our party has historically, and currently and will always in the future, support working people.”

When asked how labor’s action could hurt the party, he said, “The party is a very diverse organization with many individuals and groups and as I say we will continue to support working-class people. That’s who we are.”

Sciury had a different view.

“Let him (Maier) have it the way he wants it and we’ll see how he does without us,” he said.


Crooks use Big Labor to infest Democratic Party

At the height of the Rowland scandal, Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and a host of union locals chipped in for the "Privatization Equals Corruption" ad campaign highlighting "the pitfalls and perils of privatizing public services."

Union officials, of course, are pure as the driven snow. Take Jorge Aponte-Figueroa, who until he was sentenced last month to five years in prison was president of the International Longshoreman's Association Local 1740 in San Juan, P.R. His crime? He embezzled $1.9 million from the rank and file, falsified records and laundered money. And Council 4 was distressed about gutters, drywall and a hot tub?

Mr. Aponte-Figueroa is hardly alone. In August, 11 union officials were indicted and eight convicted on corruption charges, mostly for stealing retirement money from their members. As of Sept. 1, the Department of Labor has bagged 84 indictments and 108 convictions this year. One of the worst cases was a nearly $5 million embezzlement involving the Washington, D.C., teachers union. The DoL said it is "as committed as ever to protecting union members from criminal activity by those entrusted to represent them, and we will maintain efforts to uncover wrongdoing against the rank-and-file."

As deeply concerned as unions are about government fraud and corruption, when their own members are caught with their hands in the till, it's no big deal. "Unless you look at the entire universe of (pension) funds, what does 11 indictments mean? It really doesn't mean anything," Leslie Miller of the Teamsters told an interviewer.

The Democratic Party, a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Corrupt Labor, apparently agrees. Typically profligate congressional Democrats are downright miserly when it comes to the DoL investigative division's budget. They want to reduce it by $47.7 million in 2008, as Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., put it, to curb its harassment of "people who are trying to make a living."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, throughout his career, 13 of the top 20 contributors to Rep. Kennedy's campaigns have been unions, to the tune of $1.4 million in all. Since 1990, 90 percent of union donations ($540 million) have gone to Democratic candidates. Quid pro quo, anyone?


Soccer moms threatened by gov't union strike

Several ominous paper signs have been posted outside picketed Vancouver city parks, warning parents and children not to play on the grass because it may contain "broken glass, rusty nails, rocks or concrete."

Soccer moms are worried that the signs - which preceded dumping of all of those items at Killarney Park last week - mean that other parks, including Douglas Park and Heather Park, could be strewn with debris.

"If there's a warning out there, there's an implied threat," said Joan Lichtmann, 41. "Who would do this? It's dangerous for the kids and anyone who uses the field," she said Another mom, Deborah Reiner, told The Sun she found the sign at Heather Park "threatening" when she first saw it.

The signs say: "Use at own risk. Playing field may contain: broken glass, rusty nails, rocks or concrete." They are printed in black ink on paper affixed to wooden signs with tape. Some have been ripped down, said Reiner, but at least one is still in place at Douglas Park and Killarney Park.

Both women said that it's hard not to be suspicious of members of the union locals who are striking at the community centres nearby.

CUPE 1004 President Mike Jackson, who represents outside workers, said his workers were not involved.

Some 5,000 members of CUPE 15, which represents the city's inside workers, and CUPE 1004, which represents workers including groundskeepers, have been on strike since late July.

While both sides are in mediation with private mediator Brian Foley, neither is speaking to the media.

When garbage was dumped outside Mayor Sam Sullivan's Yaletown condominium in August, the Anti-Poverty Committee quickly claimed responsibility. Spokespeople for the APC couldn't be reached Sunday.

Park board chairman Ian Robertson said he didn't know of any signs, but said the board couldn't take action against the vandals without evidence.

"Whoever's doing it, you have to see them doing it," he said. "We ask for the vigilance and the eyes and ears of the neighbours."

Sixteen-year-old rugby player Jonathon Wong first discovered the nails on the field in Killarney park on Wednesday, and spent half an hour cleaning it up with his coach, John Falcos.
Then on Friday, when Lichtmann decided to hire a private contractor to mow the field, the contractor was stopped by union workers who said they were crossing the picket line.

Lichtmann announced that she would return on Saturday to mow the field herself, but by the time she and other parents arrived, someone else had dumped two distinct 10-metre trails of ash, broken industrial-sized glass, rusty nails and concrete on the field.

"The mowing was over," said Falcos, who was there at the time. "If you put a mower on that, you'll destroy your mower. If [a nail] shoots out it will kill someone."

B.C.'s labour law says that an employer must not organize people to do the work of union workers during a strike, whether they are paid or not.

Lichtmann said that city managers had agreed to clean up Killarney Park by Tuesday.

Striking workers picketing the Killarney Community Centre would not give their names to The Sun, but denied that they had any involvement.


Candidate uses labor strike for political gain

A labor dispute at a Carson (CA) laundry could affect the upcoming Assembly race, as candidate Mike Gipson, a Carson councilman, is using the issue to court union support. The laundry, Prudential Overall Supply, is locked in a battle with Unite HERE, a politically active labor group that represents about 300 of its employees.

About 100 of those workers at four plants went on strike last week to protest labor practices. Prudential has a contract to clean uniforms for the city of Carson.

At the urging of Unite HERE, Gipson has asked the city staff to investigate whether the labor action has interrupted the city’s laundry service. “The city of Carson should not be adversely affected by this situation,” Gipson said. “We’re saying settle this issue now.”

Gipson is running in a special election to replace 55th District Assemblywoman Laura Richardson, who was elected to Congress last month. He is running against Warren Furutani, a former Los Angeles Unified school board member, who has enjoyed union support in the past.

Union backing is critical to get-out-the-vote operations, especially in special elections, for which turnout is typically low. Gipson, an area representative for United Teachers Los Angeles, has introduced several pro-labor resolutions in his tenure on the Carson council.

He said the laundry issue is separate from his Assembly campaign.

“I’m keeping it separate and apart,” he said. “I don’t think one deals with the other one.”

The city pays Prudential about $40,000 per year for laundry service for 260 landscapers, warehouse workers, tree trimmers, and recreation staffers.

The city has used Prudential for about seven years and has two years left on its current contract.

The council cannot break the contract or seek laundry services elsewhere solely due to the labor dispute. But it can investigate whether the strike has caused any delays in its laundry service, which could put pressure on Prudential to resolve the strike.

Workers have gone on strike in Carson, Vista, Milpitas, and Commerce. At the Carson plant, where the city’s uniforms are cleaned, the strike lasted for one day.

“We’re using a lot of different tactics,” said Unite HERE spokeswoman Laura Moran. “We want to keep the company guessing.”

In some cases, Prudential has hired replacement workers to pick up the slack, said company spokesman Jerry Martin.

“Not one customer has experienced any service interruption from any Unite HERE action,” Martin said. “We would certainly contest any break of a contract that we are fulfilling. The city of Carson is a good customer of Prudential’s and our goal is to retain them.”

Prudential’s contract with its unionized employees has expired. Unite HERE is attempting to organize some non-union Prudential workers, but claims that the company is intimidating its employees and putting out misleading information.

Lilia Villanueva, a shop steward at Unite HERE Local 52, said she makes $9.50 an hour after working 14 years at Prudential’s Commerce plant.

“The supervisor interferes in union business,” she said, through a Spanish interpreter. “The people get scared and don’t fight for their rights.” Martin denied that workers are being intimidated.

“Prudential is contesting each and every one of those allegations,” he said. “It’s just par for the course as far as Unite HERE activity.”

City Manager Jerry Groomes and Finance Director Jackie Acosta agreed that, as yet, there has been no interruption in laundry service. They will make a report to the council at its next meeting.

At that point, Gipson said the council will “need to find out which is the most prudent way to convey our displeasure.”

City Attorney Bill Wynder said that if the council breaches the contract without any evidence of poor performance, the city could be exposed to a lawsuit for interfering with Prudential’s economic advantage.

Carson is known as a pro-union city, and other council members have been sympathetic to the workers’ cause.

“I think we need to treat all workers fairly,” said Councilwoman Lula Davis-Holmes. “All employees deserve the right to provide an affordable living for their families.”


AFSCME's gross miscalculation in Minnesota

After spending more than two weeks on picket lines, the University's striking employees are returning to work this week. The negotiating committee for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees accepted the University's offer late Thursday night after 15 hours of negotiations.

Phyllis Walker, president of the AFSCME Local 3800 clerical workers, said it was ultimately concern for the financial well-being of union members and the approaching loss of health-care coverage that forced an end to the strike.

The union's negotiating committee accepted an offer they had previously rejected. The settlement awards an annual 2.25 percent raise for clerical and technical workers and a 2.5 percent raise for health-care workers. Union employees will also receive a step increase of about 2 percent.

AFSCME members will collect a $300 lump-sum payment each year. Union members at the top of their pay scale, which is about 6 percent of the union, will receive an additional $300 payment instead of the step increase. AFSCME members with voting rights will decide whether to accept the contract offer in early October, Walker said.

The negotiating committee is sending the offer to members without recommendations.

Barbara Bezat, president of the AFSCME Local 3937 technical workers, said striking workers lost a combined $1.82 million in wages because of the work hours they missed.

"We are pleased this strike has ended and appreciative of the union's willingness to take this proposal to their membership for a vote," University President Bob Bruininks said in a statement Friday.

University spokesman Dan Wolter declined to comment.

AFSCME frustrated

Executive Operations and Student Services Specialist Polly Peterson said the strike and negotiating process were frustrating.

Peterson, a University employee for 30 years, said she loves her job and is glad to go back to work but was upset when she left negotiations Thursday.

She said the meeting was exasperating because the University refused offers from the union and a mediator.

"It became clear to us that the University wasn't negotiating in good faith," Walker said.

Bezat said the union has fallen behind every time they have accepted a settlement in recent contract years.

Union leaders said the striking employees have been brought together over the past few weeks.

"I feel proud and honored to lead a group of workers who are willing to stand up and fight," Walker said.


6,000 SEIU security guards on strike in Bay Area

Union security guards in San Francisco plan to walk off the job Monday morning and 150 other unions have vowed to honor their picket lines, according to Service Employees International Union Local 24/7.

SEIU called the strike Sunday to demand higher wages and better health care benefits. But union spokeswoman Gina Bowers refused to say how long the strike would last or how many buildings in the financial district would be affected.

The union, which represents nearly 6,000 security officers in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, has been negotiating with representatives from Universal Protective Security, AMB Security Services, and Securitas Security Services. The firms have refused comment, but building owners say security desks will be staffed.

SEIU members voted last weekend to authorize a strike. They have been without a contract since June.

SEIU has enlisted the support of the city’s firefighters, police officers and paramedics who say low wages for security guards have resulted in high turnover rates and poorly training guards. They claim it puts security at risk at some San Francisco high-rises.

Starting wage for a security guard in San Francisco is $11.30 per hour, according to SEIU. Janitors make slightly more at $11.49 per hour, it said.


UAW shocked, sets strike deadline for today

The UAW announced today that due to the failure of General Motors to address job security and other mandatory issues of bargaining, the union has set a firm strike deadline for 11 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 24.

“We’re shocked and disappointed that General Motors has failed to recognize and appreciate what our membership has contributed during the past four years,” said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. “Since 2003 our members have made extraordinary efforts every time the company came to us with a problem: the corporate restructuring, the attrition plan, the Delphi bankruptcy, the 2005 health care agreement. In every case, our members went the extra mile to find reasonable solutions.

“Throughout this time period," said Gettelfinger, "it has been the dedication of UAW members that has helped GM set new standards for safety, quality and productivity in their manufacturing facilities. And in this current round of bargaining, we did everything possible to negotiate a new contract, including an unprecedented agreement to stay at the bargaining table nine days past the expiration of the previous agreement.”

“This is our reward: a complete failure by GM to address the reasonable needs and concerns of our members,” said UAW Vice President Cal Rapson, director of the union's GM Department. “Instead, in 2007 company executives continued to award themselves bonuses while demanding that our members accept a reduced standard of living.

“The company’s disregard for our members has forced our bargaining committee to take this course of action,” said Rapson. “Unless UAW members hear otherwise between now and the deadline, we will be on a national strike against GM at 11 a.m. EDT on Monday, Sept. 24th.”

The UAW negotiating team will remain at the bargaining table, Rapson said, throughout the night and up until the 11 a.m. deadline.


Trying to change the Labor equation

Two years after its controversial birth, Change to Win labor federation is making good on its pledge to reinvigorate the labor movement with more expansive and comprehensive organizing targeting tens of thousands of workers, its leaders contend.

But as the group prepares to kick off its second convention here Tuesday, those efforts haven't yet produced a payoff in increased union membership or deeper penetration in existing business sectors.

Change to Win, formed by seven unions (IBT, LIUNA, SEIU, UBC, UFW, UFCW, UNITE-HERE) that broke from the AFL-CIO after disagreements on how to best organize, says it is targeting several major organizing campaigns:

• 90,000 ports drivers in California, Florida and Washington, led by the Teamsters.

• More than 30,000 school bus drivers led by the Teamsters and Service Employees International Union.

• More than 10,000 Bashas' grocery store workers in Phoenix, led by the United Food and Commercial Workers.

• 60,000 residential home construction workers in Arizona, California and Nevada, led by the Laborers' International Union.

• Thousands of hotel workers across the country, led by Unite Here.

The campaigns have received assistance from Change to Win's strategic organizing center, which receives $12 million of the federation's $16 million budget.

"We've been focused on major campaigns in our core industries, and other unions have been supporting those efforts so we can do campaigns bigger," said Anna Burger, chair of the federation.

The federation's affiliates are committing several hundred million dollars annually to organizing, in addition to teaming up on campaigns, said Tom Woodruff, head of the organizing center.

Last month 300 organizers from all of the affiliates participated in a Teamsters blitz at the Port of Los Angeles, contacting 15,000 workers during a one-week period, said federation Executive Director Gregory Tarpinian.

In the Chicago area, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1546 President Ken Boyd says the union has received help from the Teamsters in organizing food-industry workers here.

"You see cooperation among these various unions," said Robert Bruno, an associate professor of labor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "But they promised a centralization of resources and of strategizing, and while on the plus side I do see cases of that, there's certainly far less of it than was promised two years ago."

Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University, shared similar views.

"If you look at the organizing numbers, there has been no significant change in who's organizing and who's not," she said.

The unions that were making the most significant gains organizing before and after Change to Win was formed are the same unions, she said. SEIU and Unite Here, which represents hotel, restaurant, textile and laundry workers, remain the most aggressive.

But Woodruff and other labor leaders said the two-year-old organization and its affiliates have been focused on putting the infrastructure in place to support bigger and better campaigns. That is key to increasing density, they said, adding that more campaigns will be forthcoming.

"What we're seeing now in all our affiliates is in many cases a doubling or tripling of the number of people working in their strategic research operations, said Tarpinian.

Three years ago the Teamsters had fewer than 20 organizers on the ground from the national union, today it employs 200 such organizers, noted Tarpinian. The union's membership, which stood at nearly 1.4 million at the end of 2006, organized more than 20,000 new members last year, and is on track to double that this year, said spokeswoman Leigh Strope.

The Laborers', meanwhile, have committed to increasing per capita payments by 25 cents per hour by 2009 to fund organizing. That will create more than $100 million a year for organizing to help it achieve its goal of boosting its membership by 20 percent over the next five years, said General President Terence O'Sullivan.

At UFCW 1546, one third of the budget now goes to organizing, up from about 10 percent three years ago, said Boyd.

"We're spending more money on organizing, developing and training organizers, developing capacity to do research, and to understand our industries in a much larger way," said Burger, in assessing the group's progress. "That has been very dramatic."

Henry Tamarin, president of Unite Here Local 1, says it's premature to judge the success of the still young federations, but noted the clock is ticking. Indeed, union membership has continued its downward slide, falling from 12.5 percent of wage and salary workers to 12 percent last year.

"At the end of the day, the only real measure that can apply is whether we have more workers organized and greater density in the industries that we represent," Tamarin said. "We can get an A for effort, but that doesn't change the equation."

Steps toward 50 million

The seven-union affiliates of Change to Win labor federation have a long-term goal of organizing 50 million workers. What have they done to help achieve that?

• Targeted industries that can't be outsourced, including construction, retail, hotels and hospitality, food production, manufacturing, transportation, health care and real estate.

• Committed 75 percent of the federation's resources to organizing through the establishment of a strategic organizing center.

• Each affiliate has developed an organizing plan to bring about net growth in each of their core industries by next year. That would translate into 250,000 newly organized workers next year.< • Affiliates have committed more resources to strategic research and training more organizers. • Put in place capital stewardship programs focused on using union pension funds to help pressure employers. • Focused on organizing through majority card-check instead of National Labor Relations Board secret ballot elections. (suntimes.com)

Vancouver's tradition of gov't union strikes

Greater Vancouver has a long history of labor disruption.

The most recent highlights:

- 1964, 15 days
Vancouver's outside workers went on strike, leaving golf course fairways unmowed, garbage by the curb and the Stanley Park Zoo heaped with various types of manures.

- 1966, 45 days
Outside workers in Vancouver again walked out, coming back for a 32.5-cent-an-hour wage increase.

- 1969, one day
Outside workers in Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond, with the strike of '66 still fresh in their memory, agreed to return to work after only hours on the picket line.

- 1972, 49 days
Some 4,000 inside and outside workers in Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminster and Delta won a 17-per-cent wage increase over two years after seven weeks on the bricks.

- 1981, 90 days
More than 9,000 unionized workers across Greater Vancouver paralyzed the city. Operations took some time to return to normal as many city vehicles needed slashed tires replaced.

- 1997, 42 days
Outside workers in Vancouver strike, leaving the Downtown Eastside heaped with trash.

- 2000, 49 days
More than 2,800 CUPE inside workers in Vancouver walked off the job. Most outside services were also disrupted as outside workers honoured picket lines at city facilities.

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