In higher ed, unionizing not always the answer

­­­Approximately 3,500 University of Minnesota clerical, technical and health workers went on strike Sept. 5, calling for steeper salary increases in their next two-year contract. The workers represented under American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees returned to work after almost three weeks, with a tentative agreement that has yet to be voted on.

The strike shook the University of Minnesota campus, but the Macalester College community, aside from the occasional AFSCME strike supporter, has not felt any of the strike's tangible effects or influences. Judging by history, and the small percentage of unionized workers at Macalester, it probably never will.

According to Human Resources director Chuck Standfuss, only 60 Macalester employees-all facilities management workers-are unionized under Local 70 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. Café Mac employees and security guards are contracted employees working under Bon Appetit and American Security, respectively, are also unionized, but generally Macalester faculty or staff members are not.

"It's just an accident of history," Standfuss said. "Every worker in the U.S. has a right to organize ... it relates to size. At the U, the management is so much bigger. Here it is smaller, and more direct. People don't feel like they need intervention within the relationship between administration and staff."

Facilities management worker and union steward Kurt Olson agreed that Macalester lends to a better-than-average workplace, but also noted the benefit of union representation.

"Mac isn't a place that fires people, it's a great place to work," he said. "A lot of employees have been here for many, many years ... but you have to think, what would the management be if I didn't have the union to protect me?"

Non-unionized staff wages are established when trustees approve Macalester's budget annually in early January. Unlike union contracts, non-unionized staff's wages are not public, but as Standfuss said, Macalester has to keep a competitive market in mind when offering positions.

In lieu of unions, the Staff Advisory Committee is the one main portal through which faculty and staff can voice their grievances to the administration. SAC meets twice a month to discuss topics such as new professor orientation and security on campus, which SAC co-chair Allison Greenlee said were the two most pressing issues last year.

Even with SAC's representation, though, academic department coordinators decided to establish their own group a few years ago, with hopes of providing a consolidated voice specific to their position. Working toward this idea, academic department coordinators Patty Phalz and Mary Claire Shultz founded the Administered Office Professionals, an independent group composed only of other department coordinators. The group meets monthly to address grievances and concerns.

Unlike other clerical staff in 77 Mac or Weyerhauser, department coordinators are dispersed, both in physical placement and the individual duties of their jobs within their respective academic departments. "We all work as individuals without any peer group to relate to," Shultz said. "The AOP has been incredibly helpful."

The AOP has been trying to press the issue of a wage increase. Shultz said that while department coordinators' responsibilities increase with time, their wage remains stagnant.

"The system they have for our job classification doesn't include changes we have experienced," she said, remarking specifically on how technological advancements have prompted new duties, like e-mailing students and sometimes even creating web pages.

Shultz said that the AOP presented this issue to the administration, proposing the addition of a senior academic department coordinator position, which would include both more responsibility and pay.

Shultz said that Treasurer David Wheaton and Provost Diane Michelfelder supported their cause, but that the issue was eventually dropped. She said it should be revisited upon Chuck Standfuss' return to his regular job as Human Resources director.

"They listen to us, but there doesn't seem to be any action," she said. "We're kind of waiting on Mr. Standfuss to return."

Since last year, Standfuss has been spearheading the "Banner Project," which includes the launch of Macalester's 1600grand web portal.

Executive Assistant of the Institute for Global Citizenship Margaret Beegle worked as a clerical worker at the University of Minnesota for 20 years, but said she left because of the lack of advancement opportunities beyond her position.

She said that Macalester's workplace culture is much more favorable to that of the University, but the issue of a wage increase has been a "stickler" in her job.
Beegle said that she has thought about trying to organize clerical workers, but has not worked past the initial stages of research. She has not witnessed any other efforts to unionize at Macalester.

"I've been here eight or nine years and since then there hasn't been a drive…that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I just might be out of the loop."

Labor historian and history professor Peter Rachleff said that the lack of union presence at Macalester could also be attributed to a slew of labor laws enacted since the 1980s, which have tried to limit union organization. He cited the 1980 Supreme Court ruling of National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University, which limited the right of faculty in private institutions to bargain collectively.

Executive Assistant for Administration and Finance Kenneth Tivey said that aside from labor laws, simply garnering sufficient support to organize could be difficult.
Before coming to Macalester, Tivey worked at the University of Minnesota as clerical support, but said that he left his job there in hopes of a "more stable, respectful workplace."

"I didn't want to have to go through another strike," he said. During this past University of Minnesota strike, he said, workers lost an average of $1,900 in pay for the nearly three weeks they were on the picket line.

When looking at Macalester, Tivey noticed a few Macalester workers were unionized, which he said is a "good thing." He also had heard that there were long-standing Macalester employees, a feature he looks for in a workplace.

Still, Tivey said that giving up his union membership was a very difficult decision. Now at Macalester, he said he hopes to investigate staff grievance procedures and committees, such as SAC, and to evaluate how much clout they actually hold.
"I don't know enough about the politics of working here yet and will be investigating that," he said.

For the unionized workers at Macalester, though, the issue of wage increase is an entirely different story, carried out in a completely different manner.

Every three years, stewards, or representatives of the Macalester IOUE chapter, work with their union business agent to negotiate a renewal of their contract with Standfuss and Facilities Management Director Mark Dickinson. Typically, Standfuss said, the contracts look similar, with small alterations based on the school's budget and the greater economy.

During spring negotiations for the 2007-2010 contracts, though, disagreements over pension allocation lengthened the negotiation process, drawing it out well into the summer.

The parties began to negotiate the contract early in spring semester, but the extra time, Olson said, was not as helpful as they had anticipated, only diminishing any sense of urgency in establishing an agreement.

Standfuss approached the talks through "interest based bargaining," an alternative negotiating approach in which both parties submit their initial proposals, and then work together to meet all needs.
"There is far more direct contract between all members of the negotiating teams than in traditional bargaining," Standfuss wrote in an email. "There is still give-and-take, but the hope is that the give-and-take is more informed and leads to lasting agreement and understanding between the parties."

But, Olson said, instead of progressing with face-to-face negotiations, the stewards' meetings with Standfuss eventually stalled in the late spring, after he opted to meet only with their business agent.

"Legally, he only has to deal with the business agent," Olson said. "But we were upset. We thought he should keep talking to us. We're the guys."

In the end, Olson said, the workers received what they wanted-four percent of their wages per hour now go into a pension fund, totaling about $460 a month.
The contract in general, Olson said, looks the same as it has in years past. It is just the negotiation process that did not go "as well this time."

"People make choices, friendships," Rachleff, who followed the negotiations closely, said. "I think some people felt lied to and manipulated by Mr. Standfuss."
He continued: "I think Macalester has a responsibility to be an exemplary employer. We have an obligation in what soda we serve in the cafeteria…and how the workers are treated. Everything we do is part of our mission."

Standfuss asserted in an e-mail that he is legally "obligated to negotiate through the workers' chosen representative, their business agent," but that he did also "meet directly with the workers, with their agent present."


Football team dishonors teachers union strike

Reynolds (PA) teachers plan to strike through Nov. 2, which is as long as the law allows them, but students want to get back to class.

“I think it sucks because I just want to get my senior year over,” said Shane Reagle, 17. Shane and several of his friends were spending their free time Thursday heading to Hermitage for a pizza and maybe hanging out at Shenango Valley Mall.

[Photo caption: Reynolds’ football team practiced Thursday for the Saturday game, which will be coached by the elementary school principal, who’s filling in for coach Tim Scarvel. Scarvel is part of the teachers union that is on strike, and he decided not to cross the picket line.]

While Shane wants to return to school as soon as possible, he said he understands the reasons why the teachers union went on strike. “They haven’t had a contract for two years. The school board needs to do something,” he said.

The board has a work session scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday and Shane said he’ll go if he doesn’t have to work and maybe speak to the directors about settling a contract with the teachers. “I’d tell them to hurry up,” Shane said. Senior Josh Unrue, 17, and junior Josh Hassel, 16, said they don’t want to make up a lot of strike days by going to school on scheduled vacation days. “It’s kind of taking away from summer,” Josh Hassel said.

The last day of school is scheduled for June 6. Teachers can strike through Nov. 2 in order to get 180 days of classes completed by June 15, according to a news release Thursday from the state Department of Education.

Reynolds Education Association plans to continue the strike as long as it’s allowed to do so if there’s no movement or tentative agreement with the board on a new contract, said Marcus D. Schlegel, a Pennsylvania State Education Association representative who is advising the union.

The union is required by law to return to work after Nov. 2, after which the board and union will be obligated to enter into non-binding arbitration and an arbiter will try to help settle a new contract, Schlegel said.

The union is allowed to go on strike a second time during the school year long enough for 180 days of classes to be completed by June 30, the Department of Education said. State law says 180 days of classes must be completed by then.

Days of classes missed during the strike can be held on vacation days and all holidays except Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Classes can’t be held on Saturdays or Sundays, the department said.

Josh Hassel said the teachers are striking for good reasons like salary increases and he’s sure they want to return to school as much as he and his classmates do. “They have families to support,” he said.

Nurse-unionists stage lame solidarity stunt

Nearly 50 Eden Medical Center nurses tried to return to work Friday morning after a two-day strike, but they left after the hospital manager rebuffed them.

About 5,000 registered nurses walked off the job Wednesday and Thursday and were set to resume work Friday. But five of the 15 Northern California hospitals affected, including Eden, had announced they would lock out striking nurses.

Nevertheless, a contingent of Eden nurses braved a downpour to rally before marching in lockstep up a steep driveway to the hospital entrance ready to begin their 7 a.m. shifts. "We want to work. We're ready to come back," Bob Auen, a registered nurse at Eden for 18 years in the intensive care unit, said to nursing administrative head Rose Corcoran.

But Corcoran and other administrative staff passed out a Sept. 28 memo stating that only nurses who crossed the picket line or who were not scheduled to work Wednesday or Friday would be allowed to work before Saturday morning.

The group returned to the sidewalk in front of the hospital and dispersed. "We're working all as one or none at all," Auen, a union leader, told the others. Hospital spokeswoman Jonnie Banks said part of the rationale behind the lockout was the expense of contracting replacement nurses through the end of the week. Allowing the absent nurses to return, she said, would have resulted in double staffing.

"There should have been no surprise here," said Banks, who added that 18 to 20 percent of the 400-person nursing staff at the Castro Valley campus worked during the strike. "We have to provide for our patients here," Banks said.

Auen criticized the hospital's decision to allow some nurses to work while denying others.

"If somebody was arbitrarily off those two days, they could work," he said. "That (tactic) is divisive ... We had every intention (today) to come and take care of our patients."


Teachers to go out on strike Monday

At 8:30 a.m., teachers are slated to hold strikes at three district schools - Ross Elementary, Lehman-Jackson Elementary and Lake-Lehman Junior/Senior High - confirmed Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman John Holland on Saturday.

Though strikes are not allowed to transpire on school property, they will nevertheless be "right in front."

"The public is always encouraged to come out and show their support. It's not unusual for other labor unions to come walk with us too," Holland said. "Oftentimes the public is angry with the teachers at first, and understandably so because they want their children in school. But after thinking about it, they realize it takes two to cause this."

By most calculations, the picketing could last up to three weeks, but Holland said the PSEA would assess the strike on a day-by-day basis.

"A fair and legitimate offer could end the strike, but that rests with the school board. They have the ability to end it anytime they want," Holland said. "Some people say they should outlaw strikes, but I say it's a good civic lesson for students because they see democracy in action and people standing up for their rights. If you go back to coal miners and steel mill workers, it was only because of their willingness to go on strike that working conditions and livelihoods improved. To deny people that right is offensive."

No new negotiation sessions are scheduled, but school board member Mark Kornoski said the board was certainly willing to meet.

"We're ready to go anytime and we'll sit down anytime," Kornoski said. "I think we've done all we can. We've made our offer, and as far as I'm concerned, it's a legitimate and fair offer. We hope students and parents understand the board did not call the strike. We know a lot of our teachers would rather be in class with their kids; we have good teachers and they're very lucky to be at Lake-Lehman. We don't want to strike."

On that point, even Holland was in agreement.

"I've never had one teacher say to me they want to strike. We only do it as a last resort when we believe there's no other avenue," Holland said.

For parent Judy Kristeller, who amassed nearly 220 signatures on a petition asking negotiators to show children that "by establishing a respectful dialogue we can work together to develop a compromise," her frustration is giving way to figuring out how to manage her children while they're out of school.

"I work full-time and my husband works, but we have flexibility with our jobs and a great baby sitter," said Kristeller, mother of 8-year-old Alyssa and 6-year-old Alex. "We came up with a list of things: going to the park, the library, the museum at Nay Aug Park. We've worked it out so they'll do math and reading."

Though she mailed copies of her petition to teachers, board members and labor negotiators, Kristeller has yet to receive a formal response, though she has received positive feedback when bumping into teachers on the street.

"If leaders from both sides were to just sit down and talk, I think the whole thing could be worked out," she said.


Union outlived usefulness

Well the United Auto Workers union got what it wanted from General Motors so now they are going after Chrysler. This is a picture of why our country is in the mess it's in.

Organized labor or socialism as I like to refer to it, once again telling a business how and where they can do business. It is no wonder companies are fleeing the United States. Unions run up wages and prices and put protections in place that keep companies from firing riff-raff.

Chrysler should fire all striking workers and move operations to a right-to-work state - perhaps Florida. This is the only chance these companies will have to compete in the world market. The unions have outlived their usefulness by many years. There was a time when protecting workers from sweatshop operations was necessary, but in this day of government over-regulation they are not needed and not healthy for our country.

Unions have steadily lost membership over the years because most Americans realize the danger they present to our economy. Let's hope this trend continues and accelerates so that we can retain these factory jobs and while we can still afford American-made products.



Teachers strike: No school until further notice

A day into the first teachers’ strike in District 2’s history, there was little indication Friday night that the sides would settle soon. With talks stalled, no plans were made to resume classes Monday. Although representatives for both teachers and administrators have said they were more than willing to talk, no future meeting date had been set as of Friday evening.

District 2 teachers and support staff members began striking Friday morning, canceling classes for about 1,600 students at the district’s three schools. Teachers carried signs that read “On strike for a fair contract” and “We want a fair settlement” in front of Nippersink (IL) Middle School.

“Usually teachers get low salaries and good benefits,” Richmond/Spring Grove Education Association President Denise Gossell said Friday from the picket line. “[But] they want to give us a low salary and no benefits.”


SEIU & candidate staging state-by-state rollout

Iowa's Service Employees International Union members will endorse Ex-Sen. John Edwards on Monday, numerous Democratic sources said. Edwards recently added a 5:30 pm ET "health care" event to his schedule on Monday in Iowa City, home to the state's largest concentration of SEIU members.

Monday, October 15 is the first day that SEIU state affiliates can endorse individual candidates. When the national union decided not to offer a universal endorsement, it allowed each state aggregation to choose their own candidates.


Slumbering airline pilots union re-awakens

Pilots at major US airlines have become increasingly antagonistic toward management as unions representing many of those workers brace for contract negotiations. The shift, characterised by tough talk from union leaders, could test the determination of the pilots to regain wages and benefits they sacrificed during a massive industry restructuring.

It could also result in higher costs for airlines as they claw their way back from a steep downturn. “Pilots feel it’s payback time. They see load factors going through the roof and think it’s time to settle old scores,” said Joe Schwieterman, a transportation expert at DePaul University.

Last month, the pilots’ union at AMR Corp’s American Airlines sent a scathing letter to the carrier, blasting stock awards for managers and threatening lawsuits and job action. And this week, pilots at UAL Corp’s United Airlines elected union leaders that some expect to ruffle management feathers.

The militant new posture by pilots is a departure from the relative restraint they showed during the industry restructuring that saw the pay and benefits of many airline workers slashed. “They see the industry back on its feet, and they see little prospects of higher pay without more militant action,” Schwieterman said.

The airline industry is recovering from a years-long slump triggered in 2001 by the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and exacerbated by low-fare competition and soaring fuel prices.

Carriers survived the downturn, thanks to steep labour cost cuts. But now that airlines have begun to post profits, the workers want to reclaim some of what they had lost. Unions were especially riled earlier this year when top executives at AMR and UAL received hefty payouts from performance-based stock awards. Tensions have been simmering between workers and managers since.

“Enjoy your blood money and your union-busting meetings. We’ll see you in court, in the newspapers and on the picket line,” said the Allied Pilots Association in a Sept. 18 letter made public this week to AMR Chief Executive Gerard Arpey.

The union, whose members have given up $1.8 billion a year through pay cuts and work rule changes, has complained that airline managers’ compensation has recovered faster than workers’ since the 2003 restructuring. AMR began contract talks with pilots more than a year ago.

Some see the “picket line” reference as a veiled threat to strike, a move that could break an already stressed system. Airlines are flying planes that are fuller than ever to maximise revenue, and there is little slack in airline schedules to accommodate service disruptions.

Northwest Airlines, for example, suffered extraordinarily high cancellation rates this summer, blaming the problem on “pilot absenteeism.”

At UAL, parent of the No. 2 US carrier, a newly elected slate of leaders at the airline’s Air Line Pilots Association unit promises more aggressive dealings with the airline that completed a bankruptcy restructuring in 2006.

United pilot Steve Wallach will replace pilot Mark Bathurst in January as chairman. Airline consultant Robert Mann said Wallach has a reputation for being a union activist who will be confrontational during contract negotiations. The UAL pilots’ contract will become amendable in 2010.

Mann said such pilots’ union leaders with similar qualities are being elected at other airlines. He noted the June election of union leaders at AMR as a prime example. The new slate of APA officers led by pilot Lloyd Hill is expected to be more aggressive than its predecessor, Mann said. “I think this has kind of reached the righteous indignation phase,” he said.

The week-long meeting will elect a new Chinese leadership and decide on the nation’s key policies for the next five years. Although China’s coefficient remains much higher than that of developed countries, it is on the decline, dropping by 1.9 percentage points and 3.2 percentage points in 2006 over 2002 in the rural and urban regions, respectively.

The output of major industrial and agricultural products has risen as a result of China’s strong economic growth, the report said. China was the largest producer of coal, cement and chemical fertiliser since 2003 and among the top world producers of steel, electricity, cloth and oil.

It was also the top producer of some major agricultural products, such as cereal, meat, cotton, peanut and fruit during that period. In 2005, China became the largest producer of tea.

From 2003 to 2005, China attracted an inflow of $186.5 billion worth of foreign direct investment (FDI), the most among all developing economies. In 2005, China was in third place in terms of utilised FDI among all the economies.


Collective bargaining 'victory' redefined

In 46 hours over the last two months, labor relations in the U.S. automobile industry underwent more change than they have since Henry Ford swore in 1936 that the new United Automobile Workers union “would organize Ford over my dead body.”

The first 40 hours of the transformation were devoted to the strike last month by the UAW against General Motors. The second six hours were all it took to settle a UAW strike against Chrysler on Wednesday. Next on the target list: Ford’s badly ailing company, which needs a quick settlement even more than GM and Chrysler did.

In the old days (i.e., pre-1990s), just the threat of a strike could cause the Big Three automakers to lavish UAW members with salary increases and added benefits. The price of cars would go up, but the Big Three so dominated the American market that the companies absorbed the increases without much problem. Then came globalization and the loss of market share to foreign cars that were, at the time, better designed, better built and more reliable.

Then came rising gasoline prices, which reduced the demand for larger vehicles such as trucks and sport utility vehicles and the greater profit margins they represented to their manufacturers. On top of that came the enormous rise in health care costs for workers and especially for retirees, who no longer were dying, politely, in their 60s, but living well into their 70s and 80s.

Suddenly, the price of an average American-made car came with $1,500 worth of health care costs built in, making it less competitive with cars made in countries in which taxes, not insurance, pay for health care coverage. Even when a foreign carmaker opens a plant in the United States, it comes without the “legacy” of UAW retirees and their families’ health care costs. Chrysler says its wage-plus-benefits costs in the U.S. amount to $75.86 an hour per worker, compared with $47.60 an hour per worker at Toyota’s U.S. plants.

Given more than a decade’s worth of turmoil, plant closings and layoffs, “victory” came to be redefined. In settling their 40-hour strike against GM, the 74,000 union workers got nothing in the way of a raise, and they still called it victory.

The union also agreed to a two-tiered wage schedule: Maintenance workers and the like will make less than guys on the production line. They got a two-tiered benefit system, too: New workers will get a 401-k contribution instead of a guaranteed company-paid pension. They union still called the new contract a victory.

Significantly, the union received job guarantees, a promise that GM would continue to make cars in American plants, instead of shipping even more of the work overseas. And, perhaps most significantly of all, the company shed $50 billion in long-term health insurance obligations by promising to pay $35 billion into a health care trust fund that the union will administer. The union called that victory, too, even though now it’s the union that has to figure out how to control health care costs and still deliver coverage.

Chrysler’s 45,000 UAW members, including the 4,000 here in St. Louis, are expected to approve a similar deal, although the precise terms of the tentative agreement have not been made public yet. That’s another significant change: In the old days, the union conducted what was called “pattern bargaining.” It would select one of the Big Three as the target for a strike if negotiations were to break down. The other two companies would be expected to abide by the terms of a settlement. Now the Big Three have different sets of problems, and they may get different solutions.

The problems at Ford are particularly critical. Ford lost $12.7 billion in 2006, an average of $770 on every car it sold that year, and it doesn’t expect to make a profit until 2009 at the earliest. It has closed 16 plants and cut 45,000 UAW jobs. It has mortgaged its entire U.S. industrial plant to raise the cash for a turnaround.

Ford’s survival may depend on the realization by the company and the union that they can’t live without one another. The survival of the U.S. industrial base may depend on Congress realizing that it’s unfair to ask companies and their employees to compete in a global economy while still carrying the burden of private health costs.


Michigan nurse-unionists rally in Detroit

A raucous demonstration of more than a hundred nurses outside of the Detroit Medical Center on Oct. 4 supported the organizing efforts of the nurses working inside. On Oct. 1, the DMC Organizing Committee for Change had filed a petition for a union recognition election with the National Labor Relations Board. More than half of the nurses at DMC component hospitals Harper and Hutzel have signed cards supporting the union.

Unionized nurses from across the state came out from the Michigan Nurses Association convention held nearby to show support for the DMC nurses, who are standing up to an anti-union campaign by the hospital administration, and to encourage the DMC not to interfere with the upcoming vote.

In addition to conducting intimidating one-on-one meetings, disciplining nurses for distributing union material while continuing to pass out anti-union information, the DMC CEO Mike Duggan has threatened to thwart the election by claiming that most nurses are supervisors and therefore exempt from union representation.

The DMC organizing drive is an important battle in this city that is devastated by auto plant closings and the massive loss of industrial jobs. Michigan’s Democratic Gov.

Jennifer Granholm is promoting jobs in health care statewide but particularly in Detroit as an antidote to the chronic, pervasive unemployment and lack of opportunity for youth.

But will they be jobs where workers are organized and able to fight for better conditions for nurses and patients from this community? Or will they be jobs where the business bottom line comes first?

Mike Duggan, former deputy Wayne County executive, and former Wayne County prosecutor with connections at the upper echelons of both Democratic and Republican parties and now CEO at DMC, is no friend of workers.

Appointed to “turn around” the financially strapped DMC, he did so with federal, state and city funds and renegotiating contracts with the doctors at the Wayne State University Medical School.

In a leaflet addressed to the Detroit community, the DMC registered nurses call on the DMC to “stop the use of public funds to fight RNs.”


Teachers union official urges strike vote

The top union official in the Pittsburgh Public Schools union says he's urging 3,500 teachers and other employees to authorize a strike during an upcoming mail ballot.

Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers president John Tarka is holding a general membership meeting at the city's downtown convention center on Saturday. Tarka said Friday he would urge the strike authorization vote at the meeting.

The union has three bargaining units, one for 2,800 teachers, another for 600 paraprofessionals, and another for 60 technical-clerical workers. Contracts for all three groups expired June 30.

Superintendent Mark Roosevelt says recent contract talks were positive and doesn't anticipate a strike.


Opponent of worker-choice leads KY Gov. race

There's a moment in the 1988 baseball movie "Bull Durham" where the wise old sage catcher tells a talented young pitcher not to bother trying to be creative, clever and smart. "You just got lesson No. 1," he says. "Don't think; it can only hurt the ball club."

For Steve Beshear, the Democrat who finds himself with a 16-20 point lead in every single poll taken of his campaign to unseat Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, the lesson is the same: Don't get cute. Don't try anything new. Don't try to be smart.

In fact, "keep doing exactly what he's doing" was the unanimous message from nearly every one of the two dozen political consultants, strategists and candidates The Post recently interviewed about the Kentucky gubernatorial race. The experts - who spoke candidly in exchange for anonymity - said Beshear needed to avoid making news and avoid doing anything that could give Fletcher a handhold to climb back in the race.

One expert referred to the "Bull Durham" quote. Another even suggested Beshear take a vacation in Florida and return on Election Day. Having said that, however, the experts came up with a list of 10 ways in which Beshear needs to stay the course in the 24 days left before Election Day.

1: Play it safe

At this point Beshear should unveil no new policy initiatives, nor start new attacks on the already wounded Fletcher. Both tactics could backfire. He also should tone down rhetoric on gambling, labor initiatives and social issues so as not to offend. With a big lead, it's best to be somewhat bland, the experts said.

In essence, he needs to concentrate on not making mistakes, or, in basketball parlance, to play "stall ball."

Several people familiar with the candidate said he has a tendency to tell jokes or make comments that make him seem like a smart-aleck. He needs to curb that. The tone should be gracious, not gleeful, one current official said. "Ridicule is not a good tactic for Beshear at this point."

2: Don't let up

On the other hand, Beshear should keep the pressure on Fletcher by talking about the hiring investigation and ethics woes that have turned the race against the governor. Races are always about the incumbent, and by making this campaign about ethics Fletcher erred in a big way.

Beshear should keep reminding voters that Fletcher was indicted, that he pardoned a whole lot of his political colleagues and supporters and that he refused to appear before a grand jury looking into whether the administration was illegally using merit-based jobs to reward and punish based on politics.

Beshear did that masterfully in the face-to-face candidates forum at Northern Kentucky University on Oct. 3. When questioning Fletcher directly, he asked the governor why - if he were innocent - he had take the Fifth Amendment; and why he was characterizing the probe as a "witch hunt" after signing a court document admitting the probe was "necessary and proper."

Fletcher stumbled over his answers.

In the words of one GOP campaign strategist, Beshear "doesn't need to let up. He needs to keep his foot on Fletcher's throat."

3: A quick response

The only way Fletcher can win, strategists say, is with a devastating last-second attack on a issue or "scandal" that resonates with voters.

Beshear must stay poised - and ready with money - to respond quickly and forcefully to any such effort. "He has to be ready for a sneak attack," a former candidate said.

Again, he did that masterfully recently on the Kentucky Central Life Insurance bankruptcy case. Fletcher tried to portray questions about Beshear's former law firm's handling of the case as a major ethics scandal. He claimed Beshear got rich as people lost jobs and shareholders lost money. And his campaign predicted the release of a sealed report on alleged wrongdoing by the firm, Stites & Harbison, would be a "smoking gun."

But Beshear blunted the attack with short and pointed answers, with a 14-page response from Stites & Harbison and a TV ad.

4: Dance with your date

Beshear should also spend his time "where it'll bear fruit," one expert said, particularly the "low-hanging fruit." Specifically, he should reach out to groups that tend to mobilize behind Democratic candidates.

He should talk to teachers - who remain angry with Fletcher over a proposed increase in health-care costs - about his education plans. He should remind the AFL-CIO - which has organized a statewide get-out-the-vote effort - that he supports prevailing wages and opposes Right-to-Work laws. He should tell nurses that his running mate, Dan Mongiardo, honored a strike down in southeastern Kentucky. And he should remind trial lawyers - who tend to make big contributions - that Fletcher wants to cap jury awards in medical malpractice cases.

All groups are large and active in protecting their interests.

5: War in the 'Ville

Louisville is another source of strength for Democrats, and Beshear must actively court the city's leaders and electorate.

In 1995, Democrat Paul Patton would have lost the governor's race if it weren't for Jefferson County. In the other 119 counties, he finished about 4,000 votes behind Republican Larry Forgy. But inside the state's largest county he beat Forgy by more than 25,000 votes.

Simply put, Louisville is the land of opportunity for Democrats, and especially this year - Fletcher's primary opponent, Anne Northup, hails from the city, and her supporters haven't forgiven what they call the governor's "selfishness." They claim the hiring probe doomed Fletcher's candidacy from the start and say he should have gotten out of Northup's way.

6: Think globally

Across the ocean, soldiers are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Iran's defiance has raised the possibility that the United States might attack. Here at home, a health insurance plan for kids is in jeopardy and big domestic programs that fund local development, housing and crime initiatives might take a financial hit.

Anywhere you look, it seems, the U.S. is in a mess, and many voters blame President Bush.

Beshear should be subtle but he should link Fletcher to national GOP policies, several consultants said. That could be done simply by chanting "Fletcher's fellow Republicans in Washington" or by bluntly asking the governor why he didn't try to talk Bush out of vetoing the insurance program for kids like some other governors did.

7: Ask for help

In Kentucky, it seems like politicians never die, they just sort of hang around.

Democrats have an array of former governors - Paul Patton, John Y. Brown, Julian Carroll, Wendell Ford, Brereton Jones, Martha Layne Collins - alive and ticking, not to mention a host of former candidates. Sure, their influence waned when they left office or the campaign trail, but each still enjoys a constituency.

Some have spread the word quietly on Beshear's behalf, and others slightly more publicly, but imagine if all six governors linked hands on stage and shouted: "Steve's our man."

Of course some of those elected officials never were big Beshear fans, but he could ask them how thick party blood is, anyway.

8: Ignore the polls

Back in the 2006 Congressional race between Ken Lucas and Geoff Davis, Democrats crowed over early polls that showed Lucas with a comfortable lead. On Election Day, Davis beat Lucas by 8 percentage points.

One reason, several consultants said, was that most phone surveys don't measure who actually gets out and votes.

That's one way of telling Beshear he has to ignore the favorable poll numbers and "keep on running like he's behind."

The key at this stage is to inspire supporters to vote. That means door-to-door visits, mailers and phone calls, and plenty of them - all designed to rouse votes against Fletcher and for Beshear.

9: Who am I?

At the same time, Beshear has to dedicate time and money to introducing himself as a candidate.

Despite his big lead, many voters still don't know much about him as a person or a candidate, several people said. He's been mostly absent from the public eye since ending his term as lieutenant governor in 1987 and running unsuccessfully for governor that year.

One former party official said Beshear should keep running ads and giving speeches that talk about his background, his long marriage, his values, his religion, his experience etc. "He has to define himself in a way in which Kentuckians are comfortable," the official said.

That has the added benefit of slowly turning anti-Fletcher votes into pro-Beshear votes.

10: Give peace a chance

On numerous occasions Beshear has preached the sermon of nonpartisanship: He doesn't care whether a good idea comes from a Democrat, a Republican or an independent. And if he wins, he won't care about party registration when assembling talent.

Whether or not you believe him, that message sounds refreshing in a poisoned atmosphere in which legislative leaders kill the opposite party's proposals just for sport.

Consultants and other political experts advise Beshear to keep on preaching the unity message for a couple of reasons:

One, it makes Republicans, independents and conservative Democrats who supported Fletcher in '03 feel less uneasy about deserting him now. Two, if Beshear does get elected, it gets his administration off on the right conciliatory foot.

But he shouldn't overdo it.

He wants to appear strong, focused and authoritative headed into the January session of the General Assembly, not weak and wishy-washy, experts said. Meaning there's no need to be cute.

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