Union embezzler charged with organized fraud

For years, no one suspected Alejandro "Alex" Torrecillas of being anything more than a super accountant - assigned to manage both retirement accounts of city of Hialeah (FL) employees and also money matters for their union.

Then, earlier this month, Torrecillas went on a Peruvian vacation. Within a day, his replacement detected funny business in the books. A probe was launched by Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and the city's police department. By the time Torrecillas was on his way home, his career as a numbers cruncher appeared over.

The investigation revealed Torrecillas had allegedly embezzled more than $250,000 from employees' annuity accounts dating to 2004, Robaina said. He apparently used the money to enrich himself and to buy a second home in North Carolina, along with several cars.

Torrecillas, 50, was taken into custody Oct. 15 at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as he returned from his vacation. He suffered a medical emergency and was treated before his arrest. His police mug shot shows him in a hospital gown.

Torrecillas now faces felony charges of official misconduct, organized fraud and grand theft, and six counts of forging checks.

He is free on a $100,000 bond posted Thursday. His next court appearance is Nov. 2.

A telephone call to his Hialeah home was not returned.

Hialeah police did not comment, referring all questions to the mayor.

"I have zero tolerance of this type of crime," Robaina said Monday. "He was a trusted employee in a very sensitive position."

The city immediately fired Torrecillas, who had worked there since the late 1990s.

"He bought himself a second home in North Carolina, and we'll try to take that away from him," Robaina said.

Prosecutors will search for bank accounts and safety boxes linked to Torrecillas.

Torrecillas was a bonded employee - meaning the city has insurance against such internal thefts. The employees whose retirement annuity accounts were ripped off will be refunded.

"We will recapture all the money stolen," Robaina said.

The scheme was simple: employee accounts with low monthly activity or annual annuity payments on retirement investment accounts were targeted.

For the official office record, Torrecillas would make out the check stubs to the designated retirement account. But he would make out the actual checks to himself, Robaina said.

The amounts varied, "from a hundred to thousands of dollars."

New security measures have been put in place to protect against such thefts in the future, Robaina said.

And troubles may not be over for Torrecillas and the city's 1,800 employees. The local branch of the union that represents Hialeah employees - the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - also used Torrecillas as an accountant.

"We have alerted them and they're doing their own investigation," Robaina said.


Abuse-friendly Congress slashes union watchdog budget

Union officials have been feeling their oats after claiming credit for Democrats’ rise to power in November. Labor leaders have successfully pushed for a minimum wage increase and are battling to remake labor laws. Now they are working for increased financial disclosure — but only for some.

Within the last several weeks, the AFL-CIO’s second-in-command sent letters to major accounting firms asking that independent auditors give a more thorough going-over of corporations’ financial disclosures and stock options grants. The unions are for disclosure, and they mean business (or would that be “anti-business”?).

Yet at the same time, union-funded politicians in Congress are successfully pushing forward in their campaign to slash the budget for the Department of Labor agency responsible for overseeing how union leaders spend their members’ money. Think of this organization — the Office of Labor-Management Standards — as the SEC for unions.

There’s rank hypocrisy in this union ploy. Worse, there are real-world consequences for union members.

Given its mission, the OLMS offers critical protection for union members who have little power to stand up to Big Labor, a $10 billion-a-year industry. The agency uses its already-meager budget and authority to step in when corrupt union officials rig internal union elections.

More importantly, OLMS investigates abuse of dues money and monitors compliance with accounting requirements. It’s getting the job done. Since 2001 the courts have ordered restitution of $70 million in OLMS criminal cases. That’s real union money that union bosses are really trying to keep covered up.

Perhaps union officials and their allies in Congress are embarrassed about what the public finds in the union financial disclosures overseen by the agency.

There was the union boss who drove off with a $50,000 parting gift — a Cadillac — as his retirement gift. There are the tens of thousands of dollars spent at steakhouses, including $13,000 from one transportation union alone.

Don’t even ask about the resorts (though UFCW members should ask why their officials spent more than $1 million at a luxurious Florida resort over the last two years). Those are just the cases when the unions comply with current financial disclosure guidelines.

An analysis from the Center for Union Facts based on documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request found that only 43 out of 643 union audits — that’s a dismal 6 percent — by OLMS passed muster.

The AFL-CIO in particular has reason to grumble about the OLMS. After a recent review, the agency said it found problems with the federation’s “reporting of executives’ spouses’ travel expenses, handling of credit card charges, missing loan documentation, and other items.” That, and the $36,000 the AFL-CIO sent to a union-friendly group without documentation to support the payment.

Unless President Bush vetoes the measure, OLMS almost certainly will have its budget cut by union-friendly politicians in Congress. If that happens, OLMS would be the only agency within the Department of Labor to go backward.

Union members deserve better.

Rick Berman is president of the Center for Union Facts.


Union cheerleaders dis workers' right to choose

A new book, “State of the Unions” by Philip M. Dine, makes virtually irrelevant “right to work” laws to improve West Virginia’s economy or any other.

Such a law was recently proposed by West Virginia University professor Russell Sobel in a book of recommendations by economists titled “Unleashing Capitalism: Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It.”

Dine maintains that organized labor, despite opposition and lost membership, faces a future for growth. He writes about “how labor can strengthen the middle class, improve our economy and regain political influence.”

The outlook excludes right to work. Some call it a “union-busting law.” It holds that union membership shouldn’t be a condition to work and that membership dues shouldn’t be spent for political purposes without the consent of the member.

Dine makes clear, nonetheless, that organized labor has its work cut out for growth in 22 states with right-to-work laws as well as in the rest like West Virginia. He notes the decline in mining and manufacturing workers.

New technology and other forces in the global marketplace make an impact on unions and all else. “State of the Unions” tells in a compelling way about the ups and downs of the labor movement.

“Most successful union-organizing campaigns are now taking place in sectors composed largely of women, minorities or immigrant workers,” Dine writes.

Among cases cited as bidding fair for the future is that of the women of Delta Pride, most of them black and more than 1,000 strong in the right-to-work state of Mississippi. They organized in the multibillion-dollar catfish industry against a history steeped in racial and economic prejudice.

On the other hand, the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO played an important role with others in foreign affairs that eventually led to the breakup of the Soviet Union and the communist bloc during the Cold War.

At home, organized labor has been a key player in politics since the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal war on the Great Depression.

“Clear it with Sidney,” the line goes, referring to the Roosevelt administration’s deference to labor leader Sidney Hillman. The White House consulted him on legislation and policy matters.

Dine discusses labor’s political clout today, but it’s hardly on par with yesterday’s muscle of teeming industrial unions and their likes. Dine sees a comeback for bigger and better things, despite signs to the contrary. However, the right to work isn’t among them.

An ill sign shows in the split between leaders with first priority on organizing workers and others who lean more toward traveling the political route for public policy and economic change, as in the heyday of the labor movement.

Dine expects the split to be contained in the promising light of action and leadership at the grass roots. Some craft unions, for instance, open math classes of their apprenticeship programs to other neighborhood youths. Other binding efforts shine in communities around the country.

I found “State of the Unions” to be a good read. The foreword is by former Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo.


Hoffa takes NJ Assembly politics personally

They may not be getting a profusion of dollars from the state Democratic Committee, but district 11 Assembly candidates John Pirnat of Brielle and John Napolitani of Interlaken tomorrow will welcome Teamsters President James P. Hoffa to speak on their behalf at a private fund-raising event, according to Pirnat.

Pirnat, the business agent and recording secretary on the executive board of local Teamsters Union 177, is running in part on a platform of jobs training and jobs creation in the hard luck shore towns here.

"Our kids need to learn a skill," said the candidate, who supports vocational training programs in public schools and an increase in the presence of local unions working with the youth to develop skills like carpentry and plumbing.

He also wants more targeted training for youth who run afoul of the law. "At the state level we need to strongly encourage apprentice programs in corrections institutions, and give young people something they can sink their teeth into professionally so they don’t go back to the same trouble once they get out," Pirnat said.

One of his opponents, David Rible, a locksmith and former Wall Township Police officer, isn’t convinced Pirnat and Napolitani - a teacher in the Asbury Park School System, can do much to curb state spending.

"I respect teachers, but I don’t believe the people of the district want a teacher and a Teamster to be the guys in Trenton to implement reforms," said Rible.


SEIU lists demands, threatens University strike

At Saturday's membership meeting, the Service Employees International Union Local 73 Chapter 119 decided to file for a 10-day intent to strike later this week. After 14 months and more than 30 negotiation sessions between the union and the University, there will be another meeting today to attempt some resolutions.

Filing for this intent to strike comes on the heels of a federal mediator's inability to form compromises between the union and the University. The union, which represents building service workers and food service workers on campus, voted in August to authorize a three-day strike if needed. By law, the union must provide a 10-day notice before actually striking, after which it can strike at any time.

"The basic thing is the University only talks about one issue, and it's pay," said Larry DuVall, president of SEIU Chapter 119. "Money is always a big issue. But other issues, seniority, is a big deal. DuVall said the union has been trying to put health care and parking issues into the negotiations.

The union is comprised of two types of workers with two different contracts. However, the union insists the two contracts be equal.

"(The University is) trying to separate the food and service workers from the building service workers, and we're not going to allow that," DuVall said.

The University issued a statement to the union on the negotiations describing its attempts to reach agreements with the union.

"The University offered (Building Service Workers) a 2.5 percent wage increase with back-pay to July 30, 2006, an additional 2.5 percent wage increase with back-pay to July 29, 2007 and an additional $150.00 to every Building Service Worker, Maid, and Linen Maid," the statement reads. "Your Union rejected this offer. When the Union was asked on August 23, 2007 if it would accept the same offer for Food Service Workers, your Union refused to answer."

The union is asking for a 4 percent raise for all workers retroactively paid to the end of its last contract, July 30, 2006.

Robin Kaler, University spokeswoman who provided the statement, has said the University does not comment on ongoing contract negotiations.

DuVall said negotiations were going well until the final day, Oct. 10.

At that time, the union proposed a scaled parking fees plan for all workers. He said a union worker, with a yearly salary of $20,000 to $30,000, should not pay the same amount for parking as a professor with a salary of $70,000 to $100,000.

The University agreed to lower parking fees in 2002 for Building Service Workers. However, Food Service Workers were left out of the 2002 deal. The union is asking for Food Service Workers to pay at 2002 rates, and the University has offered to lock in 2007 rates.

Once the proposal to include all workers was rejected by the University, negotiations for Oct. 11 were cancelled.

"I believe the mediator is still involved," DuVall said. "There were too many gaps and he couldn't bring us together.

"Hopefully we can come to some agreement before the 10 days comes into effect."

Chapter 119 asked for:

• Four percent wage increase across the board with full retroactive pay, a 37.5 hour work week, differentiated work shifts and longevity pay
• No drug policy
• Seniority-based bid system for job placement in facilities and services
• Parking rates based on .005 percent of gross salary
• Lock in 2007 health care rates for length of contract

UIUC management said:

• Two and a half percent wage increase with retroactive pay only to Building Service Workers, a $150 signing bonus
• Allow supervisors to request a drug test anytime
• Management-assigned job placement in facilities and services
• Rejected parking proposal
• Rejected health care proposal

Source: SEIU Local 73


Teamsters play chicken with bankrupt baker's workers

Interstate Bakeries Corp., the bankrupt maker of Wonder Bread and Twinkies, said it has arranged $400 million in financing to fund a bankruptcy-exit plan that would cancel the company's stock. Company shares plunged 77 percent.

The money would be provided by Silver Point Finance, LLC and would be part of a funding plan sponsored by JPMorgan Chase & Co., McDonnell Investment Management LLC, Quadrangle Master Fund Ltd. and Silver Point Capital LC, Interstate said today in a statement.

The funding plan requires Interstate to win concessions from the Teamsters union, which represents 10,000 of its 25,000 workers. The Kansas City, Missouri-based company has said that a previous round of labor cuts in 2005 wasn't enough to make it a viable business. Without changing the way the Teamsters deliver goods, the company might be forced to liquidate, it said.

"We have very little time left to reach a mutually acceptable agreement with the Teamsters in order to save our company and our jobs," Interstate Chief Executive Officer Craig Jung said in the statement.

Lost Confidence

Teamsters officials said last week that they lost confidence in Jung's ability to lead the company. The union has asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jerry W. Venters to end the company's exclusive right to develop a reorganization plan.

Venters will hold a hearing on that request next month. Interstate has asked Venters to schedule a hearing for the funding plan for the same day.

Teamsters official Richard Volpe, director of the union's bakery and laundry section, didn't immediately return a call for comment.

The company plans to file a reorganization plan by Nov. 15. A few weeks later, under the funding plan, the company would begin to solicit support from creditors, culminating in a confirmation hearing before Venters by Feb. 21. Should that schedule hold, the company would exit bankruptcy by March.

Should the company fail to gain concessions from the Teamsters, it would be forced to pay Silver Point as much as $12 million. If the plan goes forward, Interstate would pay Silver Point at least $5 million in commitment fees.

Class A, Class B Shares

Under the funding plan, about $450 million of the company's pre-bankruptcy loans would be exchanged for $250 million in second-lien notes, $165 million of convertible secured notes and $35 million of new, Class A stock.

About 25.9 percent of the new Class B stock would go to so- called unsecured creditors, those who hold debt that isn't guaranteed by any form of collateral. Those creditors would also get the right to buy another $50 million worth of Class B shares.

In the last few month investors who specialize in buying the debt of bankrupt companies have given up on Interstate, said Kirk Ruddy, senior vice president and director of claims trading at Tejas Inc., a securities broker in Austin, Texas.

Sellers who are asking between 65 and 70 cents on the dollar for the debt they hold have been getting no offers because of all the news related to Interstate's standoff with the Teamsters, Ruddy said.

"In this case it's the unions playing hardball," Ruddy said. "The bankruptcy has gone no place."

Interstate Bakeries shares fell 50 cents, or 77 percent, to 15 cents in over-the-counter trading, their lowest closing price.

The case is In re Interstate Bakeries Corp., 04-45814, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Western District of Missouri (Kansas City).


Teachers union pickets to alert OH community

Chilling rain began to fall as teachers and students crowded the street corner outside Monday's school board meeting with signs demanding the board settle contract negotiations.

As night fell, parents joined the group to show their support as officials from the Carlisle (OH) Teachers Association and Board of Education resumed contract talks.

The display was to "alert the community that we've been working without a contract since June 30," said union spokesman Chuck Wiggins. "We want to settle the contract and stay in the classrooms."

The union submitted notice it will strike beginning Nov. 2 if a settlement is not reached. Teachers also would need to vote Oct. 29 to approve the strike.

Monday night's bargaining talks were the first since teachers last week overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer that outlined a 0.75 percent salary increase funded by upping teachers' health insurance costs.

Union officials said with that offer, Carlisle teachers would be the lowest paid in Warren County by next year.

Carlisle is the second-lowest paying district for entry-level teachers in the county. Wayne Local Schools falls just behind, but would outpace Carlisle next year by $302 if Carlisle accepts the 0.75 percent increase, according to salary figures from Wayne and Carlisle districts.

Other Warren County schools have more students or a higher community wealth, however, and Superintendent Tim McLinden said it is unrealistic to expect Carlisle to offer the same pay.

Although Carlisle offers lower salaries, the district pays more for teachers once health insurance costs are included. Carlisle pays one of the highest percentages of health care costs in the county, McLinden said.

Union officials say they worry about competing with neighboring districts to recruit and retain good teachers.


Images from second NYC taxi strike

The New York City Taxi Workers' Alliance staged the second strike of the fall today. Thousands of cab drivers idled their cars and came out to the picket lines, united behind the demand "No GPS, Yes to Health Care." These images are from the mass strike rally today outside 40 Rector Street, home of the City's Taxi and Limousine Commission.


UAW, Chrysler conspire to impose agreement

The United Auto Workers union is engaged in a war against its membership, colluding with management at Chrysler LLC to impose a new labor agreement, which a majority of Chrysler workers oppose.

The deal would pave the way for Chrysler’s Wall Street owners—private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management—to shut down and sell off dozens of factories, slash the wages of future workers by half and abolish employer-paid pensions and retiree health care benefits. In return the UAW bureaucracy would gain control of a multi-billion trust fund, estimated to be worth over $70 billion once deals are sealed with all three of Detroit’s automakers.

This betrayal has provoked an upsurge of opposition from rank-and-file workers. A majority of Chrysler workers who have voted thus far, including those at four large assembly plants in St. Louis, Detroit and Newark, Delaware, have rejected the deal. If the opposition continues at this rate in votes scheduled this week at assembly plants in Sterling Heights and Warren, Michigan, as well as Belvidere, Illinois, the contract will be defeated. This would mark the first rejection of national auto agreement since 1982.

While threats have been leaked to the press that Cerberus might respond to a rejection of the contract by locking out its 49,000 workers and hiring replacements, at this point it is much more likely that the private equity firm will rely on the UAW bureaucracy to push through its demands.

Citing “people close to the situation,” an article in the Detroit News reported, “[I]f the pact isn’t ratified in the end but the vote is close, Chrysler appears likely to ask the UAW to take a revote, rather than to directly return to the bargaining table. Those at Chrysler apparently see a defeat as the ‘union’s problem’ that must be resolved by the union.”

It is increasingly becoming clear that the UAW bureaucracy has no intention to let the will of its members decide the matter. The UAW has responded with a campaign of blackmail, lies and intimidation to push through a ‘yes’ vote.

Based on information from union insiders, the New York Times reported on October 20, “If the contract seems headed to defeat, the union could suspend the voting and go on to Ford in hopes of reaching an agreement there.”

Richard Block, acting director at the Michigan State University School of Labor and Industrial Relations, also suggested to the Detroit News that the union leadership, facing widespread opposition and lacking a quick fix that would satisfy the members, could choose to move on to negotiations with Ford Motor Co. “They could go on to Ford and get that done because it may help with Chrysler workers—give them more guidance as to what the pattern is,” Block said.

In other words, the UAW could simply ignore the decision of its members and isolate the Chrysler workers from GM and Ford workers in order to ram through the concession contract.

Another option for the union, in the event that the membership turns the contract down, is to make the workers vote until they get it “right.” Citing Canadian Auto Workers President Buzz Hargrove, who they called a “seasoned bargainer,” the Detroit Free Press said, the UAW could “wait a bit” and have another vote.

Given the history of the UAW bureaucracy, workers should also be on guard against efforts to manipulate the results of the ratification vote, particularly since several locals have refused to make public how many of their members voted or by what percentage the contract was approved or rejected.

The conspiracy to ram through Chrysler’s demands began even before the tentative agreement was reached. Initially, the nine-member UAW National Negotiating Committee unanimously opposed the outlines of the agreement drawn up by UAW President Ronald Gettelfinger and the International union. According to Shawn Fain, a member of the bargaining committee at UAW Local 1166 in Kokomo, Indiana, the International union repeated the vote three more times, until only one opponent of the deal remained, Bill Parker, the Chairman of the Negotiating Committee.

Then on October 15, during a meeting of the Chrysler Council—made up of presidents and committeepersons from each of Chrysler’s local unions—the International rejected a motion for a roll call and pushed through a voice vote. Shain noted that this “was a total sham, due to the fact that there was no way to get an accurate count of those voting in favor or opposed and the fact that there are numerous people in the council meeting who have no voice yet they yell out their vote anyway.”

Gettelfinger announced the deal had won “overwhelming support”—although witnesses said a third or more of the delegates opposed it—adding, “We give people an opportunity to express themselves. We’re a very democratic union.”

After a series of large locals voted down the contract, UAW Vice President General Holiefield sent out a letter to appointed union officials demanding they return it with a signature pledging their support for the agreement. The letter was a thinly veiled threat that these appointed officials would lose their high salaries and be sent back to assembly line if they failed to back the agreement.

With opposition growing, Gettelfinger and Holiefield traveled to the Jefferson North Assembly plant in Detroit last week, where they announced that second shift workers being laid off would not return to their jobs if the contract was not passed. Nevertheless, 60 percent of the workers turned down the deal.

On Monday, Holiefield held a meeting with 60 representatives from Local 1700—which represents workers at the Sterling Heights Assembly plant who are voting Wednesday—in an effort to circumvent the president of the local, Parker.

Holiefield announced a “previously undisclosed understanding” between the UAW and Chrysler that supposedly guaranteed production at the plant and other US factories well beyond the 2011 expiration of a proposed contract if the deal was approved, according to unnamed union officials who spoke to Reuters.

“It sounds to me like they’re making one more push for the deal, to get it ratified,” Erich Merkle, analyst at IRN Inc., told the newspaper. “I guess it comes to down to whether the member base of the UAW trusts the leadership in terms of these handshake-type deals.”

At the Belvidere Assembly plant, the Wall Street Journal reported, “union leaders will have some new carrots to offer the rank and file. Chrysler has told UAW leaders it will give preference to the temporary workers when it hires for permanent jobs, said a person familiar with the matter.”

It is urgent that workers take matters into their own hands by organizing rank-and-file committees to oppose these efforts to stifle opposition. These committees should monitor the vote and fight for the launching of a national strike against Chrysler. The struggle should be spread to workers at GM, Ford, Delphi and other industries, and an appeal made to auto workers in Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia who are facing attacks on their jobs and living standards. Such a struggle is only possible if it is waged independently of the UAW.

No confidence should be placed in Parker and other professional dissidents in the UAW who are currently opposing the deal. They would be more than willing to back a renegotiated offer if it included certain cosmetic changes, such as the so-called job commitments contained in the UAW-General Motors contract.

That such guarantees are worthless was proven immediately after the GM contract was ratified, when the company announced the indefinite layoff of 1,600 workers at plants in Detroit and Pontiac, Michigan, which had received such commitments. On Monday, GM announced that it would layoff an additional 1,000 workers at an assembly plant in Lansing, Michigan.

Moreover, the dissidents promote illusions that the UAW can be forced to defend the interest of autoworkers. Parker told Detroit Free Press Parker said, “I am hoping that Ron [Gettelfinger] is there to represent us and that if the membership says clearly that we can’t accept this, that he will do the right thing and go back into negotiations to improve it.”

The prerequisite for any serious struggle against the auto companies is to break decisively from the UAW. It is not a workers’ organization but an organization controlled by a bureaucracy whose interests are hostile to those of the workers it supposedly represents. With control of the multi-billion retiree trust fund the UAW is now becoming a big business, which will profit at the same time that it cuts the benefits of autoworkers.

Rejection of the contract is only the first step. The defense of workers’ conditions and rights must be developed on an entirely new basis, entirely independently of every faction of these outlived and corrupt organizations. This means, above all, the building of a new political movement of the working class, independent of the two parties of big business, to fight for a program that starts from the needs of working people, not the profits and stock portfolios of CEOs and Wall Street speculators.


Corrupt Teamsters local chooses new bosses

A cheer rang out Oct. 22 as the U.S. Department of Labor announced the winners of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) officers’ election for Local 743. Richard Berg and the 743 New Leadership Slate beat the incumbent Ford-Galvan Unity Slate. After twelve years of difficult and sometimes frustrating campaigning, a new day is dawning in Local 743.

Since its founding, Local 743 has seen a tremendous amount of mob-related corruption. Don Peters ruled the union without any elections until he was banned in 1987. Robert Simpson was appointed his replacement and served as president until he too was banned in 1995. The 743 New Leadership Slate was formed so that the members could fight back against this corruption and collaboration with the bosses.

After the 743 New Leadership Slate won the October 2004 election, the incumbent officials called a ‘do-over’ election in December. Former 743 old-guard president Richard Lopez, along with Mark Jones, Cassandra Mosely and David Rodriques are now being charged with embezzlement for diverting ballots to friends and family members who were not eligible to vote, in order to steal the do-over election from the New Leadership Slate three years ago. It looks like more indictments may be yet to come. This election has removed these corrupt officials from power and given the members and their slate control of the union.

Union members and volunteers have worked around the clock, visiting work sites and talking to workers. President-elect Richard Berg said, “We waged this campaign by gathering together workers who wanted to fight, who wanted to take back the union to fight the boss. The members of 743 built this campaign because we could no longer stand aside while this do-nothing, company union continued to dig us into a hole.”

With the supervision of the Department of Labor in conducting this election, the incumbent officials weren’t able to cheat quite as much this time around. There were reports of underhanded dealings, however. New Leadership Slate trustee Joe Sexauer said, “Union workers at a nursing home reported that the Ford-Galvan Slate and their supporters were asking members to turn their ballots into them, saying they would, ‘take care of them.’ We know this wasn’t the only place this happened.” Despite all of this the New Leadership Slate was able to mobilize the voices of the members and win the election.

The newly elected officers will take office in January. Richard Berg said, “We need to make this union work for the members. For too long this union has worked for the companies and the mob. We need more stewards and we need more steward elections. We need to train better business agents and we need to educate the membership as to their rights.”

Larry Davis, vice-president-elect, said, “We are going to make 743 into a union the members can be proud of, a fighting union that is looking out for them. The members’ victory today was only the first step. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we are up to the challenge.”


Last union household: Turn out the light

San Francisco is a labor town, but union households in the city are becoming a scarce commodity. City housing policies prioritize assistance to households earning less than even the lowest paid union members, so that a constituency progressives should want to keep in San Francisco is steadily leaving.

Slowing, if not reversing, this pattern requires a change in political will. Specifically, keeping union members in San Francisco means prioritizing rental housing assistance to working households, rather than to the permanently unemployed. It means assisting union members in specific professions with downpayment assistance, and creating development incentives to encourage inclusionary housing of two bedrooms or more.

Keeping union families in San Francisco also requires revising the “final draft” of Supervisor Chris Daly’s housing set aside charter amendment, which currently allocates 40% of the funds to incomes below that of union members. Why is San Francisco targeting its housing assistance so that an SEIU janitor is deemed too affluent for assistance? Here’s how San Francisco can lead the fight to get housing assistance to union households, rather than standing in the way.

It was once an article of faith among San Francisco progressives that the working class was the driving force for progressive change. But local progressives have largely backed housing policies that ignore unionized workers desire to obtain affordable housing in San Francisco, moving the city further toward becoming a home for only the rich and the subsidized poor.

The problem is this: progressives have continually sought to target public housing assistance to extremely low-income households. This agenda has excluded unionized workers from the benefits of affordable housing programs, since virtually all union members working fulltime in San Francisco earn more than 30% ami ($23,350 for family of three), and the vast majority earn above 50% of ami ($38,950 for three-person household).

And if a San Francisco union member has a partner that also works - a rather common occurrence - their combined income would typically exceed $77,850, which is 100% of ami.

Housing activists fought for years to ensure that San Francisco’s housing programs benefited those of lower incomes, and largely succeeded. But just as this battle was being won, three factors changed the underlying assumptions.

First, after rapidly increasing for years, the city’s adjusted median incomes have declined.

Second, Mayor Newsom’s prioritization of housing for homeless persons poured significant new money into units for extremely low-income single adults. Care not Cash alone spends $15 million annually on housing this population, and when the Direct Access for Housing ($5 million) and other programs are added, the argument that this population does not get its fair share evaporates.

The third assumption that changes occurred when the Board of Supervisors adopted San Francisco, rather than Bay Area median income figures; this greatly reduced the median income levels used for San Francisco projects.

For example, when median incomes were steadily rising, many activists sought to reduce the commonly used 80% of ami to 60%. But 80% of area median now applies to a single person earning only $48,450, and the 60% figure, which has become the new ceiling for many rental assistance programs, cuts off aid to single persons earning over $36,350.

The 60% figure disqualifies nearly all fulltime unionized city workers from receiving rental assistance. And a nonprofit unionized SEIU janitor working in an SRO earns more than the 30% of the city’s ami, which is the income ceiling slated to receive at least 40% of the money authorized by the proposed housing set aside charter measure.

When a unionized janitor working in a Care not Cash hotel is considered too affluent to get assistance, San Francisco’s housing priorities are clearly on the wrong track.

Action Plan for Keeping Union Households in San Francisco:

1. Promote affordable housing opportunities for specific unionized professions.

On October 19, Mayor Newsom announced an example of two such plans, They are known as the Teacher Next Door and Police in the Community programs

Conceived by the Mayor’s Office of Housing, both programs offer $20,000 loans for downpayment assistance that do not have to be repaid if teachers stay working for San Francisco for ten years, and police officers for five. When combined with the city’s existing downpayment loan program, this additional $20,000 should make a difference in keeping teachers and police officers living in the city.

Those present at the press conference highlighted the importance of promoting stability in the schools, and of having police living in San Francisco in case of an earthquake or other catastrophe. Similar policy rationales apply to other heavily unionized professions, particularly nurses and public hospital personnel.

The combined cost of these two creative programs is $1.7 million, an allocation that was unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors. As the city moves forward to allocate over $30 million annually for housing, a good portion of this amount should go toward expanding the police and teacher programs to other unionized professions.

Imagine if San Francisco actually put forward over another $10 million annually to help keep unionized nurses, social workers, MUNI staff, and hotel workers living in the city!
The city would be the talk of the nation, and San Francisco would become a national model for housing policies that preserve the working-class.

This does not have to be an unrealizable dream: Daly’s housing set aside can make this a reality.

If it were up to me, I would allocate nearly all of the set aside for keeping union families in San Francisco. Because progressive politics in this city will not survive if unionized workers do not have kids in our schools, do not ride Muni, and are not impacted by local tenant protection measures.

2. Use Density Bonuses to Boost Inclusionary Family Housing

Many working families suffer from the city’s lack of affordable homeownership opportunities, and so few market-rate condos are two or three bedroom units that the development boom has done little to increase below-market units suitable for families with children. While this problem does not uniquely impact union households, these families are more likely to want to stay in San Francisco and to pursue affordable housing options.

Currently, there is no incentive for developers to build family housing. Creating such incentives through allowing additional height or density could dramatically reshape San Francisco’s inclusionary housing program into one that prioritizes families.

3. Unions must prioritize membership housing

Key to the creation of the teacher and police housing programs was union support; the police agreement was even included in the union’s MOU with the city. Now other unions must focus on helping their members stay in San Francisco, and getting money in the proposed charter amendment for union worker housing assistance is a great place to start.

Unlike Los Angeles and San Jose, San Francisco’s labor movement has not made housing development a top priority. These other cities lack San Francisco’s infrastructure of progressive housing groups and activists, requiring unions to take on a leading role.

The message of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor is “Rebuilding the Los Angeles Middle Class.” LA’s middle-class is our working class, so San Francisco’s labor movement would have to reframe it as, “Rebuilding the San Francisco Working Class.”

But the goal is the same. San Francisco’s fabric depends on union households, and the city’s future is imperiled by their continued displacement.


Seneca Valley teachers strike, week 2

Monday marks week two for the teachers strike in the Seneca Valley (PA) School District. Both sides said progress has been made, but no agreement has been reached.

As the strike enters its second week, negotiators from both the union and the school board will head back to the bargaining table Monday night, hoping to reach a deal.
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"We're hoping the board comes to the table with some kind of change in position," said Butch Santicola of the teachers union. "And we'll keep a positive attitude going in."

The main sticking points continue to be salary. The board has offered 4 percent annual raises, but the teachers want 6 percent and benefits. The debate is over who will pay for what.

And while both sides said they're looking forward to Monday night's session, neither seems brimming with confidence.

We anticipate bringing ideas, thoughts and proposals to the table, the district's chief negotiator said.

Even if they don't settle tonight, the teachers can't walk the picket lines much longer. Even without a new deal, state law will force them back in the classroom on Nov. 16. That ensures the students get 180 of schooling by mid-June.


UNITE rejects contract, pickets against Sealy

Work starts at 5 a.m. for most at the Sealy Mattress Company in Green Island, NY. But on Monday, its 350 employees weren't working inside. They were working the picket line outside.

Last Thursday, Sealy offered members of U.N.I.T.E. HERE Union Local 1714T an extension of their former contract. Union members said no and when they went to work Monday, the doors were locked.

Hundreds of Sealy Mattress Company employees were out of work Monday. The company locked its doors after union members turned down Sealy's contract proposal. Erin Billups has more from workers walking the picket line who are demanding a better contract.

Sealy Employee Contract Committee Member Denise Roe said, "When we informed the management about the no vote, they made an agreement with us that we would work on a day by day basis until we make an agreement. And all of a sudden we come to work today and we're locked out."

Sealy management would not talk on camera, but North Region Vice President of Operations Dan Hige said they notified workers of the lockout Friday. He said if they had allowed their employees to work without a contract, it could have put the company's largest plant in jeopardy. With the planned lockout, Sealy is able to delegate the work to its other facilities, which the company says won't have a huge impact right now.

Union members say that's interesting.

U.N.I.T.E. HERE Union District Manager Bob Bruse said, "I'm glad to hear that they have such deep pockets, because we want to get into them."

Workers want more money and more affordable health insurance -- something they no longer have access to. When Sealy decided to lock its doors, it also locked employees' health benefits. Workers say it's a low blow.

Roe said, "They're very shocked because they didn't know we don't have health insurance right now. A lot of us have family. Myself, I have three kids, and if one of my kids gets sick today, what am I gonna do?"

Sealy has placed "no trespassing" signs around the property. They've even hired a security company to guard the building. Workers we spoke with said all of that is not necessary...they simply want to get back to work.

Sealy employee Frank Moler said, "We came ready to work today."

Sealy employee John Dumary said, "They've got all the doors blocked off, put trailers all around. All we want to do is go to work."

Hige said they're looking over the contract and are cautiously optimistic they can reach an agreement. Contract negotiations continue Wednesday.


We'd all be better off without people like this

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