Gov't unions win from 'Right to Labor' tax

It could get more expensive to work in Quakertown. Officials are considering implementing a local services tax next year that would charge up to $52 to everyone who works in the Upper Bucks (PA) borough, whether they live there or not.

Early estimates say the tax would generate $250,000 to $300,000, officials said. The local services tax was formerly known as the emergency services tax.

State law says borough council must decide by the end of the month whether it will put the tax to use next year. Officials plan to discuss the issue at a Thursday meeting on the 2008 budget.

Councilman Jim Roberts said the jury is still out on whether the tax will be implemented. “There's going to be a real discussion. You got to have at least four people (of the seven-person council) who are committed to putting in place a new tax. That's still a three-letter word,” said Roberts.

Many towns across the state already tax people for the right to work within their municipal boundaries.

Neighboring Richland generated $154,208 from the tax in 2006 and expects to pull in about $160,000 this year. Township manager Stephen Sechriest said the money goes toward supporting Richland's police department.

“The idea is that people who are working here are benefiting from municipal services and so they are helping contribute toward sustaining those services,” Sechriest said.

If a local services tax goes forward in Quakertown, Roberts said the money could be put toward similar ends, such as supporting expected increased spending on the police department and paying higher contributions to the local fire companies.

Quakertown Councilman Dave Zaiser thinks the local services tax would be a good new channel of revenue for the borough of 9,000 residents. Still, he thinks the charge to people who work in the town should be $30 in 2008, not the maximum $52 allowed under state law.

“We should reassess it after the first year and see where we're at,” Zaiser said.


Working America boosts union political agenda

At Harvard University this week, a group of economists will hold a conference to explore a phenomenon that has gone largely unremarked in the wider world -- an organizing campaign that has added 2 million workers to the ranks of organized labor in the last four years.

Since the campaign started as a two-state pilot project by the AFL-CIO in 2003, Working America, as the program is called, has expanded to a dozen states.

In a briefing to reporters last week, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Karen Ackerman, the federation's political director, highlighted the contribution of Working America members to the gains that labor-endorsed Democrats made in off-year races in Kentucky and Virginia. Democrats captured the governorship in the former and took over control of the state Senate in the latter.

To another Karen - Karen Nussbaum, the head of Working America - the message is clear: Keep expanding the program as the 2008 election draws nearer.

The idea of Working America is fairly simple. Surveys show that large numbers of employees in nonunion plants and offices say they would like to have a union, if one were available. But the workplace organizing task has become much more arduous ever since President Reagan broke the strike of air traffic controllers back in 1981.

Employers have become more aggressive in resisting unions, and often have found help in their effort from the Republican-controlled National Labor Relations Board.

As jobs have shifted from the manufacturing sector, where unions were strong, to nonunionized service and high-tech industries, organized labor has struggled - and lost steadily as a percentage of the work force.

So instead of organizing at the workplace, Working America reaches out to people in their own neighborhoods. On a typical evening, Nussbaum said, she has about 150 paid organizers going door to door in working-class communities, often in the suburbs and exurbs.

Using lists of union members, they skip the households that are already unionized and knock on the doors of their neighbors. The message: We know you're not part of a union, but you probably have the same concerns we do about jobs and schools and health care. We work on all those issues.

Would you like to become an individual member of the AFL-CIO?

"Astonishingly," Nussbaum said, "two out of three people we talk to join." And they are immediately recruited to write a letter to a member of Congress or some other official on an issue the labor federation is lobbying. "One out of five writes to their congressman that night," she said.

A profile of the Working America members shows two-thirds of them do not have a college degree, two in five attend church at least weekly, and one-third own guns. Half are neither strong Democrats, nor strong Republicans.

Dues are voluntary, but have totaled more than $1 million, Nussbaum said, with most of the funding for Working America coming from the AFL-CIO treasury.

The political benefits of this organizing effort became very visible in last week's elections. In Kentucky, labor had battled Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher over his campaign to pass a right-to-work law in the state Legislature and block an increase in the state's minimum wage. As part of that 2006 fight, Working America went into the state and signed up 40,000 members.

Last week, when Fletcher sought a second term against Democrat Steve Beshear, labor leaders claimed that 350,000 people from union households - including the Working America contingent - voted.

A survey by Peter D. Hart Research Associates found that 77 percent of the regular union household members and 79 percent of the Working America family members voted for Beshear -- who trounced Fletcher in the overall returns as well. The survey further indicated that economic issues stressed by the unions were particularly important influences on these voters - an indication that the campaign had worked.

A Hart poll of Working America members in the 2006 election found that 74 percent had supported Democratic candidates for the Senate and 73 percent, Democratic candidates for the House. In several swing districts, the labor vote clearly made the difference.

Buoyed by such results, labor plans to keep expanding the program. It started in Florida and Missouri, and soon added Ohio, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. Now it is operating in Washington, Oregon, Iowa, Michigan and other states as well.

Nussbaum says that the Harvard economists who have called the conference describe it as the fastest-growing labor organization in the country. To her, it is "a well-kept secret."


Soap opera scribes choose financial core status

Several WGA scribes on sudsers have decided to cross the picket line to keep their jobs. According to several people with knowledge of the situation, a high-ranking writer-producer on CBS's "The Young and the Restless" has informed the WGA that he plans to go "financial core" - that is, give up full membership in the guild and withhold the dues spent on political activities in order to continue writing during the strike.

Another source with knowledge of the situation added that two other scribes on "Y&R" have also opted for financial core status, and one other is considering it. A writer on NBC's "Days of Our Lives" may also be considering crossing the picket line.

The WGA - which recently formed a special committee to handle info about strikebreaking - refused to comment Monday on whether any members have gone fi-core. "This is an internal matter that we choose not to discuss," guild spokesman Gregg Mitchell said.

Defections are still very much the exception to a strike that has, at least so far, generated widespread public displays of solidarity among scribes of all levels. There have been no reports of writers on primetime or latenight skeins picking up their pens, and a slew of top showrunners have continued to withhold producing services despite studio threats to hold them in breach of contract (Daily Variety, Nov. 7).

Daytime, however, is a very different beast.

Ratings for the daypart have been in decline for years, with several sudsers barely hanging on. NBC, for example, has made it clear that "Days of Our Lives" may not be renewed when its license agreement expires. There's been talk for years about CBS cutting one of its soaps, too.

That's one reason why networks have been scrambling to make sure their soaps stay in production. A long stretch of pre-emptions or repeats -- like the one that occurred during the O.J. Simpson trial -- could prove fatal.

Sudser producers have been saying for weeks that a strike wouldn't shut them down, but they've carefully avoided explaining just how they'd continue to operate sans scribes.

"ABC's daytime dramas are written well into the new year, and we will continue to produce original programming with no repeats and without interruption," the Alphabet said in a statement released last week.

During the 1988 walkout, network and studio execs -- along with non-WGA scribes -- were enlisted to keep the sudsers lathered up. There were also widespread reports of WGA scribes writing scripts at home and finding a way to get those scripts into producers' hands without physically crossing a picket line.

"You'd hear stories about scripts being dropped off behind a trash can or in an alley," one soap veteran said.

It's believed some scribes may once again risk the wrath of their union by working behind the scenes. One daytime insider said she's heard reports of scribes on Procter & Gamble and ABC-Disney-produced sudsers "working in the shadows."

What's surprising about the "Y&R" and "Days" scribes' moves is that the writers appear to be owning up to their decision to keep writing for the soaps rather than trying to hide their actions.

That said, the vast majority of soap scribes appear to be keeping their computers turned off.

In the case of "Y&R," production entities Sony Pictures Television and Bell Dramatic Serial Co. appear to have settled in for the long haul.

During a meeting last week, staffers on "Y&R" were all but told that the show would go on without exec producer-head writer Lynn Marie Latham. Latham ("Homefront") is known to be a strong WGA supporter, and producers have prepared for her absence by laying off her assistant, cleaning out her desk and assigning a Sony exec to work from her office, according to a person familiar with the situation.

As a hyphenate, Latham could still render showrunning services, but has opted not to do any work on "Y&R" during the strike.

"Bold and the Beautiful" showrunner Bradley Bell -- whose family owns the skein -- has also demonstrated allegiance to the WGA and the strike. He walked the picket line in front of CBS Television City on the first day of the stoppage.

Strike-breaking is a serious issue for the WGA, and its strike rules require members to report any activity in that realm. Discipline for violations can include expulsion, suspension, fines and censure; nonmembers who perform banned work during a strike will be barred from joining the WGA.

When the strike rules were issued a month ago, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers responded with information on its Web site showing how to go fi-core and pointing out that WGA members who take that step can't be disciplined for working during a strike.

But, given the high stakes of the conflict, it's probable the WGA would move to publicly embarass members who take such a step. WGA West members received an email over the weekend from Dan Wilcox, chair of the newly formed WGA West Strike Rules Compliance Committee and a member of the WGA West's Board.

"The mission of the SRCC is to ensure that the Strike Rules are strictly enforced. The SRCC will primarily concentrate its efforts on unearthing and discouraging scab writing. There is no more fundamental working rule than the prohibition against a WGA member performing struck work."

Wilcox noted that the strike rule states: "You must inform the Guild of the name of any writer you have reason to believe is engaged in strike-breaking activity or other scab writing."

"If you have suspicions about a particular writer or project, the best way to report them will be to call our hotline," he added. "We'll handle your call discreetly. Our purpose is not to punish people; it is to head off scab work before it can undermine the strike."

Wilcox also said that leaders of WGA are eager to keep the strike short.

"Unfettered scab writing will only lengthen it," he added. "The simplest and most effective thing you can do to speed things up is to share information with the SRCC."


Force majeure will test actors' solidarity

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) has sent out a warning to Hollywood studios concerning the layoff or suspension of actors during the writers strike.

It comes after news that Sony Pictures Television put regular cast members on two sitcoms, 'Til Death and How I Met Your Mother, on unpaid leave because the shows were shut down by the walk out of members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA).

The WGA went on strike Nov. 5 after talks broke down with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP). The two sides are far apart on one main issue: residuals for writers for material appearing on DVDs, the internet, cellphones and other devices.

The actors guild says putting its members on unpaid leave while keeping them tied to the studio violates its agreement.

SAG released a statement late Sunday: "In the absence of extraordinary factual circumstances, any series production that is suspended at this time will require compliance with the force majeure provisions of the SAG Television Agreement."

The SAG agreement provides three options to studios in the event of a strike:

* They may hold onto series regulars and pay them a full salary.
* Suspend actors on half-pay for up to five weeks after which the actors can be terminated and lose exclusivity or restore full salary with exclusivity.
* Terminate the actors, but guarantee them a rehire when production resumes.

Many production companies say they have enough scripts to keep television series going until January or February. However, several primetime shows, including The Office, have already shut down production. Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy and Brothers & Sisters, will also be forced to end production in the coming weeks.

Bill Lawrence, the creator of the medical series Scrubs, said he refused to write a backup ending for the series finale. He said the network has 11 scripts out of the original 18 episodes that were ordered.

Lawrence revealed the studio had asked him for a script that would have shortened Scrubs' season but yet provide an appropriate ending for the series final bow. This was to have been the NBC series' seventh and final season.

Lawrence said he didn't want to fast-forward the final season and vowed to battle the studio to have a proper finale for the show.

"I will use all my leverage to end this show properly, even if it means I have to do all the voices myself and call people up to read it over the phone," he said over the weekend while appearing at the New York Comedy Festival.


Organized labor loaded for bear in '08

Organized labor did well in the new Democratic Congress, winning a hike in the minimum wage and impeding the free trade treaties backed by President Bush. (The Peru trade deal passed this week, but it was held up for months by Democrats, as the South Korea, Columbia, and Panama deals continue to be.) But these victories are small compared with what labor leaders expect to gain in 2009 if a Democrat wins the White House and the party makes gains in the Senate and the House. And they are preparing to give lavishly to the 2008 campaigns.

The AFL-CIO is planning to spend $53.4 million on get-out-the-vote efforts during the 2008 campaign, according to the Wall Street Journal. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is aiming for $60 million. (Both organizations budgeted only $48 million in 2004.) The top spender in the 2004 election, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), also plans to exceed its 2004 budget of $65 million.

The prize for the unions is the card check system, which would allow a union to be established at a workplace by a simple majority of workers signing cards agreeing to unionization. At present, employees can form a union only after support is demonstrated through a secret ballot election. Unions win only about half of these elections. The card check system would in practice do away with any privacy in the individual decision to unionize.

Big Labor sees card checks as their chance at revitalization. In 1983, 20 percent of American workers were unionized; in 2006 it was down to 12 percent (36.2 percent of public sector workers and 7.4 percent of private). Card checks would increase the number of union members and are expected to almost double the size of unions' coffers. Rick Berman of the Center for Union Facts predicts that the unions could be "conservatively sitting on another $5 billion in dues money."

The card check system was the main objective of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), defeated earlier this year in Congress. The measure passed the House by a vote of 241 to 185, but it was defeated in the Senate soundly with a cloture vote of 51 to 48, nine votes shy of the tally required to end debate. "We got closer than we ever have before," said Stephanie Mueller, assistant director of communications for the SEIU. "We're optimistic that EFCA will pass in the next Congress." Democrats only have a remote chance of picking up nine seats in the 2008 election, but a Democrat in the White House would brighten EFCA's prospects. All three leading Democratic presidential candidates have endorsed the card check system.

The act would exponentially increase organized labor's power on the political scene. Much of the new money would be poured into political campaigns and lobbying efforts. Organized labor would be "by far the largest political-financial institution in the country with an extremely left-leaning agenda," says Berman.

And then there is EFCA's mandatory arbitration requirement. After 90 days of contract negotiations, if either party calls for mediation, the government steps in. If another 30 days pass, a government-appointed arbitrator sets the wages, benefits, and advancement and grievance policies. "The government would come in and pick winners and losers in an industry," says Berman.

Business and trade associations hope they will still be able to court moderate Democrats, like those in the Blue Dog Coalition, and win a few battles. But many Democratic congressmen are indebted to Big Labor for their seats.

Unions poured $57.6 million into Democratic races in 2006 in individual donations and PAC contributions. Freshmen Blue Dog Democrats benefited significantly. Brad Ellsworth from Indiana's Eighth District received $316,100 from labor unions. Baron Hill of Indiana's Ninth District got $272,800. Nick Lampson of Texas's Twenty-Second District was given $292,050. Tim Mahoney from the Sixteenth District of Florida garnered $240,250, and Heath Shuler of North Carolina's Eleventh District got $273,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. All of them voted in favor of EFCA. The money could easily be funneled to alternative primary candidates in the next cycle if unions' expectations aren't met.

Beyond EFCA, Big Labor's priorities include a universal health care system, which could give unions more leeway in bargaining for higher wages and other benefits; continued blockage of trade bills; collective bargaining rights for Transportation Security Administration workers; and a further rise in the minimum wage.

Union officials also want to cut the budget of the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS), the branch of the Department of Labor that oversees unions. The OLMS has in recent years ramped up its oversight of union finances and required greater disclosure. Cuts to this office might even happen in this Congress, as Democrats' proposed 2008 budget called for a reduction of the OLMS funding
to 2006 levels. Attempts by Republicans in the House and the Senate to restore the OLMS budget for 2008 have been defeated, thanks to union pressure on Democrats.

Unions have a decent shot at success with their agenda because there is no formidable opposition. Big Business isn't as unified and often prefers concession over conflict. "Confrontation is bad for business," one trade association lobbyist notes. "Businesses have never been effective at combating labor."


Pro-union American Bar Association

The gloves came off at a legal conference in Philadelphia this week where a thin veneer of professional collegiality could not conceal deep discord among members of the National Labor Relations Board.

Sparking the debate was what labor lawyers are calling the September Massacre - 61 decisions handed down by the NLRB in one month, the majority of which, they said, went against workers' ability to join unions, and reflect what they say is President Bush's anti-union bias.

The management view? The decisions were a mere swinging of the pendulum to correct pro-labor excesses from the Clinton administration.

"The board and the board's decision-making have become much more divisive," Democratic NLRB appointee Wilma B. Liebman told more than 300 lawyers during a panel discussion at the American Bar Association's national labor and employment law conference Thursday. The annual conference ends today.

Board member Peter C. Schaumber, a Republican appointee, said the minority dissents in board opinions have bordered on the disrespectful.

Some division is built-in: The five-member NLRB board has three members from the president's party and two from the opposition.

Liebman said the pattern of NLRB decision-making has seemed to swing back and forth so much along ideological lines that there may be "a loss of confidence" in the National Labor Relations Act.

Drawing much ire was the board's Sept. 29 decision on related cases involving Dana Corp. and Metaldyne Corp., an auto-parts-manufacturer in Western Pennsylvania.

The cases involve labor's most successful membership-building technique: persuading management to recognize a union when most workers sign union cards. This "voluntary-recognition" method skips the cumbersome traditional NLRB secret-election process.

Metaldyne recognized the United Auto Workers union Dec. 1, 2003, after a majority of workers requested it. But 22 days later, a majority signed a petition asking the NLRB for a chance to vote out the union.

In the past, the petition would have been denied because case law has allowed new union relationships to gel for a year without interference.

But the Sept. 29 decision by the NLRB said employers must post a sign telling workers they can appeal this type of voluntary recognition within 45 days. What angers labor lawyers, among other issues, is that no similar sign is required to tell workers that they are allowed to unionize.

The Sept. 29 decision "undermines the voluntary-recognition process - a long tradition that has been accepted and enforced under the law," said panelist Sarah M. Fox, a Washington lawyer and former NLRB member and Democratic appointee.

"I think the board is trying to set up a situation to accommodate that growing card-check method within the rubric of the act," countered panelist Patricia Slovak, a management lawyer from Schiff Hardin L.L.P. in Chicago.

The decision is a way for the NLRB, which oversees voting, to remain a relevant player as voluntary recognition gains popularity over elections, said former Republican NLRB appointee Charles I. Cohen, who did not attend Thursday's debate.

Cohen, a partner in the Washington office of the Philadelphia law firm Morgan Lewis L.L.P., said the rush of decisions by the board had to do with timing and ideology.

Deadline pressure pushed the board to finish 20 percent of its work in one month as its fiscal year closed Sept. 30. Also, three members' terms end soon, leaving vacancies.

The board "has gotten out a lot of the controversial decisions," Cohen said, "and it is a more conservative board."


CBS News writers may walk out

Imagine if they threw a strike and no one was there to write about it? First writers in Hollywood, then stagehands on Broadway, and now the national news writers for one major network are revving up for a walkout of their own.

Employees of CBS News, who have been working under conditions of an expired contract for three years, are scheduled to vote on a strike Thursday evening. The news team’s current agreement ended in April 2005, and having witnessed the overwhelming support received on behalf of the WGA and Local One stagehands, they are very likely to endorse a work stoppage.

In other strike news, at least one lead writer for CBS soap “Young and the Restless” is crossing the picket line and breaking with WGA brethren, according to Variety. It remains to be seen how the public will view such an action. Some fans may appreciate new episodes; others with family in unions or otherwise sympathetic seem destined to have issues.

For their part Producers took out full page ads in the trades yesterday, claiming writers are being paid fairly for internet downloads, which the WGA disputes. The ads from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers were headlined “Setting the Record Straight” and outlined producers’ main issues for the first time since talks broke down Nov. 4 and picketing at studios and networks began the next morning.

The news strike would open a new front against producers. CBS, perhaps thinking it made a dent in the WGA lines with the “Y ’n’ R” defection, could find those lines filled in with more talent. CBS News shows include winning ratings vet “60 Minutes” as well as “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric,” “The Early Show,” “Face the Nation” and others. It’s not clear how each show would be affected, or CBS News’ extensive Internet publication which largely uses content gleamed from the CBS News division.

CBS News would never stop broadcasting its shows, though news content not up to usual standards could quickly lead to ratings erosion to on-air competitors and the Internet.

“For too long, CBS has taken the crowning legacy of Edward R. Murrow and his colleagues and cheapened it, increasingly turning the broadcast news medium into the mere ‘lights and wires in a box’ Murrow feared,” said WGA East president Michael Winship in a statement on the guild’s website.

“Part of that diminution of news quality is reflected in the network’s refusal to offer our dedicated, knowledgeable, hard-working members a fair and respectful contract. We expect those members to use their strike authorization to tell management that the nearly three years they have gone without a contract is unconscionable, short-sighted and destructive.”

Any stoppage sanctioned by the CBS News staff could be viewed as another wrench thrown at producers by the WGA.

“For CBS to make these newswriters work for over three years without so much as a cost of living raise is disgraceful,” said WGA West president Patric M. Verrone. “CBS newswriters take this step knowing that their fellow writers in TV and film stand behind them.”

In a statement, executives for CBS downplayed any concerns over a strike. “CBS News is prepared for the possibility of a writers strike,” said the statement. “We will continue to produce quality news programming for our viewers.”

In November 2006, CBS made what was referred to as its final offer to the WGA East. The East coast division of the WGA represents the network’s television and radio news writers based throughout New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington. The union rejected the proposal and talks came to a screeching halt in January.


Strikers tote kids to picket lines

Hollywood writers are trying a different strategy as they begin their second week on strike. Striking writers took the weekend off, but they were back on the picket lines bright and early Monday morning, hitting the streets at 6 a.m. The writers also brought their children with them to show that the strike is affecting more than the writers themselves.

Writers picketing at 14 locations will be bringing family members throughout the week to demonstrate that the strike is affecting more than just their pockets. TV and film writers walked out last week over DVD payments and revenues from programming distributed on the Internet.

Governor Schwarzenegger has urged both sides to settle their differences quickly, saying that the strike has already had a major impact on the state's economy.

"We want to, you know, show that people actually have families, so that's all part of that, and my son is over there marching with us," said Steve Skrovan, a writer for "'Til Death." "And we're here earlier because, you know, what we learned from last week is that the trucks come in earlier than 9, so we're here at 6, and we're also, you know, want a, any executives that try and sneak in and avoid, we'll catch them too."

That's part of their new strategy, get here earlier to stop those trucks from coming in. Striking writers have shut down at least half a dozen shows as of last week, including "Desperate Housewives." The way things are going now, with no new talks scheduled, this strike could last for months.


Off-Broadway shows strike box office gold

With most of Broadway dark because of the stagehands strike, business is booming off-Broadway, especially for theaters in the Times Square area.

No new negotiations have been scheduled between Local One, the stagehands union, and the League of American Theatres and Producers. The stalemate has forced theatergoers, particularly tourists, to find other attractions, and off-Broadway has some 48 productions now playing, according to the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers.

Yesterday, in the theater district, people were passing out fliers advertising off-Broadway shows, productions in theaters smaller than 499 seats. Jeramy Peay, promoting the off-Broadway musical "Altar Boyz," said some people think all theater is closed, not realizing that off-Broadway is open for business. "They don't understand the difference," he said.

John Parker of Los Angeles and his friend Paddy Reilly, from Dublin, Ireland, were at the discount ticket TKTS booth, where they collected fliers advertising various off-Broadway shows. They had bought tickets to "The Lion King" for Thursday, but planned to bring the fliers back to their wives to consult on what to see instead. "You can't be in New York and not see some shows," Parker said.

Bernie Cohen is one of those benefitting from the strike. Cohen, a Hudson Valley resident and former principal of Middletown High School, has a role in an off-off-Broadway production of "Mina" at the La Mama Experimental Theatre Club. The show opened the day of the strike. Cohen said they went from 25 or 30 audience members on Thursday to crowds of 50 or 60.

"Usually, the tourists are attracted to the theater district for the big productions. Now many of them are going the opposite way but still seeing professional theatre, New York-level professional theater," he said yesterday.

Cohen, an Actor's Equity Association member, didn't even have to cross picket lines to work. Off-off Broadway doesn't have stagehands.

The strike applies only to specific Broadway theatres. Chris Silva, executive director of the Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie, said the strike won't affect performances at Bardavon or the Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston.


Teachers unions defeat kids in Utah

One hundred eleven years ago, in 1896, the state of Utah joined the Union. Today its Legislature is focused on enacting sound policies that will help improve its education system. Its citizens, though, have a different view, for in Tuesday's referendum they voted down a very strong parental school choice bill.

Last February the Utah Legislature enacted the Parent Choice in Education Act, giving parents the option of a $500 to $3,000 scholarship, depending upon their household income, to send their child to the private school of their choice instead of the public school they are attending. Since there are 120 private schools in Utah, with an average tuition of about $4,000, the scholarships would help low-income families get the best education for their children and give Utah parents substantial educational choice.

School choice is not a new idea--there are voucher programs operating in about a dozen states--but the Utah program reflected some fresh thinking. The average cost of the scholarships would be about $2,000 a student, so lawmakers decided to increase support of the state's public schools by allowing them to keep the difference between the cost of educating each of their students--about $7,500 per child--and the scholarships when a child left their school. For each student who chose to move to a private school, his former public school would get the $5,500 difference for five years, after which it would go back to the state's education budget. Utah State University estimated this would give the public schools about $1 billion in additional funding over 13 years.

The cost of the scholarships would be paid from the state's general funds, not from state school funds or local property taxes, costing the Utah government about $5.5 million in the first year and $8.5 million in the second as more children took advantage of the opportunity to go to the private school of their choice, and up to $71 million in the 13th year.

This scholarship program would make public schools better because class sizes would be smaller and more money would be available per pupil. Education would improve, and the scholarships would help level the playing field by giving educational opportunities to families with lower incomes.

School choice and charter schools have proved very effective in improving the quality of education. Milwaukee has had a school choice program since 1990, and a 2004 study showed that vouchers students the previous year had a 64% graduation rate, vs. just 36% for the public schools. A Texas study showed that students at charter schools had a significantly higher increase in performance than their peers in traditional public schools.

And Utah has been on the leading edge of school choice for many years. An initial charter bill was enacted in 1998, challenged and then upheld by the Utah Supreme Court. In 2001 school districts were given the right to approve charter schools. In 2004, lawmakers considered a bill providing a refundable income tax credit for a family's private school expenses. It didn't pass, but the Legislature approved a study of the bill which concluded it could save the state $1.3 billion over 13 years. In 2005, a law was enacted to provide vouchers for special education students, and a school-choice bill nearly passed. When it fell short, House Speaker Greg Curtis lamented, "We do not reward excellence in education. We don't fund it, we don't demand it, and don't encourage it."

That improved with the enactment of the Parent Choice in Education statute last February, but on Tuesday it all fell apart. Utah citizens voted down the voucher plan by 62% to 38%. That is too bad--educational choices by parents for their children is an important concept--but not surprising. While there are successful school choice programs operating in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Washington, 10 state referenda on various voucher proposals have been defeated since 1972, including two defeats each in California, Michigan and Colorado.

One reason for these defeats has been the work of the teachers unions, which oppose school choice of any kind because it limits their power. Passage of the Utah school choice statute earlier this year prompted a union call to arms. The national teachers unions went to war in Utah and won.

When the choice bill was passed by the Utah Legislature last winter, Nancy Pomeroy of Parents Choice in Education enthusiastically recited the score: "Parents and Children 1. Unions and Educrats 0." Unfortunately the score flipped on Tuesday. Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com and a major backer of the measure, was bitter, saying of Utahns: "They don't care enough about their kids. They care an awful lot about this system, this bureaucracy, but they don't care enough about their kids to think outside the box."


Business is booming with striker-replacements

Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc. , one of the world's leading manufacturers of musical instruments, today announced results for the quarter and nine months ended September 30, 2007.

Revenues for the third quarter increased 9% over the prior year period, led by a 14% increase in sales in the Company's band business. Gross profit increased $2.0 million, or 8%, as improved piano margins lessened the impact of lower band margins. Operating profit increased 4% over the prior year. For the quarter, the Company generated EPS of $0.35 compared to $0.12 in the prior year period. The $0.35 EPS compares to Adjusted EPS of $0.14 in the third quarter of 2006. Adjustments for 2006 are detailed in the attached financial tables.

"We're pleased with our overall results this quarter," stated CEO Dana Messina. "Sales, gross profit and operating profit all improved versus the prior year. Our piano business showed mixed results this quarter, but we continue to fare better than the industry as a whole. We were disappointed by our wholesale Steinway business in the U.S. and overseas, but our domestic retail sales were up and shipments of mid-priced pianos remained strong."

Turning to band operations, Messina said, "We're happy to report that third quarter revenues in our band segment were back to pre-strike levels. For the first time this year, we shipped more band instruments than in the comparable prior year period. We were pleased that production and sales of professional brass instruments increased, but the dealer consolidation we discussed earlier this year continues to affect woodwind sales. We reduced production at our two woodwind facilities due to weaker than expected orders."

"In the third quarter of 2006, we began hiring replacement workers for our Elkhart brass plant and the size of our production staff has more than doubled over a year ago," noted Messina. "We are making significant progress in product quality as well as unit output. However, this quarter we incurred a similar amount of inefficient production expenses as last year due to the higher number of replacement workers and some additional training as we shifted our production mix from our standard models to more specialized instruments. We need to progress further on production efficiency in our domestic manufacturing facilities to see increased margins."

Looking at the fourth quarter, Messina commented, "The fourth quarter is the beginning of the selling season in our band business. Although it is too early to evaluate our programs and product offerings, we expect band sales in the fourth quarter to improve over the prior year. Looking at our piano business, the U.S. piano market remains challenging. Our domestic inventories remain too high and our domestic production levels will need to be reduced. Overseas, we expect our fourth quarter business to be stable."

On yesterday's decertification vote at the Company's Elkhart brass facility, Messina said, "After continuous appeals and delays by the UAW, our employees have finally had an opportunity to vote. Of the votes counted, 105 were for decertification and 63 were for retention of the union. There are 144 challenged ballots which have not been counted. The outcome of the vote will be determined by these ballots. The disposition of the challenged ballots will be decided in the coming weeks by the National Labor Relations Board. We continue to focus on producing and delivering the finest brass musical instruments in the world. The outcome of this vote is not expected to materially affect our business going forward."


Victims of violence ... or are nurse-strikers faking it?

The nearly 700 striking nurses at Appalachian Regional Health Care (ARH), represented by the Kentucky and West Virginia Nurses Associations/United American Nurses, AFL-CIO, are speaking out to call public attention to the underhanded and violent tactics exhibited against them by the hospital during their strike, which began Oct. 1. ARH has escalated its intimidation of striking nurses from hired security guards on the picket lines who routinely harass nurses to video surveillance of striking nurses to, it now appears, orchestrating the burning of the car of one of the union staff on hand to assist the nurses.

A union representative left the picket line at the Beckley, WV, ARH facility Sunday night for his car and discovered after driving a short distance that he had a flat tire. He returned to the picket line for assistance, and when he and others returned to his car, they found it ablaze with brush that had been doused in flammable liquid. Attempts to report the incident to police were met with a response that the department was closed for the Veterans Day holiday and that the detective was not available. Nurses are demanding the mayor provide more protection for the RNs on the line - protection the police so far have not provided.

"We are stunned. Violent, threatening actions like this are beyond the pale," said Ocie Helton, RN, who is the local president of the West Virginia Nurses Association union at Beckley-ARH. "Registered nurses who are out on this picket line to stand up for patient care are being repaid with threats to our lives. What if next time someone is in the car that is set on fire? Working women and men are literally under attack in Beckley and risking our lives to speak out for our patients.

"The word on the picket line is that this must have been the work of someone associated with ARH. We don't have evidence yet that that's the case, but we call on the police to make a full investigation of this and prosecute whoever the guilty party is to the fullest extent of the law. We also call on ARH to disavow this kind of criminal behavior and get rid of security forces that are harassing nurses on the picket lines."

The United American Nurses, AFL-CIO, the collective bargaining affiliate of the American Nurses Association, is the nation's largest RN union, representing more than 115,000 nurses and including 27 state nurses associations or collective bargaining program affiliates.


Striking teachers reject settlement

The strike by teachers in the Seneca Valley (PA) School District appears set to go the distance after talks Sunday failed to produce progress.

With no further talks scheduled, teachers would return to the classrooms on Friday, as required by state law stipulating 180 days of instruction by June 15. They have been on strike since Oct. 15.

District negotiators said they offered the union three wage proposals during about a two-hour meeting at the district's central office. The offers were just repackaged versions of the 4 percent pay increase teacher representatives have turned down for months, said Patrick Andrekovich, chief negotiator for the 585-member Seneca Valley Education Association.

A state mediator ended the meeting after district representatives said they are unwilling to move from their offer of a 4 percent raise, Andrekovich said. He said the union has room to move, but will not give another offer until the board adjusts its proposal.

"We showed up today with the authority to bargain, and the board didn't do any bargaining. They gave us the same proposals we've been given before," he said. Seneca Valley teachers' average pay is $53,500 a year.

According to an e-mailed statement from the district, the wage options offered by the district were for raises of 4 percent in each year of a five-year contract; a pay raise ranging from $2,142 in the first year to $2,506 in the fifth year, which would give some teachers more than 4 percent and others less, depending on their prior salary; or average wage increases of 4 percent, with some getting more and others less based upon the board's acceptance of the union's distribution of wage increases.

On health care, the district offered to use the district's health care plan as modified by a fact finder, according to the district's statement. Teachers would contribute $10 per pay period to the premium cost, rising to $15 in July 2009 and $20 in July 2010.

District negotiators could not be reached for elaboration.

Andrekovich said the district's proposal would add five steps to the pay scale, increasing the time it takes for a teacher to reach the top of the pay scale from 19 years to 24 years.

"All three would destroy our salary schedule. We have no intention of destroying our salary schedule," Andrekovich said.

The district has charged that the union has not allowed teachers to vote on its proposals, making talks useless. Andrekovich said a confidential survey of teachers found 99 percent found the district's offer insufficient.

"We're very aware of what our members want," he said. "This is a ploy to avoid the real issue. The real issue is the district's unwillingness to bargain."

The school board meets at 8 tonight in the intermediate high school auditorium.


Memo to teachers before strike draws ULP charge

The striking Edison (OH) Local Education Association teachers' union is filing an unfair labor practice charge against the School Board, and Monday NEWS9 learned the State Employment Relations Board has ruled that there is enough evidence to go ahead with an expedited hearing.

"Right now we got a favorable ruling from SERB which is the state and relations board on an unfair labor practice that we had filed prior to going on strike," said Jamie Evans, union spokesperson.

The teachers are claiming that superintendent Lisa Carmichael used intimidation tactics in a memo she sent out to the teachers. According to a document from the SERB, on the day the board voted to ratify and implement their best and final offer, the memo was sent out and stated, “Please be advised that all certified staff members are required to report to work. Failure to report to work may result in termination of employment.”

Evans said when the union found out about the news, they went straight to the labor relations consultant. "He said this is a direct dealing and they can't do this, a threatening act and we need to file an unfair labor practice so we did that at that time," said Evans.

Carmichael said the school has yet to receive notification of the union filing the unfair labor practice charge and she is not making any comment at this time.


Gov't union strike fails to disrupt Universities

As the strike by the province's 2,400 university support staff enters its 13th day today there is no sign of a break in stalled contract talks.

The workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees who are employed by the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan, walked off the job Nov. 3 after conciliation talks failed to resolve issues related to employee benefits and performance reviews.

"There is nothing new to report," said Barb Pollock, vice-president of external relations at the U of R. "There were no new talks scheduled as of Friday." While the strike by the universities' staff is an inconvenience, Pollock said the lack of support staff has not resulted in the cancellation of any academic classes at the U of R.

Union spokesperson Brad McKaig said the workers are prepared to stay out on the picket line for as long as it takes "until the universities give us a deal the workers can live with."

"What they have on the table isn't livable."

None of the workers want to be on the picket line, he said, noting that strike pay is a far cry from a wage.

"The loss in income is creating some hardships. At a time of the year when our members should be thinking about buying Christmas gifts for their kids many are worrying about whether they will be able to pay the rent," McKaig said.


SEIU - A union that's less than it seems

It's hard to know who to trust in the latest tussle over a private equity company going billions into debt to buy a nursing home chain. With nursing homes, it's probably best to trust no one. If you've been in one lately, as a visitor, worker or patient, you know what I mean.

Like most people, I find it hard to trust the corporate giants that seem determined to treat nursing homes as commodities. In this dispute, Goliath is the Carlyle Group, which owns Dunkin' Donuts and Hertz and promises to deliver a quality nursing home product.

Carlyle is buying HCR Manor Care, which owns 500 nursing homes in 33 states, including 29 in Florida and seven in Palm Beach County. The homes operate under the Heartland, Arden Courts and Manor Care names. The price for Manor Care is $6.3 billion, of which $5.5 billion will be borrowed.

On the other side, complaining that Carlyle will lay off employees to shave costs, is an anachronism - a growing American labor union. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has begun a national campaign against the sale with newspaper ads demanding hearings in six states, including Florida. A recent ad in The Palm Beach Post cited a New York Times investigation that described how staffing cuts often follow takeovers by private equity firms. "Carlyle should outline its plan to improve care for Florida's seniors," the ad says, "before we give them licenses to operate nursing homes."

It looks as if the union is unloading on Carlyle out of a sincere concern for workers and nursing home patients. That would be the union's preferred response to the ads, but that response would be far too generous.

SEIU, the nation's largest health-care union, is to organized labor what private equity buyers are to nursing home chains. Under Andy Stern, its president since 1996, SEIU has been throwing out the confrontational labor-vs.-management model. Instead, it is seeking a collaborative role, as Mr. Stern described in his book Getting America Back on Track: A Country That Works. "Employees and employers," he wrote, "need organizations that solve problems, not create them."

What he means is clear because of groundbreaking reporting by SF Weekly, a San Francisco alternative paper. In 2004, the paper disclosed the secret terms of a deal between the union and major California nursing homes. Mr. Stern's union agreed to use its influence to lobby in the state Assembly for payment guarantees, which passed, and reduced legal liability for nursing homes, which didn't. In return, the union got to unionize a third of the homes. As a further concession, the union agreed not to strike.

Among the other concessions in the "Agreement to Advance the Future of Nursing Home Care in California," now available on the Internet, is the "negative rhetoric" clause. It states that the parties "recognize the need to present a united voice on common goals." It bans personal attacks and goes on to say that "neither the employers nor the union shall involve external organizations (i.e., media, legislators, regulators, health-care providers) in any effort to damage the reputation or credibility of the other party, nor will the union attempt to leverage employer acquiescence through voluntary adverse reporting to any regulators or other oversight agency," except for major abuse as required by law.

So, if your mother is not being turned every day, and the bed sores are literally killing her, and the workers know this is happening but can't do anything about it because on some shifts there are only two caregivers for 47 patients, the workers, through their union, have pledged to say nothing. To no one.

Ah, what price silence? I'd love to support the SEIU's efforts to force closer scrutiny of Carlyle's buyout. But it's hard to trust an organization that would promote the California deal, and a similar one now being pushed in Washington state.

If the SEIU can make life miserable enough on Carlyle - already Congress and the Pennsylvania legislature have agreed to hold hearings - it must believe that it can force Carlyle to the negotiating table. If that happens, expect the ad campaign against Carlyle's buyout to halt. If a union sellout is the price of labor peace, it's too costly.


Facing the union facts Down Under

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