Looming legal smackdown v. union extortion

Employers are using laws originally aimed at organized crime to combat aggressive union organizing efforts that they claim amount to extortion.

Two lawsuits filed by employers in the past two months invoked the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, to claim unions have tried to damage their reputations and businesses through public-relations campaigns and other tactics. In both suits, the companies claim the unions are spreading false and damaging information through flyers and the Internet and at demonstrations.

The suits, which the unions say are baseless, mark escalating tensions over organizing methods. Unions want to organize workers by approaching them off company grounds and having them sign cards in favor of a union while the company remains neutral, a process companies say subjects employees to intense pressure. Companies generally favor a secret-ballot election, which is held on company property and usually follows months or years of expensive, time-consuming and negative campaigning by both sides.

RICO was passed in 1970 to make it easier to prosecute organized-crime leaders when they couldn't be directly tied to murders or other crimes but when a pattern of racketeering existed. Civil RICO claims became common in the 1980s and have been filed in a variety of contexts, often against corporations, alleging fraud or illegal competition. The law allows for the recovery of triple damages.

While unusual, union-related suits filed under RICO laws instead of labor laws have precedent. In 1995, Food Lion LLC sued the United Food and Commercial Workers, claiming the union planted damaging reports in the media and filed frivolous regulatory claims. The case was settled in 2004.

In October, Smithfield Foods Inc. filed suit against the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has been trying for more than a decade to organize 4,600 hourly workers at the company's Tar Heel, N.C., plant. The suit claims that the union's campaign, which includes calls to boycott all Smithfield products, is "designed to destroy Smithfield's public image and inflict maximum economic damage."

Wackenhut, a U.S. unit of London's Group 4 Securicor PLC, filed suit last month accusing the Service Employees International Union, which has been trying to organize the company's security guards, of using "strong-arm" tactics that have caused it to lose contracts with customers.

"RICO grabs the headlines and demonstrates to shareholders and the public how seriously Smithfield and Wackenhut disagree with the unions' allegedly false statements," said Jeff Grell, who teaches a course on RICO at the University of Minnesota Law School and assists law firms on both sides of RICO litigation.

Extortion is difficult to prove in these situations, Mr. Grell says. It usually involves taking property, in the form of money, real estate or personal property, while these suits center on less-defined issues of reputation and the loss of business, which can be the result of broader economic factors.

G. Robert Blakey, a lawyer who helped draft RICO and is acting as legal counsel to Smithfield, declined to comment on the litigation. In statements released by the company, he likened the union's campaign to "actions of Mafia figures who arrange an illegal picket line and promise to remove it if the store owner agrees to take their garbage services." The United Food and Commercial Workers claims on its Web site that Smithfield's Tar Heel workers face "poverty wages, brutal conditions, crippling injuries" -- claims the company disputes.

Joe Hansen, president of the union, called the lawsuit "completely baseless." He added: "If they think that spending millions of dollars on this legal strategy will weaken our efforts to ensure justice and fairness at the Tar Heel plant, they are sorely mistaken."

Dan Murphy, corporate counsel and director of labor relations for Wackenhut, said the Service Employees International Union is distributing information that is "bereft of fact." Andy Stern, the union's president and a defendant in the case, called the lawsuit "an attempt to muzzle workers and their unions from speaking out on issues of corporate social responsibility."

Smithfield filed its suit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Wackenhut filed its suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.


Police union ads spread fear, disinformation

Looming over thousands of drivers on the highway into the heart of Fort Lauderdale (FL), a billboard demands the attention of tourists, warning the police department is "dangerously understaffed" and without a union contract.

"What is your safety worth?" it asks. A similar "advisory warning" aimed at citizens ran twice last week as a half-page ad in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Fort Lauderdale officers brought that message of fear to tourists via protest placards at the International Boat Show in October and twice in recent months outside City Hall.

The broadening campaign could get still larger. The union said recently that TV and radio commercials, and ads in travel publications, are coming.

The threatening ads belie the statistics that show crime dropping. Police say the trend probably won't last and the staff levels are dangerous for officers.

The officers' job contract expired more than a month ago and negotiations in a time of budget cuts have proved difficult. Friday, the talks were curt.

Police want a better retirement plan, with 2 percent annual increases in their checks. The city is diametrically opposed. Public employee pensions are in the spotlight as a potential budget buster because with plans like Fort Lauderdale's, the city makes up for investment declines.

The city prevailed over its largest union this year, persuading general employees to give up a city-backed pension for future hires. Instead, they'll have investment accounts like those in private industry, where the city contributes a fixed 9 percent of salary.

That kind of talk doesn't get a warm reception at Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 31.

Police originally wanted 31.5 percent raises over the three-year contract. Later, union president Jack Lokeinsky said they'd settle for no raises. Their bigger concern was retirement. Police pensions are much more costly, requiring the city this year to pay the equivalent of 49 percent of an officer's salary into the retirement fund. The officers contribute 7 percent.

City spokesman Ted Lawson said union contract negotiations give rise to strategies like the union's ad campaign. But the city still thinks a contract can be reached, he said, and neither side has walked away for good. The next talks are at week's end.

"We're going to work as hard as we can to resolve this as soon as possible," Lawson said. "It's unsettling, and this is an example."

A flier advertising jobs for Fort Lauderdale officers lists the salary as $43,393 to $63,897. Top pay can be reached in six years. Officers get up to five weeks of vacation. An officer hired at age 20 can retire at 40, with 67.6 percent of pay until death. If they stay until they're almost 44, the retirement check rises to 81 percent.

As good as the package might sound to some, city commissioners are dealing with the political reality that many cities offer more.

That, says union representative Sgt. Mike Tucker, is why Fort Lauderdale is suffering an exodus of officers. This year, at least 52 officers left, according to the city. Seventeen of them said they were going to work for another agency.

As of early November, the department had 468 officers and 42 vacancies — fewer officers and more vacancies than in the past two years.

Tucker said 127 officers will be eligible to retire in the next three years.

"I want the city to find a way to keep" them, he said.

Without a full staff, officers can't respond quickly.

Tucker said supervisors' main duty now is triage. Who needs an officer first?

Some incident reports back up this claim.

A woman called police one afternoon in mid-October, for example, reporting that someone was stalking her in a parking lot off Federal Highway. The officer noted: "This call held for 2 hours + both the reporter + suspect were GOA," or Gone On Arrival.

Debbie Liptak called in mid-October to report someone keyed her car.

"By the time [the officer] came, I had left," Liptak said in a phone interview. "I was tired of waiting and had other things to do."

Liptak said she missed a sergeant's phone call telling her police would be delayed.

"I steamed about it for an hour or so because I didn't check my messages," she said.

Tucker said when the department's fully staffed, the only delay for most calls is the time it takes to get there.

Another woman called in October to report her friend's home was burglarized, records show. The owner, former state Sen. Debby Sanderson, was out of town. Her friend, Pamela Shenk, whom Sanderson called in to help, was afraid to go inside.

She stood out front, waiting 90 minutes, she estimated, for an officer.

"I think it was awful," said Shenk. "I would have thought someone would have been there within 10 minutes at the most. I realize it wasn't a robbery in progress. But they stole stuff and the house was open."

Sanderson, a 20-year legislator with extensive budget experience, has a different perspective.

She had great praise for the officer she dealt with; her crime was solved, and the suspect is in jail. But she said the union's ads are "unprofessional."

The city needs to stand tough on pensions, she said, and explore cheaper options for retirements.

"And that's not an easy thing," said Sanderson. "It's a little like turning the Titanic."


WGA strikers care little for IATSE workers

Hair and makeup artists, set decorators, grips, prop specialists and hundreds of others who work in television and film production marched through the heart of Hollywood on Sunday morning urging an end to the 5-week-old writers strike.

Their mission: Draw attention to the predicament of the thousands of people who work in television and film as well as the businesses that serve them. They are not on strike but fear their livelihoods are at risk.

"We are here today to remind the leadership of those locked in this struggle that real people, real men and women and their families, are being damaged," rally organizer Chris Griffin said to the crowd assembled at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue. "Each day this strike is prolonged, our futures become more precarious."

Although these so-called below-the-line workers are not part of the negotiations, most are out of work until the strike is over and productions begin again. Many are starting to compete for work in film and reality television, which are still in production unlike most scripted television.

The strike's toll on thousands of production workers who aren't members of the Writers Guild of America has deepened friction with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents below-the-line workers.

The breakdown Friday of talks between the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers prompted a scathing denunciation of the guild's leadership from stage employees union President Thomas C. Short.

"I don't believe the WGA ever intended to bargain in good faith," said Short, who has repeatedly clashed with guild leaders in the last year. "And they are destroying a lot of lives in the process."

Writers Guild leaders blamed studios for the impasse Friday and continued to say the strike was necessary to ensure writers received a fair cut of future revenue from new media.

"The Writers Guild is deeply concerned about the consequences for below-the-line workers," said Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West. "Despite the studios' unwarranted action on Friday to break off talks and walk away from the table, we remain ready and willing to return to negotiations."

Talks broke down Friday after studios complained that writers made unrealistic demands that would make further talks fruitless.

On Sunday, several hundred marchers walked along Hollywood Boulevard from Grauman's Chinese Theater to the famed corner at Hollywood and Vine, closing a portion of the road for the morning.

Police officers on bicycles escorted the demonstrators past a farmers market, men hawking bottled water and tourists snapping photos of the places Hollywood has made famous.

The marchers, many of whom had children in tow, chanted "Strike a deal" and carried signs reading "Kiss and Make Up," "I Am Collateral Damage to the Labor Dispute," and "Settle I Can't Afford This."

Some, such as Laura Richarz, a set decorator for the CW sitcom "Everybody Hates Chris," have already started to cut back expenses. She no longer goes to Starbucks, thinks twice before going to the movies and says that when she goes to the grocery store, she buys things only on sale.

"Five months will kill me and a lot of other people," she said. "Nobody has that much money saved."

Richarz, who has been working in the industry for 30 years and was around for the last writers strike, said all she got from the strikes was debt.

Most participating in Sunday's march make significantly less money than writers and producers.

Writers and producers "have the resources to weather this thing, be it another month or another five months," said Will Alovis, a script supervisor for the CBS crime drama "CSI: Miami." "We're below-the-line crew; we don't have those resources."

Although many crew members supported the writers at the beginning of the strike, some said they were changing their minds. Alovis grumbled about writers' high salaries and about the various fundraisers to help the writers during the strike.

Sheri Wilson-Edwards, a payroll accountant on the CBS hit "CSI," said that she didn't think the writers' grievances were "strike-worthy."

As the strike continues, it affects more than just the thousands who are losing their jobs as productions shut down.

Many small businesses across town report they are starting to see fewer clients, and those that serve productions say their phones have stopped ringing.

Corrie Levelle, one of the many vendors at the rally Sunday, said she had laid off seven full-time staff members. Her company, Sandy Rose Floral, provides floral arrangements to television shows, and she still has to make payments on her office space and delivery vans even though the money has stopped coming in.

Now she has started counting down into the future, figuring out when she'll no longer be able to make the mortgage payments on her house. She says she faces bankruptcy if the strike lasts until summer.

"April would really be the end point for me," she said. "I wouldn't be able to recover."


NH teachers union nods to Republican hopeful

The New Hampshire chapter of the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers union, has endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mike Huckabee for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations respectively, sources said Wednesday.

This is the first time the 16,000-member group has endorsed a Republican candidate, despite estimates that a quarter of its members are Republicans.

The chapter's members will meet later this week to announce the Clinton endorsement. Leaders are trying to schedule another meeting to announce Huckabee's endorsement.

Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, was the only Republican candidate to speak at the national NEA meeting in Philadelphia in July. His campaign also courted the New Hampshire chapter, and he was the only GOP candidate to meet with chapter officials, a source with the New Hampshire union said.

The group's endorsement of Clinton is not a surprise. The executive director of the union, Terry Shumaker, is a former ambassador under President Bill Clinton and chaired his primary campaigns in 1992 and 1996.

Clinton, a New York senator, gave a speech to the group's conference in March and had strong support among the appointed government relations committee.

John Edwards' presidential campaign had actively sought the endorsement. Scott McGilvray, president of the Manchester Education Association, endorsed John Edwards recently. The Manchester chapter is union's the largest affiliate in the state, and Edwards' aides had hoped it would help sway the larger body.

The New Hampshire chapter endorsed former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in 2004.


Worker Freedom in Washington rates a C+

The State of Washington received a C+ in a national report card of worker freedom released this morning by the Alliance for Worker Freedom during a news conference at the National Press Club.

In a Foreward to the report, Evergreen Freedom Foundation President Bob Williams said, “Over the last year, union density declined in 31 states. Today only 12 percent of workers are members of a union, down from 35 percent in the 1950s. In private industries, only 7 percent of workers are unionized.”

With union growth essentially limited to the public sector, Williams said, “Unlike the private sector, the public sector operates according to a set of rules that does not include competition, efficiency, or scarcity. Government lacks competition. While private unionized industries are subject to the corrective forces of the market, there is little incentive for union negotiators to bear in mind the government’s bottom line.

“The emergence of these public-sector unions has serious consequences for the scope, cost, and size of government.” (page 6)

Only Utah, Colorado, Idaho and Mississippi received grades of A or A-. Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island rated an F.

The report card was based on ten criteria. Washington received four of a possible ten points; having a paycheck protection law, having defined contribution pensions, significant entrepreneurial activity and workers compensation rates. The state was marked down for having a high union density rate overall, its high rate of public sector unionization, the collective bargaining law for state employees, having a minimum wage above the federal level, continuing to use the “prevailing wage” in state construction projects and the lack of a right-to-work law.

“Washington lawmakers must seriously contemplate the type of labor environment they are creating and enact the proposed reforms to secure a higher degree of worker freedom,” the report said. (page 65)


State competition study spotlights labor-states

A record eight million Americans moved from one state to another last year. Where is everyone going, and why? The answer has little to do with climate: California has arguably the nicest climate of any state in the nation -- yet in this decade more Americans have left the Golden State than entered it.

Migration patterns instead reveal which states have the most dynamic and desirable economies, and which are "has-been" states. The winners in this contest for the most valuable resource on the globe - human capital - are generally the states with the lowest tax, spending and regulatory burdens. The biggest losers are almost all congregated in the Northeast and Midwest. Liberals contend that tax rates, regulations, forced union laws and runaway government spending don't matter when it comes to creating jobs, high incomes and a higher quality of life. People tell us otherwise by voting with their feet.

The American Legislative Exchange Council has just released a study we've done that presents a 2007 Economic Competitiveness Rating of the 50 states, based on 16 economic policy variables, including taxes, regulation, right to work, the legal system, educational freedom and government debt. Over the past decade, the 10 states with the highest taxes and spending, and the most intrusive regulations, have half the population and job growth, and one-third slower growth in incomes, than the 10 most economically free states. In 2006 alone 1,500 people each day moved to the states with the highest economic competitiveness from the states with the lowest competitiveness.

Of all the policy variables we examined, two stand out as perhaps the most important in attracting jobs and capital. The first is the income tax rate. States with the highest income tax rates - California and New York, for example - are significantly outperformed by the nine states with no income tax, such as Texas and Florida. As a study from the Atlanta Federal Reserve Board put it: "Relative marginal tax rates have a statistically significant negative relationship with relative state growth."

The other factor for attracting jobs and capital is right-to-work laws. States that permit workers to be compelled to join unions have much lower rates of employment growth than states that don't. Many companies say they will not even consider locating a factory in a state that does not have a right-to-work law.

Our study also finds that states with antigrowth tax and spending policies don't just lose people. Noncompetitive states like New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois and New Jersey are plagued by falling housing values, a shrinking tax base, business outmigration, capital flight and high unemployment rates, and less money for schools, roads and aging infrastructure. These factors of decline hurt the poor the most.

The Northeast is the classic case of a region suffering from self-inflicted wounds. In the year 2006, it was home to a smaller share of the U.S. population, and produced a smaller percentage of America's total value-added, than at any time in the nation's history. Why?

One big reason is that governments in the Northeast are about one-fifth more expensive than in the rest of America ($6,000 versus $5,000 of state spending per resident). An average-income family of four still saves $4,000 in lower income, property, sales taxes and fees by moving to just an average-tax state, and more like $6,000 a year by moving to, say, Florida. Since the Northeastern states tend to have highly progressive tax systems, the incentive to flee is even greater for higher-income earners.

Northeasterners complain disdainfully of the "war between the states" for jobs and businesses, and for good reason: They can't win. Southern and Western states are cherry-picking companies from the North Atlantic states. One Southern governor (who didn't want to be identified) recently told us his state had closed its economic development offices in Europe. "Why search for factories overseas when we can plunder high tax areas like Connecticut and New York?" he said.

Auto and other manufacturing jobs are still being created in America - but in Alabama, North Carolina and even Mississippi. It has to be infuriating to Northeasterners to learn that people and businesses are "trading up" by moving out of their region to the likes of Georgia and Alabama. But they are.

The states losing population are in effect suffering from a slow-motion version of the economic sclerosis that paralyzed much of Europe in the 1980s and '90s, particularly France and Germany with their massive welfare systems. At least the European socialist nations are finally starting to change their taxing and spending ways to win back jobs.

No such luck in this country. Five of the states near the bottom of our competitiveness ratings - Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and Wisconsin - have enacted major tax increases in the last two years. Maryland and Michigan just raised business and income taxes on upper-income earners, while arguing that raising the cost of doing business will attract more businesses. More likely it will induce companies to stay away, and people to move out.


Striking drivers drop the disabled for pickets

A union representing 1,500 drivers for the disabled and chronically ill said a strike was all but certain Monday after management refused to meet for round-the-clock negotiations.

The Para Transit Drivers and Mechanics of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181-1061 rejected a contract offer in the fall. Since then, the union said, management has turned down requests to resume talks.

"Rather than commit to collective bargaining, the bus companies have deliberately brought us to the picket line," said Tommy Mullins, a union vice president and trustee of the local.

The union said it was prepared to strike starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

The drivers work for four companies that contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the city's public bus and subway system. The MTA is not involved in the negotiations but is monitoring the situation.

Trips would continue to be scheduled, said Paul J. Fleuranges, a spokesman for the MTA's New York City Transit division. However, if there is a strike, transit officials will reassign trips and use other transportation providers and private ambulette carriers, particularly for serious medical trips such as dialysis treatment and chemotherapy, he said.

Some riders might qualify for taxi or car service vouchers, he said.


Police union-boss dues embezzlement kept in-house

Lake County (IN)'s police union is trying to oust the county's top law enforcement officer Sheriff Rogelio "Roy" Dominguez, from its ranks following a dispute over the alleged embezzlement of up to $24,000 from the union. In response to the union's actions, Dominguez said Friday that Fraternal Order of Police Anton Lodge 125 President Robert A. Klasner should resign for "dereliction of duty."

The war of words erupted over the handling of allegations that Lake County Sgt. Mitchell King embezzled as much as $24,000 while treasurer of the FOP, which represents hundreds of county police officers.

King was charged with theft by Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter based on the results of an investigation ordered by Dominguez, even though lodge attorney Michael Deppe sent Carter a letter urging the prosecutor not to file charges.

Dominguez then publicly accused FOP leaders of ignoring the union members' wishes. He said they voted unanimously in April to forward the King investigation to the prosecutor for charges.

Klasner and Deppe, however, said the union voted not to pursue charges, but rather to seek restitution from King. And they said all records pertaining to the investigation have been open for review by any lodge member during every regular union meeting.

After Dominguez said some FOP officials were trying to "cover up" the embezzlement scandal, Klasner sent Dominguez a letter Dec. 5 demanding an apology.

Klasner acknowledged Friday that it is the first step in trying to kick Dominguez out of the FOP.

"A lot of the membership ... are tired of being bullied around and intimidated," Klasner said. "It's got to stop. Just because he's the top guy doesn't mean he can run around and make accusations."

Dominguez said Klasner is an ally of former Sheriff John Buncich and is among a group of "political cops" who have made enemies with Dominguez because he won last year's hotly contested race for sheriff.

"The apology should be from Klasner. In fact, he should resign ... for dereliction of duty in carrying out the wishes of the FOP membership," Dominguez said. "He and others fail to see the difference between right and wrong."

Klasner said Dominguez is going to be invited to an upcoming FOP meeting to explain his "ridiculous, slanderous" comments about the King investigation.


Labor-state unions now come in all sizes

Another labor union could be coming to town, growing the number of organized workers in South Beloit (IL) by two. If Cindy King and Wanda Weston-Johnson, both of whom work the front desk in the Police Department, become part of the Teamsters, it will be the second labor union in town with only two members.

Unionizing wasn’t an option for them two years ago, but that changed when a state law went into effect that lowered the threshold of who could organize in local units of government.

Before 2005, governmental units needed 35 employees to unionize. Now the number is five. That change has been felt in some Rock River Valley towns like South Beloit where the police, the police sergeants and the police clerks have all decided to organize, and Roscoe, where police and public works employees have done the same.

“It really came down to fair and competitive wages,” South Beloit Police Sgt. Brad McCaslin said. He and Sgt. Adam Truman organized with the Illinois Council of Police. They don’t have their first contract yet, but McCaslin is hopeful it won’t take long.

“I would have preferred to have worked it out with the city and not have to have joined a union,” he said. “But the council didn’t want to deal with us like that. ... They wanted to keep it the same way it always was, with raises being whatever was left over.”

Taxpayers' money

“We opposed the bill when it came up. It just adds to the expense for the taxpayers,” said Larry Frang, executive director of the Illinois Municipal League.

Even if wages are taken off the table, he said, smaller cities and towns will likely spend thousands of dollars to hire specialized labor attorneys to help them through negotiations and other legal issues that arise with organized labor.

“We think it takes away the right of the elected officials to decide what the wages should be,” Frang said.

Aside from money, organized labor changes the way elected officials and municipal employees communicate.

The situation with Roscoe public works employee Mike Niedermeir is a case in point. The village wanted to fire Niedermeir after they say he tampered with the village time clock. The union countered that officials wanted to fire him because of his support for a union.

Niedermeir took a 60-day suspension, but the Teamsters Local 325 — which is working on a contract for the public works employees — filed an unfair labor practice against the village. The date for the hearing has yet to be set.

But the confrontation has left some feeling skittish.

“Everything’s in litigation. I just don’t feel I can comment right now,” said Doug Insko, a public works employee in Roscoe when asked why he wanted to be part of a union.

Teamsters 325 President Steven Lindquist and Secretary-treasurer Richard Thompson did not return calls left with their office.

Roscoe Village President Dave Krienke said he welcomes the union because it makes his budgeting easier.

“Look, right now we have the employee handbook. ... The union contract will be everything that’s in the employee handbook,” he said. “For wages, it actually helps me, because in the contract, I’ll know that these guys are going to get X percent (raises) for X amount of years.”

Growing influence
Norm Frese, president of the Illinois Council of Police, said the law has helped his decade-old organization expand its membership to roughly 600.

“About 25 percent of those are individuals who could not have been covered under the old law,” said Frese, who counts Truman and McCaslin as two of his newest members.

“Most of it is individuals seeking parity, especially in the suburbs. For police officers, a lot can change with the election of a new mayor or council, so a lot of them are looking for guarantees that their salaries won’t change, vacation time won’t change, with a change in the administration.”

John Brosnan, executive director of the Illinois Labor Relations Board, said the board doesn’t have any statistics on the number of workers who were able to take advantage of the changed law.

But, he said, it can sometimes be obvious.

“Usually, it’s a town I’ve never heard of until they come to us,” Brosnan said. “But I don’t usually hear of them unless a hearing is requested (for some labor disagreement).”

Defining jobs

The town of New Delavan in Tazwell County, population 1,825, was such a case. There, the city’s three police officers — the chief, a lieutenant and a patrol officer — wanted to organize.

The city argued that the chief couldn’t organize since he was a supervisor. Brosnan said under the statute, there are specific rules that make someone a supervisor and an investigation found that the chief wasn’t.

The short explanation, Brosnan said, was “the chief was essentially a patrol officer who worked the day shift, the lieutenant worked the afternoon and the patrol man worked overnights, it was a matter of seniority, not responsibility.”

So the board approved the union.

But the board would only be asked to approve or deny a union if there is a challenge to it by a governing authority.

That’s the stage where King’s and Weston-Johnson’s desire to organize under the Teamsters rests now.

“The council hasn’t made a decision whether to challenge the filing or not,” South Beloit Mayor Randy Kirichkow said.

He said he supports the right of the employees to unionize, but the city also encourages them not to. For example, in September the council approved raises of several thousand dollars to its public works employees so they wouldn’t unionize.

He said the city has already spent close to $100,000 on attorneys to help negotiate the police officers and police sergeants contracts, neither of which are completed.

“It won’t surprise me if there’s another union,” Kirichkow said. “I don’t know which department, but it wouldn’t surprise me.”

Municipal unions in smaller towns

Loves Park:
Police officers, organized with the Fraternal Order of Police since 1989
Streets and Water departments organized with the Union of Operating Engineers since 1996.

Machesney Park: No unions

Police contract pending with Fraternal Order of Police
Public Works Department contract pending with Teamsters union

Rockton: No unions

South Beloit:
Police officers contract pending
Police Sergeants contract pending with Illinois Council of Police
Dispatchers contract pending

Cherry Valley: No unions


Nurses reluctantly strike in Ohio

The registered nurses at Coshocton County Memorial Hospital begin striking today. Ten hours of talks Friday failed to yield a contract agreement.

CCMH administrator Greg Nowak said negotiators presented the hospital's final offer just before midnight, but the union did not accept it. "We did the best we could," Nowak said.

Ohio Nurses Association union local President Jackie Mason said picketing will begin at 7 a.m. "I have never done this and I don't like the idea," she said. "... We'd rather be there for our patients."

Nowak said the hospital has a plan in place to continue to offer the best care for its patients. The emergency room, operating rooms, fourth floor services and The Birthing Centre will remain open, he said.

The two parties have remained at odds over terms of a three-year contract that expires at midnight Saturday.

According to the ONA, the nurses offered a two-week contract extension in lieu of authorizing the strike, but the hospital refused the offer.

A union statement released Friday said the union offered to freeze wages for six months to provide time for the hospital to recover from any cash flow problems, which have been verified by an independent certified accountant. The statement said the union also offered overtime and pension concessions in exchange for an 18-month contract.

CCMH eliminated 23 positions earlier this year, citing sluggish financial performance the first half of 2007 as a need to cut back. The hospital is now the county's largest employer, with about 650 workers in 2006.

Details about what was in the final offer by the hospital have not yet been made available.

According to information provided by the ONA in a statement released Friday afternoon, the national average salary for an RN is $30.76 an hour. RNs in Columbus, which ranks fifth in the nation for RN salaries, average $33.48 an hour.

Under their current contract, registered nurses at CCMH start at $21.32 an hour and top out at $28.32 an hour only after 15 years of service.

No further meetings have been planned.


What a waste of union dues!

Having failed twice to stop the Daily News from publishing the names, positions and salaries of Department of Water and Power employees, the union representing them has dropped its lawsuit - and agreed to pay $17,213 for the Daily News legal fees. Case closed.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18's suit was always a meritless effort to intimidate the Daily News into not publishing information that the public clearly has the right to know.

Fortunately, the court rejected it. Unfortunately, IBEW workers' dues were wasted in the process. But then, they can probably afford it. As the Daily News documented, DWP workers earn an average of 20 percent more than other municipal employees doing the same work.

With the rest of L.A. city employees clamoring for - and ultimately getting - pay raises to bring their salaries more in line with those at the DWP, L.A. residents had a right to know how much they were paying, and for what.

And that right has been upheld - a victory for taxpayers, for openness in government, and for the public's right to know.


Indigent union-boss embezzler free on bond

The East Liverpool (OH) woman accused of embezzling $145,675 from Graphic Communications Workers International Union, Local 638-S and the Tri-State District Joint Council while employed as a union secretary-treasurer is free on $10,000 unsecured bond.

Betty A. Illig, 64, of St. Clair Avenue, appeared in federal court Friday for arraignment on charges of falsification of union records and embezzlement.

Illig entered a plea of innocent and Magistrate Judge George J. Limbert set the unsecured bond. Illig, declared indigent, is represented by Jacqueline A. Johnson, a federal public defender.

A federal grand jury in Cleveland indicted Illig last month. The time frame in the indictment is Jan. 4, 2000, through May 8, 2004.

The indictment alleges that Illig embezzled $145,675 for her own use from the East Liverpool labor unions and made false statements in reports and documents required to be filed with the Secretary of Labor, and falsely represented that the president of the labor organizations had approved the payments.

Vindicator files show Illig filed for bankruptcy in November 2000. She listed her profession as a camera person.


Chicago-area teachers prepared to strike

The Elgin Teachers Association could take a strike vote next week if no agreement is reached between the teachers' union and Elgin School District U46 at the next scheduled bargaining session, according to union leadership.

If a tentative agreement isn't reached after the final federally mediated session, scheduled for Tuesday, a secret ballot vote to "authorize the union's bargaining team to call a strike" will be taken on Friday at every school, said Tim Davis, ETA president.

The possible plan of action came after no agreement was reached at the first federally mediated session on Thursday. Teachers union leaders filed a 10-day intent-to-strike notice last week. State law requires that teacher unions give 10 days' notice and meet with a mediator before striking.

The major sticking points at the negotiation table are smaller class sizes and caseloads, according to Davis.

"We're trying to balance being fiscally responsible because we have an interest in U46 paying its bills," said Davis, "but we recognize the conditions teachers and students are working under."

"Yes, we want to reach an agreement," Davis continued. "But we also need to work on class size and caseload."

He said the union and the district are currently looking at a mix of immediate short-term and long-term options to alleviate the issues at hand.

"It wouldn't be my first choice," to be striking outside in the freezing cold, said Davis.

And it wouldn't be the district's either.

"The district remains cautiously optimistic that an agreement can be reached," said Pat Broncato, the district's chief legal officer and member of the district's bargaining team. "If an agreement is not reached, the board also has contingency plans in place to ensure that all constituents are aware of how the district will respond in the event of a strike."

The last time mediated sessions between the district and the union took place was November 1996. Both sides eventually agreed on a four-year contract.

If a tentative agreement is reached on Tuesday, it will be shared with union membership on Sunday, Dec. 16. The union would then vote on it Tuesday, Dec. 18, according to Davis.

A previous tentative agreement was rejected by teachers in mid-October.

If a strike vote were to be taken, the teachers union is required to give the school district at least five days notice before starting a walkout.


Newspaper Guild slaps sheet with ULP charge

The Dayton (OH) Newspaper Guild has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Dayton Daily News because it claims the company has failed to bargain in good faith with the union.

A press conference was held at 10:30 a.m. Friday in front of the Dayton Daily News Media Center at 1611 S. Main St.

The charge filed with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board claims the Dayton Daily News has refused to accept responses or counter proposals to a company offer, canceled previously scheduled negotiation dates, refused to meet with a federal mediator and communicated false information to union members, among other things.

Doug Franklin could not be reached for immediate comment but Cox Ohio Publishing released a statement regarding the contract negotiations.

The publishing company said it made its best and final offer to the guild at a meeting Thursday. The offer, which is identical to the offer made in talks with the union Nov. 27, includes pay raises and/or bonuses for the employees the guild represents at the Dayton Daily News.

"The guild so far has refused to let employees vote on the offer," according to a press release. "The company will continue to fulfill its duty to meet and bargain in good faith as so soon as there is legitimate reason to resume negotiations."

Scott Elliott, reporter at the Dayton Daily News and a member of the Guild's bargaining team, said editorial workers want a contract and they have already offered $1 million in concessions.

"This is wrong, the guild did not reject the company's latest proposal," Elliott said. "In fact we told the company's negotiators we were going to evaluate all of our options and they said they would wait to hear from us. Within minutes, the company broadcast false claims."

Elliott said after yesterday the guild had no choice but to go public with its issues because the company is not taking legal actions.

"A strike is not imminent. The decision is up to the Guild members, but all options are open," he said.

The guild and the Dayton Daily News have been operating under a contract signed in 1986 and minimum base pay has not increased for 14 years.

Contract negotiation have be ongoing for a year and unresolved issues include:

* the company's desire to freeze wages in a time of strong profit;
* denying part-time workers affordable health care; and
* fair arbitration.

Elliott said the union would like the company to return to the bargaining table and bargain fairly and in good faith.

The current highest minimum salary for Dayton Daily News employees is $735. If someone has five years of experience they can't make less than that. However, the problem lies in the company wanting to red-line or cap maximum salaries for one third of the employees.

Elliott also said the part-time workers deserve an affordable health care plan which is currently not offered to them.

Currently, part-time workers are only offered an HMO plan, which is more expensive than a traditional health-care package. Out of 25 part-time employees, only two have the health care.

"The newspaper's editorial board has a long history of sticking up for working people," Elliott said. "The Dayton Daily News needs to practice what it preaches."

The guild will hold an informational picket Dec. 14 from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. outside of the Dayton Daily News office.

The guild represents 147 reporters, copy editors, photographers, online workers, artists and editorial assistants. The Newspaper Guild is a sector of Communication Workers of America.


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