Oil giant in union-only deal for $30B Alaska project

ConocoPhillips has submitted a proposal for a gas pipeline to the state of Alaska that is outside of Gov. Sarah Palin's pipeline solicitation process.

In a plan sent to Palin Nov. 30, ConocoPhillips said it proposes to build a 48-inch high-pressure natural gas pipeline from the North Slope to Alberta, with an option to build a new pipeline segment from Alberta to Chicago.

Cost of the project is estimated at approximately $30 billion. ConocoPhillips said it will seek partners for the project, including independent pipeline companies. Bechtel Corp. is providing engineering and technical support through initial phases of the project, the company said.

The proposal was made outside a solicitation process the state initiated under the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act, or AGIA, which is a state law that grants incentives for projects that meet certain criteria.

“Our proposal is an alternative to AGIA and outside of that process,” said Brian Wenzel, ConocoPhillips' vice president for Alaska North Slope development.

Other proposals received Nov. 30 were under the AGIA solicitation.

A key difference between what ConocoPhillips is proposing and what the state seeks is a set of special fiscal terms to be negotiated for the project.

“We believe it is critically important to define a framework for gas fiscal terms now such that we can complete a successful open season in 2010,” ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva said in a letter to Palin that accompanied the proposal. “ConocoPhillips is prepared to work directly with the state to develop a fiscal framework to make this project a success.”

The Alaska Gasline Inducement Act allows a 10-year reduction of state production taxes on gas committed to a project licensed under the act, but ConocoPhillips is seeking a broader agreement on taxes and other terms.

The proposal is different than one made last year, when ConocoPhillips, BP and Exxon Mobil made a joint proposal to then-Gov. Frank Murkowski seeking a long-term freeze on crude oil as well as gas taxes. ConocoPhillips' current proposal refers only to fiscal term on gas.

The tax terms on oil as well as gas in the previous proposal were accepted by Murkowski but rejected by the state Legislature.

ConocoPhillips also proposed negotiating a project labor agreement with Alaska labor unions before project construction, another departure from the plan put forth by the three companies in 2006. This will be important in gaining political support in Alaska.

The proposal also involves a commitment to a non-binding solicitation of interest by the end of 2009 and a binding open season in 2010.

ConocoPhillips will still need the other North Slope gas owners, BP and Exxon Mobil, to support its initiative. North Slope gas owned by the other two companies is needed for the project, and since most of the gas will come from the Prudhoe Bay field, BP and Exxon Mobil will have to agree to a gas and oil depletion plan for the field.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will have to approve a plan to withdraw gas that minimizes loss of oil production from the reservoir, commission chairman John Norman said Nov. 29.

Another problem that faces the Alaska gas project is that the ownership of leases in the Point Thomson gas field east of Prudhoe Bay is still in dispute. The state is seeking to reclaim the leases from the major owners of Exxon Mobil, BP and Chevron in a dispute over work obligations. The issue is in court but it means that the legal status of 8 trillion cubic feet of gas, a major part of the 35 tcf of gas reserves needed for the project, is unclear.

State revenue Commissioner Pat Galvin said earlier that the state would consider proposals made outside the AGIA process, but that priority will be given to proposals that the state receives under the solicitation and meets the state's requirements.

“We're committed to the AGIA process,” Galvin said. “AGIA is the law of the land for gas pipeline proposal evaluation, and defines the interests of the state for gas commercialization projects. There will be an extensive evaluation of each AGIA compliant application. That will be our area of focus. Proposals that come in outside the AGIA process will be looked at in the normal course of business.”

Efforts have been underway for decades to build a pipeline to bring North Slope gas to market. North Slope proven reserves re estimated at 35 tcf, but industry and government geologists believe there are substantial undiscovered gas resources.


Force majeure ax to fall on striking entertainers

As the writers strike hits the six-week mark on Monday, the ramifications for the TV biz are growing by the hour.

Starting next week, the force majeure ax may begin to fall on various talent deals at the major studios. Industry insiders say some of the nonwriting producer deals and nonwriting "pod" deals that have proliferated during the past decade could be vulnerable, particularly for those with a mixed track record of delivering successes to their studio partners.

(Many contracts use the six-week mark for allowing termination of a deal under provisions of force majeure, or a disruptive event that prevents both sides adhering to the terms of the contract, but the length of time can vary significantly depending on the deal.)

Decisions on who gets cut will be made on a case-by-case basis, and they are unlikely to come in one big wave. Each of the six majors has different needs and strike contingency plans. Some may decide to trigger the option that allows studios to extend deals by the number of months the strike lasted. "There will be terminations," a studio chief said. "We just don't know when."

In the short term, networks and studios are scrambling to get through the rest of this season with replacements for scripted skeins that will be out of commission for the foreseeable future. The immediate question with which netheads are wrestling is what to do with this season's new crop of shows. Some promising newcomers have already secured full-season renewals. Those orders can be rescinded, given that episodes can't be delivered in accordance with the contract, though few believe it will come to that.

"I don't think you'll see networks and studios fighting over contractual issues," a TV studio topper said. "We'll work something out."

Other short-term strike causalities to date have included industry traditions, such as the winter Television Critics Assn. press tour, that the congloms have been seeking a way out of for years. None of the major broadcasters had wanted to risk alienating TV journos by being the first to pull out of the tour, until the strike spurred NBC to make the move last month.

The elaborate network upfront presentation ceremonies held in Gotham in mid-May will likely be scrapped next year as a result of the strike, with no tears shed by net execs eager to save the $3 million-$5 million cost of the putting on the dog-and-pony shows. NBC has already said it will forgo its traditional upfront presentation at Radio City Music Hall next year.

The uncertainties caused by the strike could also influence the more important aspect of the upfront -- the wheeling and dealing of booking commitments for the 2008-09 season -- though from Madison Avenue's point of view, the effect could be positive.

"There's no reason a lack of new shows should interfere with the upfront per se," said Steve Sternberg, exec veep at media buying giant MagnaGlobal. "You buy in the upfront to get guarantees, get lower CPMs and secure the best inventory. With no new shows, it will remove some of the urgency. It will also make the process easier if we only have to project the performance of returning series."

As for the long term, Hollywood insiders are abuzz with talk that the primetime biz will never be the same even after the strike inevitably ends.

"We've all been looking at where the business is going and thinking about what we need to do to keep this a viable business," said one top TV exec at an AMPTP conglom. "The strike has just accelerated those efforts."

In the words of another network topper: "As hard as it is to see all the human misery that is coming from this strike … there is as much opportunity here as there is detriment."

Barring a miracle breakthrough between the WGA and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, it already appears that pilot season for the 2008-09 season will be scaled back dramatically, if not tabled altogether.

Going forward, industryites say the forced interruption of pilot season could be what spurs the biz to shift to year-round development instead of the chaotic process in which each net shoots 15-20 pilots during the January-April period. That could also spur networks to break from the tradition of the fall launch in favor of a gradual rollout of shows throughout the year, though skeptics point to Fox's limited success with its big push a few years back (and since largely abandoned) to move to a year-round development and skedding cycle.

With pilot season like to be off track, some say that next year returning skeins might debut in late August or early September, and new shows bowing throughout the year.

"When everyone tries to launch 30 new shows in a week in the fall, we end up screaming in the wind," one suit said. "We spend $200 million collectively in off-air media to get the word out, and we have to change that."

Even before the strike, Fox was planning to air original episodes of existing shows like "24" in June, part of a plan to extend the season beyond the traditional September-May confines. Depending on when a strike is settled, leftover episodes of shows (assuming they're produced) may well air in the summer months.

The head honcho of a conglom that includes a Big Four network said Wednesday that the net's annual budget for scripted pilot fare could be pared by double digits next year and beyond. Many point to the cable model of doing fewer pilots overall and devoting more time and energy to each one.

Some say that talk of draconian post-strike changes to the development process is heat-of-the-moment thinking and that the biz will settle back to its usual rhythms once the tremors caused by the strike subside. Others say it's an opportunity to make long-overdue changes to a biz that hasn't changed how it operates in decades.

"One good thing that may come out of this is that it could change the development process," said Fred Silverman, producer and former programming prexy of CBS, ABC and NBC. "The business is kind of stumbling into a year-round development process. To have one time of year where everyone is vying for the same pool of talent is insane."

Pilot costs for broadcast nets will also be reduced as networks move toward shorter presentations -- or even decide simply to go straight to series. While series commitments cost more initially, nets save millions by not having to waste money on building new sets and on other costs associated with pilots.

"A couple years ago, a pilot cost $2 million-$3 million. Now people expect it to be up to $7 million. That's insane," one insider said.

NBC has two or three projects going directly to series (including "Robinson Crusoe"), while CBS gave a series order to "Eleventh Hour."

One studio prexy said the strike will force a fiscal discipline long discussed in Hollywood but never implemented.

"We're going to lose a number of episodes this season, which means we won't be able to amortize the costs of these episodes," the suit said, noting that if the strike goes on long enough, studios will lose millions in DVD and international revenue.

"We're never going to get that money back, so we're going to have to demand that the shows make it up (next season)."

If pilot orders are downsized in a dramatic, permanent way, it will, of course, result in fewer opportunities for scribes to secure pilot script commissions, which bring higher fees for writers than penning a script for an existing skein. There's also chatter of studios moving to reduce the overhead carried on scripted shows by insisting that showrunners cut back on the number of writer-producers on staff and use more freelancers for individual episodes.

"The biggest irony of the strike is that when it ends, the writers are going to come back to fewer scripted shows. No matter what, reality programs are going to replace (many of) these scripted shows," the conglom honcho said. "The biggest issue here is that the Writers Guild does not understand how much is broken about the system they're used to working in."

Studio execs also predict they'll make far fewer overall term deals with writers and producers -- a process that had already begun but will be hastened by the economic jolt of the lengthy work stoppage.

"Overall deals are a really bad business," exec said. "They make sense when they're attached to someone who's producing a hit show… But is it worth spending all this money for two or three scripts?

"This is a great opportunity to come up with a business model that makes television healthier."

Industry vets point to the end of the last WGA strike in 1988 as one reason for the proliferation of staff writer-producers on shows. By the time the five-month work stoppage ended in August 1988, producers were in such a scramble to get fresh episodes on by year's end that they beefed up their staffs to work round the clock, recalls Tom Wertheimer, a former top Universal TV exec who was heavily involved in the 1988 strike negotiations.

"The hyphenate (writer-producers) benefited greatly from it and got paid more, but the freelance market almost disappeared," Wertheimer said.


Labor-state Dems endorse anti-democratic, no-vote unionism

The four candidates running for the DFL nomination to the U.S. Senate all back the Employee Free Choice Act and said Congress needs to go even farther to protect worker rights.

Candidates Mike Ciresi, Jim Cohen, Al Franken and Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer discussed the importance of a unions at a forum sponsored Nov. 14 by the Southeast Area Labor Council.

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved EFCA, which would make it easier for workers to organize unions and bargain contracts. But the legislation did not even come up for a vote in the Senate. Incumbent Republican Norm Coleman was a key player in stopping EFCA from moving forward.

Coleman has a 24 percent voting record on union officials' issues in his first term in the Senate, the national AFL-CIO reports.

Replacing Coleman with a pro-worker senator would make a huge difference, the four candidates said. All said they would work to immediately get the Senate to pass the so-called Employee Free Choice Act.

Currently, thousands of Americans are fired or illegally disciplined every year for trying to join unions, a situation Cohen described as "scandalous."

"Workers are coerced. Workers are being prevented from becoming members of unions," he said. In addition, only about a third of those who organize unions are able to get a contract because of further employer opposition, he noted.

Franken is a member of four entertainment-industry unions – Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA, Writers Guild and Directors Guild.

"I know how important it is to be able to organize," he said. "I know the kind of intimidation that is put on workers."

But passage of EFCA should just be a first step, he said. Congress should pass legislation overturning the recent National Labor Relations Board ruling, known as "Kentucky River," that deprived many workers of the right to join unions by classifying them as supervisors.

"We need to get a new NLRB and one that is with pro-labor members," Franken said.

Ciresi said, "I have represented all kinds of unions over the course of my career. I've fought to create a level playing field. That's what we need to do."

In addition to addressing bad rulings by the NLRB, the Senate needs to exert greater oversight over the selection of federal judges who "make profoundly important decisions" on workplace issues, he said.

Nelson-Pallmeyer said, ". . . even if we pass EFCA, we'd better be very vigilant, because we've seen what a right-wing president has done to the National Labor Relations Board. He's turned what should be a pro-workers group into an anti-labor group."

Congress needs to pass legislation barring corporations from using bankruptcy "to break unions and steal pensions," he said.

"If we want to rebuild the middle class, we better rebuild the union movement . . ."


Governator working hand in glove with unions

Rarely do I find myself wishing the best for a journalistic competitor. But I'm hoping that an early obituary on California health care reform, run inside the B section of last Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle, ends up being spot-on.

That's because if legislating is akin to making sausage, the ongoing health care reform negotiations among Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Democratic state legislators, labor unions, insurance companies, business lobbyists, and other Sacramento meat-packing types seemed poised to produce a legislative version of unappetizing chopped offal.

A power struggle inside the California state council of the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU) seems to hint at just how far negotiations may have drifted away from the goal of obtaining quality, affordable healthcare for all Californians, and toward an unappetizing mishmash of special-interest sops.

Longtime San Francisco Democratic activist Sal Rosselli, head of the 140,000-member UHW West SEIU, the union's northern California health care industry local, announced last week that he'd leave his post as president of SEIU's state council as a result of what he characterized as an internal palace coup over the issue of health care reform. Rosselli has recently clashed with national SEIU boss Andy Stern over how far the union should go in pursuing Stern's preferred strategy of appeasing industry groups in exchange for allowing the unions to add new members more easily.

Rosselli earlier this year came under fire for opposing a Stern-backed deal, whereby the SEIU could add members at certain nursing home chains as long as the union agreed to give away rights such as the ability to complain to regulators when nursing home practices endangered patients' health.

In the current scuffle, Rosselli has locked horns with Stern's California proxy, Tyrone Freeman, head of the SEIU's Southern California–based United Long Term Care Workers' Union, over whether or not to support Schwarzenegger's version of health care reform — a version critics call a concession to insurance companies and other industry groups.

The two union rivals last week waged a public battle of words on a Sacramento Bee politics blog, in the form of dueling public letters to Stern. In the letters, Rosselli staked out a position from the left opposing a Schwarzenegger proposal that critics say does more to preserve insurance and pharmaceutical companies' profits than to provide universal health care to poor Californians. Freeman, meanwhile, argued for supporting Schwarzenegger's proposal in the name of "pragmatism" — without specifying what the ultimate pragmatic payoff would be.

Health care reform, Rosselli wrote last Monday, should include "a definition of the basic benefits that people must receive at a price they can afford ... benefits that should include doctors' visits, preventative care, hospitalization, and prescription drugs ... cost controls which include bulk purchasing of prescription drugs, a public insurer to compete with private insurance, preventative medicine, and more information on cost and quality," thus outlining objections liberal groups have voiced against Schwarzenegger's proposal for a $14 billion health care reform package.

The next day, Freeman fired back, touting his boss's famed strategy of cutting deals with, rather than confronting, industry groups.

"SEIU International has rightly recognized that old methods and tactics don't work — that we are facing a new day that requires, not compromise, but a different type of dialogue, where approaches are no longer strictly adversarial, but, in contrast, seek to find common ground. This isn't acquiescence, it's pragmatism, and it's the road to opening doors, where for years they've been closed," Freeman wrote.

Left missing from this airing of internal SEIU dirty laundry was an answer to the question of what exactly is inside the "door-opening pragmatism" that Stern and Schwarzenegger have apparently agreed to.

Union insiders, however, have told me an answer may lie inside what would seem to be an unrelated piece of legislation Schwarzenegger vetoed in October. Assembly Bill 1164 would have allowed SEIU to bring into its membership rolls some 100,000 Californians who operate day-care services for children from their homes, by setting up a state government bargaining entity.

"You start following the bread crumbs, and knowing how the governor wants a health care plan, and how much the SEIU wants to get its tentacles into the child-care arena, and it all just made sense," said a lobbyist who had opposed the SEIU's child-care bill.

Dan Reeves, chief of staff to Assembly member Kevin De Leon, the SEIU child-care bill's chief sponsor, said a version of the bill will likely be reintroduced next spring.

So if the governor and Sacramento Democrats somehow pull a health care– reform rabbit out of the hat during the next couple of weeks — bolstered by SEIU backing of Schwarzenegger's proposals — organized-labor insiders tell me they'll be on the lookout for a possible governor's signature on a bill next spring to add 100,000 child care workers to union rolls.

Would the SEIU really trade away the chance for meaningful California health care reform in exchange for more union members?

In sausage-factory Sacramento, it's possible.


UAW down for the count in decert vote

Union members who used to make trumpets and trombones in Elkhart (IN) are hoping arguments made in a courtroom this week will resonate with federal officials.

Members of United Auto Workers Local 364 have been on strike at Conn-Selmer's Vincent Bach musical instrument factory in Elkhart since April 1, 2006.

On Tuesday, attorneys for the union and for Conn-Selmer sat down to determine the outcome of a Nov. 7 vote to decertify the union, a move that would end its representation inside the plant.

At issue are 144 ballots, which company officials challenged during the election, on the grounds that the union members casting those ballots have been permanently replaced or are otherwise ineligible to vote.

The hearing, in front of National Labor Relations Board hearing officer Rebekah Ramirez, is the last bit of legal wrangling left to do in the strike.

Witnesses testified Tuesday to minute details of the strike -- how records were kept, who crossed the picket line, who resigned, who's been laid off and whether some 100 replacement workers were really permanent.

Attorneys could continue calling witnesses and introducing evidence until Thursday.

That's when Ramirez will issue an opinion as to which of the 144 ballots are valid, and which are not. Her opinion becomes a recommendation to NLRB headquarters in Washington, D.C., where the final decision will be made.

The bad ballots will be tossed out, the good ones will be counted and the final outcome of the election will be determined.

If the final vote goes in favor of the company, the union ceases to represent the workers and the strike is over.

Should the final vote go the other way, the strike continues and this week's hearing becomes one more chapter in the lengthy tome this strike has become.

"It's going to be tough," said Connie Sanders, financial secretary for UAW Local 364. "I'm staying patient."

Larry Knight, human resources director for Conn-Selmer, declined to comment. But Conn-Selmer attorney Larry Hall said Tuesday he would be "astounded" if arguments wrapped up today.


Ohio Scores Low on Worker Freedom

The Alliance for Worker Freedom just released a study ranking states on how much freedom workers in those states have. Ohio scored pretty low. From the report:
Ohio received an [Index of Worker Freedom] score of two out of 10, earning the state a “C-” grade. With a minimum wage of one dollar higher than the federal level, and an entrepreneurial average below the national average, Ohio must seek to create a more business friendly climate and worker protection legislation is the start.

With the last state to adopt right to work legislation being Oklahoma in 2001, Ohio should seek to complement its paycheck protection legislation with right to work laws. This will grant the privilege to the employee to say “no” to become part of an organized labor body. Additionally, if the employee does decide to join a union, and because of right to work laws does so of his own fruition, they know that their dues will not be used for political contributions.

Ohio, having a public sector union membership of almost 44 percent, should be commended for offering defined contribution pensions. While this is positive for workers and the economy, having Depression-era Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws and closed collective bargaining session are most certainly detrimental for worker freedom. Ohio should seek to repeal their collective bargaining sessions, or at least, all sessions should remain open to the public.

By working on these variables, as well as others, Ohio should move toward a higher level of worker freedom, and see positive aspects in other sectors of society as a result.

Union members want out, union fights decert

After 17 years on the payroll at Hillside Manor Nursing Home in Missoula, Kari Hoffman still relies on public welfare programs to help pay the rent each month. The soft-spoken, single mother of three says the work of a certified nursing assistant (CNA) may be intimate, exhausting and largely thankless, but it’s important, and she says she cares for Hillside’s elderly residents like they’re family.

More than two years ago, Montana legislators tried to boost wages for Hoffman, who’s president of the UNITE HERE! Local 427 union that represents Hillside workers, and other nursing home workers across the state by approving a publicly funded raise. At the time, they said the low pay nursing home workers receive—in 2006, Montana nursing assistants earned an average of $9.55 an hour, or under $20,000 a year—wasn’t enough to keep quality workers in crucial positions. But it didn’t occur to them that a nursing home operator might simply pocket the money. Now, an ongoing dispute between Hillside Manor and its employee union has local community leaders such as Sen. Greg Lind disparaging Hillside managers as “unethical and repugnant” for pinching public money intended for its workers.

On Dec. 19, a long-escalating clash between the management and union of Hillside Manor should come to a head, when employees at the nursing home on Missoula’s south side will vote whether to keep or dissolve the union that’s represented employees there for the last 20 years. Federal labor officials already overturned a June 8 election that was supposed to settle the Hillside union’s future, after determining that managers interfered with the election by engaging in “objectionable conduct.” Additionally, union members say the attempts to dissolve the Hillside union—a process known as decertification—reveal a broader management scheme to dismantle the union. Besides the decertification elections, union members point to a confidential handbook, recently obtained by the Independent, which coaches managers in union-breaking tactics. Starla Horwath, executive director of Hillside, refused to comment for this story, and two attorneys for the nursing home did not respond to repeated requests for comment; however, public legal documents filed on Hillside’s behalf characterize the nursing home’s response.

Sen. Lind’s goal when he introduced the Direct Care Worker Wage Increase Law was simple: He wanted to help nursing homes pay their workers more, so with Sen. John Cobb, R-Augusta, he co-sponsored an optional state-funded raise during the 2005 legislative session. It gave nursing homes an extra $1 per hour for each employee, with 75 cents intended for direct wage increases and 25 cents for benefits, in the hopes that it would help nursing homes retain workers.

“When employers can’t attract and maintain workers, the turnover isn’t good for the residents or anyone else involved,” Lind says.

The wage enhancement program went smoothly in every instance except one. At Hillside, managers gave employees the publicly funded raise, but in May 2006 when a previously negotiated raise of 35 cents per hour (and 15 cents per hour for newly hired employees) was slated to go into effect, management claimed it had already paid the raise and that it wouldn’t make further increases. Thus, the nursing home used taxpayer money to pay a wage increase it had negotiated long before the state wage add-on existed. And the boost that legislators had intended to give to underpaid workers instead went to the managers of a for-profit company.

“It was very frustrating for myself and other subcommittee members to work hard to do the right thing for some of the most vulnerable people in the state, and folks doing some of the toughest work for the lowest wages, and to have [public money] instead used for corporate enrichment rather than the benefit of the residents and workers,” Lind says. “It was just very frustrating for all of us.”

The union drummed up public support in an attempt to pressure Hillside, but didn’t get anywhere for months. At a June 2006 rally outside the nursing home, Hoffman says, local community leaders turned out to convince management to change its mind, but didn’t succeed. During the 2007 legislative session, Lind sponsored an amendment known to many as the “Hillside Amendment” that specifically forbade what the nursing home had done. Matt Thiel, the attorney for Local 427 who helped draft the amendment, says it spelled out what lawmakers had intended all along.

“If legislators say we want these lower-paid employees to get a dollar an hour, they should actually get that,” he says. “[Nursing homes] shouldn’t make money off of it, because it’s taxpayer money.”

After months of unsuccessfully pressuring Hillside, the union filed a grievance and William Corbett, a University of Montana law professor, arbitrated the dispute and ruled in the union’s favor. He explicitly rejected Hillside’s argument that it could apply public money to its private obligations, and in a written ruling ordered the nursing home to implement its raise retroactively plus pay interest. A union representative for Hillside workers, Mark Anderlik, says the payments totaled more than $19,000 in back pay and interest.

Hoffman says she has little sympathy for Hillside’s attempts to use public money to cut its own costs. The small 35-cent raise that Hillside fought so hard against may only total about $14 a week, but it’s money direly needed by employees already struggling to survive. In contrast, she says, Hillside’s parent
company only stood to enlarge its profit margin.

“They’re an out-of-state corporation that owns all kinds of businesses and just wants more money for [its] pockets,” she says.

The Goodman Group, a Minnesota-based company, owns three of the four nursing homes in Missoula, including Hillside, the Village Health Care Center and Riverside Health Care Center, though Hillside is the only unionized workplace. (It does not own Evergreen Health Care Center, the Missoula nursing home that just made it onto a federal list of the nation’s 54 worst nursing homes.) All told, according to its website, the Goodman Group owns 29 nursing homes and senior facilities in seven states, along with apartment complexes, a travel company, a line of herbal products and a full-service spa.

While the dispute over the state wage add-on wound its way through the arbitration process, an effort to get rid of the Hillside union altogether took shape. Employees representing 30 percent of the Hillside union filed a decertification petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which oversees complaints and elections concerning federal labor laws. In a decertification election, says Richard Ahearn, regional director at the NLRB’s Seattle office, all employees in the union’s bargaining unit cast a secret ballot to decide whether to retain the union as their liaison with their employer, or to dissolve the union.

Employees voted 23-15 against the union on July 18, just five days before Arbitrator Corbett ordered that employees were entitled to receive raises and back pay from Hillside. But a week later, Local 427 objected to the election on five points, arguing that Hillside management had improperly affected the election outcome by monitoring workers while they voted, making promises that pay would improve without the union presence, coercing employee votes and misrepresenting the ongoing issue of the state wage add-on. Hillside management rebutted each of the union’s complaints, maintaining that the union couldn’t prove its complaints well enough to overturn the election.

In October a NLRB judge ordered the election to be set aside. Although most of the union’s complaints failed, the judge found that a Hillside manager had escorted several employees to the voting booth and waited for them to cast their ballot before walking them back to their workstations. He wrote in his decision that the impact was “sufficient to have materially affected the outcome of the election,” and consequently concluded that Hillside Manor “engaged in objectionable conduct warranting that the election be set aside.”

The decision to overturn the election speaks volumes about the conduct of Hillside’s management, says Thiel, Local 427’s attorney, explaining that it’s very difficult to get a vote set aside.

“I’ve never seen election conduct like this in my 20 years of being involved with unions,” he says. I think the conduct of escorting employees to the voting booth and waiting for them to vote is just so egregious.”

With the next election scheduled for Dec. 19, Hoffman and Anderlik say the union has a better chance of winning now that an objective third party—the arbitrator—ruled that Hillside wrongly withheld a raise from its employees. And while the wage issue may be settled, they say it’s a crucial example of the union’s value to its employees.

“If there was no union, people would not have seen that wage increase and the Goodman Group would still be pocketing that money from the state,” says Anderlik. “There’s no question about it.”

While Hillside managers or lawyers would not comment for this story, to some extent, its actions and arguments reflected in public legal documents serve to elucidate its positions. Anderlik says a confidential handbook produced for the Goodman Group that recently showed up unexpectedly in the union office illustrates the company’s anti-union sentiments. The handbook, which was prepared this summer by one of the nation’s largest firms specializing in labor and employment law, details ways that managers at Hillside can legally undermine the union.

“It is Goodman Group’s goal to become union free,” the handbook says in its introduction. “We have dealt with unions and do not see how union representation has helped our employees or improved patient care.”

The handbook directs managers to encourage anti-union attitudes at Hillside. “Unfortunately, ‘preventative unionism’ is as much a part of your job as providing good health care service,” it says. “As a supervisor, there are many things you can do that will substantially increase the possibility of union decertification at your facility and place you in the best possible position to help defeat the union.” It goes on to explain how supervisors should counter union recruitment tactics by reminding employees that unionization doesn’t mean they’ll get better wages or benefits and that they might lose their jobs in the event of a union strike.

Anderlik recognizes that employers have the right to resist unions, but says its attention to the issue shows that it’s threatened by a union that advocates strongly for its workers. He’s publicized the handbook as part of the union’s campaign for the Dec. 19 election, and says it will help the union cause: “A lot of the workers at Hillside see they’re spending so much money on lawyers. How much of that money could they use for wage increases or providing better care for the residents?” he asks.

For Hoffman, one of the longest-serving employees at Hillside, the handbook exemplifies the increasing aggression of the management toward its employees. “There have always been conflicts between management and the union, but I think it’s more so than in the past,” she says. “They’re more into union-busting activities than they used to be.”

Born in Butte to a teamster at the Anaconda Company, Hoffman’s support for unions runs deep. But Hoffman says it’s her recent experiences with Hillside that have really shown her why struggling workers like herself need the union.

“We care for our residents like they’re family, but we also have our own families we have to look out for and support at home,” Hoffman says. “And because of the union, we have more of a voice so that we can be heard.”


Labor-state officials ignore barbaric union violence

The owner of a Loudon County plant whose workers were on strike for eight months earlier this year is offering a $25,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of those responsible for strike-related vandalism and violence.

"Apparently some people who used to be normal citizens have turned barbaric. This is a danger to the community," said Kenneth Banks, owner of Maremont Exhaust Products in Loudon. Maremont General Manager Tim Sayers, comparing the violence to "almost like in Detroit," said there has been a decade worth of crime committed just this year resulting from the strike.

Additionally, Banks is not happy with the help he's received from local elected officials and law enforcement agencies. "I'm just amazed at the elected officials and police departments because they (strikers) are local people, will look the other way," Banks said.

Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp disagreed, saying he's seen no evidence of partiality toward striking workers. "I don't know what else I could have done. I've listened to both sides. It's just an unfortunate thing we had the strike," Arp said. Arp also pointed out that the incidents occurred within various jurisdictions in the county, and at least one incident occurred in adjoining Monroe County, which put investigations into the hands of different agencies.

In February, 227 union members went on strike, primarily over significant increases in employee costs for health insurance.

In early spring, the company permanently replaced about 150 of the striking workers.

After the strike began, there were reports of vehicle windows being broken in drive-by shootings, a fire set at an employee's house, an electrical transformer shot by a high-powered rifle, a bomb scare at the plant, tires being slashed, and rocks thrown at individuals and vehicles.

Last month, the Monroe County home of a Maremont employee was vandalized. That employee crossed the picket line and backed the dissolving of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Local 2545. In October, the National Labor Relations Board effectively dissolved the union after workers and strikers voted 223 to 141 to decertify the union.

Maremont, which is owned by International Muffler Co. of Schulenburg, Texas, produces automotive exhaust components, including heavy-duty mufflers and catalytic converters.

In an interview Wendesday, Banks and Sayers said they were offering the reward to try to bring an end to the vandalism and violence.

"This is a small town. Everybody here knows everybody and there's not a lot of secrets here. You hear things," Sayers said.

He said they are sure the incidents were committed by local residents, but Arp speculated it was outside union support.

Sayers said he's been talking with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and noted they "are starting to become engaged" in the investigation into the crime and violence.

Arp said it is time for the community to move on, especially after the vote to abolish the union.

"People out there have spoken and we need to abide by that," Arp said.


Teamster-insider Clinton-crony now a liability

Bill Clinton has severed business ties with Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle, fearful that their deals could erupt into bad publicity damaging his wife's presidential bid, according to sources who know both men.

The break-up is a major development in the world of political fundraising, where Burkle has risen to the top ranks, credited with channeling $50 million or more into Democratic coffers over the past 15 years.

Burkle was one of Clinton's chief fundraisers while he was in the White House, a position that earned him a place on the Lincoln Bedroom guest list. After Clinton left the White House, Burkle brought the former president on board as a senior adviser at his investment firm, The Yucaipa Companies.

Now however, the relationship has apparently changed.

A source in Burkle's firm, who declined to speak for attribution, said: "When we are ready to announce the president's departure, we will announce his departure." The source contended there is no strain in the personal relationship between Burkle and Bill Clinton. He noted that if Hillary Clinton is elected president, Bill Clinton will have to divest himself of potential conflicts of interest.

Sources outside of Yucaipa independently confirmed the president's split with the company.

In an email, Clinton aide Douglas J. Band initially did not address the status of Clinton's investment in Burke's firm. Instead, Band wrote:

President Clinton and Ron are long-time friends and their relationship hasn't changed. President Clinton values his friendship with Ron as he has for almost 15 years.

Pressed for elaboration, Band then replied:

As President Clinton said this summer, he anticipates continuing his business relationships as long as they permit him to devote time to his highest priorities - the work of his foundation and supporting his wife's candidacy. He of course is taking steps now to ensure that should she receive the nomination, there will be an appropriate transition for those relationships.

Until recently, Burkle and Clinton have had a very close and mutually beneficial relationship. And the president has been a frequent houseguest at Burkle's Los Angeles estate, Green Acres, and a frequent passenger on Burkle's private Boeing 757.

Burkle made millions of dollars for both of them through Yucaipa, and served as Clinton's entry into the West Coast social world. Clinton, in turn, brought to their partnership his fame and allure as a popular president -- a powerful draw for prospective investors.

The crack-up of the Burkle-Clinton business relationship began over a series of controversial business deals that Yucaipa pursued, according to sources who know both men.

According to the terms of Clinton's deal with Yucaipa, he received a share of the profits from two domestic funds if their returns exceeded 9 percent over the fund's life. As reported by the New York Times, by 2005 one fund had reported a gain of 51.3 percent and the other 25.8 percent.

But it was how the funds earned their money - or, on occasion, lost it - that reportedly made Clinton skittish.

The crucial development, sources said, was the September 26 publication of a front page Wall Street Journal article detailing some of Yucaipa's questionable dealings. The story, which broke on the same day that heads of state and business leaders convened to discuss the Clinton Global Initiative, detailed how a young Italian businessman had convinced Burkle and a Clinton aide to invest millions of dollars in a poorly run church-property buying venture.

Clinton, according to sources, considered the piece a major embarrassment and decided to withdraw from Yucaipa.

Clinton was furious with Burkle after the WSJ story appeared, according to a source close to the former president. Burkle and Clinton exchanged heated words, the source said, adding, "their friendship will never be the same. There is now a real distance between Burkle and the Clintons."

According to the WSJ story, in May 2007, Burkle and Yucaipa filed a lawsuit accusing the Italian businessman, Raffaello Follieri, of "systematically misappropriating" at least $1.3 million to fund personal expenses and activities.

Follieri responded by accusing Burkle of blocking efforts to develop the purchased properties. Adding to the embarrassment was Follieri's reported promise to help deliver Catholic voters to Hillary Clinton, according to the Journal.

The lawsuit was settled in late November, according to court documents signed by a Delaware Chancery Court judge.

Prior to the failed church-property buying scheme, Yucapia found itself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. In April 2007, investors of Hawk Opportunity Fund sued Burkle over charges that Yucaipa's acquisition of Allied Holdings, Inc., North America's largest car-hauling company, gave it an unfair share of the market. The suit was dismissed.

But the transaction, not the lawsuit, forced Clinton to get involved. According to reports, the former president was brought on board to help persuade the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to take a 15 percent wage cut at Allied in exchange for bringing the company out of bankruptcy. The Teamsters agreed to accept the reduction.

Finally, according to USA Today, former Clinton aides helped secure a multi-million dollar federal contract for a Georgia-based company in which Yucaipa had 20% ownership. AmeriCold, one of the nation's largest cold-storage companies, was paid up to $85 million, to help with Katrina recovery efforts after James Lee Witt, who headed Federal Emergency Management Agency in the Clinton administration, lobbied on the company's behalf.

AmeriCold's job performance became the subject of controversy and bad publicity. As USA Today wrote: "truckers who were paid $800 a day [to help Katrina victims] hauled ice from state to state without unloading, then delivered their cargoes to AmeriCold and other storage facilities as far away from the Gulf Coast as Maine."

The president's relationship with Ron Burkle has been the subject of widespread speculation primarily concerning Bill Clinton's private life. Over a year ago, Patrick Healy wrote in the New York Times:

Mr. Clinton is rarely without company in public, yet the company he keeps rarely includes his wife. Nights out find him zipping around Los Angeles with his bachelor buddy, Ronald W. Burkle, or hitting parties and fund-raisers in Manhattan.


Gov't union strikers broke the law

Some of the picketing by the city's building inspectors during a week-long strike over how disciplinary measures are handled may have been illegal, Mayor Chuck Reed said Wednesday.

The tiny inspectors union managed to bring construction on downtown high rises to a halt when it moved its picket lines from City Hall to several nearby construction sites. “The idea of picketing third parties who have no part in the strike is unfortunate that our union decided to go that far, is something that is illegal and unfair labor practice,” Reed told KCBS’s Matt Bigler.

The inspectors return to work Wednesday, after the city caved to pressure from developers to end the strike. The inspectors walked off the job Nov. 29 demanding the right to appeal firings and disciplinary matters to outside arbitrators.

Reed opposed outside arbitration because of the cost. He has been trying to cut the growth in employee pay and benefits that comprise roughly two-thirds of San Jose’s budget.

Amid speculation about whether the victory by a relatively small union might embolden some of San Jose’s larger unions, the city has filed a complaint with the state over the strike tactics.

Speaking to KCBS last week, building inspectors defended picketing at construction sites as a way of showing city negotiators they were serious.

The agreement announced Tuesday by Mayor Reed allows for public arbitration in the interim, until litigation between the inspectors’ union and the city is resolved.


Non-members forced to pay union dues

Only a union could call extorted faux dues payments a “fair share fee” and complain when people want to use the democratic process to stop being forced to pay the extortion. Apparently, Inland Empire’s Caltrans HQ in downtown San Bernadino saw the gathering of non-union State workers who wanted to vote out their forced payment of union dues (euphemistically called “fair share fees”) at an upcoming vote but they were scolded by SEIU Local 1000 prez, Davy Hart, for their desire to stop paying the “fees.”

Of course, Mr. Hart almost has a point about why they might be expected to pay these so-called “fair share fees” and that is because the dolts in Sacramento (Calif.’s State capitol) have passed a really, really stupid law that states that the Local 1000 has to represent all employees whether they are part of the union or not. Of course, this is another example of the incestuous relationship between union thugs and Democrats because such a law should never have been passed in the first place. So, no wonder Davey-boy is a bit miffed. After all, the “fair share fees” that he has come to expect do fund his work on behalf of non-union employees.

On the other hand ... and it is a hand that is far more logical and in the right… why should anyone who chooses not to join the union have to pay anything? Who has a right to make a worker a defacto member of a union they don’t want by passing an absurd law that says you are represented whether you like it or not, and THEN force you to pay dues that aren’t called dues!!??

In any case, State workers have an opportunity to vote down their extorted dues payments and I hope they take that opportunity to strike a blow for freedom and tell the union thugs to get stuffed!

In any case, I thought this was an [1] unintentionally funny line by union thug, Hart:

According to Hart, “this election is about fairness, it’s about security and it’s about investment. State law requires Local 1000 to represent all employees regardless of whether or not they are union members. That means non-members get the raises, pensions, health care benefits and other rights that members have fought so hard to win. That’s not fair. We believe everyone needs to share the cost of winning. It’s an investment in economic security, job security, and retirement security.”

Fairness? It’s fair to force someone to pay union dues when they don’t even want to belong to the union in the first place?

Yeah, riiiight..


Labor-state Dems play thug-organizers

In the same week that contractors broke ground on Don Barden's North Shore casino site, Democratic state representatives from southwestern Pennsylvania's delegation are reiterating pleas for the Detroit businessman to sign a "neutrality" agreement with a labor group that represents thousands of American casino workers.

The agreement would mean that Mr. Barden would remain agnostic on the issue of whether hospitality workers employed at his Majestic Star Casino should organize.

But Mr. Barden, who deals with unionized employees at a casino in Gary, Ind., isn't interested in signing such an agreement in the immediate future.

"We're so squarely focused on building this thing in 16 months, it's quite premature to be talking about hiring and operations," said Bob Oltmanns, a spokesman for Mr. Barden and the Majestic Star project. "When the time comes, Mr. Barden will probably have something more to say on it."

The lawmakers -- Reps. Don Walko, Frank Dermody, Nick Kotik, Tom Petrone, Sean Ramaley and Vince Biancucci -- sent a letter to Mr. Barden in the summer, seeking the neutrality agreement.

They used this week's ground-breaking ceremony to remind Mr. Barden of their request, and ask him to negotiate an agreement with Unite Here, which represents casino workers at Caesars Entertainment, Harrah's and MGM-Mirage.

"A lot of attention has been paid to the appearance of the casino and its parking garage," Mr. Petrone said in a statement. "We think it's even more important to make sure the people who will work there have their organizing and collective bargaining rights protected."

The casino industry is lucrative, volatile and, thanks in part to the new markets in Pennsylvania, rapidly expanding, all of which make it an attractive industry for organized labor.

This year, the United Auto Workers set its sights on Atlantic City, persuading dealers at Caesars, Bally's and Trump Plaza casinos to unionize.

Labor's biggest win came just a few weeks ago -- on Nov. 24, dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut voted in favor of joining the UAW. Of the resort's 10,000 employees, a third are dealers.

But the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods, said it would appeal the vote to the National Labor Relations Board.

Earlier, the tribe had claimed federal labor laws shouldn't apply on sovereign American Indian reservations.


Labor-state unions push sick-time mandate - even for the healthy

A union representing health care and social service workers in three states says that more than a quarter-million West Virginians are not getting paid when they're out sick from work and is proposing a new law to do something about it.

The Service Employees International Union wants state lawmakers to require that any employer with 25 or more employees provide at least seven days of paid sick leave per year for workers.

The union plans to push for the legislation in the 2008 Regular Legislative Session. It is part of an effort in a number of states, including Ohio, to require sick time for employees who currently don't get it.

"We're hoping to get the bill introduced in January when (the) Legislature begins and hoping to have it pass both the House and the Senate this legislative term," said Jennifer Farmer, communications director for SEIU District 1199, which represents more than 27,000 workers in West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

The West Virginia Healthy Families Act is similar to a law recently enacted in San Francisco that requires all employers to provide sick time, regardless of size. West Virginia's version was cut off at any business with fewer than 25 employees so it wouldn't burden small "mom and pop" businesses, Farmer said.

About 288,000 workers in West Virginia are not entitled to paid sick leave, Farmer said, citing figures based on data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Healthy Families Act would cover 180,000 of those people, she said.

The union has spoken to a handful of state lawmakers interested in sponsoring the legislation, but so far no one officially has agreed to carry it. The organization is gathering signatures to turn it into law in Ohio, where the campaign is being closely coordinated with the West Virginia effort. It has gathered 250,000 signatures so far.

There also is a federal bill in the works that would require any business with 15 or more employees to provide paid sick leave. It is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and currently is before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., has signed on as a cosponsor of the bill.

No Sick Time

Some employees only are entitled to paid sick leave when they feel ill and can't use it to care for family members who may be having health issues, Farmer said. Nationally, about half of the workers who don't receive paid sick leave are caring for young children or elderly parents.

Most of the union's 27,000 members already are entitled to paid sick leave as part of the agreements they reached through collective bargaining, so they mostly wouldn't benefit from the bill, Farmer said.

Instead, the organization is pursing the legislation as a way to help other workers and protect public health since many of the workers not receiving paid sick leave are in the service industry.

"Do you really want someone serving you food when they should be at home recovering?" she said.

There currently is no federal law that requires that workers receive paid time off, according to the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization promoting women's issues.

Federal workers receive paid sick leave, as do most state and local government employees. Only 52 percent of private-sector jobs are entitled to paid sick days, IWPR reported.

"We do know there are employers who would like to offer paid sick time, but their competitors don't offer it, so they think it will put them at a disadvantage," said Vicky Lovell, director of employment and work/life programs for IWPR.

Lovell said research has shown businesses that offer paid sick leave have lower turnover of employees and have healthier work environments because workers stay home rather than come to work and pass off the flu or other diseases to fellow employees.

Losing Flexibility

The National Federation of Independent Business, which represents some 350,000 companies nationwide, doesn't dispute that not having sick employees at work keeps workplaces productive.

"Obviously, nobody wants sick people coming to work," said Mike Diegel, national media director for NFIB.

However, the group does dispute that such a large number of private employers are not offering paid sick leave. The organization conducted its own poll of its members and found that 60 percent of them offered sick days.

Many small businesses also offer flexible time to employees so they can work schedules that fit their needs. NFIB's major concern with the legislation is losing the ability to do things like that.

"If you start mandating a one-size-fits-all policy, you limit the flexibility they have," he said.

The average member of the organization employs 10 people, Diegel said. Most offer flexible benefit packages, which workers have cited as a major reason for working with the firm.

"We found there was no relationship between the number of folks who did that and the size of the firm," he said.

NFIB will likely face a lengthy list of organizations opposing the bill. SEIU District 1199 has been gathering supporters to get the legislation enacted into law.

So far, the groups that have endorsed the Healthy Families Act are West Virginians for Affordable Health Care; American Friends Service Committee's West Virginia Economic Justice Project; West Virginia Council of Churches; West Virginia AFL-CIO; West Virginia Citizens Action; South Western District Labor Council and the Mountain State Education and Research Foundation.


Striker replacements may trigger picket line violence

Several thousand registered nurses at 13 Bay Area hospitals are expected to walk off the job Thursday and Friday, repeating a strike held in October. The last walkout marked the largest such labor action here in a decade.

The hospitals, all affiliated with Sutter Health, plan to bring in hundreds of replacement nurses to continue caring for patients.

"It will be business as usual," said Jonnie Banks, spokeswoman for Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley. "Care is not going to be compromised one iota."

Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland and Berkeley has contracted with 450 replacement nurses, many of whom will come from other states. It brought in 550workers last time.

The hospital opted for fewer replacements because 49 percent of its scheduled nurses crossed the picket line and reported for duty during the last strike, spokeswoman Carolyn Kemp said. Union leaders dispute those numbers.

"Emergency departments will be open," Kemp said. "Babies will be born and surgeries will be done."

The striking employees are represented by the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.

Most of the hospitals are bargaining separately and have held negotiations with the union since the last strike. But the parties remain apart on such issues as health insurance and retirement benefits, meal and break relief, and safe lifting policies.

"There's been very, very little movement, if any," said CNA spokeswoman Liz Jacobs.

Other affected hospitals include Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, San Leandro Hospital, Sutter Solano Medical in Vallejo, and Mills-Peninsula Health system in Burlingame and San Mateo.

The strike will run from 7 a.m. Thursday to 7 a.m. Saturday.

Most of the hospitals will lock out nurses for an additional two to three days after the strike ends because they hired replacement workers on four- or five-day contracts.

At Eden and Alta Bates Summit, striking nurses will not be allowed to return to work until Tuesday morning. That irked union leaders.

"We believe that this is an unnecessary and punitive measure," Jacobs said.

Hospital officials said they needed longer contracts to recruit replacement workers during the busy holiday season.

Among the sticking points in the negotiations is a proposed wellness program at Alta Bates Summit that would require many nurses to fill out eight-page documents asking "the most personal and intimate questions imaginable," said Efren Garza, a nurse at the hospital's Herrick campus and a union negotiator.

The program would classify employees as low, medium or high risk based on their answers, then have them meet with wellness coaches.

Nurses who decided not to participate would have to pay insurance premiums, Garza said. The union has no problem with a voluntary wellness program, he added, but many employees worry that the questionnaires would be kept in a database that could compromise their confidentiality.

Spokeswoman Kemp said nurses could opt out of the wellness program and choose an HMO-type of health insurance that would be free as long as they are cared for at a Sutter Health facility.

Eden spokeswoman Banks said she believes the strike is being driven by the union's desire for a master contract with all Sutter hospitals, which would give it greater clout.

"They would get more members and more union dues," Banks said.

That is one of the issues on the table but not the only one, Jacobs said.

"It's very costly to bargain all these separate contracts," she said.


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