SEIU bosses' California freight train

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez's effort to speed a healthcare overhaul plan through the Legislature is being opposed by the trade group that represents California's labor unions, which is taking the rare step of urging Democratic legislators to defy their own leader.

In a letter obtained Saturday, the California Labor Federation's leader, Art Pulaski, urged Assembly members to postpone the Monday vote on the bill, which Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) submitted Friday after reaching agreements with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on the scope of a plan to require almost all Californians to hold healthcare insurance.

Writing that "we are dismayed at the process," Pulaski complained that neither labor nor lawmakers had had enough time to vet the complex measure and decide whether it offered adequate protections against middle-class workers' being forced to purchase insurance policies they could not afford.

"We feel cheated of the opportunity to take a position on a bill that will impact the lives of every working family in California," Pulaski wrote. "We do not know whether this bill will protect working families who cannot afford a healthcare mandate or whether families will be driven into low-quality, high-deductible plans."

The 239-page bill would require everyone to acquire private health insurance, but would limit subsidies and tax credits to families earning less than four times the poverty level, or $83,600 for a family of four.

Pulaski also wrote that it would be "irresponsible" for the federation to consider supporting the measure until it had reviewed the method for financing the healthcare overhaul, whose cost was pegged at about $14 billion a year.

That portion of the plan is not being taken up in the Assembly because Republicans have refused to support it, and without a two-thirds vote it would die. Nuñez and Schwarzenegger have decided to do an end-run around the Republicans by collecting signatures for an initiative that would contain taxes on employers, tobacco and hospitals to finance the plan. But no one outside the negotiations has been able to review the initiative language, which is still being drafted.

Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for Nuñez, said the Assembly would go ahead with the vote despite the federation's misgivings. He said that the plan had been in the works for months and that the labor federation had been "at the table from Day One until the last meeting."

Maviglio said that "it isn't an easy decision for labor" to endorse the approach Nuñez and Schwarzenegger have compromised on. "But the choice is between that and wanting something they'll never be able to achieve with a Republican governor," he said.

The federation's plea sets the stage for a rare open split within the state's powerful labor community, which holds substantial sway over the 48 Democrats in the Assembly.

The Service Employees International Union, the biggest healthcare union in the state with 600,000 members, is expected to endorse Nuñez's effort and lobby for its passage. Andy Stern, president of the international, is scheduled to come from Washington for the vote Monday afternoon, two sources said.

Like the labor federation's leadership, SEIU has also had qualms about the bill. But the union's leaders have decided its passage in California would be an important milestone in efforts to achieve healthcare changes at the national level.

Jerry Flanagan, the healthcare advocate with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica-based nonprofit organization, said SEIU's organizing drive also stood to gain from the bill. He said one provision would allow retail clinics such as ones that Wal-Mart wants to establish to be staffed with medical assistants without a physician present.

"That's a major financial opportunity for SEIU," said Flanagan, whose group has opposed the bill as a giveaway to private insurers. "That means a vast number of new dues-paying members."

Through most of the year, SEIU had expressed reservations about the affordability of the plan, putting it on the same page as the labor federation. But on Dec. 4, SEIU's leadership council replaced its council president, who had balked at the plan, with another local union head whose vision is more in line with Stern's. Since then, the union's support has intensified.

SEIU has also expanded its support of Nuñez's other major political goal: an initiative on the February ballot that would change the state's term-limits law in a way that would allow Nuñez to remain in the Assembly beyond next year. The union donated $600,000 last week to the Proposition 93 campaign, bringing SEIU's total contributions to $1.1 million.

SEIU representatives did not respond to requests for comment Saturday.


Strikebreaking nurses look beyond political agenda

While nurses union representatives claim nearly all their members are honoring picket lines at the 13 Sutter-affiliated facilities they're striking against, hospital officials tell a different story.

Though the second two-day strike in two months involving nearly 5,000 nurses, officially ended Friday, most of the Northern California Sutter Health facilities, including Vallejo's Sutter Solano, will be locking out their regular nurses until Monday or Tuesday, hospital and union officials said. Hospital officials cite minimum replacement nurse agency contracts. A similar situation occurred with an earlier two-day walkout in mid-October.

The California Nurses Association claims 95 percent compliance with the strike among its members. But Sutter Health officials report that "impressive numbers of registered nurses have rebuked the union's second strike, and have instead chosen to cross the picket lines and show up to work to care for patients," according to a press release.

"The large numbers suggest that the nurses truly appreciate their supportive work environment and see through the union leaders' political agenda," the statement says.

Union representatives don't buy it.

"It's a lie," said union spokeswoman Liz Jacobs. "I'd ask for a list. That's not the numbers we're hearing from our nurses, and we trust our nurses. Those numbers are highly suspect."

The smallest percentage of nurses reportedly crossing the picket line were Sutter Solano's, where hospital officials estimate about 35 percent worked despite the strike. There are nearly 300 union member nurses at Sutter Solano. Other Sutter hospitals report between 39 percent and 62 percent of RNs crossed the picket lines, according to the statement.

On Friday, rallies were held at San Francisco's St. Luke's Hospital and at Burlingame's Mills-Peninsula Medical Center. This follows Thursday's rally at California Pacific Medical Center's San Francisco Campus, where more than 500 nurses pressed their case for patient care and safety improvements, according to a union statement. Sutter nurses also demand better medical benefits and retirement packages than Sutter is offering, union officials said.


SEIU racketeers boast of Wackenhut nuke hit

SEIU issued this statement today after the Exelon Corporation announced that it was terminating Wackenhut at its 10 nuclear facilities.

"Congratulations to Exelon for doing the right thing by terminating Wackenhut," said Tom Balanoff, international vice president of SEIU. "It would be common sense for Exelon to make a clean sweep of Wackenhut at all their facilities.

"The blame here lies squarely with Wackenhut management. The workers are eager to protect the public, and to be treated fairly. We trust that Exelon will take advantage of a trained security workforce by retaining these guards. Wackenhut's pattern of overworking and underpaying their security guards will no longer be the norm.

"However, Wackenhut's record of poor performance continues to be of concern with 19 nuclear facilities in 13 states still under Wackenhut's watch. Other companies that have Wackenhut under contract, including Florida Power and Light where guards have been reported sleeping on duty, could learn from Exelon," Balanoff said.

SEIU, the fastest-growing union in North America, with 1.9 million members in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, is also the largest union of security officers in the nation. The union represents over 25,000 officers who work for private security companies.

The largest company trading on the London exchange, security conglomerate G4S owns Wackenhut, which this past summer was the subject of a congressional oversight committee regarding Wackenhut's record of poor contract performance. See eyeonwackenhut.org for more about Wackenhut Services, Inc. and the campaign to improve conditions for security guards.


Force majeure headache for strikers

"Force majeure" -- it even sounds ominous.

The possibility that Hollywood's studios could terminate contracts with creative talent under force majeure conditions has hung over the industry like the sword of Damocles since the writers strike commenced Nov. 5.

The biz is on pins and needles as the work stoppage moves into its seventh week, the common threshold in contracts for triggering force majeure, essentially an escape clause if there's an unforeseen event so disruptive (think fire, flood, earthquake or strike) that it becomes impossible for both sides to adhere to the terms of the contract.

Nobody expects to see mass firings at the major film studios come Dec. 17. The situation is far more precarious for those working in TV than in film, where the longer lead time on projects provides something of a time cushion. On the TV side, industry execs say deals are closely being scrutinized, but each will be evaluated on its merits rather than in a cost-cutting binge effort.

Most vulnerable are the studio-based non-writing producer pacts that have proliferated in television over the past decade. Many have already been suspended, meaning they're no longer getting paid or have access to development funds. Insiders say those producers who have had mixed track records in delivering success to their studios are most likely to feel the burn of force majeure separation.

On the flip side, even if a strike has left them with nothing to do for the moment, TV studios are unlikely to sever ties with prominent producers who are attached to successful shows that will eventually go back before the cameras.

Among writers, the decision of who to keep and who to cut is an even trickier call for studios, especially for those scribes who were in the early months of a long-term deal when the strike erupted. That promising newcomer you decided to take a chance on with a modest two-year overall deal could be poised to create the next "Seinfeld." Or not. Industry veterans point out that no matter how many writer and producer pacts the network-studio congloms let loose, they still won't save enough coin to offset the losses from the lack of fresh segs of their hit shows.

The roster-trimming is not expected to be as significant among feature producers with studio housekeeping deals, given the recent ramp-up of pic production. A few smaller fry might be cut loose but as one agent notes, "Studios are so busy that they haven't really had to time to think about ending deals early."

Tenpercenteries, on the other hand, are going to take the biggest hits as long as agents are stymied from moving on new projects.

"I spend most of my time dealing with people who go from job to job, so I have less and less to do every day," says an agent.


Gov't workers' dues flood SEIU coffers

Helen Hanson of South China (ME) didn't want to join the Maine State Employees Association -- at first. As a direct care worker who helps consumers bathe, dress, and cook, she didn't think the state employees union would know how to help her. "I thought this particular union, MSEA, honestly, there's no way they can help us," she said. "Their issues are so different than ours."

But she eventually changed her mind, and once they had their first contract in place in August, she started to see the difference. "When I got my pay that reflected the raise we got, I patted myself on the shoulder and said we did it," she said.

Hanson, president of the direct care worker unit, is one of 450 employees of Home Care for Maine who voted this year to join the workers union.

They represent a portion of more than 3,000 Maine workers who have voted within the last 14 months to join the union, making this the union's most active membership drive since it formed in 1943.

At the national level, Maine is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, which represents 1.9 million workers across the country, in Canada and in Puerto Rico.

Maine's growth is part of a larger national effort to unionize workers, said MSEA Executive Director Tim Belcher. "Those victories make us, by one count, the fastest-growing local union in the SEIU and the SEIU is the fastest-growing union nationally," he said.

The SEIU -- which focuses on workers in hospital systems, long-term care, property services and the public sector -- is one of the unions that has been effective nationally in organizing service sector workers and those who work in the health care industry, said Dan Cornfield, a labor union expert and professor at Vanderbilt University.

"The particular health care sector, broadly defined, the sector that provides vital family services, is an important part of the future of the labor movement," he said.

Cornfield said organized labor is still trying to recover from post World War II losses in the manufacturing industry, the traditional stronghold of labor unions. More aggressive modern unions are targeting low-paid workers and are shifting away from political activity, he said.

"They are often low paid, they may lack health insurance, many of the workers are women and minorities who often feel the sense of being disadvantaged at a higher level than white men might," he said.

For the MSEA, the growth comes during a 21/2 year period in which some state workers sued the union because of a provision added to the state workers contract in 2005.

Known as the fair share provision, the contract required all state workers to join the union, or pay a portion of union dues, or face the prospect of being fired from their jobs. A state law passed earlier this year no longer allows the workers to be fired, but does give the state the power to automatically withdraw the nonmember union dues from state workers' paychecks.

Just last week, an arbitrator ruled that the union did properly calculate nonmember dues, despite a challenge from about 80 state workers.

Belcher said the arbitration and lawsuits filed in federal court, most of which are over, represent part of the past that he's already put behind him.

Despite the anger from those who didn't want to be required to support the union, Belcher said many other workers are seeking union representation to help them with wages and benefits.

"We have a situation where there's been an incredible increase in productivity, and in the past that's been passed on to workers and that's just not happening," he said. "Real wages are stagnant while productivity is up."

Those who have voted to be represented by the union won't officially become members until they have contracts in place.

As it is now, the union has 12,000 members, including retirees. When you add people who are awaiting contracts and those who are represented by the union but are not full union members, the number grows to more than 15,000.

As the union moves forward, it will need to continue to grow beyond a state workers union if it wants to add members. Belcher said there were substantially more state workers represented by the union years ago, but that hiring freezes have eaten away at that core group.

For Hanson, the power of union membership is evident not only in her paycheck, but in the halls of the Statehouse. She said while testifying on a bill wearing a purple union sticker, lawmakers took notice.

"I thought, wow, this union does have influence with the Legislature," she said. "That helped, seeing the union in action."


False Choice: Teacher Strikes or Binding Arbitration?

A well-regarded downstate legislator has good intentions but a bad idea: Wellston (OH) Republican John Carey wants to ban school-employee strikes. Schools would instead settle labor contracts through binding arbitration.

A 1983 Ohio law forbids strikes by police, firefighters, prison guards and emergency medical personnel. In case of deadlocks, those workers instead are subject to arbitration. Carey, chair of the Senate's budget-writing panel, said teachers are just as important as safety forces to Ohio's betterment.

A spokeswoman for the 130,000-member Ohio Education Association, a union for teachers and other school employees, said there have been only six school strikes (in five school districts) in the last three fiscal years. Given that Ohio has 612, that means fewer than 1 percent of all school districts were struck during the triennium.

As residents of Greater Cleveland's Richmond Heights Local School District learned during a three-week strike in May, school strikes are bad news for everybody. But binding arbitration won't make things better, especially for homeowners whose property taxes pay mainly for schools.

In binding arbitration, Ohio gives an unelected "conciliator" the power to impose labor contract settlements. The conciliator's decision, Ohio law says, is "a binding [legal] mandate to the public employer . . . to take whatever actions are necessary to implement the award." In plain English, "take whatever actions" means "pay up." So arbitration, as a practical matter, would handcuff school boards. That, in turn, would leave voters functionally powerless over school wage settlements. No level-headed bystander can think that's a good idea.

Ohio's 1983 collective-bargaining law for public employees may indeed need an update. But overall, it has been a great success. From April 1984, when the law took full effect, through last June 30, Ohio experienced an average of nine public-sector strikes per year, according to State Employment Relations Board data. Late in the 1970s, Ohio typically saw 60 public-sector strikes annually. That's why the aim in today's Columbus shouldn't be to think up solutions in search of problems. The idea instead should be to reinforce proven solutions.


Labor-state gets roadmap for economic revival

Mackinac Center Fiscal Policy Director Michael D. LaFaive Thursday called on Michigan policymakers to make transformational, market-friendly policy changes their top New Year's Resolution for 2008, warning that to do otherwise would all but guarantee continued loss of jobs and population.

"We were already at or near the bottom of many important economic rankings before the Legislature piled on $1.4 billion in new taxes," said LaFaive. "Does anyone really believe this hike will make Michigan more attractive to people and business?"

Indiana does not think so. The state has posted billboards along interstates near the border encouraging passers-by to come to Indiana if they're tired of high taxes and high business and housing costs.

Indiana is also running radio ads in Michigan and Illinois with the same message. They may have a compelling reason to do so. A new study by economists Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore shows that record numbers of Americans moved last year and they tended to move south and west - to states with generally favorable tax and labor climates, among other things.

"People are everything to economic growth," noted Center adjunct scholar Michael Hicks. "They produce, they consume and they invest. As people move, they take their talents and energy with them. Every time people move they reveal their relative preference for other states."

In a new essay, "Michigan's Diaspora: A Revealed Preference for Leaving," LaFaive and Hicks argue that state policy must change to make Michigan relatively more attractive.

If changes are not made, they wrote, the state may need to change its motto from "If you seek a pleasant peninsula look about you," to, "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, move to Florida," which is where many Michigan residents are in fact moving.

The authors cite the latest United Van Lines data showing that through October, 66.4 percent of the company's 2007 Michigan client traffic was outbound.

The all-time record was set in 1981 at 66.9 percent, a year when the state averaged 12.5 percent unemployment.

"Our current unemployment rate of 7.7 percent is currently highest in the nation, but that figure is actually masked by our ability to export job seekers to states with greater economic opportunity," said LaFaive.

The authors recommend that Michigan become a right-to-work state, lower the regulatory burden and cut taxes as ways to stem the flow of jobs, people and opportunities to other states.

The essay can be found at: www.mackinac.org/9159


Good ideas clash with Kentucky unions

Newly-elected Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear talked a good game during his inauguration speech, but it's wait-and-see for me. I've returned too many political "purchases" after words led me to "impulse buying," but deeds sent me back to customer service.

Among the words I liked from Beshear were these: "We can choose the path of least resistance, the status quo, or we can choose the path of progress. This new path will involve new thinking and new ideas ... And it will demand courage."

These ideas have been consistent themes in my columns - while the politicos marched down the road of mediocrity, puffing themselves up like peacocks.

Remember, as a seller, it's Beshear's job to make us nod our heads in the affirmative like dashboard bobblehead dolls. As a buyer, I'm not shaking my head "no." I'm just not making my way to the checkout lane yet. If the governor accepts sound economic and education ideas from experts outside his partisan purview, then Kentucky could enjoy a renaissance.

But what happens when good ideas for Kentucky - like right-to-work and school-choice laws - clash with the agendas of powerful labor groups? Will the governor consider long-term effects and all people or be content to grab short-term political gains? If he chooses the latter, Beshear can join a list of marginal leaders that dwarfs the state's roll call of courageous governors.

Beshear's fellow Democrats previously rejected the idea of a "right-to-work" policy, which would prevent employees from being forced to join labor unions or pay dues, whether they came with sufficient benefits or not.

Yet "right-to-work" is one of 16 critical economic variables for states in a new American Legislative Exchange Council report co-authored by highly respected economists Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore. Without a right-to-work law, Kentucky ranks No. 46 among states - and dead last in the Southeast - in economic competitiveness, the council report shows.

Laffer and Moore report that having a right-to-work law represents one of two economic factors that stand out as "perhaps the most important in attracting jobs and capital."

Jim Henderson, Simpson County's Republican judge-executive, whose coun_ty sits on the border of Tennessee, once wrote in an article for the Bluegrass Institute that a lack of a right-to-work policy "sends a signal that Kentucky is not a job-friendly commonwealth."

Is anyone in Frankfort listening to Henderson?

Kentucky also fails with income-tax rates, the second of the council's most important variables. According to the ALEC study, only eight states have higher personal-income tax rates than Kentucky.

Beshear spoke about how we've "fallen short" when it comes to "investing in our people."

Does he think higher taxes means "investing" in Kentuckians? So far, it hasn't worked.

"It now takes the typical Kentuckian 13 months to make the income that a resident of Tennessee makes in a year," the council's report stated.

Meanwhile, Tennessee offers a right-to-work law, no personal income tax and ranks 41 spots higher than Kentucky in the report's "competitiveness index."

School choice is another good idea.

Controversial? Yes, with some. Would it make it difficult for Beshear to get the teacher union support in the next election? Probably.

But if that's not "swimming up_stream" and "challenging the status quo," what is?

Democratic governors nationwide have reaped handsome political rewards for swimming against the monopolistic public-education tide that threatens to drown our students. One of those governors - Janet Napolitano - leads Arizona to a No. 2 ranking in the council's report and a No. 1 spot in the report's "Education Freedom Index" and right-to-work category.

Beshear says a good idea is a good idea, no matter where it comes from.

However, many of his appointments - particularly in education and labor - offer a hint that he won't challenge much of anything, least of all the status quo.

Nothing would delight me more than finding I am wrong about this administration. And if I am, I'll prepare the "crow" myself.

Jim Waters is the director of policy and communications for the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky's free-market think tank. You can reach him at jwaters@bipps.org.


UFCW authorizes strike at Safeway

Workers at Safeway stores across Alberta have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.

Theresa McLaren, spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers, says three locals cast ballots on Saturday. The results ranged from 92 per cent to 97 per cent approval for a strike.

McLaren says back in 1993, Safeway workers took a wage rollback to help out the company, which promised to make up for it when the company became profitable again.

But she says that's never happened, and now the company is asking the union for concessions and offering a wage increase of only 50 cents an hour for each year of a three-year deal.

McLaren says no walkout is actually planned and bargaining is currently scheduled to resume in mid-January.

"A lot of the members wanted us to take a strike vote about three months ago," she said.

"We made the decision ... that as long as the bargaining was progressing at a decent pace we would continue. (But) by November, when we hit the monetary issues, it was very apparent it wasn't going to move fast."

McLaren stressed that workers are hoping not to have to actually hit the picket lines.

"Our goal is to achieve a deal," she said. "I'm hoping that this will send an even stronger message to the company to come back to the table the week of Jan. 7, and bargain seriously and fairly. That's all we're asking for."

About 7,000 people work for about 80 Safeway stores in Alberta.

"Canada Safeway is extremely profitable now, and has been for many, many years but they're not paying back their employees," said McLaren.


Entertainment industry's Year of the Strike

Despite what they say about global warming, it's going to be a long, cold winter for the writers of Hollywood. The studios pretty much made it official Friday, when they walked away from the negotiating table after giving the Writers Guild an abrupt "put up or shut up" ultimatum. Considering that the studios were asking the writers to give up much of their core Internet residuals proposal, there was little left to negotiate.

The studios' message was obvious: They're going to play hardball. Believing they have comparatively little to lose by letting the strike drag on, the studios will try to weaken the guild by letting writers spend Christmas out of work while studio operatives sow seeds of discord among the membership, hoping to persuade some high-profile writers to cross the line and go back to work.

This puts all of Hollywood on the road to perdition. That still leaves the real unanswered question: Why have the studios walked away from the negotiating table? Although it seemed hard to believe at first, the evidence is overwhelming that they never had any serious intention of making a fair deal, at least the kind of deal that, as Lew Wasserman might have put it, would've allowed both sides to come away declaring victory. There is clearly a powerful studio faction that believes that giving residuals to the writers was a fundamental mistake. Since it's impossible to put that genie back into the bottle -- not that the studios didn't try -- the next best thing would be to put a tight lid on any new media revenue streams, since they will someday become the studio's biggest new source of profit.

The studios' behavior appears shortsighted unless you look at the negotiations in a broader light. While attention is focused on the writers strike, a bigger confrontation looms down the road. No one expects that the studios will have much of a problem settling with the Directors Guild of America, whose contract is up June 30, 2008. But the Screen Actors Guild, whose contract is also up that day, is another matter.

The largest union, with 120,000 members, SAG also has a relatively new president, Alan Rosenberg, who came to power after promising a much more aggressive stance about new media revenues. For the first time, SAG also brought in an outsider, former NFL Players Assn. executive Doug Allen, to be its executive director, another sign that the guild is preparing for a hard-nosed negotiation.

The studios don't want to make any concessions to the Writers Guild of America that would set a precedent for the SAG negotiations. In fact, many insiders believe the studios are trying to crush the writers as a way of signaling to SAG members that they can expect similar treatment if they don't soften their negotiating stance.

The studios have little to lose by stonewalling, since it's all too clear that they can win any prolonged strike. Their pockets are too deep, their weaponry too strong. But at what cost? Even many studio supporters admit that squashing the WGA after a prolonged strike would be something of a pyrrhic victory. If network TV turns into a 24-hour reality TV and game show channel, it will simply accelerate the trend of young viewers deserting the tube for the Internet.

For the writers, their best defense now is a good offense. As I've argued before, their future lies in becoming more entrepreneurial. This would also be good strategy for future strike negotiations. With the studios stuck churning out reality sludge, the barriers for entry for an outsider are lower than ever. What's to stop Google, Yahoo or Mark Cuban from striking a deal with a top TV show runner who has a proven ability to create characters and stories that would bring eyeballs to the Internet?

I suspect the guild is already in the process of setting up interim deals that would allow writers to work with companies not represented by the studios. It would be a way to show the WGA rank and file that other opportunities exist outside of the traditional studio model while sending a message to the other side that, when it comes to negotiating, the guild has other arrows in its quiver.

And speaking of arrows, the studios last week hired Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane, former aides and advisors to Bill Clinton and Al Gore with reputations for canny damage control and bare-knuckled attacks on political adversaries.

It is widely believed that the new consultants had a hand in a recent studio proposal designed to portray the studios as willing negotiators. Although it offered precious few concessions, it was labeled a "new economic partnership," which brings to mind the time the Bush administration described a pro-logging proposal as a "healthy forests initiative." Nonetheless, the studios flogged it as a big step forward, claiming it would increase the average working writer's salary to $230,000 a year.

The proposal doesn't mention anything about the average nonworking writer, who, as it happens, is on strike too. If you include all writers, the plump $230,000 figure ends up being roughly a quarter of that. The new consultants also clearly had a hand in the studios' Friday statement about the collapse of the talks, a statement that many in the guild leadership view as a "red-baiting" style campaign designed to divide the guild -- and chip away at its public support -- by branding the leadership as radicals.

It's a fascinating statement, not for what it says, but for the language it uses, which would bring a blush even to the face of wily GOP rhetorician Frank Luntz, the man the WGA should hire if it really wants to win a PR battle with the studios. A new word that pops up in the document is "ideology," as in "the WGA organizers are on an ideological mission far removed from the interests of their members."

The document also criticizes the guild's "radical demands" and repeatedly refers to the WGA leadership not as negotiators but as "organizers," another sign that the studios are attempting to brand them as militant apparatchiks. That would be in keeping with the traditional tactics of the studio's new hired guns, it being Lehane, who, as Gore's campaign spokesman, once compared a Florida secretary of state to a "Soviet commissar" during the 2000 election uproar.

The statement also charges that guild leaders have "never concluded one industry accord," implying that they are clueless outside agitators. It has a nice ring to it until you realize that the single most successful labor negotiator of modern times, baseball players union leader Marvin Miller, had never done a baseball deal either when he came to the game. He'd been an economist with the United Steelworkers.

From where I sit, it was telling that the labor talks collapsed just days after the Baseball Hall of Fame revisited its own divisive labor history, electing former Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, a die-hard opponent of free agency, while once again overlooking Miller.

Like today's studio bosses, Kuhn had become so beholden to the old rules of the game that he was paralyzed by a fear of the future, convinced that allowing players to become free agents would destroy the sport. Of course, he was wrong. Baseball franchises are more lucrative than ever. But that distrust of the future is at the core of this labor dispute too. The studios have assembled a comfortable business model, one so comfortable that they are loathe to tinker with it.

Kuhn once warned that if the players gained free agency, the game wouldn't survive unless "we find oil under second base." Hollywood is different. In an era when show business is the secular religion of America, there's oil under every studio in town. If the studios aren't willing to share some of that black gold, the writers should do what any good entrepreneur would -- start digging for themselves.


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