SEIU anti-decert bribery smacked down by NLRB

Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro LLP (JMBM), one of California’s foremost full-service law firms, today announced that a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Administrative Law Judge ruled that Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers West - Local 399 (SEIU-UHW) engaged in objectionable conduct during the course of a decertification election.

The Firm's client, Good Samaritan Hospital of Los Angeles, had previously lost to the Union by a narrow margin, but now the Judge's ruling calls for a new election to take place.

"It is always gratifying to have clients who are willing to fight for what is right," said JMBM Partner Marta M. Fernandez, who was lead counsel on behalf of Good Samaritan Hospital. "In this case, we pursued a legal challenge to the union's conduct because our client, the Hospital, truly felt that its employees had the right to make a choice in a coercion-free environment."

SEIU-UHW has represented approximately 458 healthcare workers at Good Samaritan Hospital of Los Angeles for the last decade. In August of 2006, as the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the Hospital and the Union came up for renewal, a group of hospital employees petitioned the NLRB for an election to decertify SEIU-UHW as their representative.

Subsequently, a secret ballot election was held to determine if the represented employees wished to continue to be represented by the Union. At the election's conclusion, the tally of ballots showed 200 ballots cast in favor of the Union, 198 cast against it. Accordingly, the Union held on to its representation by only 2 votes.

Fernandez, who has over 20 years of experience in the representation of clients in union related matters, including collective bargaining, union prevention, neutrality agreements, union representation, decertification elections and NLRB trials, filed objections to the election on behalf of Good Samaritan. After a lengthy trial, on November 30, 2007, the NLRB Judge ruled that the Union engaged in physical and verbally threatening conduct against pro-Hospital employees. The Judge also found that a Union representative had improperly offered a bribe to the leader of the decertification effort in exchange for his abandoning that effort. The Judge concluded that such incident "coerced the exercise of freedom of choice in the election" and overturned the Union's former narrow victory.

"It is highly unusual and very difficult to have an election of this nature overturned by the NLRB because the employer's burden is so high," said JMBM's Managing Partner Bruce P. Jeffer. "This was an important victory for both the Hospital and the Firm's Labor Lawyers."


Clinton surrogate muddles union issue in Iowa

Columbus Junction is a small Iowa town located about 35 miles south of Iowa City in the rolling hills of Louisa County. I went there last Friday to ask Bill Clinton a question about his wife’s position on the United States’ colonial occupation of Iraq.

The day before, Hillary Clinton had said something interesting to a voter who asked her when she’d deliver on her repeated promise to “end the war in Iraq” and “bring the troops home.”

"I think,” Hillary said, “we can bring home one to two combat brigades a month. I think we can bring nearly everybody home, you know, certainly within a year if we keep at it and do it very steadily.”

Political journalists and campaign watchers did a double-take the first time they heard that line. Hilllary has been speaking adamantly against any notion of an Iraq withdrawal timeline heading up to the critical January 3rd 2008 Iowa Democratic Party caucus.

Her two main opponents in the Iowa presidential race do talk about timelines. John Edwards says “50,000 troops out immediately” and “the rest out in 9 months.” Barack Obama talks about 16 months.

With words like “can” and “if” and “nearly everybody,” Hillary’s comment was carefully hedged. Still, Mrs. Clinton has been opposed to any sort of explicit time frames for ending the invasion. She’s never hinted at “a year” or any other specific period before.

Was Hillary moving toward a timeline position?

I dashed down Highway 218 through a growing December fog to the Columbus Junction Community School, where Bill was scheduled to speak on behalf of his wife at 1:15 in the afternoon. I had a two-part question in my pocket, written in the margins of the day's New York Times: "Mr. President, I’m sure you know that Iowa leads the nation in Iraq war casualties. Sir, what is Hillary's plan to bring the troops home and how soon will she get it done"?

Arriving a few minutes late, I found 75 or so white middle-aged and senior Iowans sitting quietly on folding chairs in front of a short elevated platform. In shiny brown gymnasium bleachers on either side sat maybe 100 middle-school students. Two-thirds of them were Latino. A nice white-haired lady wearing a Hillary button sat next to me. She said a major meatpacking plant operated somewhere close by, employing a large Mexican-American workforce at very low wages. The lady said she’s been “waiting all my life to see a woman in the White House.”

Up on the stage a smiling 40-something white male music teacher led a half-Latina school choir through a song that included the following lyric: “I’m proud to be an American because at least I know I’m free.” It struck me that “at least” is a rather unenthusiastic phrase to use in describing how one feels about possessing something as wonderful as human liberty. I wondered if any of the children on the stage or in the bleachers had seen their parents taken away in any of the raids the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has recently conducted at Iowa packinghouses.

There was no Bill Clinton. The fog had kept his plane on the ground in Des Moines. He would, however, speak to us via telephone and through two loudspeakers set up on either side of the school gym.

At the same time, Hillary was represented by her Iowa campaign chair and former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack and by Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski. Both spoke five minutes on Hillary’s behalf.

While the very first thing Vilsack said in support of Mrs. Clinton was that "we've got a war to end," Iraq received no specific treatment from either him or Kulongoski. There were a few brief references to the need to regain U.S. global authority and respect through cooperation and diplomacy, but domestic issues and especially health care took up most of the meeting.

Vilsack gave three reasons to caucus for Hillary. The first reason was her possession of the experience and “know-how” to “get things done.” The way the former Iowa governor put it, it’s not enough to “hope for change” (a cutting reference to Barack Obama) and it’s not enough “to demand change” (an equally obvious allusion to John Edwards).

It struck me that even if Hillary actually did have a lot of policy-making experience (she does not), it might not be a very good asset in this particular campaign given how angry ordinary citizens and voters are about the incredible messes “their” highly experienced and bipartisan governing class have created at home and abroad.

I also reflected that Edwards is right if he's into “demanding.” The only significant moments of progressive change in American history have actually been driven by masses of organized and often enough angry people insisting on such change in a militant way. It’s been about farmers, workers, “minorities,” the poor and others shaking the society to its foundation at the grassroots level. It’s never been about people relying on the supposedly benevolent corporate-liberal elites and the supposedly all-knowing Ivy-League-certified experts (people like Bill, Hillary and Barack) to fix things from the top down. It’s always been about the people challenging concentrated power centers and, well, "demanding" change – or else – from the bottom up (see Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, 1492 to the Present [New York: HarperPerennial], 1999).

The second reason Vilsack gave was that "Hillary can win.” I said to myself that you’d think somebody could win with a record-setting $90 million in campaign funding – at least half from large corporations – in the first three quarters of the year before the actual election year. And yet, I reflected, Hillary is actually doing considerably worse than Obama and especially Edwards in match-up polls pitting each of the top three Democratic candidates against the most likely Republican opponents.

Vilsack probably felt compelled to throw in his “can win” line because Hillary appears to be the least electable of the top three candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Vilsack’s third reason was that putting a woman in the White House would “show that every opportunity is now available to everyone in the United States.”

Sorry Tom, but one relatively privileged woman attaining the presidency would not mean that gender, race, and class had been abolished as barriers to advancement and equality.

Kulongoski announced that he’d once been a “labor lawyer” and talked about how badly America treats its working people. He praised American workers for “doing everything we ask of them” and bemoaned the fact that they “don’t get the rewards they deserve.” He waxed angry about jobs exported, pensions stolen and health benefits slashed.

“I’ve been waiting,” the Oregon Governor added, “for a candidate who is willing to address the problems of working people and who cares about them.”

I turned to the nice lady next to me and said, “you know, that’s really a bit much. Anybody’s who’s gotten any of Edwards’ direct mail, or seen any of Edwards’ town hall meetings or seen any of Edwards’ television commercials knows damn well that’s his main thing. Like it or hate it, that’s what his campaign is all about – mistreated and exploited working class people.”

She looked concerned. She knew I was right: it’s impossible to miss if you are paying the slightest bit of attention to the competing campaigns in Iowa. Voters are being inundated with campaign materials and commercials anyone who has sampled this propaganda to any significant extent ought to know that Kulongoski was trying to appropriate Edwards’ main hook – for Hillary.

It came time to hear from Bill Clinton on the loudspeakers. The former president focused on domestic issues and his wife’s competence and experience. He spent two-thirds of his ten minutes on health care, heaping special praise on his favorite supposed corporate-liberal enterprise – the Safeway grocery chain. Bill loves Safeway because it "picks up the health insurance deductibles and co-pays" for employees who agree to take personal responsibility for their health by “not smoking.”

Clinton claimed that he and Hillary failed in their earlier effort to bring American universal health insurance because “it’s hard.” “Harry Truman tried and he failed to pass health care. Jimmy Carter tried and he failed.”

There was nothing in his remarks, of course, about the elitist, indecipherable, and conservative, corporate-friendly nature of the health care plan the Clintons briefly advanced and then quickly dropped to pursue “progressive” priorities like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

But health care reform is “going to succeed under Hillary,” Bill predicted, for two reasons. First, “employers now want it,” because health care costs are too high. Second, “the medical community” wants reform because it has gotten sick of “the financial tail wagging the medical dog.”

In other words, vote for Hillary and let business and professional elites take their own self-interested path to health care reform. It’s got nothing to do with ordinary people standing up to fight for what’s right by demanding that the U.S. finally join the rest of the “advanced capitalist world” by having the elementary decency and common sense to guarantee its citizens health care.

Since Bill wasn’t there live, Friday's Columbus Junction event never opened for audience questions.

I clearly wasn’t going to put Bill on the Six O’clock News supporting or contradicting Hillary’s possible shift towards a timeline on Iraq withdrawal.

Still, I had my question and I hadn’t driven down there not to ask it. So I sought out and spoke briefly with an anonymous policy staffer (she would not give her name), Vilsack, and Kulongoski.

My question to each: "what is Hillary’s plan to bring the troops home? How soon will she get it done?" I indicated that this was an especially big concern in Iowa due to our state's large number of casualties.

All of them denied --- and seemed completely ignorant of – any sort of change to a "timeline" of any kind in Hillary's Iraq policy. All of them emphasized what they called "safety": the need for a "safe and secure" withdrawal. All indicated that giving “timelines” (ala Edwards and Obama) would work against that.

In elaborating on why Hillary's “get things done” campaign was NOT following Edwards (the demander) and Obama (the hoper) in setting distinct time points for removal, Vilsack also discussed the need to first "stabilize Iraq" through international diplomacy and an influx of NGOs and and the risk that "the north" and the "situation with the Kurds" could "blow up" if we left too soon.

I heard a bit about “the plan” ("safe withdrawal” and "stabilize" with (corporate-liberal) NGOs and “diplomacy”) but the "how soon" part went completely unanswered. “How soon" was a dysfunctional question as far as they were concerned - the wrong issue to be raising.

My most interesting exchange with the Clintonites in Columbus Junction wasn’t about foreign policy. It was about so-called “economic war.”

After discussing Hillary's Iraq policy with Kulongoski, I said the following to Oregon's chief executive: "just for your information, Governor, we voters see a lot of ads and get a lot of mail from Edwards. He speaks all over this state, and with him it's always about working people and how they get mistreated and so forth. He gets a lot of union worker support because of that. I wondered if you knew that when you dropped that ‘I’ve been waiting for a candidate who cares about workers’ line. You really ought to know."

Kulongoski didn’t miss a beat. He just smiled and said, "Edwards? Oh, but we're not talking about war."

"War"" I said.

"Economic war," he said.

"You mean 'class war," I said.

"Yeah. Look I’ve been at this too long. It’s about getting things done.”

I was getting ready to ask him what he thought of the notion that the American “get-things-done” business “community” had been waging savage “class warfare” of the unmentionable kind – from the top down – on American working people for all of my adult life. “Class war” has been going on for the last thirty-five years at least in the U.S. It appears to work quite well, for the privileged few.

But Kulogonski had to go. The former labor lawyer (was he pro- or anti-union?) and Vilsack had other locations to hit with their conservative, corporate (neo-)liberal message wrapped in the pseudo-progressive flag of identity politics. Yes, by all means, let’s run around telling people that electing Hillary will mean that the only remaining barriers to racial, economic, and gender equality are internal to the people on the bottom ends of the nation's steep social hierarchies.

The most interesting comment I’d gotten hadn’t been from Bill Clinton and about the imperialist war on Iraq. It came from the governor of Oregon and had to with class inequality inside the imperial “homeland.”

The Clintonites’ point and Bill’s too, was clear as day. It was this: “Let’s all be adult and realistic here. The way you get things done is by working with and through corporations and professional elites. You don’t get it by fighting concentrated power."

On the way into the Columbus Junction event, a Clinton staffer handed me a copy of the Des Moines Register editorial in which that influential Iowa newspaper endorsed Hillary. The sixth paragraph of that editorial reads as follows:

“John Edwards was our pick for the 2004 nomination. But this is a different race, with different candidates. We too seldom saw the positive, optimistic campaign we found appealing in 2004. His harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult to work with the business community to forge change.”

During the last debate prior to the Iowa Caucus, the Register’s editor Carolyn Washburn suggested that Edwards should be less strident in criticizing big business since wealthy and special interests “are often responsible for getting things done in Washington” (Krugman 2007b).

They most certainly are – and the results are very bad indeed, as I noted in my last Iowa Campaign Report (“‘Angry John’ v. KumbayObama’: Reflections on Iowa, Business Rule, and the Democratic Party’s Democratic Disconnect,” ZNet December 20, 2007, read at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=90&ItemID=14533).

Dominant U.S. media is not simply beholden to the business establishment, it should always be remembered. It is a critical component – possibly even the single more powerful part (unlike Ralph Nader, the “anti-corporate” “populist” Edwards dares not criticize corporate media during a campaign season) – of that establishment. Meanwhile, the business-sponsored authoritarian drift of U.S. political culture has gone so far that even an Edwards – not just a Nader or a Dennis Kucinich – is too left to receive respectful treatment from “mainstream” (corporate) media Gods.

I headed back to Iowa City. The fog had thickened. I thought about Bill Clinton, the Safeway chain (the “safe way” to “progressive” reform is with and through business elites), and how happy I am that I never got hooked on cigarettes. Sometimes I think that the major self-imposed threat to my health is that I spend too much time driving on dangerous country roads to listen to corporate politicians.


Dems navigate union thicket in Las Vegas

There are only 33 convention delegates at stake in the January 19th Democratic Caucuses in Nevada out of 4051 total.

But the fact that the contest occurs so soon after the tests in Iowa and New Hampshire and before the South Carolina (1/26 for the Democrats) and Florida (1/29) primaries, means that the winner can either claim to be on the comeback trail or crow about continued momentum.

For both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, that means flexing their organizational muscle in order to get Nevadans to the caucus sites. To that end, Barack Obama has begun to pour resources and staff into the state in an effort to match the Clinton machine:

* Illinois Sen. Barack Obama opened three new offices, two in the Las Vegas suburbs and one in Winnemucca, a tiny rural outpost. His campaign now has 10 offices here, more than twice the number of any other candidate. The campaign says this is a key sign of organizational strength heading into the Jan. 19 caucuses: More office space means more volunteers on more phone lines.

* Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton have begun television advertising. David Bonior, campaign manager for former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, said Edwards will be on television soon. Clinton is also advertising on Spanish language radio; Obama had been before taking his ads down, though his campaign says he’ll be back on the Spanish-language airwaves soon.

* The Edwards campaign has finished adding two dozen staffers recently. The campaign had pulled Nevada staff earlier in the year and sent them to Iowa.

* The Obama campaign has created a Republicans for Obama group here and has pledge cards from more than 600 Republicans.

All for 33 delegates and the momentum a victory in this tiny state would bring. This is the consequence of the front loaded primary season where the goal must be to win early and often. And if not, to right the ship as quickly as possible.

The latest poll in Nevada is 3 weeks old and therefore does not reflect the recent movement nationally by Obama. It shows Hillary with an 8 point lead over the Illinois Senator (34-26%) with Edwards a distant third at 9%. I imagine the candidate’s own polls show a much different race which is why Obama has suddenly gotten very interested in the state and why Edwards has also begun to devote additional resources to his caucus effort.

Sandwiched between the New Hampshire primary and Nevada Caucus is the black hole of the Michigan primary which is scheduled for January 15. Refusing to bow to pressure exerted by the national party and change its primary date to conform with party rules, Michigan has suffered the ultimate sanction by losing its total delegate representation to the Democratic Convention in Denver – for the moment. A ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court in November allowed the primaries to go ahead but that didn’t stop the Democrats from trying to prevent candidates from campaigning in the state or appearing on the ballot. To date, only Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel are on the Michigan primary ballot. The Democratic National Committee similarly sanctioned the Florida party as well for holding their primary early.

So no one really knows at this point if the primary results apportioning delegates in Michigan will matter when it comes to the race for President. Can the Democrats risk alienating party members in 2 of the 10 largest states by denying them a voice in choosing a nominee? The DNC appears to be dead set on getting control of the primary process and to do that, sanctioning wayward state parties for violating the rules would seem to be their only recourse.

All of this puts Nevada in the spotlight. A heavily unionized state, organized labor will play a vital role as the candidates scramble for the coveted endorsements. Two big unions are taking a wait and see attitude. The Culinary Union, the state’s largest, has been extremely active in educating its 60,000 members about the Caucus process but has delayed announcing its endorsement until after the Iowa contest. And the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), representing 17,000 health care workers is also sitting on the fence for the moment. Their support could be vital especially in population centers like Clark County (Las Vegas) and Washoe County (Reno).

But this hasn’t stopped the Communication Workers of America and the United Steelworkers from endorsing John Edwards. While Edwards is competitive in Iowa, his Nevada operation has only recently come to life with a recent media buy and the opening of additional offices. He is counting on the foot soldiers in organized labor to assist him in getting his supporters to the Caucus sites. If Edwards does well in Iowa, one would expect him to make a supreme effort in Nevada to follow up on his success. With two of the larger unions on his side, he has an excellent ground operation already in place to take advantage of any momentum coming out of Iowa.

The candidate who has made the most appearances in the state has been New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. But his cash-starved campaign seems to have made few inroads among Democrats and he is not expected to mount a serious challenge.

As a sign of how unique these caucuses will be, the Democrats will set up 8 to 10 “at -large” caucus sites for shift workers on the Las Vegas Strip who would otherwise be working while the caucuses are being held. This will hopefully drive the expected turnout close to 50,000 – about half of the turnout for the Iowa Caucuses but a significant number considering that Nevadans have never been in a position to impact a presidential race so decisively.

The Caucuses are the brainchild of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who fought for an early western nominating contest in order to make the process more representative of the country at large. While using Nevada as a template for the typical western voter might be something of a stretch, there’s no doubt that Reid has succeeded perhaps beyond what he imagined in making Nevada a player in this year’s nominating process.

The road to the Democratic nomination for President now passes through Las Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe, and points beyond. And we can add Nevadans to a list that includes Iowans and New Hampshirites of the most important voters in the nation come next month.


Iowa project curbs non-union labor

The Waterloo (IA) Building Trades Council, made up of unionized skilled trades workers, issued a statement Friday supporting Alliant Energy's proposed coal-fired power plant near Marshalltown.

The council is taking that position because Alliant agreed to a project labor agreement, which requires companies working on the plant to pay prevailing wages. The agreement also provides for unions to help union and nonunion companies recruit qualified workers.

Council President Rich Kurtenbach said Alliant and building trades reached similar agreements on the construction of wind farms in Franklin County.

A similar agreement was used in the construction of another Alliant plant in Mason City.

Kurtenbach said the project could employ as many as 100 union building trades workers from the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area. The plant is close to several Iowa trades councils whose workers stand to benefit.

Alliant spokesman Ryan Stensland said the company agreed in principle to use union labor in the construction and operation of the power plant wherever possible. But he said no formal agreement has been hammered out regarding a specific number of jobs or pay rates, either at the Marshalltown plant or wind farm project.

Interstate Power and Light, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, has applied to the Iowa Utilities Board to build a 660-megawatt plant that will use pulverized coal to generate power.

Five organizations - Community Energy Solutions, Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Farmers Union, Iowa Renewable Energy Association and Iowa Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility - plan to present expert witness testimony at a hearing in January on the plant's global warming impacts and public health. The groups also contend the plant will increase electrical rates and displace energy that could come from renewable sources.

In response, Alliant officials said they are "looking forward to the opportunity in this process to lay out our plans, of which we are very proud and feel they address the growing Iowa power needs in an environmentally and cost-effective manor."

Kurtenbach reconciles the trades council's position with some groups' environmental concerns by saying "environmental issues are just as important to us as anybody else."

He would agree the plants are not clean, "but I've also witnessed the changes with all the technologies and how it reduces emissions by building these new plants. If it will indirectly help them in getting rid of those older plants, we are reducing the emissions that are out there today."

Kurtenbach and Mark Milburn, project manager with LS Power's proposed coal-fired power plant in near Waterloo, said discussions have occurred about implementing a project labor agreement for the Waterloo project but no such agreement has been reached at this time.

Local building trades reached a similar agreement with Isle of Capri Casinos and general contractor Ryan Cos. for the Isle Casino & Hotel at Waterloo, which opened this past summer.

Several prominent nonunion contractors declined to bid or work on the project because they objected to the project labor agreement's provisions, specifically wages based on rates in Cedar Rapids they would have been required to pay.

Union skilled trades representatives said those rates were necessary to make sure union skilled trades workers - forced to work out of town for years - didn't have to take a pay cut.


Harsh union attacks mar Dem caucus campaign

After a pause for Christmas, presidential contenders Wednesday resume their blitz across Iowa, scraping and scuffling in contests that have grown tighter and more unpredictable as the first balloting of 2008 nears.

And with the campaigning, expect a frenzy of hard-hitting advertising in Iowa by labor unions and other special interests. Federal election reports show that several groups not officially affiliated with the presidential contenders are ready to launch attack ads and mailers across the state.

Over the weekend, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) filed documents with the Federal Election Commission reporting that it will spend $40,755 on a mailing opposing Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. AFSCME is one of three major groups that have been active in Iowa promoting the candidacy of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

Two conservative groups also got into the act this week, announcing that they will be financing advertising campaigns in the week before the Jan. 3 caucuses.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side of the campaign trail,three candidates - Clinton, Obama and John Edwards - are running neck-and-neck-and-neck, with the rest of the field fighting to squeeze past one of them to finish third.

Among Republicans, former Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts are battling for first place, while the race for third is a toss-up among several contenders.

The closeness of the caucus contests in Iowa increases the importance of these final days - and any verbal misstep, breakthrough TV ads or crystallizing moment on the campaign trail - in what already have been exceptionally fluid races.


Iowans will vote Jan. 3.

"We've never had anything like this," said David Nagle, a former congressman and past chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, who has been tracking the caucuses since they gained national attention in 1972.

"If you can find a three-headed coin, flip it. That's about the best projection I can give you."

While the approach of Christmas had kept the candidates on relatively good behavior - especially in their warm-and-fuzzy TV spots - few expected their reluctance to attack to last all the way into the new year.

With just eight full days of campaigning left, Christmas amounted to little more than an extended dinner break for many of the White House candidates and their harried staffers.

Democratic Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, who has taken up temporary residence in Des Moines, had the state to himself and spent part of the day ice skating with his family and campaign team.

Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, will join former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack and his wife, Christie, in the Vilsacks' hometown in the southeast part of the state, before the Clintons part ways to stump separately.


Another Democrat, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, begins his day in southwest Iowa, while Obama threads his way through the north.

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware plans a rally Wednesday in Des Moines.

On the Republican side, Huckabee plans to start his day with a pheasant hunt in southern Iowa, while Fred Thompson, former senator from Tennessee, resumes his bus tour a few towns over.

In all, eight candidates and two spouses will storm the state, according to the Iowa Democratic Party, which tracks campaign events by contenders from both parties. But that's just a start.

Between now and the caucuses, every one of the major presidential hopefuls will visit Iowa, including three - Sen. John McCain of Arizona; Rudy Giuliani, former New York mayor, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas - who up to now have spent little time in the state.

"As the race moves along, the Republicans are starting to see you really can't skip Iowa," said Chuck Laudner, executive director of the state GOP.


New Hampshire, which has been Iowa's twin at the front of the presidential nominating calendar for the past few decades, holds the nation's first primary Jan. 8.

Analysts believe a candidate has to finish somewhere in the top three in either Iowa or New Hampshire to be able to seriously compete in the contests that follow.

Edwards and Romney planned to campaign in New Hampshire on Wednesday before resuming a full schedule of Iowa events Thursday.

The onslaught in Iowa reflects its centrality to the presidential contest, despite the efforts of politicians in more populous places -- including Michigan, Florida and California - to cut the state down to size by moving their contests up to January and February.

All Iowa's detractors managed to do was to elevate the state's importance and add uncertainty by pushing the campaign into the heart of the holiday season.


Public school will test teachers' solidarity

Children in Columbia Station (OH)'s public schools could be meeting new bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers soon after the start of the new year.

The union representing non-teaching staff is threatening to strike starting Jan. 7, and district officials intend to keep schools operating without them.

"Right now, that is our plan," said John Kuhn, superintendent of the Columbia School District. "The board has authorized me to do what's necessary to keep the schools open."

Local 4 of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees handed Kuhn a 10-day strike notice on Friday. The union represents 37 custodians, secretaries, special-needs aides, bus drivers, monitors and cafeteria workers, but the contract would affect 47 employees, Rains said.

In a prepared statement, school board President Cheryl Blazek noted that teachers are represented by a different union and are expected to be at work Jan. 7.

The union is upset with the school board's plan to discontinue benefits for part-time workers, which includes most of the bus drivers, said Lloyd Rains, OAPSE regional director.

Rains said the board's final offer eliminates health insurance and retirement benefits for new hires working less than 32 hours a week.

Current union members would retain their benefits, he said, but workers fear the absence of benefits for new hires would forever diminish their job status.

"A bus driver starts her day at 5:30 a.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m., even though it's considered part-time," Rains said. "The incentive is health insurance. Once they eliminate that incentive, your hires become transient. That's unacceptable to our current members, most of whom live in Columbia Station."

Kuhn said he would abide by an agreement with the union not to discuss contract talks. He conceded the board is seeking to cut benefits, but he added, "I think the negotiation is more complex than that."

Rains said a federal mediator is trying to set up another negotiating session before the strike date.

The workers, who have been without a contract since July 2006, are threatening to walk out at 9:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 7, just after bus drivers deliver their passengers to school.

The school board met in emergency session Friday to discuss the strike notice and instructed Kuhn to hire substitute staff to ensure the buses roll and the schools stay open.

Kuhn would not elaborate on how he plans to fill the posts of striking workers.

The district, in eastern Lorain County, has about 1,100 students attending a high school, a middle school and an elementary school.


Andy Stern's SEIU wants to help you

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