Seniority-scam on ballot fueled by union cash

Incumbent Democratic lawmakers have donated or raised nearly $1.4 million for the California Proposition 93 campaign, fueling accusations that the measure to alter term limits is a power grab. Fourteen Democratic Assembly members and three senators contributed money in their own name, while numerous others gave to special committees used by colleagues to solicit funds for the effort, records show.

The two largest legislative contributors are Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, $350,000, and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, $300,000. The measure would give them an extra four years and six years in office, respectively. "This shows what a lie it is that Proposition 93 actually reduces terms," said Kevin Spillane, spokesman for No on 93. "Politicians wouldn't be giving a million dollars if it wasn't going to lengthen their tenure."

A spokesman for Núñez, who helped craft Proposition 93, said in a written statement that the initiative would benefit the public.

"As a legislator who became speaker when he was just a freshman, the speaker, like the governor, understands better than most the value of experience and expertise that Proposition 93 will bring to the Legislature," said the spokesman, Steve Maviglio.

Proposition 93 would lengthen terms for lawmakers who spend their entire career in one house, but it would reduce time for those who move from the Assembly to the Senate, or vice versa.

State law now limits lawmakers to eight years in the Senate and six in the Assembly. Proposition 93 would cut the maximum from 14 years to 12, but allow all to be served in one house.

Ninety percent of legislators have not served the maximum by switching houses since term limits were imposed in 1990, according to a study by the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies.

No GOP legislator has contributed to campaigns for or against the measure. The California Republican Party, however, has donated $100,000 to fight it.

Proposition 93 funds linked to Democratic incumbents represent about 9 percent of the $15 million raised to pass it, primarily from labor unions, corporations, health-care firms and others with business before the Legislature.

No on 93 is led by state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, who has given $2.5 million of his personal fortune. Other top donors to the $7 million campaign are California Correctional Peace Officers Association, $2 million, and U.S. Term Limits, $1.5 million.

Poizner is widely regarded as a potential GOP gubernatorial candidate, prompting accusations that he is jockeying for position.

"He's trying to build Poizner brand recognition," said Richard Stapler, spokesman for Yes on 93.

Poizner countered that his opposition to the initiative has hampered him politically by stepping on toes from both parties.

"When I decided to run the No on 93 campaign, it was because no one else had the courage to stand up to these career politicians – really from both parties," Poizner said.

Maviglio, spokesman for Núñez, blasted No on 93 contributions by U.S. Term Limits, a nonprofit group that is not required to disclose its donors and does not do so voluntarily.

Howard Rich, a wealthy, controversial New York developer and libertarian, is a trustee and former president of the group.

Maviglio said it is silly for Poizner to criticize Democratic donors to Yes on 93 when he "refuses to reveal who is stuffing (his campaign's) pockets with contributions."

Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, contributed $45,000 to Yes on 93 and $105,000 to a committee linked to Perata that gave $300,000 to the effort.

Steinberg said he donated the money because Perata asked for funds and because existing term limits are too short. "Just as members are getting good at the job, they're termed out," he said.

Ron Nehring, chairman of the California Republican Party, turned thumbs down. "It's a self-serving measure that seeks to undermine term limits," he said.

GOP strategist Dan Schnur said Republican legislators have mixed feelings.

"On one hand, they're against career politicians," he said. "On the other hand, they wouldn't mind sticking around Sacramento for a few more years. So the best option is just to keep their head down."


WGA mum as members choose Fi-Core Status

When talks broke down last month between the studios and striking writers, it began to hit home that scribes could be jobless for many months to come. One of those writers finally made the agonizing decision to stop picketing and go back to work.

The writer's show, a daytime soap, had run out of scripts. To this writer, the moral choice lay in keeping the show on the air. "Daytime serials are not in a healthy situation," said the writer, who asked for anonymity, fearing fallout from both sides in the complex and highly charged standoff. "If we can keep shows on the air, I perceive it as something that needs to be done for the future generation of writers."

Although most daytime writers have joined their colleagues on the picket lines, others - fearing for their jobs or the survival of the soap genre altogether - quietly have gone back to work. Even those who are still picketing say soap writers' issues are unique.

Residuals, for instance, a key area of disagreement between the studios and the Writers Guild of America, are not an issue for them because their shows rarely are rerun. Instead, their interests tend to focus on health and pension benefits and minimum salary for the Internet, one place where the genre - whose audience for the daytime perennials has been dwindling - possibly could survive.

The specialized world of soap operas creates unique situations during Hollywood's periods of labor unrest; it's believed that during strikes in the 1980s, scab writers were hired to keep the soaps going. Some writers currently on strike say producers have tried to lure them back with promises of anonymity. And because the estimated 110 daytime writers are spread out geographically, many working at home, it would be relatively easy to keep such deals quiet.

Others, such as the writer quoted above, are starting to take advantage of a little-known inactive status known as "financial core" that allows union members to return to work without censure.

"You resign your membership but continue to pay dues," the writer said about the financial-core designation. "They (the guild) still represent you. You still have your health care, your pension. It's absolutely fair. You remain involved in the protections that the union offers, and you support them financially. There are many reasons people make that decision."

The WGA would not disclose the number of members who have opted for financial-core status. "We don't think it's an issue, but since this is an internal matter, we choose not to comment," said guild spokesman Gregg Mitchell.

To encourage more writers' interest in the financial-core option, the studios' representatives placed a Q&A list about the process on the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers Web site.

According to this site, members do not have to do anything to seek financial-core status. They simply choose to work, and the WGA has no right to impose discipline. A WGA site, however, said members must resign first in writing. It is not necessary to prove financial hardship.

More writers might consider the "fi-core" alternative, as it is called, if the strike stretches out. "In a month, things could change dramatically," said Bob Guza, the head writer and producer on "General Hospital."


Judge may halt UFCW's ongoing criminal enterprise

U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne has denied a motion by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and co-defendants to have Smithfield Foods' racketeering lawsuit against them dismissed. After a nearly three-hour hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne denied the union's motion to dismiss the lawsuit without explanation.

Smithfield charges in the Oct. 17 lawsuit that the union and its "co-conspirators" abandoned efforts to win over employees and launched an effort to extort the company's recognition of a union at the plant. The union has worked to destroy the company's image and inflict maximum economic damage, through publication of false statements, frivolous regulatory investigations and communication with Wall Street, Smithfield claims.

Washington lawyer Robert Weinberg, representing the union and 11 co-defendants, argued that Smithfield had not proved union extortion under federal racketeering law as alleged. The alleged conduct also would not fit the definition of an ongoing criminal enterprise, he said.


Judge to rule on labor-state union thuggery

A state Supreme Court judge said Wednesday he'd reserve his decision on whether a project labor agreement between Broome County and labor unions to renovate the George Harvey Justice Building using 90 percent union workers is legal.

In December, state Supreme Court Justice Ferris Lebous halted the opening of bids for the $16.9 million renovation of the building after local non-union contractors challenged the legality of the project labor agreement.

The attorney for the non-union contractors argued Wednesday that Broome did not meet the standard set by New York courts for a labor agreement, namely that the agreement would save taxpayers money. The $366,000 the county claimed it would save in labor costs with the agreement was not based on the actual project, and was not accurate, said Robert Bennett.

"This number has absolutely no relevance at all to this job," Bennett said.

But Broome's attorney disagreed, saying the agreement more than met standards and that it was not discriminatory. "The county took great care there was no discrimination on this project," said Broome County Attorney Joseph Sluzer.

Broome County legislators voted in November to approve the agreement, which would limit work on the George Harvey Justice Building to 90 percent union labor.

Legislators approved the agreement because they said it would put local workers on the project. But non-union contractors said the agreement discriminates against non-union workers at local companies who are also residents of Broome County.

While non-union contractors can bid on the project, they must hire 90 percent of their workers from the union halls instead of using their own non-union tradesmen on the job, the agreement states.

Lebous told attorneys on both side they have until Feb. 6 to submit legal arguments to the court. Lebous said he'd issue his decision as soon as possible.

Lebous also told attorneys Wednesday that he was aware of time constraints but wanted to resolve the legal issues in accordance with the law. The project is about six weeks behind schedule. Workers have already gutted the building, which has stood vacant for several years. It was built in 1939.


AFL-CIO political organizer arrested

A Cleveland man with a lengthy criminal record was arrested Monday for canvassing a Canal Fulton neighborhood without a permit, police said. Wayne C. Christopher, 48, and six other people were canvassing residential neighborhoods for the Cleveland office of Working America, described on its Web site as a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Christopher was arrested Monday night in the 600 block of Colonial Street on outstanding warrants from Cleveland police and a charge of soliciting without a permit. The open warrants are for drunken driving and driving with a suspended license, Officer Douglas Swartz said. Christopher also has convictions for rape, felonious sexual penetration and pandering obscenity and is a tier-three registered sex offender, Police Chief David Frisone said.

Canal Fulton police were notified Monday afternoon that a group from Working America was coming down to do canvassing. A faxed list of names did not include the three people with criminal histories, Swartz said.

The city requires all solicitors to obtain a permit. “They called and said, ‘We’re coming down, and we don’t need a permit,’ and they cited some case law,” Swartz said.

The solicitation law is meant to protect residents from criminals who may be casing homes and neighborhoods, he said.

“Most of our citizens know that we keep strict guidelines for who comes through town,” Swartz said.

Officers responded when they received reports of a suspicious person going door-to-door Monday night.

Christopher and the six other canvassers were brought to the police station. Christopher was booked and released on a summons to appear in Massillon Municipal Court on Friday.


AFL-CIO Dem slaps SEIU with FEC complaint

Rep. Al Wynn's campaign charged Tuesday that his Democratic primary challenger Donna Edwards violated federal election laws by coordinating with organizations that supported her candidacy.

Wynn spokeswoman Lori Sherwood filed a 134-page complaint with the Federal Election Commission Tuesday. It alleges that Edwards' leadership of the social justice activist organization Arca Foundation has led to illicit and unethical collaboration by her campaign with Arca affiliate organizations.

"In her position as Executive Director of Arca, Ms. Edwards has the ability to direct and influence decision making within these political organizations. Thus the expenditures made by the (Service Employees International Union), Emily's List and others to her campaign can in no way be called independent," the document states. "(They) are all undertaken to avoid federal campaign contribution limits."

Edwards, who came within 3,000 votes of knocking off Wynn in 2006, called the complaint "desperate."

"This is a desperate, 11th-hour attempt by the congressman to deflect from the fact that groups representing the core of the Democratic Party and the issues it stands for -- worker's rights, affordable housing, protecting women's right to choose, the environment -- have decided that they want to fire him and are supporting me because they know I stand with them and always have," said a prepared statement by Edwards.

The FEC complaint alleges that Arca Foundation granted a total of $4,289,640 to 39 organizations from 2002 through 2006. Board members, employees and political action committees of these organizations gave Edwards' campaign more than $138,500 (in 2006 through the third quarter of 2007), according to the statement.

In 2000, Edwards joined the Arca Foundation as executive director. She took a leave of absence starting Sept. 3, 2007.

The complaint also states that campaign literature paid for by the 1199 SEIU (United Healthcare Workers East) Federal PAC appears to be the "direct result of collaboration between the Edwards campaign and SEIU." The literature, however, states that it was not authorized by any candidate or their committee.

An e-mail sent by EMILY's list to raise money for Edwards' campaign also "could violate federal campaign finance law," the complaint said. Other allegations involve wrongdoing with the League of Conservation Voters, Citizens Services and the nonprofit They Work for Us.

Under Internal Revenue Service code, individuals and organizations may make "independent expenditures" on behalf of a candidate of unlimited amounts. However, the expenditures must be entirely separate from the campaign they support.

Since Edwards' loss in 2006, she has expanded her endorsement base, gaining support from women's organizations and labor unions. This year's race is considered a toss-up.

Monday, Wynn was asked about the expected result in the Feb. 12 primary.

"I expect to win," said the eight-term congressman, adding "no, it's not going to be by a smaller margin."


SEIU in racketeering-style action v. Carlyle unit

A 120-bed nursing and rehabilitation center costing $15 million has been proposed for Salmon Creek (WA), but a public hearing today could affect whether it is approved. HCR Manor Care would like to build the 60,000-square-foot facility at 139th Street and 29th Avenue. The application is being reviewed by the Certificate of Need program through the Washington Department of Health.

The certificate process includes determining the need for the project, the financial feasibility, the quality of care and staffing that will be provided and how the project will affect existing providers. The process, as a rule, does not include a public hearing unless one is requested. In this case, a union of nursing home workers made that request.

SEIU Healthcare 775NW will be testifying against the application at this morning's hearing, according to an e-mail from Adam Glickman, vice president of the union. SEIU contends, among other issues, that there is not a need for new nursing home beds in Clark County and that if there was, "Manor Care is the wrong provider."

That statement stems from questions about the private equity firm The Carlyle Group, which purchased HCR Manor Care in late 2007. SEIU questions the company's long-term plans and experience in the field. Julie Beckert, director of marketing communications with Manor Care, said opposition to the project is surprising.

"We feel that this is a need for the community," Beckert said.

The new facility would employ 150. Construction could begin in the spring if the project is approved, Beckert said, and it would open a year later.

The company has nearly 60,000 employees through a network of 500 nursing and rehabilitation centers, assisted living facilities, outpatient rehabilitation clinics and hospice and home care agencies.

HCR Manor Care operates under the names Heartland, ManorCare Health Services and Arden Courts and was purchased by The Carlyle Group for $6.3 billion in December.

There are eight nursing homes in Clark County, as well as around 240 adult family homes and 25 boarding homes, according to Karen Nidermayer, analyst on the Salmon Creek project for the Certificate of Need program.

She said there is no set formula on how many facilities can operate in an area, but information that is examined includes the capacity and occupancy of existing providers, as well as what types of services are already provided in the community.

Manor Care was approved for the same nursing home project in 2005, Nidermayer said. When a company's ownership changes, as was the case with Manor Care, the Certificate of Need approval does not automatically transfer to the new owners.

"This project does need to stand on its own," Nidermayer said.

The project was submitted for state approval Aug. 30. The application was screened for completeness before the formal review could begin.

Manor Care will have representatives at this morning's meeting, after which the company will have until Feb. 14 to respond and provide rebuttal to any points challenging the project. The state's decision is due by March 31.


Previously: HCR Manor Care of Ohio applied with the state in August to construct a $15 million, 120-bed nursing home in Salmon Creek.

What's new: A public hearing on the application for a certificate of need is set for 8:30 this morning at 1300 Franklin St., Suite 680.

What's next: Manor Care will have until Feb. 14 to rebut any opposing viewpoints, and the state will decide on the project's fate by March 31.


OLMS bags another gov't-union embezzler

An official with a Battle Creek (MI) labor union has been sentenced to federal prison for embezzling $75,000. Brad Harper, 56, of Marshall, was sentenced Tuesday to 14 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist in Federal District Court in Grand Rapids. Harper, the former treasurer of American Federation of Government Employees Local 1629 in Battle Creek, also was ordered to repay $75,069.49, according to U.S. Attorney Charles Gross.

Harper pleaded guilty in August to one count of making a materially false statement on the annual report filed by the union. During his guilty plea he admitted that, between December 1999 and March 2005, while he was treasurer, he made unauthorized ATM cash withdrawals from Local 1629’s bank account and unauthorized personal charges on the local’s credit card totaling $75,069.49.

The investigation of the case was handled by the Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards in Detroit.


Discouraging non-union labor in baseball

One of the country's largest labor unions has issued a report lauding the effects of the Washington Nationals stadium project on the D.C. economy and workers.

The Laborers' International Union of North America and LIUNA Local 657 said the ballpark should be seen as a model for how large-scale construction can create jobs and boost worker qualifications, and said more than $12 million has been injected into D.C. neighborhoods through the steady paychecks of workers. LIUNA has been a major supporter of the stadium's Project Labor Agreement, which required all workers to be union members.

The PLA, the union said, has been instrumental in allowing the city complete the ballpark on time while keeping the hard and soft costs of the stadium on budget.

"Finishing the project on time was critical and the need for timely project completion led to the decision to use the PLA," the report said. "Using the PLA to lock up a reliable, skilled labor supply in numerous trades and crafts represents sound project planning and helps offset considerable risks."

According to LIUNA, 72 percent of all apprenticeship hours have been performed by District residents, while 87 percent of all new apprentices are from the District. However, the union acknowledged that only about one-third of all journeyman-level workers at the stadium are from the District -- falling short of the 50 percent goal set by District officials when the project began. It is this shortage of D.C.-based journeymen that has drawn the ire of industry groups like the DC Economic Empowerment Coalition (DCEEC), which opposed the PLA. Union officials have countered by pointing to a shortage of journeymen living in the District; they contend that the experience gained by apprentices on the stadium will help boost the number of journeymen for future projects in the city.

The union's report comes less than a week after two workers were fired on the job site for their connection to a noose found on the job site. DCEEC said the incident showed a pattern of racial discrimination at the ballpark, and D.C. Council member Kwame Brown hosted a roundtable to discuss the issue this afternoon.


UAW violations may force new Casino War battle

The National Labor Relations Board hearing that featured a debate over sovereign immunity, examined the complexities of the Chinese language and scrutinized the pre-election conduct of union organizers came to a close Tuesday.

Coming out of the seven-day hearing, attorneys representing both sides — the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and pro-union dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino — said they are confident that a favorable decision will come their way.

Richard Hankins, an attorney representing the tribe, said he was “very pleased” with how the hearing went.

Meanwhile, pro-union dealers at Foxwoods, who volunteered their time to work on the United Auto Workers union's organizing committee, said they feel vindicated, and the testimony proves that the UAW ran a positive campaign.

“We look forward to our 'yes' vote being certified,” said Jacqueline Little, a poker dealer at Foxwoods since the day it opened and also a volunteer on the union's organizing committee.

Now, the waiting begins.

Administrative law judge Raymond P. Green's written decision, which he expects to issue in early March, will determine whether the union election held Nov. 24 at Foxwoods Resort Casino was valid.

Table game and poker dealers voted 1,289 to 852 in favor of union representation by the UAW union in the election. The tribe has questioned why the ballots were not printed in multiple languages, why an election notice was only printed in one Chinese dialect and also contends that UAW representatives harassed and intimidated eligible voters before the election.

Green asked that attorneys representing the tribe, UAW and NLRB file their legal briefs with him by Feb. 28. He said he will make his decision after reading the briefs but does not expect to issue a decision any later than March 15.

Green could certify the election results or call for a new election.

The majority of documents entered into evidence throughout the hearing dealt with the issue of language and to what extent Asian dealers, specifically those who speak Chinese, can speak, read and comprehend English.

Green, as an aside at the beginning of the hearing, said that if it were his decision, he would have printed the ballots in Chinese.

The judge also questioned at one point whether it would be possible to quantify just to what level the Chinese-speaking dealers understand English.

Attorneys for the NLRB and the tribe are working on compiling a spreadsheet that aims to quantify just how many dealers may speak Chinese as a primary language.

Using employees' I-9 forms as well as their gaming license records, it has been determined that at least 454 dealers were born in China and more than 700 identified themselves as “Asian” or Pacific Islander.”

Along with the language-portion of evidence, Green will also have to weigh testimony given at the hearing that focused on the conduct of union representatives leading up to the election.

Some dealers, called by the tribe's attorneys, testified that they had been harassed, intimidated and has their car nearly run off the road by another vehicle.

Diane Weaver said she was surrounded in an employee cafeteria by a group of 10 to 15 union supporters, who shouted at her. Weaver, a table game dealer for five years, testified that one person called her “stupid” and another threatened to beat her.

Weaver said at that time that fellow dealer Donald MacPhee II initiated the conversation when they were both heading off the gaming floor to take one of their allotted 20-minute breaks.

UAW attorney Tom Meiklejohn called MacPhee to the stand Tuesday.

Having left his shift at Foxwoods earlier that morning, MacPhee took the witness stand still wearing his uniform.

MacPhee said he did initiate a conversation relating to union representation with Weaver. He also acknowledged that while having that conversation in the cafeteria, three other dealers chimed in. MacPhee said he remembered someone saying, “What, are you stupid?” in reference to Weaver's anti-union view. But, MacPhee said he does not recall anyone ever threatening to harm Weaver and said she was not surrounded by 10 or so dealers.

During Hankins' cross-examination, MacPhee said he was not present for the entire conversation between pro-union dealers and Weaver.

And then there was the case of Bob Madore, the director of UAW Region 9A.

Debra Beebe, a dual-rate dealer for almost 15 years, said she attended a union meeting held the week before the election at the union hall in Norwich. At it, she said, “Bob” spoke and told those in the crowd the union would know who voted “no” in the election and that if those individuals filed grievances, there would be a way for the union to “retaliate.” Beebe testified that she heard Bob say that if someone who was anti-union filed a grievance, the person's paperwork would be shoved to the bottom of the stack.

In his testimony that spanned only minutes, Madore emphatically denied even speaking about grievances at the meeting.

When asked about the differing accounts and inconsistencies, Hankins said: “It's the judge's job to decide who he believes.”

Hankins also pointed out that the UAW's attorneys did not call anyone to the stand to refute several claims made by dealers that they were questioned in the employee cafeteria about how they had voted.

“The fact are undisputed,” Hankins said.

Little remains confident in the union and the campaign that was run by volunteers like herself and union staffers and said she is certain that no one's conduct was so egregious that the vote should be tossed out.

“Some of the testimony, something may have been said or done, that were unfortunate, but I don't think they had the result of anyone feeling intimidated or disenfranchised,” she said.

Little said she hears from fellow dealers that their employer is “grasping at straws” and only delaying the certification of the vote.

If the vote is certified, Hankins said the tribe will examine its legal options and decide how to proceed.


Teddy Kennedy: Union hack in tribal Casino War

As the saga of the Mashpee Wampanoag casino venture grinds slowly forward there is time to ponder some of the finer details of this story. One of these is the issue of how much help and support can the tribe expect from its elected representatives when tribe members bring up what they feel are irregularities in tribal management. Normally, one would expect that as soon as he receives communications from, say, a tribal elder asking for a federal investigation of tribal finances and contracts, Ted Kennedy, the new American Moses would leap into action.

Some of the charges leveled by tribe members at former tribal council chairman Glenn Marshall are serious; charges such as misuse/diversion of grant monies, conflict of interest and fraudulent contracts. Certainly, the most-senior member of the United States Senate -- a man who lives on Cape Cod himself and who has long been an effective voice for fair dealings with minorities -- would take action.

The silence is deafening

But, while Kennedy comes down from the heights of Capitol Hill bearing tablets of the law and presidential campaign endorsements, he has been dead silent on matters concerning the Wampanoag situation. And, whatever influence he brought to bear among federal agencies seems to have been wasted. Outside "investors" continue their drive to reap huge profits from a gambling development in Middleboro that would have no chance at all of being built were it not for the use of Wampanoag federal sovereignty. While it is known that at least two federal agencies -- the IRS and the FBI -- were investigating Marshall and others last fall, nothing has happened to date. Nothing.

Is Hyannisport next?

Could there be unseen hands at work in this situation? Kennedy recently told one tribe member, in response to a letter asking for help, that he could not become involved, that his ownership of property on Cape Cod poses a conflict of interest for him in view of the possibility that some of the Wampanoag descendants might attempt to reopen an earlier land suit. To date, the senator's neighborhood of Hyannisport has not been mentioned as a potential target for tribal interests, but one can never be too careful.

A question of influence

Perhaps we are looking in the wrong places for an answer to the question of why Kennedy has been so unwilling to help the members of the Wampanoag tribe deal with those who want to treat the tribe as their private piggy bank. Remember Scott Ferson? He’s the white man from Belmont -- paid directly by outside investors – who serves as spokesman for the tribal council. He also used to work for Senator Ted Kennedy … as his press secretary.

One does not have to be a fingerprint expert to see what is going on here. Perhaps the senior senator from Massachusetts has been more involved than we all thought. He is just not playing for the home team. Would it not be wonderful to have someone in the press ask Ferson, "Have you ever spoken to the senator about anything concerning the Wampanoags?" Then, of course, we could ask the senator himself if Ferson has ever contacted him to discuss Wampanoag matters.

To be clear, I am not saying that this game has been in the bag from day one. And I am not saying that Ted Kennedy is just another long-winded veteran hack, doing favors for other hacks and special interests while claiming to champion the cause of the little guy. And, I am certainly not saying that Scott Ferson was hired by the tribe's exploiters/investors because of the backroom influence he can muster in their behalf.

Most of all, I want to avoid saying that Ferson is actively working in favor of those who want to exploit the tribe and against the actual tribe members for whom he claims to speak. It would be reckless of me to claim that Ferson had any part in the shunning of tribe members, the removal of others from the tribal rolls or the adding of new names and faces to the tribe's rolls. For me to do so would be unconscionable and perhaps defamatory...or, perhaps, true?

Sorry, the agenda is full

For some reason, whenever I think of Scott Ferson, Bill McDermott (the tribe's lawyer), Glenn Marshall, council chairman Shawn Hendricks and the investors -- Herb Strather, Sol Kirzner and Len Wolman -- the same little word comes to mind and I cannot understand why. That word is RICO.

For all his family glory and his Harvard education and his five decades in the senate, Ted Kennedy is still just another Boston Irish political hack. I guess helping the Wampanoags receive fair treatment does not fit into the good senator's Democrat agenda.


Educator wanted Gov. to address worker choice

Of the eight 2008 reader panelists who have agreed to respond to issues throughout the year, four spent a little over an hour listening to Gov. Jennifer Granholm present her vision for the state of Michigan during her State of the State address Tuesday night.

While most of the panelists agree that the Governor gave a good speech, they also wonder how well the words will translate into action to revive the state’s growingly dire economy. “Wow, what a great place to live, but why are all these for sale and foreclosure signs growing in all these front yards?” asked retired educator, Bob McCullough, 73. “I thought this was a good speech, but talk is cheap and we all know it takes money to buy whiskey!”

McCullough said that Valhalla is attainable but asked if it is realistic. “The governor said ‘fight for our future.’ I say fight for our survival,” he said.

Charlevoix resident, Karen Peters, 64, agreed that the governor gave a very uplifting and hopeful speech, while acknowledging the dire straits in which our state finds itself.

Peters is most concerned about the Kyoto-like law the Governor seeks which will mandate a certain level of alternative fuel use in the years to come, and said that the certainty of man-made global warming is not even a settled issue.

“Many scientists say it (global warming) is cyclical and out of our control. The other side of the story about this needs to be explored more by the media and government prior to spending billions of dollars on the effort,” Peters said. “While it is great that she hopes to bring new companies and jobs to our state in this effort, it is important to understand that each form of renewable energy is fraught with problems and high expenses. As to wind energy, no one wants them in their city, and it would take most of our open land to have enough of them to make a difference.”

Peters said that she also hopes the governor is not suggesting government run socialized medicine and added that the idea of citizens paying for everyone to go to college is not only unacceptable but is downright without merit.

Sixty-five year old Tom Ritchie, a health and safety coordinator, was a little anxious about what the governor was going to say but thought the speech she delivered was appropriate.

“Last year she proposed a new sales tax and it was a disaster,” Ritchie said. “Last night, she portrayed the conditions of the state as it is today and then set a vision that she, the legislature and private enterprise could do to improve the future. I liked that she mentioned both Republicans and Democrats who created bills that made a positive action for the state last year. It’s important to highlight both parties.”

For Ritchie, last’s nights address was the first he’s watched Granholm deliver and overall, he liked what he heard. He specifically liked the idea of reducing size of high schools, not letting kids drop out until the age of 18 and mandatory kindergarten. He also stressed the importance of striking a balance between our employment needs and ecology needs, and providing health care for all Americans.

“So many Americans don’t have health insurance. We do need to do something to try to get health care to more people,” he said.

Educator, Kim Wills, 59, was thankful that the governor began her address by acknowledging the service and commitment of the men and women in the armed services and said it was encouraging to hear her speak about incentives to attract businesses.

“One incentive that I would have liked to hear is a plan to pass Right to Work Laws,” she said. “One must also remember that the existing Michigan businesses will be the ones bearing the brunt of the load for bringing in new businesses. Will there be any help for them? After all, they are the ones who chose to stay during the tough times.”

Wills was also thankful to hear that new state police officers were going to be hired.

“One of government's responsibilities is the safety of its citizens. Increased public safety will also help attract businesses to this state,” she said.

Wills thinks that when it comes to health care, the more government gets involved, the more costly it is and the longer people have to wait to get help. And while the Governor addressed education in a variety of ways, many of which Wills thinks will help, she would liked to have heard Granholm also address school vouchers.


AFSCME transit union in Ohio has other plans

For the third time, Stark Area Regional Transit Authority workers have voted down a labor contract with their employer. Bus drivers, mechanics and maintenance workers of SARTA defeated the tentative agreement 66-64 Tuesday night.

The vote was much closer than one taken earlier this month on another SARTA contract offer. While details of the contract were presented to union members on Sunday, voting took place over the course of the day Tuesday. “It’s very unfortunate,” said Teresa Thompson, SARTA planning and community outreach manager. “I’m not sure we can reach an agreement at this point.”

Thompson, a member of the SARTA negotiating team, said she thought all the union’s concerns, including the formula for calculating vacation time, had been addressed in the latest offer.

“We gave them what they asked for. Apparently, that’s not the only issue,” she said.

The 146 bus drivers, technicians, mechanics and electricians belong to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Ohio Council 8, Local 1880. They have been working without a contract since January 2007.

Louis Maholic, a staff representative for Local 1880, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

When the tentative agreement was announced on Friday, SARTA attorney Gust Callas called it “a good agreement for both sides. We came within our budgetary constraints.”

Callas said both sides understand the importance of continued bus service to the county.

Thompson said a strike, though not anticipated, is “always a possibility.”

As for what happens next, Thompson said, “We’ll wait to hear from them. The ball’s in their court.”


GOP lawmaker wants binding arbitration for teachers

A school teacher's work day doesn't end when the day's final bell rings. Professional teachers work hard in Ohio, and deserve respect for their contributions to our communities. That said, a student's right to learn at one of Ohio's public schools shouldn't come to a screeching halt when a union has labor problems with school boards.

Ohio Senate Bill 264, legislation introduced by State Sen. John Carey, a Wellston Republican who is calling his proposal the "Kids First" plan, would put teachers in the same category as Ohio's police officers and firefighters. Namely, it would disallow teachers' unions from striking when contract negotiations come to an impasse.

Instead, the proposal would have teachers and school board negotiators go to binding arbitration to resolve disputes -- as public safety officers do now -- and keep educators in the classroom.

Carey admitted he doubted his plan would pass in the legislature. However, he wanted to get a statewide discussion going about the issue.

Thankfully, we haven't had that issue locally in recent years, at least among teachers. But we agree the time to discuss it is when teachers are not on strike.

Ohio's Constitution promises an adequate education for students enrolled in the state's public schools. A district with teachers on strike, with unfamiliar and possibly untrained substitute teachers, may not live up to the promise laid out by the state constitution.

So, which is more important?

A student's constitutional right to an education, or the method by which teachers and school boards resolve their differences?

It's a tough issue to consider, which is why starting a debate about the issue is a good thing.

Teachers are one of the greatest influences on a child's life. And, the tensions of labor negotiations and a teachers' strike weigh on young minds.

When parents dream about their child's education, they don't think about having to cross a picket line.

Let the debate on this issue begin.


Teachers still on strike

Some students in Chester County (PA) are out of the classroom again today. A strike has closed Downingtown Area School District. Teachers hit the picket lines Monday after contract talks between the union and district officials broke down. The main sticking point is believed to be money. Under state law, the walkout could last as long as 23 days.


State OKs long teachers union strike

The State of Pennsylvania has notified the Downingtown school district that the current teacher strike can go on until Feb 13. That makes tomorrow night's bargaining session, scheduled for 7:30 at the Chester County Intermediate Unit, a critical one.

"We didn't want to strike in the first place, and we don't want to strike until Feb. 13," said Paul Gottlieb, spokesperson for the DAEA. "But we had no other option to let the board know how unhappy Downingtown teachers are about being offered wages substantially below surrounding districts."

Gottlieb said the teachers hope the board comes ready to negotiate seriously. "Teachers will be ready to negotiate, as the community has a right to expect. We hope the board feels the same way. Reasonable people can settle this dispute in a reasonable way in a short time. We're ready to do just that."


Everything unions do is political


UFCW forced to mount RICO defense

A federal judge on Tuesday gave the go-ahead to Smithfield Foods Inc.'s racketeering lawsuit against a union that's waged a lengthy campaign to organize thousands of workers at the company's massive hog slaughterhouse in rural North Carolina.

U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne turned away the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union's efforts to dismiss Smithfield's lawsuit but told Smithfield lawyers that under the law, the company must specifically allege how the union would use proceeds gained as a result of its activities, which the company hadn't done in its original complaint brought in October against the UFCW, its local chapter and other defendants.

In its lawsuit, the Smithfield-based meat company alleges that the defendants violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, which originally was designed to fight organized crime. The company alleges that the union's so-called "smear campaign" involving its efforts to unionize Smithfield's Tar Heel, N.C., plant amounts to extortion, taking away Smithfield's intangible property — the ability to conduct business the way it chooses.

"They're prepared to put you out of business if you don't succumb to their demands," which is the definition of extortion, Thomas G. Slater argued.

He also said that once the company has to recognize the union, Smithfield will have to change the fundamental way it does business, and would put the company at a distinct disadvantage, possibly in the form of higher salaries, increased benefits and other enhancements.

In a statement, Smithfield said the ruling "is a pivotal step toward upholding the law, protecting the rights of Smithfield's workers and preventing further damage to Smithfield's business."

Phone messages left Tuesday evening for Gene Bruskin, who is leading UFCW's efforts to organize the Tar Heel plant, and Leila McDowell, another union organizer, were not immediately returned.

Robert Weinberg, a lawyer representing the union, argued unsuccessfully that Payne should dismiss the lawsuit, saying Smithfield couldn't prove how union activities amount to extortion because the company has failed to show how the union and other defendants deprived it of actual property.

Weinberg argued that the UFCW's only goal is to secure voluntary union recognition for the 4,650 workers at the plant, the world's largest hog-slaughtering operation.

He argued that Smithfield was unable to show the defendants conspired to engage in an ongoing pattern of extortion.

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