Big Split: Long-serving Dem not union-enough?

A beaming Rep. Al Wynn, D-Md., stood before about 100 union members Thursday and touted the endorsements of janitors, teachers, firefighters and construction workers in his Feb. 12 primary showdown.

“Labor supports Al Wynn and labor has always supported Al Wynn,” Chuck Graham, the top official of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local 26 shouted, kicking off the event billed as a “good old-fashioned labor rally” Thursday.

But despite Wynn’s claims to a 93 percent approval rating from the AFL-CIO, some labor is turning against him. Last month, the Service Employees International Union and a local chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers threw their support to Donna Edwards, a Democratic primary challenger who wants the seat Wynn has held for 15 years.

Edwards lost narrowly to Wynn in the 2005 primary and is riding a trend of discontent with the Democratic status quo among some labor groups.

“It’s time for a change,” Ebs Burnough, the political director for the Service Employee International Union’s local 1199 Maryland/D.C. chapter said. “Al Wynn has been in office for far too long and he has not done anything to benefit his constituents.”

Wynn’s labor backers say that is unfair.

They reminded the crowd Thursday that he co-sponsored a bill called the Employee Free-Choice Act that would have made it much easier for unions to organize and he voted against free trade agreements including the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Burnough’s SEIU 1199, however, is the union that represents Prince George’s County hospital employees managed by Dimensions Healthcare System and he said the approaching meltdown in the county’s hospital system is one reason the union chose to endorse Wynn’s opponent.

“He has not in any way, shape or form been a leader in solving that issue, which is a huge problem for his constituents,” Burnough said.

Wynn himself said he had reached out to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and asked him to help broach a solution to the hospital crisis, and it was O’Malley who did not step up to the plate.

O’Malley told reporters in Pikesville Thursday that he’s been working with County Executive Jack Johnson and is hopeful the hospital situation will soon be resolved.

Jos Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO Council, told union members gathered at Wynn’s event to be wary of change for the sake of change alone. “A new broom may sweep clean but an old one knows the corners,” Williams said.


Change To Win racketeers ape organized crime

Bashas' has just slapped the United Food and Commercial Workers with a defamation lawsuit, which the union has bemoaned on these very pages. To understand why Bashas' is going to court, look at what the UFCW is doing not just in Arizona but all across the nation.

For over a decade, the UFCW attempted to unionize non-union employees at places like Bashas' and Wal-Mart the old-fashioned way - persuading employees and filing for secret-ballot unionization elections with the federal government - all to no avail. The UFCW's failure to win elections at Wal-Mart and other targets prompted union President Joe Hansen to lament, "We can't win that way anymore."

So the union tried a new tactic.

Once it became apparent the union couldn't win an election with confidential voting at Wal-Mart, it decided in 2005 to form Wake Up Wal-Mart, a non-profit with a rousing name aimed at making people think the retailer is bad for America. The goal was to drive away business and encourage the company to support the unionization campaign.

Having cut its teeth attacking Wal-Mart's reputation, a year later, the UFCW launched a similar campaign against Smithfield Foods in North Carolina, the nation's leading pork processor. The union is again attacking a company's reputation with phony claims until it agrees to an organizing method slanted in the union's favor and against employee rights. Smithfield has struck back with a lawsuit alleging racketeering and defamation.

The union has an equally cynical campaign against Bashas', with an equally cynical name: "Hungry for Respect."

But now, the UFCW's hunger for member dues money has taken it to the courtroom. Again.

Bashas' has accused the UFCW of planting outdated baby formula in the company's stores, a claim that echoes the union's conduct in a similar pressure campaign against the non-union Food Lion supermarket chain. The UFCW's "story" of food mishandling and unfair labor practices at the chain was fed to ABC News for a 1992 story, which cost ABC a major lawsuit after a judge found no evidence of wrongdoing by the company.

The UFCW's lawsuit count may be unusual, but its methods aren't; its fellow unions in the national Change to Win coalition employ the same shady tactics (and face similar lawsuits).

If labor organizations keep trying to force business owners to help extort union dues from their employees, the racketeering and defamation charges will keep piling up. And organized labor will once again start to look more like organized crime.

- Jonathan Berry is a research analyst at the Center for Union Facts.


Unions, Dems want to end your right to vote

As American voters go to the polls to select the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees, few are aware that their right to vote in private — at least in the workplace — may be in danger.

It seems too bizarre to be true, but union bosses want to end secret ballot elections, and many members of Congress are willing to go along. If they succeed, more than 100 million workers would lose their right to a private vote on whether to join a union.

Secret ballot elections are a fundamental American right. They ensure that every voter expresses his or her choice without peer pressure or harassment and that the choice of the majority prevails. That’s why we use private ballots to elect the president and members of Congress. It’s also why American workers choose to join — or not join — unions in secret ballot elections.

When Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, it allowed unions to organize workplaces without elections. Organizers asked workers to sign union cards, and the union became their representative once a majority of workers publicly signed on. In this "card-check" process, workers had no privacy at all — organizers knew exactly who was on their side. Union membership, not surprisingly, skyrocketed.

Many workers signed union cards because they wanted a union. Others were pressured into joining. Union intimidation, threats of violence and peer pressure caused many workers who didn’t want to join to sign union cards anyway. Public outcry at such abuses led to bipartisan legislation providing workers with the protection of a secret ballot.

Today, when union organizers collect enough signed union cards at a workplace, the government supervises a secret ballot election. After a short campaign the workers vote on joining in privacy. Neither the union nor the employer knows how an individual worker actually voted. That’s how democracy should work.

These private votes have served workers well. Companies cannot credibly threaten to fire union supporters because they don’t know who voted for the union. But workers are also free to sign cards handed to them by union organizers at their homes at night, then express their true wishes in the voting booth.

To the dismay of union organizers, this often happens. Union organizing manuals caution that many workers sign union cards just to "get the union off my back." Unions win over three-fifths of private elections, but they would like to win far more.

The union movement has fallen on hard times. Fewer private sector workers belong to a union now than when the National Labor Relations Act took effect. Unions made more economic sense in the manufacturing economy of the 1950s than in the 21st century information economy.

Union corruption, political activism and misuse of members' dues have turned off millions more Americans. By a 3-to-1 margin, polls show that nonunion workers are happy to stay that way.

Rather than reform to become relevant to today’s workers, union bosses are lobbying for legislation to make it harder for workers not to join. Their No. 1 legislative priority is the misnamed "Employee Free Choice Act."

This little-known act would replace secret ballot-organizing elections with card-check organizing. It takes away workers’ right to a private vote on joining a union and forces them to make that choice in public.

If it can be called a choice. In an election, workers can vote yes or no, but with card-check, workers cannot vote against the union. Workers can only refuse to sign the card, which simply means "not now."

If the worker doesn’t sign on today, the organizers will return tomorrow … and the next day … and the next. At times, workers are threatened with repercussions for not joining. With card-check, workers cannot privately say, "I don’t want Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters to represent me."

Some 105 million American workers would lose their right to a private vote under the "Employee Free Choice Act." It has nothing to do with employee free choice and everything to do with increasing union membership.

Yet many politicians are on board. Mandatory union dues fund a substantial union political machine, and organized labor has made it clear that any politician who wants union support must oppose secret ballot elections.

A majority of the House of Representatives, the Senate and every major Democratic presidential candidate have agreed to this Faustian bargain. The 2008 elections could lead to a Congress and a president willing to do away with voting privacy.

Even as Americans cast private votes to select the next president, few workers know that their right to a secret ballot is on the line.

- James Sherk is the Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).


Folks tune out writers' strike

Could the strike be going any worse for the writers? Hard to imagine how.

* The "divide and conquer" strategy appears to be backfiring: Some writers get to go back to work, others starve.

* There is dissent in the ranks, as some writers begin to question the WGA's bull-in-china-shop tactics.

* The public is bored (one big aggregation web site tells us it is reducing strike coverage because no one clicks on the stories anymore).

And now, Variety reports, ABC terminates the development deals of nearly two dozen writers, citing the "force majeure" contract clause. Other studios are expected to follow suit.


NYT Book Review: Liberal Fascism

Coming of age in the 1960s, I heard the word “fascist” all the time. College presidents were fascists, Vietnam War supporters were fascists, policemen who tangled with protesters were fascists, on and on. To some, the word smacked of Hitler and genocide. To others, it meant the oppression of the masses by the privileged few. But one point was crystal clear: the word belonged to those on the political left. It was their verbal weapon, and they used it every chance they got.

Forty years have passed and not much has changed, complains Jonah Goldberg, a conservative columnist and contributing editor for National Review. Leftists still drop the “f word” to taint their opponents, be they global warming skeptics or members of the Moral Majority. The sad result, Goldberg says, is that Americans have come to equate fascism with right-wing political movements in the United States when, in fact, the reverse is true. To his mind, it is liberalism, not conservatism, that embraces what he claims is the fascist ideal of perfecting society through a powerful state run by omniscient leaders. And it is liberals, not conservatives, who see government coercion as the key to getting things done.

Liberal Fascism” is less an exposé of left-wing hypocrisy than a chance to exact political revenge. Yet the title of his book aside, what distinguishes Goldberg from the Sean Hannitys and Michael Savages is a witty intelligence that deals in ideas as well as insults — no mean feat in the nasty world of the culture wars.

According to Goldberg, fascism in America predated the regimes of Mussolini and Hitler. He believes that Woodrow Wilson turned the United States into a “fascist country, albeit temporarily” during World War I. Americans in 1917 were reluctant to join the slaughter in Europe. Their nation hadn’t been attacked; there was no defining event — a Fort Sumter or Pearl Harbor — to rally public support. So Wilson formed the country’s first propaganda ministry, the Committee on Public Information, to teach people what they were up against. The devil became German militarism — the merciless Hun — and Americans were encouraged to lash out at those of German ancestry inside the United States. Vigilante groups arose to mete out justice and spy on fellow citizens. Congress passed draconian laws banning “abusive” and “disloyal” language against the government and its officials. The Post Office revoked the mailing privileges of hundreds of antiwar publications, effectively shutting them down. Rarely if ever in American history has dissent been so effectively stifled.

At the same time, Wilson formed numerous boards to regulate everything from the production of artillery pieces to the price of a lamb chop. The result, Goldberg argues, was the birth of a socialist dictatorship that “whipped, cajoled and seduced American industry into the loving embrace of the state.” Though partly dismantled after the war, this model, we are told, became the blueprint for Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Goldberg is less convincing here because he can’t get a handle on Roosevelt’s admittedly elusive personality. He treats Wilson as a serious thinker, rigidly focused on his goals, but portrays Roosevelt as a classic dilettante, shallow and detached. For Goldberg, even the president’s greatest skill — his ability to communicate with the masses — was negated by his failure to chart a steady course and stick to it. One is left to ponder how the outlines of America’s modern welfare state emerged from such a lazy, superficial mind.

In attempting to link Roosevelt to the fascism that enveloped Europe in these years, Goldberg highlights examples like the Civilian Conservation Corps, which offered a paycheck and military discipline to unemployed young men from the cities, and the National Recovery Administration, which was intended to spur industrial production through centralized planning. But it’s absurd to view the C.C.C. as the American version of Hitler Youth, and the N.R.A. — heavy on slogans, light on coercion — was so ineffective that Roosevelt heaved a sigh of relief when it was declared unconstitutional in 1935. Oddly, Goldberg has less to say about issues more likely to bolster his case, like the enormous growth of executive power under Roosevelt and his ill-fated attempt to “pack” the United States Supreme Court.

Goldberg acknowledges that Wilson and Roosevelt faced legitimate national emergencies — a world war and an economic collapse. But subsequent presidents have invented false crises to roil the masses, he claims, and John F. Kennedy did it best. “It is not a joyful thing to impugn an American hero and icon with the label fascist,” Goldberg writes, but how else does one explain his popularity? The answer lies not in Kennedy’s record, which Goldberg assures us was slim, but rather in his cold-war brinkmanship, his “adrenaline-soaked” appeals to national service and martial values, and, of course, the Nazi-like cult of personality that he buffed to gleaming perfection.

Is something missing here? Goldberg races from Wilson to Roosevelt to Kennedy and on to Bill Clinton with barely a glance at what happened in between. The reason is simple: for Goldberg, fascism is strictly a Democratic disease. This allows him to dispose of the politics of the 1920s in a single sentence. “After the Great War,” he writes, “the country slowly regained its sanity.” What Goldberg may not know — or is afraid to tell us — is that the 1920s were anything but sane. This was the decade, after all, that contained the largest state-sponsored social experiment in the nation’s history — Prohibition — and it lasted through three Republican administrations before Franklin Roosevelt ended it in 1933. The 1920s also saw the explosive spread of the Ku Klux Klan in the Republican Midwest, a virtual halt to legal immigration under the repressive National Origins Act and an angry grass-roots backlash against the teaching of evolution in public schools.

Goldberg briefly enters the Eisenhower 1950s to tease liberals for whining about the supposedly trivial impact of McCarthyism. “A few Hollywood writers who’d supported Stalin and then lied about it lost their jobs,” he says. What’s the big deal? For the Reagan 1980s there is near-silence — hardly a word. I had entertained the slim hope that Goldberg might consider the “fascist” cult of personality surrounding Reagan’s 1984 “Morning in America” hokum (“Prouder, Stronger, Better”). But, alas, such scrutiny is reserved only for the Clinton presidential campaign of 1992, with its “Riefenstahlesque film of a teenage Bill Clinton shaking hands with President Kennedy.” Indeed, even George W. Bush’s spectacularly staged landing on an aircraft carrier in full battle regalia to declare “mission accomplished” in Iraq escapes notice here. It doesn’t take a village for Goldberg to play the fascist card; a single Democrat will do.

The final chapters of “Liberal Fascism” are a rant, often deliciously amusing, against America’s numerous liberal-fascist elites. In unexciting times, when there are no calamities to be addressed, liberals push a more robust social agenda, Goldberg claims, using the state and the friendly news media to tar opponents of, say, affirmative action or same-sex marriage as bigots, fanatics and fools. The task facing conservatives, he adds, is to hold liberals accountable for these jackboot tactics. “For at some point,” Goldberg writes, “it is necessary to throw down the gauntlet, to draw a line in the sand, to set a boundary, to cry at long last, ‘Enough is enough.’”

These are familiar words, eerily reminiscent of the “adrelaline-soaked” clichés of John F. Kennedy as he railed against Soviet expansion around the globe. But I dare not call them fascist. That would be unfair.

- David Oshinsky, who holds the Jack S. Blanton chair in history at the University of Texas, is the author of “A Conspiracy So Immense: The World of Joe McCarthy.”


AFSCME faces dues hit from labor-state cutbacks

Catherine Bennett had processed septic system applications at the R.I. Department of Environmental Management for three and a half years before she received word two months ago that her job would be eliminated.

A single mother of two, Bennett was relieved when she was able to transfer last month into a job at the R.I. Department of Health, handling lead-poisoning data. But just two weeks into her new position, she received another notice: She was out of a job again, bumped by a more senior state employee.

After a day of fear and confusion, Bennett accepted another data-processing job at the Health Department. “My head is spinning,” she said last week. “I’m going with the flow, but right now I have a very uneasy feeling.”

Bennett is one of a growing number of state workers feeling the effects of the Gov. Donald L. Carcieri’s plan to save up to $100 million by cutting 1,000 state jobs – a plan that at least one union official says has proved costly in other ways.

“It’s causing people a lot of stress in their lives,” said J. Michael Downey, president of Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME). “It’s causing a lot of tears, too.”

For its part, the Carcieri administration says cases of difficulties in implementing the layoff plan have been exaggerated, noting that the number of people impacted by the layoffs is relatively small when considering the state’s payroll numbers 15,000.

“The reality of it is that a limited number of people got layoff notices and most of those people got redeployed,” said Beverly Najarian, the state director of administration.

Indeed, Downey acknowledged that only 13 members of his union had been laid off so far – Council 94 represents about 5,000 of the state’s 15,000 employees.

At the same time, however, 426 other state employees – mostly unionized workers – have been notified that their jobs might be eliminated in the future. “That has been almost as difficult and stressful as the layoffs themselves,” Downey said last week.

In addition, the initial set of layoff notices mailed to 82 AFSCME members in November triggered “bumping” rules in which employees losing their position are allowed to take a job of a less senior worker.

That has created its own set of problems.

Take Bennett’s case, in which she has bumped two people out of their jobs, and was bumped once herself.

In another case, Downey said, a clerk in her late 50s who answered phones and delivered mail at the R.I. Department of Human Services bumped into what she thought would be a similar clerking job at the R.I. Department of Administration, Downey said. Instead, she ended up driving a pickup truck and hefting bulk-mail packages to the State House, the state administration building and other locations.

“She had never driven a truck in her life,” Downey said, adding that the clerk was able to transfer to another job.

Carcieri unveiled his plan to cut 1,000 state jobs last year, as part of an effort to close the projected $450 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The plan call for the job cuts to come from a mix of layoffs, eliminating contracted jobs and leaving some jobs vacant.

A breakdown of the initial 157 layoffs show the largest number come from the R.I. Department of Mental Health, Retardation, and Hospitals (45 positions) and DHHS (31). Layoffs were also made in the R.I. Department of Administration (16), the R.I. Department of Labor & Training (13), in Public Safety (11) and the DEM (9), among others.

Of those 426 state employees who were notified that their jobs are in jeopardy, the majority (234) work for the MHRH.

Carcieri initially had said the move would save $100 million, but administration officials told House Finance Committee members that the savings might fall short of its goal. Last week, Najarian said those statements had been blown out of proportion.

“Because of the bumping process that we’re required to follow, until the music stops and you know who’s left without the chairs, it’s difficult to assess what the actual savings will be,” she said. “The unemployment payments we need to make, and the governor has agreed that we would pay 90 days of health benefits for those who have laid off – there are some additional costs we’re going to incur that may make the $100 million slightly less.”

But there’s no question but that the actual layoff process has been awkward, and made more unwieldy by the bumping rules.

The process started on Nov. 15, when the state mailed layoff notices to 157 state employees, a mix of unionized and non-union workers. At the same time, letters were mailed notifying another 426 workers that their jobs could be eliminated in the coming year – the so-called List B layoffs.

State officials said the layoff notices touched off three complicated rounds of bumping expected to continue until next month.

With the initial notification, employees were given two weeks to either accept the layoff or take another job at or below their pay grade, as long as they met the qualifications.

Then those employees bumped out by senior workers received notification letters on Dec. 7, at which time they were given the chance to bump someone else out of a position.

The process was repeated again, with new layoff letters going Jan. 4, sent to those who had been bumped out in the second round. State officials said those employees are in the process of making their decisions now.

Melanie Marcaccio, state deputy personnel administrator, said a final set of layoff notices is due to be issued Feb. 2.

In the meantime, Downey said Council 94 has so far filed three grievances and one unfair labor practice complaint over the way the layoffs have been handled.

Downey criticized the administration for having incoming workers and the employees whom they bumped working at the same jobs for an overlapping two weeks – in many cases, having the departing worker training the replacement.

But Najarian said the state is restricted by Council 94 rules. “That’s the way the union rules read,” she said. “It’s a built-in overlap; it’s not that we’re choosing to do it. You’ve got to have an opportunity to figure out who you’re going to bump, so in the meantime you have to stay where you are.”

Union leaders also have taken issue with the lack of management jobs being eliminated. According to state figures, 48 non-union workers received layoff notices in November and 17 non-union workers received warnings that their jobs may be eliminated.

“They’re keeping the higher-paying jobs and doing away with the lower-paying ones,” Downey said.

Downey is most upset about the notifications – the so-called List B letters – that warned people that their jobs may be eliminated. “There was no need to do it,” Downey said. “I believe it was just to show the taxpayers, ‘Hey, look what I’m doing.’”

Back at the Depatment of Health, Bennett is still settling into her new job processing medical data involving children in the state. New co-workers have been friendly.

But she still receives reports from her former division at the DEM, telling her the office has fallen weeks behind on the septic system applications since her position was cut.

“I hear it’s not going well,” she said.


Clintons owe McElroy, McEntee big time

The surprise victory of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton over Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the Granite State’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary earlier this week has been attributed to a wide variety of factors, including the powerful emotional appeal of a widely televised voice-cracking, eye-welling moment the normally stoic New York senator had the day before the primary.

Yet in a race decided by less than 8,000 votes, Clinton’s victory was surely due in large part to the efforts of two prominent labor unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and EMILY’s List, an organization that lends political support to Democratic women who favor abortion rights.

EMILY’s List targeted 54,000 New Hampshire women, all of whom had voted frequently in past primaries or who had registered to vote since 2006, with five direct-mail pieces and telephone calls — made by New Hampshire women — centered on kitchen-table issues and Clinton’s experience.

“It was about reminding them of what was at stake in this election,” said Maren Hesla, who runs the organization’s independent expenditures program.

AFSCME pitched in with mailings lauding Clinton and attacking Obama, while the AFT funded a set of radio ads targeted at women over the age of 25.

Combined, the three groups dumped approximately $600,000 into New Hampshire.

Similarly, Obama is counting on support from the Culinary Workers and the Service Employees International unions to help him win the Nevada caucuses Jan. 19. No independent expenditures were made on Obama’s behalf in New Hampshire.

The EMILY’s List effort there, which was more limited and targeted than their Iowa campaign on behalf of Clinton, may not be replicated in other early-voting states because the looming “Super Tuesday” primaries will require a tremendous allocation of resources for candidates and the interest groups that support them.

“It is probably more likely that we are playing in the Feb. 5 states than the earlier states,” Hesla said. “We are hitting a point where this is not a state-but-state strategy but a delegates strategy ... It is a dramatically more complicated strategic set of calculations that have to be made.”

Because Democratic delegates to the party’s national convention later this year are allocated on a proportional basis — meaning that the delegates available within a state are awarded based on the percentage of the vote each candidate gets — picking which markets to expend dollars and energy in is a critical political exercise.

“It’s an incredible game of resource allocation,” Hesla said. “You really have to sit there and furrow your brow and say ‘Where can I win and where can I lose and how many delegates are available in this media market?’”

The ground game does not always go as expected, and dollars don’t always equal votes.

The three groups backing Clinton spent $2 million blanketing Iowa with mailings, billboards, and television and radio ads, not to mention an in-depth Internet campaign replete with Yahoo and Google Web ads that carried pro-Clinton messages aimed at women.

But the targeting was much different in Iowa than in New Hampshire, Hesla said. In Iowa, EMILY’s List tried to get new Democratic voters to the caucuses, ignoring women who had previously attended and independents. While Hesla is confident that the push brought out thousands of new women voters, it was no match for Obama’s campaign.

“Sen. Obama did an astonishing job of adding younger voters and independents to the process,” she said.

The Nevada branch of the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) is working to help Obama replicate that feat in Nevada, though with an emphasis on its own members rather than non-union voters.

SEIU Nevada spokesperson Hilary Haycock said the organization believes it will be able to exceed the impact of AFSCME and AFT’s efforts for Clinton in Iowa, citing the political strength of unions in the state and the newness of the contest as reasons the organization will be able to boost Obama to victory.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nevada had a higher rate of unionized workers than Iowa in 2006 — 14.8 percent to 11.3 percent. The combined membership of the service and culinary unions in Nevada tops 77,000; turnout estimates for the caucuses range from 30,000 to 100,000.

“Our primary push is bodies to the caucus. We are good at talking to our members and we’re good at moving our members,” said Haycock.


Discouraging non-union labor in Sacramento

The city of Sacramento was hit with two more lawsuits this week challenging its approval of a massive development in the downtown railyard.

As of Friday, the parade of litigants grew to include Westfield LLC, owner of the Downtown Plaza shopping center; and three individuals represented by former Davis Mayor William Kopper. Kopper's group calls itself the Sacramento Citizens Concerned About the Railyards, or SCCARY.

Local government officials and developers who have dealt with Kopper in the past allege he really represents construction unions seeking labor agreements.

Kopper could not be reached for comment Friday, but he has previously declined to tell The Bee who is paying for his legal challenge. Kopper has been involved in similar lawsuits throughout Northern California.

The two new lawsuits followed an earlier filing by Moe Mohanna, a K Street property owner in the midst of an eminent domain fight with the city, which seeks control of his properties on the 700 and 800 blocks of K Street.

All three complaints filed in Sacramento Superior Court challenge the city's environmental review of the railyard project, which could one day include more than 12,000 units of housing, office buildings, museums, entertainment and more than enough retail space to populate a large shopping mall.

Suheil Totah, vice president of Thomas Enterprises, the railyard developer, said the lawsuits came as no surprise and would not hold up the development. The developer still has to finish cleaning up toxic contamination on the Superfund site.

The developer also plans to apply later this year for millions of dollars in state bond money to help build streets, sewers and other pieces of the backbone needed to support the new community. The earliest that construction could begin on actual buildings would likely be 2010, Totah said.

"We will be continuing with the project on schedule," he said.

In its lawsuit, Westfield alleges that the official description of the railyard project shifted repeatedly during the city approval process. It says the city failed to adequately analyze the traffic impacts of the railyard project, or to include the ongoing toxic cleanup of the railyard in its environmental assessment.

Westfield spokeswoman Catharine Dickey released a written statement on Friday saying that Westfield supports "responsible" development of the railyard but views the current plan as a "front-loaded retail development scheme that resulted from a flawed/inadequate (environmental) process which failed to analyze numerous traffic and other impacts, and was based on an incorrect/misleading project description."

The company also objected to what it characterized as "in excess of $500 million in subsidies for a project where there is inadequate demand" and which would hurt the rest of downtown.

Kopper's lawsuit follows a similar theme to Westfield's, arguing that the city did not adequately describe the project and its impact on traffic, among other things.

Mayor Heather Fargo said she hasn't had time to review the lawsuits but opined that they won't stop the railyard project. Absent a court injunction, Thomas Enterprises is free to move ahead with construction.

"It's going to add to the cost, and it might add to the length of time, but I don't think it changes the outcome," Fargo said.

She said Kopper and his motives are a mystery to her. "He's becoming a regular here at City Hall," she said. "I keep hearing that he represents unions, but he won't tell us the organizations he's representing. I don't think I know who he's representing."

Others who have watched Kopper for some time say he tries to win project labor agreements that guarantee work for his union clients.

"If a developer signs it, his lawsuit goes away," said Placer County Supervisor F.C. "Rocky" Rockholm, who represents much of Roseville. "He's done it many times."

Kopper is currently suing Placer County over its approval of the 14,132-home Placer Vineyards development. Lawyer James Moose, who represents the Placer Vineyards property owners, would not discuss that case, but said Kopper's general approach is well known.

"My belief from observing his practice over the last 10 years is that he normally represents union members, and the relief he's really seeking has nothing to do with environmental issues, and instead relates to the desire to have union labor do all the construction," Moose said.

In addition to Placer Vineyards, Kopper recently sued to stop the Yuba Highlands development in Yuba County. He also appealed the Sacramento Planning Commission's approval of the Metropolitan, a downtown high-rise condominium and hotel project proposed by developer John Saca.

In the late 1990s, Kopper was hired by the Mid-Valley Trades Council to protest the potential environmental impacts of a new racetrack proposed for Yuba County.

In 2001, he told The Bee that the trades council dropped its objections after reaching an agreement with track developer Frank Arciero to use union labor. "They came to some kind of an agreement, and I wasn't authorized to do any more work on it," Kopper told The Bee. The racetrack was never built, however.

Kopper also sued earlier this decade to stop Roseville's westward expansion, said Doug Elmets, a spokesman for project developers Signature Properties and Westpark Associates.

The developers later signed a project labor agreement with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 340, the United Association (Plumbers) Local 447 and the Sheet Metal Workers Local 162.

The lawsuit against the developers was dropped.


IUOE boss to striking members: Go away

A bitter dispute between concrete workers and their union leaders is threatening to bring construction projects all over the Seattle-area region to a grinding halt. The workers hit the picket line instead of pumping concrete for a one-day strike on Friday, which is typically one of their busiest days of the week.

And if things don't get smoothed out soon, it is probable that several projects in the region will come to a stop The workers are in disagreement with their union leaders over their new proposed contract. They say the new contract limits their choices when it comes to benefits.

But union leaders say the proposal offers a lot, and say workers can either take it or leave it. "We like that contract better. We think it is a dramatic improvement," said David Groves, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302 union leader. "Some of these guys may think it's not a dramatic improvement. That is their right. They may work for a non-union company."

As a result of the dispute, some of the workers are no longer members of the union. This could cause big problems when return to work at union work sites on Monday.

"If non-union members show up on union job site, the basic principle is, they walk off. That affects every trade, laborers, carpenters. It could affect production. Every union trade at every union job site is going to stop production," said Chad MacDonald, a union worker.

It could possibly shut down projects all over town.

"That's their choice. They can be nonunion. Nobody's forcing them to stay members of this union," Groves said.

But union workers say they don't want to take it or leave it; they want change.

"We want the voices to be heard. We are the majority, we are the union," MacDonald said.

The two sides are negotiating, but so far, there is no solution in sight.


Forced unionism would harm Tennessee

A Washington, D.C., group on Friday criticized the Service Employees International Union over statements that the union would support legislation that would allow collective bargaining for local government employees in Tennessee if the issue arises.

"When states cave and force collective bargaining, everyone loses," said Brian Johnson, policy director of the Alliance for Worker Freedom, in a statement. Mr. Johnson's group "works to raise awareness of abuses by labor unions," according to its Web site.

"Collective bargaining is nothing more than a vehicle used by the union bosses to hold state budgets hostage," Mr. Johnson is quoted as saying.

Mark Naccarato, a spokesman for SEIU Local 205, which represents a number of public employees in Hamilton County, dismissed the group's statement.

"The Alliance for Worker Freedom looks to be an anti-union think tank," he said. "I don't put much faith in what they say."

Mr. Naccarato said the SEIU would support legislation that would allow collective bargaining in Tennessee, but only if a bill comes up in the General Assembly.

Hamilton County Commissioner Warren Mackey said last month that he disagreed with County Mayor Claude Ramsey's position against mandatory collective bargaining for public employees.

Mr. Johnson said in the statement that he agrees with Mr. Ramsey's opposition to collective bargaining and "strongly urges others to follow suit."

Jimmy Rodgers, an attorney who represents several labor unions including the Chattanooga Area Labor Council and the Chattanooga Building and Construction Trades Council, said unions generally would like to see collective bargaining made legal in Tennessee.

But Mr. Rodgers said the legislative winds likely are not blowing in that direction.

"It doesn't look like that effort would be fruitful," he said.

No statute exists in Tennessee regarding whether or not municipalities and counties can enter into collective bargaining agreements with labor unions. But judicial case law has determined that local governments cannot enter into collective bargaining and employee strikes are illegal in Tennessee. The state Legislature has enacted laws enabling teachers and local transportation system employees to bargain collectively.


Hawaii Teamsters strike disaster

Even though the more than 100 unionized Times Super Market workers have stopped picketing in front of the chain's stores, negotiations with the company are still in difficult straits.

The Hawaii Teamsters & Allied Workers Local 996 is emphasizing that there is no settlement yet. The union is contesting Times' offer to take back less than 25 percent of the chain's unionized workers -- or 26 out of 116 -- leaving 90 employees in the lurch.

Ron Kozuma, president of the 6,000-member Hawaii Teamsters, said Times' ohana spirit has gone by the wayside due to its mainland owner, Quinn's Supers Inc. "It's unfortunate," Kozuma told the Star-Bulletin. "The company's mainland philosophy seems to be that it's more about the bottom line, and not taking care of the employees."

Bob Stout, Times director of operations, said that as of this weekend, the company is bringing back 28 percent of its workers. Mathematically, that would calculate to 33 out of 116 workers.

He confirmed that full-time deli clerks would not be brought back due to elimination of that position.

"Basically, we're just doing an orderly return to work based on current need," said Stout.

Stout said the company has taken a loss due to the striking workers, and that it would bring back union workers as business improves, based on seniority and classification.

He declined to disclose how much Times has lost due to the strikes. The deli clerk positions were dissolved, however, during the strike.

"This strike forced us to do business differently," he said.

The union represents more than 100 meat cutters and wrappers, deli clerks, fish cutters and utility workers who walked off the job on Dec. 17, right before the busy holiday season.

The Teamsters says it presented Times with a "return to work offer" on Monday evening through a federal mediator, and called off the pickets on Wednesday.

Kozuma said the motivation for the return to work offer was to stop the hiring of permanent replacement workers, but that Times should have worked instead on resolving its issues through negotiations. Many of the striking union members have worked for the company more than 30 years, he said.

Negotiations between the Teamsters and Times have centered primarily around how long the company should pay medical premiums for employees on extended leave.

Earlier, the Teamsters rejected the company's proposal to set limits of one year for existing workers, and three months for new hires.

Currently, there is no limit.

The Teamsters also say that Times' final offer would take away the guarantee of a 40-hour work week for full-time employees, and contributions to their retirement fund.

Kozuma said the Teamsters are still waiting for additional information from Times, and then will regroup to discuss options.

Times Super Market has 12 stores on Oahu. The strike affected about 10 percent of the company's 1,100-member workforce, the rest of which is nonunion.

Stout said competition has gotten stiffer, as non-union big box retailers dominate the Hawaii market.

"It puts us at a complete disadvantage, in operating costs, pricing and growth opportunity," he said.


Steelworker organizers return to earful

A labor union can promise workers “the world,” but in reality can't deliver anything that their company does not agree to, according to the president of Insteel Industries.

Employees of Insteel's Mount Airy (NC) plant are considering whether to become part of the United Steelworkers (USW), the largest industrial labor union in North America which claims more than 1.2 million members. They now are involved in an initial, card-signing phase of the process to determine if there is sufficient interest in holding a union vote. A similar vote failed three years ago.

H.O. Woltz III, Insteel's president and chief executive officer, declined to comment on the unionization movement when contacted by a reporter earlier this week. However, he has made his strong views on the subject known in a recent letter to employees, a copy of which was obtained by The Mount Airy News.

“The company respects the rights of people to engage in union-organizing activities. This right is protected by law and over time has been important to the development of our economy,” Woltz says in his statement to Insteel workers.

“At the same time, it is worth noting that today, ninety-three percent of private-sector employees have remained union-free,” he adds.

“Fear And Intimidation”

The company president's letter also refers to an earlier report suggesting that unionization would empower and protect Insteel personnel in the event the company decided to move jobs offshore as other local manufacturers have done.

“As we have seen in the past,” Woltz states, “union organizers and supporters rely on fear and intimidation to build support for an organizing effort. For instance, the implication that Insteel has considered, or may consider, closing the Mount Airy plant is ridiculous. By raising this prospect, the union hopes to create fear and insecurity among employees in hopes of building support for organizing.”

Woltz has experience with union activities due to workers at two of Insteel's six production facilities being unionized. They are in Delaware and Florida.

“Early in an organizing campaign, it is typical for unions to build enthusiasm among people by promising dramatic changes that benefit workers,” he writes, “building on the assumption that through ‘solidarity' workers will be successful in addressing any concerns that they have regarding workplace matters.”

“The reality is quite different.”

Woltz accuses union organizers of promoting a “one-sided argument.”

In view of that, the Insteel official is asking employees to consider several facts and realities about unions, whose presence only gives them the right to bargain over terms and conditions of employment.

“The outcome of such negotiations can be predicted by neither the union nor the company. Employees could ultimately receive the same pay and benefits as existed prior to the union, pay and benefits could rise or pay and benefits could be reduced,” he says.

Along with stating that the union can't deliver anything the company doesn't go along with, Woltz points out that “Insteel will not agree to terms and conditions of employment that would adversely affect the company's ability to compete in its markets.”

The union can't force the company to change its staffing on production lines, create better business conditions during difficult market environments or force the company to raise pay or improve benefits, according to Woltz.

“The union's only power to force the company to agree to its demands would be to call a strike.” But, the company official adds, “no one wins a strike. Employees go without pay, customer service may be hurt and the company could sustain long-term damage to its reputation as a reliable business partner.

“Proven Track Record”

In further making his case against unionization, Woltz advises workers to compare the union's promises, which might or might not materialize, to Insteel's “proven track record.”

He points out that the company recently invested more than $8 million to assure that its Mount Airy plant has state-of-the-art technology to serve growing markets. “While business conditions are weak currently, the company has demonstrated that it is determined to maintain its position of market leadership,” Woltz's letter states.

“The Mount Airy plant is profitable and its future is bright,” the company official adds. “Many companies around Mount Airy have not been as fortunate. Our success is a tribute to the productivity of our people and a successful market strategy.”

Woltz additionally contends that Insteel employees in Mount Airy have been well taken care of by a company that is proud of the fact it has provided good jobs with excellent pay and benefits for more than 50 years.

“A recent analysis of our pay and benefits indicates that the company's compensation package for production workers is substantially better than that offered by almost any other company in the area,” he states. “We look forward to continuing Insteel's tradition as a premier employer.”

Union Called A “Distraction”

The Insteel president and CEO says the unionization movement is taking attention away from the job at hand for Insteel, which is to serve the needs of its customers.

“Ultimately, the future of our company and the security of our people will be determined by our ability to provide top-quality products and service to our customers, and to do so at competitive prices,” Woltz says.

“Anything that interferes with this objective is a distraction that could erode the company's market position. The union's objective is to divide the company by pitting management against workers.”

In doing this, the union ignores an “important party” - the customer, according to the Insteel executive. “And in highly competitive markets such as Insteel's, ignoring the customer could be fatal.”

Woltz concludes his letter to employees by stating that “no one can predict the ultimate outcome of signing cards that authorize the union to represent you. History shows, however, that the outcome could be much different than promised by union organizers and supporters.”

“Before you sign a union-authorization card,” he says, “you owe it to yourself and your family to get the facts about the Steelworkers and other unions. Spend a few minutes to get to know the Steelworkers and other unions at www.unionfacts.com.”


Strikers force Hollywood deal wind-down

The writers' strike continues to take its toll on the ones who haven't yet made millions of dollars for their employers.

On Friday, ABC Studios exercised its force majeure privilege and terminated the contracts of more than two dozen writing and non-writing producers who had development deals with the Walt Disney Co.-owned outfit, becoming the first major player to move out of the just-suspended stage and cut ties completely.

"The ongoing strike has had a significant detrimental impact on development and production so we are forced to make the difficult decision to release a number of talented, respected individuals from their development deals," ABC Studios said in a statement late Friday.

Among the ABC casualties were Curb Your Enthusiasm executive producer and Borat director Larry Charles, Scrubs' Bill Callahan, That 70s Show's Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia, Gone Baby Gone's Sean Bailey and Private Practice star Taye Diggs, who's still on the show but saw his production deal get axed.

The force majeure clause in contracts with actors, writers, producers, etc. allowed the studios to suspend deals for a certain number of weeks and pay only a portion of their salaries almost immediately after the writers' strike took effect Nov. 5.

Under the same provision, the studios are also supposed to rehire the fired scribes under the terms of their original deal once production recommences on their respective projects.

According to trade reports, Warner Bros. Television is expected to follow ABC's lead and scrap five or six deals next week, sure to be followed by other studios.

NBC parent Universal Media Studios and Sony Pictures TV suspended a number of Screen Actors Guild members' contracts in November, less than two weeks after the strike began, with Universal opting to halve salaries and Sony choosing to quit paying altogether.

The Writers Guild of America has yet to comment on the latest cost-cutting maneuver.

The reality hit home on the same day the Directors Guild of America announced that contract negotiations between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers will kick off Saturday, with hopes to avoid the vitriol that characterized the alliance's sit-downs with the WGA and arrive at a mutually beneficial new deal.

The DGA's current agreement expires June 30, as does SAG's, which has thrown its support behind the striking scribes.

"We wish the DGA well and hope that they achieve a fair deal that incorporates principles that will benefit all creative artists," read a joint statement from the WGA and SAG. "The DGA has to do what is best for its membership, but it is important to remember that they do not represent actors and writers."

Both the DGA and the AMPTP have agreed not to talk to the press during negotiations, according to a statement released by the alliance.


Collectivism on strike: Everyone suffers

David Letterman and Conan O’Brien might be back on the air, but the Writers Guild of America strike that put them in reruns for the past two months continues to wreak havoc on New York’s film and television production industry.

The shutdown has left thousands of the area’s 78,000 production workers unemployed and many of the 4,000 film-related businesses, like prop houses and caterers, struggling to stay afloat amid their worst crisis in more than a decade.

“The situation has gone into a tailspin,” says John Ford, president of studio mechanics union Local 52. “Everyone is out of work now.”

The writers began their strike in November. They are seeking residuals from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for work that appears on the Internet and other new media.

About a dozen TV series are shot in New York, including 30 Rock and Law & Order; they have run out of scripts and stopped filming. A growing number of feature films slated to get under way this month are being postponed because scripts need rewriting.

Negotiations between the WGA and AMPTP have broken down, and no further talks are scheduled. The last writers strike, in 1988, lasted five months and paralyzed the industry.

“Everyone talks about ‘The writers, the writers,’ ” Ford says. “But there are a lot of other people involved besides the writers.”

More than 1,000 of the 1,600 studio mechanics in Ford’s union have lost their jobs in the past few weeks. The number of projects in the area has plummeted to one major film and one low-budget movie, compared with 11 features and 13 TV shows in October, Ford says.

The city hasn’t released estimates on the losses resulting from this strike. But when a similar strike loomed in 2001, the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre & Broadcasting estimated that the city would lose a minimum of $625 million every quarter in total direct expenditures for productions requiring permits. A study by the Boston Consulting Group provided a more extensive estimate of more than $1.2 billion a quarter. That included studio production, as well as pre- and postproduction work.

There were fewer projects in 2001. The losses now are all the more frustrating because TV and film work has reached records in the city in the past few years. Thanks largely to a 15 percent city and state tax credit that went into effect in 2005, the number of location shoots jumped almost 10 percent in 2006, to 34,718. And last year, a record seven shows filmed in New York were picked up by networks.

Pilot season at risk

Film executives say that if it continues much longer, the strike will ruin this spring’s pilot season—the two-month period during which single episodes of potential shows are filmed to be reviewed for pickup by the networks. A record 11 pilots were filmed in New York last year.

“No one is writing pilots now, and they aren’t getting green-lit,” says Stuart Match Suna, president of Silvercup Studios in Long Island City, Queens. “If the strike goes on too long, it will have a major residual impact on New York.”

The last time work was so scarce was in the early 1990s, when Hollywood studios boycotted New York for nine months because they said filming in the city was too expensive.

“We lived through the boycott, and we hardly made it at that point,” says Gino Lucci, president of Picture Cars East Inc., which provides everything from firetrucks to Ferraris for TV shows and movies. “If it lasts that long now, businesses will not survive it.”

Picture Cars’ business has dropped 95 percent since the strike began. To stay afloat, Lucci is using his reserves—an emergency fund that he figures will last him about three months. He is trying to make it until April, when he starts renting out some of his 400 vehicles for the remake of The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, which is expected to proceed because the script is completed.

Show on hiatus

Many others are also in a bind. Brian Abbott got his big break last summer after working as a makeup artist on TV shows and movies for six years. He was hired to head up the makeup department on the new Fox series Canterbury’s Law, starring Julianna Margulies and Aidan Quinn.

But after shooting just six episodes, the show went on hiatus because of the strike, leaving Abbott—and hundreds of others—on the unemployment line. “Everyone is scrambling for work,” says Abbott, who has been scraping by with savings, unemployment and some freelance commercial jobs.


Striking writers' wave of economic destruction

Hollywood is bracing for massive layoffs after one major studio warned it would cut as many as 1,000 employees because of the ongoing writers' strike.

Warner Bros., the film legend owned by Time Warner, sent letters to employees letting them know the pink slips will fly after work was halted on most TV shows. "Due to the ongoing WGA work stoppage, some studio divisions will have to lay off employees," Warner Bros. said in a statement regarding the letters.

Although rivals said they had no major cutbacks in the works, the entertainment industry is preparing for more fallout from the two-month-old strike. For instance, all the TV studios are expected to start sending out "force majeure" letters that are used to terminate individual deals with certain writer-producers.

The strike has already taken its toll on the Golden Globes ceremony, which NBC canceled after the union threatened to picket the event.

The Writers Guild of America walked off the job Nov. 5 after talks broke down with TV networks and studios, which is represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Warner Bros. stressed that the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN, notices sent to employees were mandated under a federal law that requires most large employers to provide 60 days notice before mass layoffs.

"These WARN notices were sent because in certain circumstances federal and California law can require employers to give notice of staffing changes," the studio said in a statement.

Warner Bros. first alerted employees - primarily maintenance and facility workers in the production department - to the layoffs in November and followed up with another letter this week. It didn't specify the number of jobs that would be cut but said a decision could come down as early as next week.

"In part this is probably a negotiating tactic because the studios want to continue emphasizing the collateral damage of the strike," said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer at TroyGould.

"They also want the maximum flexibility to do exactly what they're talking about."


Industry lacks appreciation for striking writers

It may be Black Friday next week for Warner Bros. Studio employees in Burbank who received 60-day layoff notices to its employees on Nov. 12 last year. Though production has been ceased or interrupted in most all Hollywood endeavors, this would mark the largest job cut and signal the start of other mass layoffs.

Writers Strike conspiracy theorists say the layoffs and production company contract cancellations by force majeure clauses are being used by studios to trim fat and get rid of unproductive deals.

Others see it as a sad signal the WGA strike is expected to run several more months until the Screen Actors Guild contract are up and the growing price tag forces studios back to the table on issues like Internet pay.

A Warner insider said no decisions were made yet as to who or how many, though they did allude to production personnel, not just maintenance crews. The gist was that an axe will fall, but staffers should not panic, they may not be included.

Officially, WB had this to say: “These WARN notices were sent because, in certain circumstances, federal and California law can require employers to give notice of staffing changes. Due to the ongoing WGA work stoppage, some studio divisions will have to lay off employees. We regret the impact this will have on our employees, and we hope to bring them back to work once the WGA strike ends.”

The Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) strike passed the 60-day mark as reached its 65th day on Tuesday, which means major layoffs are expected to occur throughout Hollywood during the oncoming weeks.

The Warner Bros. action “represents the first concrete sign that the strike could trigger massive job cuts across Hollywood,” according to author and celebrity publicist, Michael Levine.

“Having worked with Hollywood stars for 25 years, I remember clearly that in the 1988 WGA strike, almost every studio eventually laid off scores of workers as the five-month work stoppage dragged on,” Levine continued.

“We regret the impact this will have on our employees, and we hope to bring them back to work once the WGA strike ends,” said Warner Bros. spokesperson Stacey Hoppe.

Other studios across the country have already begun job and budget-cuts. Fox, for instance has nixed paying overtime for several positions. NBC network took a hard hit after being forced to cancel the annual Golden Globes scheduled for this weekend.

“Sure the NBC network is suffering,” said Levine, “but the really big loser is the Los Angeles economy, which is bracing to take a $75-100 million bath.”

Levine suggests that ceremony’s cancellation will lead to a negative domino effect on already scheduled pre- and post-Golden Globe events.

“As of last night, all the major studios and celebrity magazines had put the kibosh on their star-studded after-party bashes at the Beverly Hilton — including HBO, Warner Bros./In Touch, Paramount/DreamWorks, NBC/Universal and the Weinstein Company,” said Levine.

The studio may cut jobs as soon as Jan. 18, JoAnn Black, senior vice president of human resources, said in a Jan. 3 letter to employees. WB spokesman Scott Rowe said the 1,000 notices went mainly to maintenance workers.

The Warner Bros. workers would join about 10,000 industry employees who have been idled by the walkout that has cost the local economy about $1.4 billion, said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

The economic impact spread to other professions. Writers have lost about $179.6 million in pay and other unionized workers, including stage hands, about $309.6 million, according to Kyser’s firm. The total impact on the region is $1.4 billion, the private company said Jan. 7.


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