Teamster dissident finally gets lawful refund

A Kalispell (MT) logging trucker has received a refund of just over $300 from a Teamsters' local in Butte, after he filed a complaint over the dues he was being charged, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation says.

Michael Weller, an employee of Hanson Trucking and Resin Haulers Inc. of Columbia Falls, is not a member of the Teamsters and elected to pay reduced dues that cover collective bargaining costs, but not other costs such as union political activities.

Mark Brandt, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 2, wrote to Weller saying the election would reduce Weller's monthly dues by 69 cents, to $38.31, and told him if he didn't pay a $150 objector fee, the union would request his termination.

Weller said he paid the charges out of fear of losing his job, and sought financial disclosure documents from the union to determine if he was paying the correct amount.

Federal "Beck" rights entitle non-union workers to a third-party audit of union expenses to prove they are not being charged for expenses not related to collective bargaining.

The union refunded the money to settle a complaint Weller filed with the National Labor Relations Board. Along with the refund, which includes $268 for objector fees, $8.45 for initiation fees and $27.84 in interest, the union also promised to provide full financial disclosure of the use of Weller's dues, the defense foundation said.

A phone number for the Teamsters Local 2 in Butte rang unanswered Friday afternoon.


Initimidation no stranger to Vegas union members

As the Culinary Union worked feverishly this week to persuade its members to support Barack Obama, a prickly question arose: What is the difference between tough political tactics and unethical, or illegal, intimidation?

Some Culinary members say they have felt intimidated by the pushy approach of some organizers.

But labor experts say a vigorous back-and-forth is the norm as unions work to spread the word of an endorsement -- and the tactics don’t cross the legal line of voter intimidation unless workers are threatened.

None of the Culinary members interviewed by the Sun claimed to have been threatened by union activists gathering pledge cards for Obama. Some, however, were told they would have to caucus for Obama, period.

If so, it raises the question of where a union draws the line between hard-nosed politicking and intimidation.

“One person’s intimidation is another person’s persuasion,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Labor experts said that although member-on-member intimidation prevailed a half-century ago, it’s exceedingly rare today, especially in the context of a caucus, in which voters must show up at a particular place and time and publicly declare their support for a candidate. In other words, caucusgoers need to be highly motivated to turn out. Intimidating the voter pool would be counterproductive.

“That would be stupid,” said Peter Francia, a political scientist at Eastern Carolina University who has studied labor unions. “It would alienate the people you need to mobilize your political muscle.”

Organizers cross the legal line, experts said, when they threaten a worker’s union status or job security.

“Those sorts of practices, with the very exceptional outlier, are not common,” said Robert Bruno, professor of labor and industrial relations at the University of Illinois. “It would be deeply offensive to the labor movement if they were being practiced in such a high-profile event.”

Having endorsed Obama just last week, 10 days before the Nevada caucus, organizers are working overtime and making the hard sell. Some members -- including ones identified to the Sun by the Clinton campaign -- find the approach off-putting.

Take, for instance, the case of Ruben Beltran, a Culinary member and Clinton volunteer who helps set up conventions at Mandalay Bay.

Union representatives, he said, are telling employees they must caucus for Obama on Saturday, making it sound more like a demand than a suggestion. Beltran said workers feel intimidated because the union holds sway over their jobs.

“It’s intimidation because the workers are not knowledgeable,” he said. “They don’t know their rights.”

Beltran told the Sun he was not threatened, though, and plans to back Clinton.

Then there’s Maria Garcia, who works in the housekeeping department at Wynn Las Vegas.

Her complaint: A union rep removed a pile of Clinton fliers from the cafeteria and asked workers where they came from.

She said many members support Clinton and would be following their conscience Saturday.

Most troubling is the case of Sylvia Antuna, a cook at Paris Las Vegas, who said she was filling out a voter registration form in the employee cafeteria when two union reps approached her about Obama. When she told them she wasn’t sure about caucusing for him, one rep took her registration form, telling her that she couldn’t participate Saturday if she wasn’t supporting Obama. (Antuna is undecided.)

Marie Angers, a fellow cook, and her son, Matt DeFalco, a kitchen runner, said they witnessed the incident and engaged the organizers in a heated discussion. Angers is a Clinton backer.

Both said they saw one organizer hand Antuna an Obama pledge card, telling her she had to sign it to participate in the caucus.

In an interview, Antuna said she didn’t recall the pledge card, but said the incident was upsetting. On reflection, she said the organizers spoke broken English, adding that the incident could have been a misunderstanding.

Still, deceiving members about election rules is unethical, said Taylor Dark, a professor of labor and politics at California State University, Los Angeles.

“I would expect the union to be putting a lot of emotional and psychological pressure on members. That’s what unions do,” Dark said. “Passions are running high. But just because someone says they feel intimidated, it’s not an indication that they are being intimidated in a truly unethical fashion.”

Asked Thursday about allegations of voter intimidation, D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Union, said members were having “vigorous debate” throughout Las Vegas.


Unions stake future dues income on Dems

Unions in America have been in a decline for over 60 years. Union membership has dropped from almost 35% of all workers in 1945 to less than 15% today. In fact, union membership has declined to almost exactly the same percentage as it was in 1930 before FDR took power and encouraged the growth of unions. The first crucial battle the unions lost came after FDR died, when over Truman's veto the Taft-Hartly Act was passed in 1947. Truman called the Taft-Hartly Act a "slave labor bill".

Since then unions have lost critical battle after battle; the mainline old unions centered around industrial concerns like GM and Ford have shrunk to a tiny fraction of their former self; and despite the efforts of the SEIU unions and others, new economy workers mostly have not been organized.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), created by the Wagner Act in 1935 as independent agency of United States Governments holds the official mandate to conduct elections for labor union representation and to investigate and remedy unfair labor practices. Under the Bush administration, the NLRB has:

* made it impossible for large numbers of workers to join unions(pdf);
* potentially reclassified many workers as supervisors (including many nurses) in order to remove them from unions;
* passed numerous rulings which treat employers in one way, and unions in another.

Unions have spent the last 7 years under assault by the Bush NLRB.

The union movement, it is fair to say, is in many respects in its weakest position in over 60 years.

Another 4 or 8 years of a Republican presidency could doom American unions, pushing them below 10% and subjecting them to more and more hostile NLRB rulings, which will cripple what ability they have to organize. Even a moderate Democratic president who halts the slide at the NLRB but doesn't reverse it will leave unions in a shaky situation.

Unions, even more than the US itself, need a new FDR. Without FDR unions would have never had their day and since FDR unions have been in a long steady decline. It's been nothing but downhill, whether under Republicans or Democrats, and absent a President who really cares about unions there's no reason to believe that decline will stop.

Unions were in, 1930, in almost the same shape they are now. Bad economic times, combined with the right president, turned it around for them and for America and made the times good again. But it took the right President as well--British unionization, for example, increased in the Great Depression, but kept increasing till the late 70s.

What government took away, fertile conditions for organizing and pro-union policies, government can give back. And since much of what matters is determined by the Labor Relations Board and the president has a great deal of say over its makeup, the most important factor for the fate of unions (absent a repeal of Taft-Hartley) is who the President is.

With the right President, and the right NLRB, the union movement can have it's renaissance, it's 11th hour resurrection. Without it, unions may dwindle into the long, long night. And that wouldn't just be a tragedy for union members: because of how unions raise the boats of all workers, the decline of unions would be a tragedy for America.

All of the Republican candidates would be awful for labor, and differ only by the degrees of the horror they would unleash.

Amongst the Democratic candidates it's safe to say that Hilary Clinton, who has as her main advisor a union buster and whose husband did very little for unions, would be a largely status quo President. Her board would be decent, she'd be bad but not awful on trade, and she wouldn't sink a lot of personal capital into union issues.

As with many things with Obama, it's hard to determine how good or bad he'd be, but one has to have their doubts about a Democratic candidate who argued that union advertisements in Iowa were unacceptable, and who acted as if union money were the equivalent of corporate money. Certainly there are those who see unions and corporation as little different--but they aren't friends of unions.

John Edwards has spent the last four years working with unions, walking their picket lines and making their cause his. He's clearly the most pro-union of the three remaining candidates; his primary issue is economic justice and he believes that corporations have too much power. His campaign, from the very beginning, was predicated on union support.

But unions didn't reciprocate.

Lists of major union endorsements make this clear. AFL-CIO unions predominantly endorsed Clinton, and in fact more major unions endorsed Clinton than anyone else, with Edwards coming in second in the endorsement stakes. Most recently Nevada's largest union, the culinary union endorsed Obama and is working hard for him in that key swing state.

Now let's imagine a world in which labor had taken a strong stand and endorsed the candidate who was most pro-labor, John Edwards. Edwards came in second in Iowa, behind Obama by 8%. It is hard to believe that if unions had come in, say 4 months ago, and used their ground machine (still, even today, probably the best organizing machine in the Democratic party) that they couldn't have swung the election 8 points.

What could unions have accomplished for their own cause?--Edwards' victory in Iowa and the standard surge in the polls that comes from winning Iowa. More importantly, Edwards would have suddenly been the story coming out of Iowa and would have had a ton of media coverage. In general, as people learn more about Edwards they like him more and more.

On to New Hampshire. Who knows if Edwards would have won there with union support, as it was a very fickle primary. But let's assume not.

Next state: Nevada, where John Edwards is currently polling third, but again within 6 percent of the leader, Barack Obama, and only 3% behind Clinton. Nevada is a huge union state, with early organizing from union allies plus the boost from winning Iowa it is is impossible to imagine that Edwards would not now be blowing out the polls in Nevada.

At that point, with Nevada, Edwards would have won two of the three initial states. It is hard to imagine that his national numbers wouldn't be much, much higher than they are now. It might be a two way race, it might be a three way race, but no matter what he'd be in contention, and maybe even a favorite.

And here's the thing--neither Clinton nor Obama, should they win now, will feel a massive debt to Labor. The endorsements were useful and appreciated, and they helped. But they weren't desperately needed. The payback will be a slightly better NLRB, but not enough to save American labor.

But an Edwards presidency would owe everything to the unions, and John Edwards would know it. And he would have campaigned with an explicitly pro-union campaign--if he won the nomination, and later the presidency (don't forget his electability numbers are far better than Clinton's and as good or better than Obama's), he would come into power with a pro-union public mandate.

Neither Clinton (experience) nor Obama (non-partisan change) will come into office with a mandate to help unions.

I can only assume that labor read too many polls and made too many political calculations. Unsure of who would win they went with the "inevitable" candidate (Clinton) instead of the one who had spent 4 years working for and with them. And as a result, if Obama or Clinton win, Unions are going to get a Democratic president who appreciates their help (just like Bill Clinton did) but who isn't really willing to go all out for them (just like Bill Clinton didn't).

The irony here is that if labor had taken a strong stand and put their own best interests first instead of triangulating and currying political favor, the strongest pro-labor candidate would be in the lead today.

Unions would have had a good chance to elect a massively pro-union president--who would have owed them his presidency.

Imagine that alternate world.

Now instead, imagine what four more years without solid support for all American workers and radical reform at the NLRB will mean for you, your pocketbook, and your family.

Decisions like these are what has made the American union movement what it is today.


AFSCME grieves labor-state retiree givebacks

About 100 area retired state and local government workers turned out Thursday to discuss proposed cuts to their benefit plans. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) met at AMVETS Post 103 in Hopwood to talk about the proposed changes to health-care benefits and the lack of cost-of-living increases.

AFSCME Chapter 13 represents about 12,000 retired employees in the state.

Glenn Fullem, president of the local AFSCME council, told the gathering that the changes being pushed by Gov. Edward G. Rendell would affect the out-of-pocket expenses for retirees. "Today he (Rendell) and his cronies are trying to sell us a bad deal," Fullem said. "He's not asking us, he is forcing us."

Dan Mazus, president of the AFSCME state retirees Chapter 13, said that the increased out-of-pocket expenses would come from higher prescription drug co-pays and an overall change in the health-care coverage that will put the coverage in the hands of for-profit insurance companies.

Mazus said the proposal is called the Advantra-Freedom Medicare Private Fee Service Plan.

Under the proposed system, Mazus said the private insurance companies would be taking over health care and that claims may be denied to keep making a profit.

Fullem said the changes would result in the transfer of money from the Medicare and Medicaid trust funds and into the "coffers of big business."

"The governor has removed these retirees from both the Retired Employees Health Program (REHP) and the regular Medicare program and replaced the combined coverage with private insurance known as Medicare Advantage," Mazus said. "Private Medicare Advantage plans have been getting hefty subsidies from the federal government so the state can save a few dollars in the short run. But over the years, it will turn into the devil's bargain."

Rendell announced the proposal in September, and officials have indicated the changes should save more than $94 million annually, according to a press release.

However, Fullem said the matter should have been discussed with the retirees,

"We have got to let Rendell know that we are not going to sit by in our rockers and let this happen," Fullem said.

Another result of the legislation will be co-pay increases on prescriptions, Fullem said.

Additionally, the changes include a cut to spousal benefits in the event of the death of the retiree - something Fullem said is a departure from current coverage.

Fullem also said that cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for the retirees have not been increased in seven years. Those adjustments are generally small percentages meant to keep people on par with the cost of living.

Mazus tried to assuage concerns regarding the COLAs, noting that he is hopeful that legislation will be passed this summer to address the deficiency.

"No one is ignoring this," Mazus said. "We are working on it on a daily basis.

He urged area retirees to call the governor's office and voice their concern regarding the benefit changes.

Attending the meeting to voice support for the retirees were representatives of state Reps. Timothy S. Mahoney, D-South Union Township; Deberah Kula, D-North Union Township; Bill DeWeese, D-Waynesburg; Peter J. Daley, D-California; and state Sen. Richard Kasunic, D-Dunbar. The state representatives were unable to attend the meeting because of House sessions in Harrisburg Thursday.

According to officials, Daley, DeWeese, Kula and Kasunic have each sent letters stating their opposition to the proposed cuts.

"We have to be vigilant and send a message to the governor," Kasunic said. "This is going to result in a situation where you are not going to have access to the care you need. It is not good for you as retirees and it is not good for us a society."

Kasunic said he and other legislators are examining state law in Maryland enacted to try and protect the rights of state-employed retirees to try and alleviate the situation.


Taxpayers host global collectivist confab at UCSC

The UC Santa Cruz Center for Labor Studies will host a public conference titled "Imagining International Solidarity: Models for U.S. Labor Solidarity with Workers in Latin America and China," on Saturday, February 2, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Oakes College, Room 105. Admission is free.

The daylong conference brings together a stellar list of experienced activists and scholars from five countries to share their ideas about "best practice" models for building effective and democratic labor solidarity across national borders.

"As we deal with the challenges of globalization facing workers today around the world, the labor movement is struggling to build effective forms of international solidarity," said UCSC professor of history Dana Frank, cofounder of the Center for Labor Studies. "This conference will explore ways for workers' movements in different countries to join together to face common challenges and concerns that are driving labor standards down all over the world."

The event will focus on how people in the United States can support labor struggles in China and Latin America over such issues as fair wages, workers' health and safety, the right to organize, and freedom of speech.

"We're particulalry interested in building democratic forms of solidarity in which regular working people's voices are heard," Frank added. "This is a public conference designed for anyone in the community who cares about these issues—not just scholars."

Funded by the Miguel Contreras Labor Fund of the University of California Office of the President, and co-sponsored by the UCSC Divisions of Humanities and Social Sciences, the UCSC Center for Labor Studies was founded in 2007. It offers conferences, workshops, and public lectures throughout the academic year. The center also provides support for the annual Reel Work Labor Film Festival held each spring in downtown Santa Cruz.

This conference is open to the public and no preregistration is required. Simultaneous English to Spanish translation will be provided. For more information, contact Karin Mak at ktmak@ucsc.edu, (831) 459-2542, or Dana Frank at (831) 459-2542.

Conference Participants:

• Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval (panelist) is an associate professor in the Chicana and Chicano Studies Department at UC Santa Barbara. He is the author of Globalization and Cross-Border Labor Solidarity in the Americas: The Anti-Sweatshop Movement and the Struggle for Social Justice.

• Teresa Casertano (panelist) has been regional program director for the Americas for the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center since 1994, and is currently responsible for programs developed by field offices and national trade unions in Mexico, Central America, the Andean Region, the Southern Cone, and Brazil.

• Anita Chan (panelist)is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Contemporary China Centre, Australian National University, and has served as Co-Editor of The China Journal and editor of Chinese Sociology and Anthropology. A sociologist, she is the author of eight books on China, most recently, China's Workers under Assault.

• Jenny Chan (panelist) is chief coordinator of Students and Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) in Hong Kong and a steering committee member of GoodElectronics. She received her M.Phil. in Sociology at the University of Hong Kong in May 2006.

• Stephen Coats (panelist) has been executive director of the U.S./Labor Education in the Americas Project (USLEAP) since 1990. USLEAP is an independent non-profit organization that supports the rights of workers in Latin America. He previously served on Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign as assistant policy director.

• Jonathan Fox (moderator) is a professor in the Department of Latin American and Latin Studies at UC Santa Cruz. He served as an advisor to the Mexico-US Diálogos Project (1988-98) which led to the book, Cross-Border Dialogues: US-Mexico Social Movement Networking. His most recent books are Mexico's Right-to-Know Reform: Civil Society Perspectives and Accountability Politics: Power and Voice in Rural Mexico.

• Dana Frank (moderator and conference organizer) is a professor of history at UC Santa Cruz and co-director of the UCSC Center for Labor Studies. Her books include Buy American: The Untold Story of Economic Nationalism; Bananeras: Women Transforming the Banana Unions of Latin America, and Purchasing Power: Consumer Organizing, Gender, and the Seattle Labor Movement.

• Homero Fuentes (Jorge Homero Fuentes Aragon) (panelist) is founder and director of the Comisión para la Verificación de Códigos de Conducta (COVERCO) (Commission for the Verification of Codes of Conduct) in Guatemala. Previously he worked with the regional project, Mejoramiento Continuo en la Maquila CIMCAW-MECOMAQ, a global agency, and with the Danish Consulate on various labor support projects.

• Paul Garver (panelist) worked for the Service Employees International Union for 15 years as an organizer and staff director in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He then worked another 15 years for the International Union of Food Workers in Geneva on global labor union activities in transnational companies in the food and drink sector.

• Emily Honig (moderator) is a professor of feminist studies and history at UC Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on modern Chinese labor history, and she is the author of Sisters and Strangers: Women in the Shanghai Cotton Mills, 1919-1949; and Creating Chinese Ethnicity: Subei people in Shanghai, 1800-1980.

• José La Luz (keynote speaker) is currently director of the Leadership Academy of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). In his previous work for AFSCME, he served as Northeast Director and Associate Director and engineered the legislative and organizing campaign that led to over 100,000 public sector workers gaining a union in Puerto Rico, and worked in international affairs.

• Josie Mooney (panelist) is assistant to the International President and International Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), where she is an advisor on international affairs. Previously she was the Executive Director of SEIU Local 790 in San Francisco and the first-ever woman president of the San Francisco Labor Council.

• Jesper Nielsen (panelist) is international advisor for the United Federation of Danish Workers, which has 360,000 affiliates. He works with trade union development cooperation mainly in Central America and Africa, and with international solidarity campaigns. He was previously based in Nicaragua working with projects in Latin America.

• Paul Ortiz (moderator) is a professor of community studies at UC Santa Cruz, and co-director of the Center for Labor Studies. He teaches classes on African American and Latino/a histories, the African diaspora, and social movements, and is the author of Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920.

• Katie Quan (panelist) is associate chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center. Her areas of specialization are woman workers and workers in the global economy. Prior to joining the Labor Center staff, Quan was a member, organizer, district council manager, and international vice-president of UNITE!

• Kent Wong (keynote speaker) is the director of the UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education, where he teaches labor studies and Asian American Studies. He previously served as staff attorney for the Service Employees International Union in Los Angeles, and staff attorney for the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California.


IBEW faces huge dues hit in Indiana

GE announced Thursday its intent to close the Bloomington (IN) refrigerator plant by late 2009, informing nearly 900 employees who work there of the possible plant shutdown. Plant manager Kent Suiters said the decision comes because rising material and labor costs aren't meshing with what consumers are willing to spend on side-by-side refrigerators. The westside plant has manufactured those refrigerators since 1967.

"The market changes very quickly," he said. "It's just a bad market situation." He said the plant lost about $45 million last year, and the same amount or more is expected this year.

GE employs about 896 people in Bloomington: 837 hourly employees belonging to the IBEW union, and 59 salaried employees.

Suiters walked the assembly line floor Thursday, talking with employees and hearing their concerns, such as future benefits and pay. Suiters said 60 percent of the employees would qualify for buyouts under the GE retirement plan.

If the plant does close next year, it will leave behind not only a 110-acre site but a big gap in the city's manufacturing sector, which has taken hard hits over the years with the closings of Thomson/RCA and ABB/Westinghouse and dramatic layoffs at Otis Elevator and GE.

Employment at the local GE plant reached a peak in 1999 with about 3,200 employees. But layoffs began the next year, with 735 workers losing their jobs in December 2000 and 900 laid off in June 2001.

While Suiters shared with employees the company's plan to shut down the plant by the fourth quarter of next year, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2249 has a chance to propose recommendations or alternatives to the plan during a "decision bargaining" period.

The union, which represents the plant's 837 hourly employees, has 60 days to offer its plan.

Last summer, the GE union approved a four-year contract that called for employees to receive a 16 percent pay raise over that time.

Union president Bill Mitchell said Thursday he doesn't know what stones have been left unturned, but he is planning to take advantage of the opportunity to submit alternatives in an effort to help save the plant.

"We'll give it our best shot," he said.

Mitchell said any alternatives would have to be approved by the company and the union membership.

He said the union will need to get "very creative" to come up with a solution.

A solution the company has been unable to find.

Suiters said the employees have done everything asked of them, but that market forces are just too much. "Consumers want more for less," he said.

Sales of GE side-by-side refrigerators declined 10 percent in the past year, according to Kim Freeman, global public relations manager for the company. She said consumer preferences are shifting toward models with freezers on the bottom.

About the plant:

-- Employs 896 people, hourly and salary: 837 hourly employees, and 59 salaried employees.

-- Has 500 retirees.

-- Covers 110 acres, 1 million square feet.

-- Produces about 450,000 side-by-side refrigerators a year.

-- Production line of workers is 2,800 feet long, with about 275-300 employees on a shift.

-- Uses 77 dock doors.

-- Overhead conveyors span nearly five miles; floor conveyors are more than a mile long.

-- Locally made refrigerators are in 180 countries.

-- Top buyers are Home Depot and Lowe's.

-- $200 million invested in the plant since 2000.

-- More than 300,000 pounds of steel used a day.


Until a final decision is made about the plant's future, it's premature to say how the work or employees would be phased out if the plant shuts down, Suiters said.

About 450,000 side-by-side refrigerators roll off the local line each year. The 30 or so models are considered on the lower-to-middle end, Suiters said. He said he's sure that the Bloomington plant is one of the last in the country that manufactures side-by-side refrigerators. It is the only side-by-side GE plant, though the Louisville, Ky.-based company produces higher-end, built-in refrigerators in Tennessee.

Where production of the side-by-side refrigerators would go if the plant closes hasn't yet been determined, Suiters said.

Announcement of the plans to shut the plant down came eight months after a large celebration of the plant's 40th anniversary and the approach of the 20-millionth refrigerator coming off the local production line.

Community leaders, state politicians and local business officials were invited May 10 to help mark the occasion. Staff led tours of the million-square-foot plant after a presentation traced four decades of operation and honored employees - two of whom had worked there since that first year in 1967.

Now, many of those same leaders will meet today to discuss the likely loss of one of the largest and oldest manufacturers in the area, and how it will affect the community.

Delivering the news to the employees was tough for Suiters, a local GE employee for nearly 20 years who started out as a supervisor. He said he found out about the decision "very recently."

"It's very hard for me to go through this. Emotionally, much more than I thought it would be," he said.

He said his focus was helping the employees transition if the plant does close and answering any questions.

Union president Mitchell said the mood of the plant was somber Thursday.

"This is a very frustrating, disappointing day with the announcement of the plant closing," he said. "Our employees have worked so hard and done everything the company asked of them and more."


GOP, unions in bed to repeal seniority limit

In the last week, more than $3 million has poured into the coffers of a campaign to water-down California's term-limits law. The Yes on Proposition 93 campaign has raised the money from key proponents of the Speaker’s proposed health care reform, Democratic lawmakers, telecom companies and teachers unions.

As the new money pours in, proponents of the measure have opted to pass on more than $500,000 worth of television advertising time that the campaign had reserved.

According to figures obtained by Capitol Weekly, the reserved time included about $315,000 in the Los Angeles media market and $169,000 in the Bay Area. The remainder comes from the Fresno, Sacramento and San Diego markets, where the Yes on 93 campaign has a much smaller media presence.

It is impossible to tell just what that figure means. It could mean anything from a shifting of resources to a tweak of campaign strategy. This week, the Yes on 93 campaign picked up a coveted endorsement from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and another from Republican state Sen. Jim Battin, R-La Quinta. Could this shift mean that the Yes side is hoping to reach out to Republican voters with their new, Republican spokesmen?

The Yes on 93 folks aren't talking.

“We do not publicly discuss our media strategy,” said Yes on 93 spokesman Richard Stapler.

But the No on 93 campaign says the numbers show the Yes side is in trouble. “It says to me they’re having trouble raising money,” said Wayne Johnson, a consultant for the No on 93 campaign. “It’s much more likely that they’re not hitting their fundraising targets to fund their buys.”

"It’s clear that the No side has gone stark raving mad," said Stapler. "They’ve made up stories about the governor’s endorsement, and that strategy of making things up seems to continue.”

At first blush, fundraising would not seem to be a problem for the Yes campaign. The latest reports from the Secretary of State’s office indicates the Yes on 93 campaign has raised $10.5 million to date. Through the end of 2007, the campaign had spent about $5.5 million. A separate Yes on 93 committee, which is expected to fund the campaign’s direct mail operation, has raised about $1.8 million. And Speaker Fabian Nunez has another $5.2 million in his personal account that he could tap for the campaign.

While Stapler would not comment on his campaign's media strategy, he was all to happy to comment on the other side's. "The No campaign has reserved $1.5 million for the last week, but they only have $500,000 in the bank," he said.

No on 93 spokesman Kevin Spillane says with contested primaries in both presidential elections, and increased attention on the February ballot, the No on 93 campaign is hoping to increase its television ad buys in the coming weeks.

“What you’re looking at is probably unexpectedly high turnout because of the presidential contest being open and com in both parties,” said Spillane. “TV is the best medium to reach less-frequent voters. That’s the most logical medium. Television has always been the most important medium.”

In lower turn-out elections, supplemental advertising like direct mail and phone banking becomes increasingly important, Spillane said. But with a higher percentage of voters who are not frequent voters expected to turn out on Feb. 5, the importance of television is increased.

But this increased focus on television comes at a time when fewer people may be watching. The writers strike has decimated new programming schedules, and networks are bracing for declining viewership. A story in Thursday’s USA Today states, “apart from Fox, which ushered in American Idol on Tuesday, other networks are expected to become the "biggest losers" in coming weeks with a steadier diet of repeats and reality and the end of prime-time football.”

Johnson said the brunt of the writers’ strike will not be felt until after the election, some time in mid-February.

“There’s certainly no shortage of new shows, reality shows and sports,” he said. “There are plenty of opportunities for us to try to reach voters.”

Reaching voters may be more important to the No campaign than the Yes side. Polling shows that support is strongest for Proposition 93 when voters are read the official summary of the initiative that will appear on the February ballot. Support for the measure declines when voters learn the current legislative leadership is backing the measure to prolong their tenures.

“Their entire strategy was that the opposition would be underfunded,” Spillane said. “The ballot label was a political contribution worth several million dollars, and we’re working hard to counter that.”

The latest reports from the Secretary of State’s office indicate that the Yes on 93 campaign has outraised the No side more than 2-1. According to the latest figures, the Yes side has raised more than $9.4 million. The money has come from a diverse group of labor unions, Democratic legislators, Indian tribes and interests with business before the Legislature.

The No campaign has raised more than $4 million – with $1.5 million coming from U.S. Term Limits and Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association has given an additional $1 million to the No side.


Big Split: Alarming increase in union raids

The New Hampshire State Employees Association will lose nearly 600 members after corrections department workers voted to leave the union. The vote to leave SEA and join the New England Police Benevolent Association was 53-31 among corrections supervisors and 189-143 among officers and corporals.

Gary Smith, SEA president, is also a corrections worker. SEA has scheduled an emergency meeting for Jan. 31 to discuss the situation. Smith was not available yesterday to comment on the election, a stinging blow to the union that this year negotiated a two-year contract for 10,000 state workers.

SEA spokesman Jay Ward said Smith will continue as president and as a dues-paying member of the union.

"Nothing in today's vote changes his status as a board member and president," Ward said.

The loss of membership will not end SEA's ability to collect an agency fee, Ward said. The fee is a percentage of union dues, meant to cover the cost of negotiating and enforcing the contract that benefits all eligible workers, members and non-members alike.

"Once the bell is rung, you can't unring it no matter what happens," Ward said. "Once you achieve that status, it doesn't end." Membership peaked in November 2006 when SEA hit about 70 percent of eligible members.

The SEA has been hit by a series of elections in small units that want to sever ties since its national affiliate, the Service Employees International Union, left the AFL-CIO.

Jerry Flynn, executive director of the NEPBA, said yesterday, "When they left the AFL-CIO, they opened up this door." NEPBA has won the rights to represent former SEA units at the state Fish and Game Department and the Highway Patrol Division of the Department of Safety. SEA has won elections that would have decertified units at the Department of Employment Security, the Office of Information Technology and the Insurance Department.

Flynn said that NEPBA will represent more than 700 law enforcement workers at Corrections, Highway and Fish and Game, and 3,000 law enforcement workers statewide. The union has other elections pending in Wolfeboro, Atkinson, Hampstead and Rochester.

Based in Lowell, Mass., the union plans to open an office in New Hampshire "very soon," Flynn said.

SEA filed an appeal of decisions that led to the corrections election earlier this week, said Donald Mitchell, executive director of the Public Employees Labor Relations Board. The state Supreme Court refused last week an SEA petition asking it to take jurisdiction over election issues.

It's unclear what effect the election will have on operations at the state's four prisons.

Corrections spokesman Jeffrey Lyons said the pending vote, "had been topic of conversation among staff over a period of time, but I'm not aware of any incidents that have resulted.

"We will facilitate in giving information when asked and in assisting in the transition from one group to the other," he said.


Union demands more money, RTW end-around

While Pulaski County (MO)’s general fund is facing a crisis due to lack of revenue, the county’s property tax revenues aren’t in bad shape. Property taxes, a special road tax fund, and a tax on new car sales pay for most of the county’s road and bridge department budget; revenue estimates show that department’s budget shouldn’t have a problem paying a proposed countywide pay increase of 25 cents per hour and raising the county’s contribution for employee insurance from $200 per month to $225 per month.

However, the road workers are represented by Local 148 of the International Union of Operating Engineers.

That union requested a higher pay raise of $1 per hour next year and by 75 more cents in 2009, as well as providing the full cost for employee health insurance and pension premiums and partial coverage for spouses. Other requested benefits include providing a set of outerwear and work boots per year for road workers.

The union also asked commissioners to consider implementing a court decision allowing non-union employees to be charged a service fee for the union’s work on their behalf. Missouri is a right-to-work state in which employees cannot be required to join a union, but in November, union representative Patrick Lynch presented court documents and a sample agreement between his union local and the city of St. Charles in which non-union employees are required to pay 89 percent of the amount of union dues as a service fee for collective bargaining services performed on their behalf by the union. Lynch said St. Charles workers still have the right to object to payments on a number of grounds, including religious, personal and political grounds.

Speaking at Thursday morning’s county commission meeting, Lynch asked the commissioners to reconsider their proposed pay rates for the workers his union represents.

Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall told Lynch that the county hadn’t yet made any decision on pay raises and still hasn’t found a way to close a $125,000 gap between projected revenues and expenses.

Commissioner Bill Farnham said he valued his road workers but didn’t believe they should receive a higher pay raise.

“We are struggling to come up with money to run the county,” Farnham said. “This year we have a little extra in road and bridge, but I don’t think we can give our road and bridge employees a better raise than we do for other employees.”

“I would love if we were flush in cash and say, ‘We can give this, we can give that,’ but we just can’t,” Farnham said.

While Lynch said a 25-cent pay raise won’t keep up with the cost of living, Commissioner Dennis Thornsberry said county commissioners have tried to help by increasing the county contribution toward insurance premiums.

“We had a 6 percent increase in health insurance and we didn’t want to pass that on to our employees,” Thornsberry said.

“A lot of our employees couldn’t absorb the increase last year,” Ransdall said. “I was there with the employees when they met with the insurance company and a lot of them increased their deductibles so their paychecks wouldn’t go down too much.”

Insurance premium increases differ based on the plan chosen by the employee, but Ransdall said the highest premium increase was $22 per month. Pulaski County paid $200 per month in 2007 and the county budget calls for increasing that to $225 this year.

Lynch said he didn’t understand why the county was having financial trouble with the large hotels and other businesses located in St. Robert along Interstate 44, and was surprised when commissioners told him that the road and bridge department is supported solely by property tax rather than sales tax revenue.

Lynch asked commissioners whether they’d consider proposing a sales tax for road work, but that suggestion met a frosty reception.

“Do you think a tax would pass if you put it on the ballot now? You know better than that; you just said the economy is a stinking mess,” Thornsberry said. “Do you feel you’re taxed enough?”

“In St. Charles County, yes,” Lynch said.

After Lynch told commissioners how much he paid in sales tax, Ransdall said Pulaski County shoppers actually have a higher sales tax rate than in Lynch’s county, located in the northern St. Louis suburbs. Sales taxes total 7.475 percent countywide and 7.975 in the transportation district on St. Robert Boulevard where Wal-Mart and the hotels noticed by Lynch are located.

“If you start asking about a quarter-cent for anything, you’re pushing the taxes over 8 percent,” Ransdall said. “The people in this community have a real problem with paying more than 8 percent tax on anything when you can go out to Fort Leonard Wood and not pay anything.”

Ransdall emphasized that he wasn’t trying to “badmouth Fort Leonard Wood” but said many local businesses owners don’t want their sales taxes to be raised to the point that it makes better sense to shop on Fort Leonard Wood.

Lynch said he’d like to see something done to help the road workers due to their working conditions, which are different from the office workers in other county departments.

“When is the last time any of your employees filed a grievance? You just had a tornado and they were out there,” Lynch said. “Those guys are out in the elements, and they just want some appreciation.”

“Yes, they were, but so were our deputies and our firefighters and our REACT personnel and all our emergency responders,” Ransdall said.

“We even stood up our emergency operations center and I was on the phone with them every hour,” Ransdall said. “We had people calling us and saying they could hear people screaming and couldn’t get to them, so we sent out people with chain saws and trucks to clear the roads.”

Lynch’s proposals for boots and outerwear met with questions from commissioners.

“I can remember when that was done. I’m the only one who was here, but they gave up the outerwear for a pay increase,” Thornsberry said.

However, Lynch said he appreciated a sick-time leave pool that Pulaski County instituted in 2006 for its employees. Similar pools exist elsewhere for cities and schools; for Pulaski County, employees may donate up to eight hours of sick time per year to help out other employees who may have medical issues and exhaust their sick time.

Lynch called the sick leave pool “a great idea,” said his union workers have similar agreements in other counties and asked for details of Pulaski County’s plan.

“I commend you for doing that,” Lynch said.

County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer said sick time leave requests aren’t common, but when they happen, they’re reviewed by a board made up of a representative from each county department.

“We had a deputy who had some severe medical problems; they had to put the request in writing, the doctor sends a letter, and then we look at it,” Linnenbringer said.

Lynch asked what will happen when the county finishes its budget; Ransdall said the budget must be completed by the end of January but can be amended if additional revenues come in.

That could happen based on CART funds, the share of gas taxes received by Pulaski County based on its road mileage, but Ransdall said he’s not sure when that data will arrive.

“We don’t know any more in February than we know now,” Ransdall said. “We’ve had a request in to the state for three weeks now on CART funds; we’re basing our CART fund estimates on something that came out in a magazine.”

Lynch said he’d return to speak with commissioners later in the year if more revenues became available.


Collectivists: Ron Paul is anti-worker

Millions of people have seen the Democratic Party for what it is: a war party. Since Democrats took control of the House and Senate as a result of the November 2006 election, they have done nothing to end the occupation of Iraq. But instead of turning away from the Democrats and toward building a left-wing alternative, some in the anti-war movement have begun to champion a marginal candidate running for the Republican presidential nomination.

Ron Paul, a right-wing libertarian congressman from Texas, has no chance of winning the Republican nomination, much less the presidency. He is a fringe bourgeois candidate. However, prominent (and misguided) left-leaning pundits and hard-right neo-fascists champion him as the "candidate of choice" nonetheless. What are the seeds of this unholy union?

Paul calls for an immediate end to the occupation of Iraq. It’s a sticking point for many, although it should not blur a sober analysis of this reactionary, capitalist candidate’s positions. He has been forthright with his social and political program.

Paul’s libertarianism—or "constitutionalism"—speaks frequently about getting rid of invasive "big government." For workers who oppose the Patriot Act, government spying, and inflated military budgets, this position at first might have a certain appeal. But Paul wants to create a "small government" so as to prevent any intrusion into the affairs of big business. He upholds "free market" capitalism as the solution to every social problem.

He does not want to create a government that defends workers and the oppressed. Instead, Paul wants to overturn the concessions that workers have won from the capitalist class through decades of struggle. This is why he opposes the income tax—so that big business does not have to give anything back.

Paul offers nothing to oppressed communities. His website claims that bigotry is "a problem of the heart, and we cannot change people’s hearts by passing more laws and regulations." In his view, the "true antidote to racism is liberty," and "liberty means free-market capitalism." Paul wants to get rid of affirmative action and any other legislation that enforces "racial group identities."

Paul is supported by none other than arch-racist David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and Don Black, co-founder of the white supremacist website Stormfront. Paul has not condemned these supporters or returned their donations.

A 1992 newsletter published under Paul’s name claimed, "Only about 5 percent of blacks have sensible political opinions, i.e. support the free market, individual liberty. … I think we can safely assume that 95% of the black males in [Washington, D.C.] are semi-criminal or entirely criminal." While Paul now claims that a former staffer wrote and published the report without clearance, the newsletter never rebuked or retracted the words of the alleged renegade employee.

On Dec. 23, 2007, Paul appeared on "Meet the Press," where he asserted he would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because it impinged on the property rights of business owners.

As for workers’ rights, Paul opposes the eight-hour day and the minimum wage. He opposes laws banning child labor and other legislation that ensures safe working conditions. He is against unemployment insurance, welfare and food stamps. He would like to see Social Security gradually eliminated. In Congress, Paul has voted consistently against strengthening workers’ rights and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and on Dec. 5, 2007, became the first presidential candidate to cross the picket line of striking writers in Hollywood so that he could appear on ABC’s "The View."

Racist, anti-worker views

On immigration, Paul’s six-point plan is nothing short of a nightmare for foreign-born workers. Paul not only opposes legalization, but also goes further than most xenophobes by explicitly proposing a constitutional amendment to end birthright citizenship. He believes undocumented workers should have no access to "hospitals, clinics, schools, roads, and social services." Paul supports the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. He won the endorsement of the Iowa Minutemen.

While Paul vehemently opposes the free movement of people across borders, he has no problem with extending unrestrained rights and access to capitalist corporations.

On the environment, Paul called the Kyoto Protocol—the current international framework for the reduction of greenhouse gases—"anti-Americanism masquerading as environmentalism." For Paul, the "key to sound environmental policy is respect for private property rights." He thinks individuals should be responsible for suing polluters who violate their property rights, and the rising cost of lawsuits would stop those committing environmental destruction.

Paul wants to repeal the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which gave women the right to have an abortion legally. He claims this is a question of "states’ rights." In a sick twist of logic, he has opposed gay rights because they privilege a specific grouping within society. Apparently, his libertarian defense of "individual liberty" only extends so far—certainly not to people suffering special oppression under capitalism.

Paul’s domestic program includes the abolition of the Department of Education and federal college funding like Pell Grants. In his view, the right to free public schools should be made at the state level; education should be privatized and treated like any other commodity.

Paul claims, "Health care should not be left up to HMOs, big drug companies, and government bureaucrats." This message may have a populist appeal, but what he proposes—a "free market" healthcare system—is the opposite of universal health care.

Contrary to Paul’s assertions, a market-based healthcare system does not increase "personal responsibility." It allows the insurance corporations and healthcare providers to ravage, manipulate, and overcharge working people.

This is the truth regarding all the social issues on Paul’s libertarian agenda. As much as working-class people rightly hate the U.S. government, the end of government regulation in a capitalist society can only strengthen the capitalist class to the detriment of workers.

In the United States and around the world, the rule of "free market" capitalism has led to immense suffering and starvation.

The country’s "founding fathers" advocated for "small government" and states’ rights as mechanisms to protect the slave system from the intrusions of the central government. The U.S. Constitution offers no more solutions to the modern wage slave than it did to the chattel slave when it was written.

Paul has made clear his opposition to the Iraq war. Unlike many of the so-called anti-war Democratic candidates he has refused to vote for war funding.

But Paul opposes the war in Iraq for the same reason that Pat Buchanan and David Duke oppose the war. Paul’s American exceptionalism is a dead end for the anti-war movement.

What we need is international solidarity, not false notions of isolationism. There can be no isolation from the plight of workers across the world in the modern age of imperialism and globalization.

In the 2004 elections, much of the movement supported the John Kerry campaign—with disastrous consequences. Kerry did not even oppose the war, although his social positions are more palatable than Paul’s for many. But a key issue then was, as it is now, the war. The channeling of anti-war anger into a campaign for any capitalist politician leads to nothing but demoralization. There is no room for supporting the "lesser evil" when it comes to elections. No capitalist politician will carry out a sustained, fighting, pro-working class program. Paul, anti-worker to the core, is no exception.

Progressives and socialists need to expose the reactionary program of Ron Paul. In the coming year, as the electoral propaganda intensifies, it will become increasingly important for the anti-war movement to stay in the streets and stay independent of the two major political parties.

Working-class people and socialists need to be clear: we will support no candidate who advances the interests of the enemy class.


Collectivists mass in Memphis

The cavernous ballroom at the Memphis Hilton was filled nearly to capacity, and Jesse Epps had their attention. The audience: 1,000 union members from across the nation, in town for the AFL-CIO Martin Luther King Jr. Conference.

Epps was the last speaker among several veterans of the sanitation strike in 1968 that brought King to Memphis, where he was assassinated. Epps, 71, reminisced and told stories of his involvement with the strike, but he closed by focusing on the future.

"I challenge you that 2008 must be a year of renaissance for this country," said Epps, the former organizer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and current president of the National Union of American Families.

Epps, a Mississippi native now living in Philadelphia, had been in New York the previous day, at Ground Zero with thousands of union members and with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a ceremony remembering King. Epps said they had placed a banner there with that same message.

For Epps and those attending the conference in Memphis, the mission is clear. They believe organized labor must begin to regain ground lost in the last two decades, and especially since President Bush took office.

"We are at a crossroads for the labor movement," said Roz Pelles, director of the AFL-CIO's Civil, Human and Women's Rights Department. "What we have is a situation in this country where polls show workers want to join unions but feel like they are blocked."

According to the AFL-CIO, 15.4 million Americans are members of unions -- 10 million of them under the AFL-CIO umbrella.

Pelles and others at the conference are placing great emphasis on the 2008 elections. The Employee Free Choice Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives last March but stalled in the Senate.

Among other things, the bill would make it easier for workers to organize a union. Opponents say that it would strip workers of the right to vote by secret ballot, although labor proponents insist that employers are able to use the secret ballot process to keep workers divided.

"It is our belief that we need a level playing field, which we are struggling to get and expect to get in the next election cycle with a Senate that will pass it and a president that will sign (the bill)," Pelles said. "If we can get that level playing field, we feel it will give us an increase in numbers."

John Sweeney, president of AFL-CIO, points to what many economists say is an impending recession as evidence that workers need unions to protect jobs, rights and working conditions.

"Today the economy is not working, and the gap between the have and have nots continues to grow," Sweeney said.

William Lucy, the AFSCME secretary-treasurer, has been involved in the labor movement for 54 years. He lived in Memphis, in LeMoyne Gardens public housing, until he was 8, and was one of the AFSCME staffers who came to Memphis in support of the sanitation workers strike.

He said he hopes the the Memphis conference sends workers back to their workplaces motivated and inspired to organize.

"The table is so tilted towards power that workers and the organizations that represent them is really in a regenerative period," Lucy said. "The American labor movement, which gave us the highest standard of living of any nation in the world, has really been under assault for 20 years. ... Now we are in a new growth period where labor must compete across the globe, and it has a responsibility of getting this message and this mission out clear to workers."


Ex-Teamsters drive bitter writers' strike

Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America West, is a sporadically busy comedy writer with a law degree that has seen him through the rough spots between jobs at shows like “The Simpsons” and “Futurama.” David J. Young, his chief lieutenant, is a plumber turned hard-bitten labor organizer, with roots in the rough-and-tumble world of Los Angeles sweatshops.

Patric Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America West, leaving the room on Nov. 5 after announcing the decision to strike. On Friday he said he believed negotiations would resume soon.

An odd couple, not invested in the clubby ways of show business, the pair have upended Hollywood by leading some 12,000 screenwriters on a strike that is now ending its 11th week. This weekend, however, the two men are stuck deliberating a question that may bode ill for both: Is their writers’ rebellion over?

On Thursday the Directors Guild of America, which represents Hollywood’s movie and television directors, reached an agreement with production companies covering many of the same issues over which the writers are striking. Within Mr. Verrone and Mr. Young’s own union, a growing contingent, many with rich careers now on hold, is eyeing the directors’ settlement as a path to immediate peace, even though its terms fall short of the writers’ demands.

The moment promises a severe test of their staying power. In deciding whether to fight, fold or do something in between, the pair — and the guild’s membership, which is demanding a direct voice in the next decision — will determine just how long this strike will last.

In a telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Verrone said he believed “negotiations will resume” between writers and the companies soon, adding that he expected to meet with the membership in small groups and at a general assembly of members within the next two weeks.

For Mr. Verrone and Mr. Young, those moves will add to personal journeys that have thrust them into the limelight — courted by agents, chased by the press, lionized by stars — but may send them quickly back in the shadows if they fail at what has usually been an insiders’ game.

Even the most seasoned Hollywood observers are hard pressed to remember a time when such outsiders took the business on so wild a ride.

“One idea that comes to mind is David Puttnam,” said Martin Kaplan, director of the University of Southern California’s Norman Lear Center, which studies entertainment, commerce and society, referring to the British film producer who briefly took charge of Columbia Pictures in the 1980s. “The system chewed him up and spit him out in 10 minutes.”

The word “Hollywood” says nothing much about either man. Gaunt and dark-haired, Mr. Verrone, 48, who graduated from Harvard, favors white shirts, crisp suits and the sort of ties most accountants might find in need of pepping up. Mr. Young, 49, who attended San Diego State, is blue-eyed, with softer features, and is comfortable with open collars.

The two do not socialize regularly. But they share a deep suspicion of the conglomerates — the News Corporation, General Electric, the Walt Disney Company, Time Warner and others — that now dominate show business as owners of the largest studios and television networks.

In an interview last April Mr. Verrone described himself as having inherited the mission of correcting decades of erosion in the status of writers, actors and filmmakers under pressure from profit-obsessed corporations. If trends continued, Mr. Verrone said, “then somebody else like me would come along. Somebody else would have to.” Mr. Young, who declined to be interviewed for this article, was best known as a principal player behind a hard-fought attempt in the mid-1990s by the Union of Needle Trades, Industrial and Textile Employees to organize workers who were making clothes for Guess? Inc. That drive failed when Guess? simply moved most of its work out of the country.

Mr. Verrone likes to speak of his own approach as “zealous advocacy,” a term he adopted in his law school days at Boston College. His zeal has proved contagious since taking over as president of the West Coast writers’ guild in September 2005.

He and Mr. Young won overwhelming support for the strike from members last October, as they tapped a deep well of resentment over declining income from movies, television’s drift toward reality programming and the deep-seated unfairness of a Hollywood system that perennially blames the script for problems that often have more to do with a runaway budget or a temperamental star.

Dennis Palumbo, a screenwriter-turned-psychologist whose practice includes a number of Hollywood writers, said guild members — many of whom have come to regard the companies as negative parental figures — appear to see Mr. Verrone and Mr. Young as friendlier alternatives. “Which parent do you go with, the big, bad parent that you know, or someone who’s presenting himself as an Alan Alda parent?” Mr. Palumbo said.

Edna Bonacich, a sociologist who worked with Mr. Young in the garment industry struggles and later at the Writers Guild, said in an interview several weeks after the strike began that Mr. Young was not trying to impose an outside viewpoint. “There’s no hidden agenda,” Ms. Bonacich said. “He’s just trying to ensure there’s no major grab” by the companies as the delivery of entertainment shifts from movie theaters and television to digital media — for example, Web sites that stream video.

The directors decided that this was not the time to make a stand on new media, agreeing to revisit compensation for their distribution of their work over the Internet, cellphones and other digital media three years from now. In the meantime, however, they will receive for digital distribution roughly double the residuals rate that has been paid for decades when films and television shows are resold on videocassettes or DVDs, and for the first time be paid a reuse fee for advertising-supported programs streamed free on the Web.

In the early days of the writers’ strike, mass pickets and a show of trade union support organized by Mr. Young and Jeff Hermanson, a longtime associate who is now strike coordinator, roused the writers. And their cause won support from a public that did not always grasp the details of the dispute, but understood the basic message: that greedy corporations were not sharing enough with those who did the work.

With performances at rallies by the likes of Alicia Keys and demonstrations as vivid as a march of aging actors who played Munchkins in “The Wizard of Oz,” writers created a Woodstock atmosphere in the weeks after the strike began on Nov. 5.

But as pressure for a settlement has built within the guild, that solidarity has frayed. The two key issues now may be one of politics, and one of judgment.

The first is: Do the writers in the Writers Guild of America West and their allies in the Writers Guild of America East remain confident that Mr. Verrone and Mr. Young can ultimately outplay the insiders?

The second is: Do the pair remain confident that they, and not the directors, have got it right?

On that question, it would take much to shake Mr. Verrone, whose focus seems never to waver. Last summer he appeared at Comic-Con International, the annual comics and fantasy convention in San Diego, in a black T-shirt that said, “Unfair is unfunny.” It referred to his passion for organizing, kindled in the days when he helped bring his fellow writers on Fox animated shows into the guild.

A little more than three months later, on the streets of Los Angeles in the heady early days of the strike, Mr. Verrone was asked, “Are you getting any sleep?”

The answer was bound up in his unfailing sense of mission.

“I sleep the sleep of the just,” he said.


Class-warrior shifts to friendly battleground

On the eve of the Nevada caucuses, John Edwards has already skipped out of the state on a fly-around tour, looking ahead to states that are holding primary contests on Feb. 5.

On Friday evening, he returned to friendly territory in Oklahoma, where he took second place in 2004, one of his strongest finishes. (He won South Carolina that year, and came in second place in Wisconsin and Missouri.)

Mr. Edwards was greeted, as he often is, by a boisterous crowd of union members. Speaking at the Oklahoma City Teamsters Local 886, he touted his ties to labor unions, promising that if elected, he would be represent their interests in the White House.

“No one will be a stronger champion in the White House for the organized labor movement,” Mr. Edwards said. “No one will stand stronger with the labor movement than I will.”

And he suggested that the Democratic party had strayed from its principles, evidenced by candidates who have what he said were ties to lobbyists and drug companies.

“This is not the Democratic party I believe in,” he said. “I believe in the party that stands up for the middle class, for working men and women.”

It was Mr. Edwards’s second trip to Oklahoma City in one week, but as he did on Tuesday, he stayed only a matter of hours – his plane was set to leave for St. Louis shortly after the event.


Power trip triggers deep, angry union split

A deep and angry split in Nevada's labor movement has opened up as rival unions try to rein in the power of the state's Culinary Workers Union in advance of Saturday's Democratic presidential caucuses.

With its flourishing tourism industry and seemingly constant construction boom, Nevada has become the West's most unionized state and the Culinary Workers Union, which represents 60,000 workers mostly in Las Vegas casinos, is king of the hill.

The localized clout of the union, whose membership has tripled in 15 years, has come to rival some of the titans of organized labor in their heyday, said Peter Rachleff, a labor historian at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.

“It's like the autoworkers used to be in Michigan or the steelworkers used to be in Pittsburgh or the longshoremen's union in Hawaii,” Rachleff said.

With most of Nevada's unions backing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York or former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the Culinary Workers Union, along with the Service Employees International Union, shook up the Democratic presidential race here by throwing their considerable support to Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

Once primarily a mining state, Nevada's economy is so driven by tourism and entertainment that it forces Democratic candidates to play down their Rust Belt economic speeches about the outsourcing of jobs when they campaign in the state.

“These are employees who are not affected by globalization,” said Gary Chiaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

Few question the impact of the union's endorsement on the race.

“I think the Culinary Workers Union is a big deal,” said political scientist Ted Jelen at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. “They're a savvy organization, and I think they can get their people out. So I think that makes Obama's chances a little better.”

A well-organized voter turnout operation is essential in Nevada, where presidential caucuses in past years have attracted little more than die-hard party activists and been largely ignored by rank-and-file voters.

After the split decision in the early voting states – Iowa voted for Obama and Clinton came back in New Hampshire five days later, what once appeared a Clinton rout in Nevada has been transformed into a too-close-to-call, three-way race, according to the latest poll in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

The fissure in organized labor in Nevada over the Democratic contest turned into all-out war late last week when the Nevada State Education Association filed suit against the Nevada Democratic Party to block the holding of nine at-large caucuses in Las Vegas casinos.

The caucuses were designed to accommodate the concentration of workers within 2.5 miles of the Strip. A large percentage of them are minorities who can't get time off Saturday to participate, especially because the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend is expected to be among the year's most lucrative for casinos.

The teachers union is officially neutral, but many officers back Clinton. D. Taylor, the often-in-your-face head of the Culinary Workers Union, claimed the Clinton campaign is pulling the strings.

“They are tied with the Clinton campaign,” Taylor said on MSNBC this week. “This is the Clinton campaign; you know they tried to disenfranchise students in Iowa. Now they're trying to disenfranchise people here in Nevada who are union members – people of color and women – because they didn't get the endorsement. It is ironic to think about it that we have a major move to disenfranchise people of color on Martin Luther King weekend.”

Some analysts were struck by the sharpness of Taylor's comments.

“Taylor is calling out the Democratic leaders the way Democrats often go after Republicans,” said Eric Herzik, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada Reno.

Teachers union officials have refused to comment on the suit, which will be heard today in federal court. The Clinton campaign insists it had nothing to do with it.

“This isn't our lawsuit,” said Clark County Commissioner Rory Reid, state chairman for the Clinton campaign. “We are going to play by whatever rules the court determines are appropriate.”

While the Clinton campaign was trying to keep its distance from the suit, former President Bill Clinton defended it Monday.

“I think the rules ought to be the same for everybody,” he told students at Green Valley High School near Las Vegas. “I would question why you would ever have a temporary caucus site and say only the people that work there, i.e., the people that we know are going to vote in a certain way or we think they will, (are) able to caucus.”

Although the casino caucuses can be attended by any workers in the designated area, members of other unions questioned why the party made special arrangements to accommodate just one segment of the work force.

Clinton supporter Desiree Kaspar, a member of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said many of her union's members can't get time off either.

“I think it would be nice if they had set something up for other people who have to work on Saturday,” she said last night as candidates' supporters rallied outside the Cashman Center, where a Democratic candidates debate was held.

Party officials note that the state Democratic Party approved the plan for the at-large caucuses in March, got it ratified by the Democratic National Committee in August and nobody objected until last week when the Culinary Workers Union endorsed Obama.

“It's not a matter of principle to anybody,” said Jelen at UNLV. “The whole thing is to hold down the turnout of the bad guys, whoever they believe them to be.”

The outcome may depend on the union's effectiveness at enforcing solidarity behind Obama, especially from Latino workers Clinton has targeted.

“Forty percent of that union is Latino, and I think most of them are going to vote for Hillary,” said UNLV political scientist David Damore.

Some analysts wonder if the caucus process will discourage some workers from voting their consciences. Unlike a secret-ballot election, caucus participants have to stand up and proclaim support for their candidate – even if it's in front of their co-workers or supervisors.

“We think in the end our members will act like a union,” said Pilar Weiss, the Culinary Workers political director. Damore speculated that union workers who attend caucuses in their neighborhood precincts would feel more comfortable voting for someone other than Obama than those who go to the at-large caucuses in the casinos.

“Those are going to be union-dominated sites, and if there is going to be intimidation to toe the union line, that's where it's going to be,” he said.


Clintons' union credentials questioned

Robert Johnson's nasty comments about Barack Obama earlier this week caused a huge stir in the media. Johnson issued a less-than-convincing clarification and then apologized to Obama on Thursday.

Yet few of the stories on Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television and a top surrogate for Clinton in South Carolina, noted his controversial standing in the African-American political community. Johnson has been one of President Bush's top black allies, lobbying for the repeal of the estate tax and the privatization of Social Security, as Jonathan Chait of The New Republic reported in a 2001 profile of Johnson.

Johnson also has a history of opposing unions that makes Clinton's allies in labor quite uncomfortable. Back in 1993, workers at BET voted to join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Writer's Guild. According to an article in the Washington Afro-American, a historically black newspaper, AFL-CIO organizer Ed Feigen alleged that "during and after the election, BET violated the workers rights by offering them raises and promising benefits if they didn't join the union in."

"Employees were also threatened with job loss if they did vote the union in. A total of 13 employees were laid off after the election, hours were cut back, and two lead organizers with the Writer's Guild were fired, according to reports issued by the AFL-CIO. Mr Feigen told the AFRO that Mr. Johnson had stated to his workers that their actions were an act of disloyalty and that BET would never have a union."

One BET employee, Kimberlyn Dickens, said management had a "plantation attitude." Another BET employee, Samone Lemieux, said Johnson "promised us increased benefits and improved working conditions if we stopped our union organizing activity. However, after the election Mr. Johnson threatened us with discharge because of our union activity. He told us he had taken a $15,000 investment and turned it into a $400 million company, and that he was not about to start giving his money away."

There's little evidence that Johnson's opinion of unions has changed since then. Keith Boykin, host of the BET show My Two Cents, writes on his blog:

In May 2000, BET made the AFL-CIO's list of notorious anti-union companies, and the year before, 120 comedians, including Richard Pryor, bought full-page newspaper advertisements to complain that Johnson refused to offer union wages to performers on its "Comic View" show. Three years before that, Johnson was reprimanded by the National Labor Relations Board for BET's interference with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers' organizing efforts, a case that BET later appealed and won. But in February 2000, Johnson told USA Today, "We don't need a union. They're only money-making machines."

Johnson is not the only controversial figure within labor circles to play a high-profile role in Clinton's campaign. I reported last May that the PR firm of Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn, maintains an active union-busting division.

The actions of Johnson and business of Penn tell a different story than Clinton's advocacy for labor. Clinton may not share these views, but as she courts union workers in Nevada and elsewhere, it's fair to ask why she deploys anti-labor individuals on behalf of her ostensibly pro-labor campaign.


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