Iowa Gov. remains hostile to worker choice

Today Iowa House Republican Leader Christopher Rants (R-Sioux City) along with Senate and House Leadership met with Gov. Chet Culver regarding the current economic situation facing the U.S. and how it Iowa will put forward an economic stimulus package of its own.

In the meeting, Rants pointed to two areas which would help encourage the Iowa economy and prevent any downturn in the future. Rants also asked for the plan to gut Iowa’s right to work law to be taken off the table. “Allowing a plan to gut Iowa’s right to work law to remain a part of discussion will have a devastating impact on Iowa’s fragile economy,” said Rants. “At a time when leaders should be focusing on retaining and attracting new jobs and businesses, this divisive issue will surely encourage businesses to look past Iowa. Gov. Culver needs to kill this issue if we are to continue to have a competitive business climate.”

Rants also asked Culver to eliminate his proposal to raise taxes on Iowa businesses and take his corporate tax increase off the table.

“The last thing we should be doing during a recession is raising taxes on Iowa’s largest employers. Hard-working, middle class families depend on their paycheck from these very same employers,” said Rants. “Raising their taxes could mean a pink slip for middle class Iowans.”

Gov. Culver remained unmoved about Rants’ suggestions and continued to be steadfast in his intent to raise corporate taxes and gut Iowa’s right to work law.


State-worker strike-ban rejected

A House committee Thursday rejected a Colorado Springs legislator’s tough prohibition against strikes by public employees. Instead, the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee voted 6-5 in favor of a measure by Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, that bans strikes by state employees only.

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, had proposed banning strikes by all public employees in the state, including teachers and city workers. It carried fines of $500 per day for striking workers and $10,000 a day for labor organizations and would have decertified unions and barred employees from working for any public body for one year. Reisberg’s proposal has less stringent penalties, with violators facing a misdemeanor charge but not the mandatory loss of their job or high fines.

The dueling measures were in response to Gov. Bill Ritter’s Nov. 2 executive order giving state employee unions more bargaining power. Ritter’s order banned strikes, but state Attorney General John Suthers issued an opinion that the Colorado Supreme Court had upheld workers’ conditional right to strike, despite an old clause in state law prohibiting it.

Thursday’s bills were the first shot at banning strikes since the 1992 ruling, and Riesberg emphasized the law is needed to clarify Ritter’s order. Several Democrats who voted for House Bill 1189 said they only supported it because it allowed employees access to nonbinding arbitration.

“I had neither fear nor malice (toward employees) when I decided to bring this forward,” said Riesberg, who once helped to form a union in Greeley. “It was done only for the sake of clarity.”

Republicans said it was a “decaffeinated” version of Gardner’s bill, without teeth to enforce a ban.

Afterward, House Minority Caucus Chairwoman Amy Stephens, R-Monument, said that her party would try to toughen up Riesberg’s bill at its next stop on the House floor.

“I think today is a great day for organized labor in the state of Colorado but an awful day for Colorado business,” said Rep. Victor Mitchell, a Republican who represents Teller County.

If anyone was more upset than Republicans at the decision, however, it may have been union leaders. Officials from the Teamsters and Communications Workers of America railed against taking away the right to strike, and Colorado Education Association lobbyist Dan Daly said that having the right to strike drives both sides to bargain in good faith.

Teamsters Local Union 455 Political Director Ted Textor said he is working with an unidentified legislator on a bill that would grant state workers collective bargaining, in which they present proposals on everything from salaries to safety to their bosses and then vote as a group whether to accept the state’s terms. The “partnerships” that Ritter created carry less power, he said.


Teachers go on strike in labor-state, school shut

Classes in the Downingtown (PA) Area School District have been canceled and teacher picket lines are scheduled to go up at 10:30 this morning after long negotiations Sunday failed to reach agreement.

The 11,730-student, 13-school district is Chester County's largest, and this would be the first teacher strike there since 1980. No new talks have been scheduled. Updates will be posted on the district Web site, www.dasd-adm.org, and on a hotline, 610-450-3263, that is to be updated regularly.

Sunday's talks, which went past midnight, brought the sides closer on health-care issues and left them less than $2 million apart on salaries as calculated over a four-year period. The school board said its final offer includes a 4.4 percent raise in the first year, with raises of 4.5 percent, 4.5 percent, and 4.6 percent over the next three years. The union held out for a 4.85 percent raise in the first year, with proposed increases over four additional years of 4.85 percent, 4.85 percent, 4.6 percent, and 4.6 percent.

The union offered to call off the strike if all differences were submitted to an arbitrator. The board said it did not want to leave the final decision up to an outside party.

By state law, the strike would be limited to the number of days that would allow students to get in 180 instructional days by June 15. The state Department of Education will decide how many days that would allow the teachers to strike. Paul Gottlieb, a Pennsylvania State Education Association staffer and negotiator for the teachers union, said estimates were that the stoppage could last from 12 to 22 days. If there is no settlement by then, the sides would enter nonbinding arbitration.

School board member and negotiator Alice Johnson said the board wanted the teachers to go through nonbinding arbitration.

"It is unfortunate that they have decided to go forward with their intent to strike," Johnson said. "The board believes that it has offered a balanced contract that compensates teachers without placing additional heavy burdens on the district's taxpayers."

Gottlieb said that only agreement to binding arbitration would have headed off a strike as "the school board could ignore" nonbinding recommendations. The district, Gottlieb said, is fifth among the 12 Chester County districts in tax rate and third in property values, yet is 10th in teachers' pay over a career. "We're trying to catch up with the rest of the county in terms of where we are on the pay scale," he added.

The current starting salary is $43,330 and the top salary is $81,815.

Gottlieb said that the district has run up a surplus this year of $8 million that could be used to settle the contract. Johnson said the rapidly growing district, which will have to build a third middle school soon, is facing "financial challenges . . . in the years to come" and does not want to spend more.

Business Manager Richard Fazio said the district has a contingency fund of 8 percent that normally is rolled into the next year's budget. If the district has no unexpected expenses, that would lead to a surplus in June of about $13 million, he said.

For one district parent, even one day of a strike would be too many. "I'm very upset that this is happening," said West Pikeland resident Barbara Hurt-Simmons, president of the district's Joint Home and School Council and the mother of two children in its schools.

"I would like to see a quick, thoughtfully worked-out settlement," she said. "They're holding the students hostage. They need to get this resolved."

Downingtown is the only district in the Pennsylvania suburbs where a teacher contract remains unsettled.


Ex-communists end tax, health-care collectivism

When Poles told their communist overlords they'd had enough of a collectivist mindset, apparently they meant it. I'm in Poland this week, looking at a story that's completely unrelated to my usual policy-oriented beat. But the wonk in me almost choked on my steamed veggies Friday night (the middle of the workday for Vancouverites) as I dined and read this city's thin little English-language weekly.

Two stories caught my eye, and I couldn't resist writing about them for my readers back home. This former hotbed of central government planning is already ahead of Canada in the way it integrates privately delivered health care with its comprehensive public medical coverage plan. But this hospital completely distances itself from the public plan. It's expensive (by the standards of this place, where $26 just bought me a first-class dinner, complete with good wine and tip) with a rate of up to $200 a day. But it gets nothing from the public purse -- the full tab is covered by the people who choose to go there.

In other words, it's a sort of Brian Day clinic, but on a much broader and more diversified scale. And if there are any outraged voices that have been raised against this probably inevitable development in a country that, like ours, is facing a shrinking tax-paying labour force, well, the Krakow Post didn't find them of sufficient interest to tell its readers.

The second story shows that the country's new Liberal government, which came to power only last October, is tackling head-on another issue that to Canadians is a sacred cow.

It is dramatically both reducing and flattening the income taxes it imposes on the workers and investors who are driving the still-scrambling, but steadily progressing market economy here. (This country is considered to have the strongest economy of former Soviet bloc countries, with annual growth of about six per cent a year, although it is still exporting droves of its young people to often-menial jobs in the U.K., Ireland and other hot economies of long-established EU members.)

The former personal income tax rate here was a three-tiered sliding scale -- 19, 30 and 40 per cent, depending on income level. But, going forward, Poland will now have just two rates -- 18 and 32 per cent.

My prediction? Based on my knowledge of how moderate taxes help to spur growth and my observation of the last few days on how once-dour communists are learning to make and spend money and to have a lot of fun, I think six-per-cent growth may start to look a little low and slow in the next few years to come.

I'm a little less certain of whether to applaud the private hospital initiative with one hand or with two. Before fully endorsing that one, I'd want to see a few more tedious details -- particularly, how this development and probable future ones like it will impact the availability of skilled staff for pubic hospitals and the level of service they're able to maintain.

But my hat is off to a government that is -- unlike our gang in Ottawa, who talk the talk and walk the waddle -- actually willing to try new things. And to an electorate that is willing to let them.


UAW-Foxwoods election probe: Tribe rests case

Today’s National Labor Relations Board hearing on the unionization of casino dealers began with a fiery debate on sovereign immunity.

At the center of the debate was whether the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Police could or should respond to a government-issued subpoena. Both the NLRB and the United Auto Workers union have used NLRB-issued subpoenas. The union served a subpoena to the police department last week seeking a report that was filed by a dealer at Foxwoods.

Tina Denson testified last week that she was intimidated on three occasions because she made it clear that she was anti-union. The police report is related to an incident in which she said she was followed home and nearly run off the road by a pro-union dealer.

Attorneys representing the Mashantuckets argued that while it was ruled that the NLRB has jurisdiction over the tribe’s gaming authority, the police department is a separate entity and should not subject to the subpoena.

Judge Raymond P. Green said that by not producing the report, it could be detrimental to the tribe’s case, in that he would discredit the witness’ testimony. He added that if the tribe’s attorneys could produce the document, they should.
The judge said that since the tribe is on the small size, with about 900 members, it was plausible that the tribal chairman could ask the police department to release the document.

Tribal lawyer Richard Hankins said that summation was offensive, likening the tribe to the fictional town of “Mayberry” depicted on “The Andy Griffith Show” and said that while the governor of Connecticut could ask the state police to do the same, it would be deemed inappropriate.

William O’Conner, an attorney representing the regional NLRB, asked whether the tribe’s attorneys are in possession of the document and even have access to it.

Hankins shot back: “We haven’t gone to the barber shop and asked Andy Griffith for the document.”

Green said he will read over the tribe’s written argument along with the applicable case law and then issue a ruling.

Meanwhile, the tribe rested its case. The UAW will begin presenting its case this afternoon.

The purpose of the hearing is to decide whether a union election at Foxwoods in November is valid.

Table game and poker dealers voted 1,289 to 852 in favor of union representation by the UAW union.


Striking writers grant permission to celebs

Hollywood's striking writers said on Monday they will grant an "interim agreement" to organizers of the Grammy awards allowing the ceremony honoring musicians to be written by union members.

Last week, the Writers Guild of America, which represents some 10,500 striking film and television writers, said it would not picket the music event, so Monday's announcement further ensures the show will continue in its traditional format of presenters giving awards and musicians performing hit songs.

"Professional musicians face many of the same issues that we do concerning fair compensation for the use of their work in new media," the Writers Guild said in a statement, adding that it made the decision "in the interest of advancing our goal of achieving a fair contract."

The Recording Academy, which puts on the Grammy Awards, responded by saying it was "gratified" to reach the deal.

"Having our talented writers on the team further ensures the highest level of creativity and innovation," said Neil Portnow, Recording Academy president and chief executive.

Writers launched their strike against major film and TV studios in November, and informal talks between the parties restarted only last week. The key dispute centers on pay for writers' work when it appears on the Internet.

The strike has caused several Hollywood awards shows, including the Golden Globes, to be canceled or changed because stars have refused to cross picket lines or work on shows that do not have an "interim agreement."

The Grammys, which are the top U.S. honors in the music industry, are scheduled to take place on February 10, in a program to be televised by CBS.


Teamsters stage one-day mini-strike

Despite a one-day strike of its Kent, WA-based workers, a large pharmaceutical distribution company said Monday that all of its hospital and pharmacy clients received their orders.

Teamsters Local 117 issued a statement Monday charging AmerisourceBergen Corp. with violating federal labor law and negotiating its labor contract in bad faith. Workers walked off the job Sunday around 2 p.m. and were scheduled to return on Monday at 3:30 p.m., said Leonard Smith, union director of organizing."We've been in negotiations now for almost a year, and the employer has been engaging over that time in numerous unfair labor practices in violation with labor law," Smith said.

AmerisourceBergen, based in Valley Forge, Pa., is a national drug-distribution company that employs more than 11,000 people. It delivers pharmaceuticals to pharmacies, including hospitals. The company's business niche is just-in-time inventory management, meaning that drug orders are filled within 24 hours.

"We have plans in place to ensure our customers receive orders without interruption, and today wasn't an exception," spokesman Michael Kilpatric said.

"All of our customers received their pharmaceuticals today despite the strike."

The company operates a Kent distribution center with 115 employees, of which 81 belong to the union, Kilpatric said. The company is relying on employees in Kent and other places to fill orders. He would not provide a list of the company's local customers.

The union has filed an unfair labor practice charge against AmerisourceBergen with the National Labor Relations Board, a government intermediary. The union charged that the company changed working conditions without negotiating first and has refused to meet with workers to negotiate a contract.

"We did find at the conclusion of our investigation merit to some of the charges against the employer," NLRB regional director Richard Ahearn said. "We're in the process now of trying to reach a settlement, and absent that, we would issue a formal complaint."

The board found that AmerisourceBergen refused to continue bargaining unless the union agreed to the wage proposal, which is termed an "improper condition," and that the company changed production standards and shift times on employees without bargaining.

The labor contract expired close to a year ago, and the union says that workers had no choice but to strike. The union also says that company management threatened to close the Kent center, put up a chain-link fence around it, mailed letters to workers' homes warning them not to strike and "marched temporary workers through the work site."

"It's certainly a situation that no one at the union wants to have, to stand in the way of people getting their pharmaceuticals," Smith said.

The union said the company has agreed to resume negotiations.

AmerisourceBergen is a $66 billion company, based on annual revenue, and has said in public filings that "we believe that our relationship with our employees is good."

The Kent employees fill orders and earn on average $18.29 per hour, compared with a market rate in the region of $14.91 per hour, Kilpatric said.

"We don't think we violated any laws," he said. "We've been negotiating in good faith with them, and we expect to continue to negotiate in good faith until an agreement is reached."

The one-day strike is the only one that the company has had since it was created by merger in 2001, he said.


AFSCME sets pickets to disturb medical center

Lawrence A. Roehrig, Secretary-Treasurer of Michigan Council 25 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO, issued the following statement regarding informational picketing by AFSCME Local 1603 at Hurley Medical Center, Flint, Michigan, from 3:30 PM to 6:00 PM on January 28-30, 2008:

"AFSCME Local 1603 has been at the bargaining table with Hurley Medical Center since July 2007," stated Roehrig. "Hurley has demanded a dramatic two-tier system for new hires and significant concessions in medical coverage.

"Hurley has agreed to wage increases with 'me, too' clauses for four other bargaining units, guaranteeing that the medical insurance concessions will be shared," continued Roehrig. "However, the 'me, too' clause does not apply equally to all bargaining units, because Local 1603 wages are below the other bargaining units. The other units consist of Public Safety Officers, Licensed Practical Nurses, supervisors, and Radiology Technicians. The concessions will hit this Local the hardest.

"Hurley is bargaining from a fixed position. This is not the way collective bargaining works. AFSCME filed charges of unfair labor practice against Hurley on January 23, 2008," concluded Roehrig. "We have begun informational picketing at Hurley Medical Center to alert the public to Hurley management's abuse of these workers and their rights."

AFSCME Local 1603 represents 900 Hurley Medical Center workers. AFSCME Locals 814, 825, 1973 and 2056 represent an additional 260 Hurley Medical Center workers. Michigan AFSCME Council 25 represents more than 90,000 public workers across Michigan. AFSCME International represents 1.4 million public workers nationwide.


Expert urges Michigan to adopt worker choice

Since my job as fiscal policy director of a think tank requires me to watch the State of the State address every year, I have often wondered what I might say if I were governor. After a decade of analyzing state budgets and Michigan’s economy, I think my remarks would go something like this:

It is a pleasure to be here to deliver my very first State of the State address to this full chamber. My remarks will be different from my predecessors’ in two ways. First, I did not craft these remarks around pithy quotes that could be easily extracted by the media. Too many speeches by too many politicians are designed to solicit good press coverage rather than convey substantive ideas.

Second (and related), my speech is void of applause lines. It has, in recent years, become customary to place invited guests of heroic stature in our gallery and then dramatically recount the ways they have saved kids from ignorance, created jobs or served honorably in a theater of war. This omission will prevent legislators from leaping to their feet in raucous applause with the predictability of Pavlov’s dogs at the sound of a bell.

Someone once said that politicians will do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted every other option. Michigan may have reached that point.

In exchange for meaningless but clever turns of a phrase, I will offer the troubling but blunt truth:

Michigan is dying. The Great Lake State most of us remember from our youth is being replaced by a poorer, less competitive one. Consider just a few economic measures.

First, Michigan’s rank among the 50 states in per capita state Gross Domestic Product has tumbled from a high of 16th in 1999 to 39th in 2006.

State GDP is simply the value of all goods and services produced within the geographical borders of a state. This ranking is important to us because Michigan has typically done better during national booms and worse during recessions. But starting in 2002 something changed. With a growing national economy we should have been climbing in the GDP rankings, yet we continue to fall. This is not a simple, cyclical event.

Second, Michigan’s per capita personal income is 7.8 percent below the national average, a rate worse than during the Great Depression.

Let me drive this point home. If present trends continue, the people of Alabama will on average have higher incomes than the people of Michigan in just three years.

Lastly, Michigan has the highest unemployment rate of any state in the nation at 7.6 percent. If the Great Lake State has another year of net job losses as is expected, it will represent the largest string of year-over-year job losses since the Great Depression.

Now, I ask you: Does anyone think any of these numbers will improve as a result of last year’s $1.4 billion tax hike? The economic law of demand is clear. If you raise the price of anything — wheat, jobs or work, for instance — you get less of it. When the state hikes the cost of laboring and living in Michigan they will get less of it. We must reverse these trends and do so with dramatic reforms.

For starters, Michigan must become the 23rd right-to-work state, which is perhaps the greatest economic development tool in the state’s reach.

Between 2001 and 2006, states with voluntary unionism enjoyed state GDP growth of 18.1 percent. Michigan grew by only 3.4 percent during the same period. From July 2005 to July 2006, nine of the top 10 states in terms of population growth were right-to-work states. The numbers suggest that this is no coincidence.

We must repeal the hated Michigan Business Tax — which repealed the hated Single Business Tax — and we must offset revenue losses by reducing the size and scope of state government. The Mackinac Center has compiled a list of spending reductions that would save the state $1.3 billion without cutting any core government functions.

The good news is that Michigan is a great state with abundant natural resources, such as water and human talent. Moreover, opportunity can spring from crisis. Someone once said that politicians will do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted every other option. Michigan may have reached that point. Let us move forward.

- Michael D. LaFaive is director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.


Frisco progs: Reject seniority-scam power-grab

Recent weeks have seen television ads and mailers from a broad list of progressive groups and politicians urging a "yes" vote on Proposition 93, which revises California’s state legislative term limits law. Progressive groups who work at the state level have little choice but to back a measure designed to keep the current Democratic leadership in place, and Prop 93’s passage will enable some progressive legislators to extend their careers.

But Prop 93 is a disaster for progressive interests. Its primary impact is twofold. First, it would keep the politically ineffective and non-progressive Democratic leadership team of Fabian Nunez and Don Perata in place for another four years. Second, Prop 93’s passage would enable Governor Schwarzenegger to continue to escape blame for the state’s fiscal problems, as Nunez and Perata have proved incapable of rallying broad public support against the Governor. New leadership in Sacramento requires Prop 93’s defeat.

Although Republicans were the driving force behind the passage of California’s term-limits law, the measure has not furthered conservative interests. To the contrary, the California legislature has become more progressive since term limits took effect in 1996.

Despite making a colossal mess of the state’s economy, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s popularity ratings have not fallen to Bush levels. The reason the Governor has escaped being the target of popular rage is less his celebrity than the incompetence of the Democrats legislative leadership.

And the entire reason Prop 93 is on the ballot is to give these leaders another four-six years.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez came to power due to the backing of organized labor, particularly UNITE HERE. He has rewarded labor and UNITE HERE’s support by backing the anti-union Indian gaming compacts that are now before the voters in Propositions 94-97.

As Paul Hogarth described, Nunez has made a series of deals with Schwarzenegger aimed at continuing the Speaker’s political career through Prop 93’s passage. Nunez even got the Governor to endorse Prop 93--which speaks volumes as to the measures’ non-progressive impact.

Nunez was a shining progressive star when becoming Speaker, but his deal with the Governor on Indian gaming, his betrayals of unions, and his widely-publicized and questionable use of campaign funds for junkets and high-priced meals have left him incapable of rallying Californians for progressive causes.

Why in the world would any progressive vote to give Nunez another six years as Speaker?

Unlike Nunez, Democratic Senate leader Don Perata never had progressive credentials. Perata’s entire political career has been designed to keep himself in power, and Prop 93 would give him four more years even though he was elected to the State Senate in 1998.

Perata has done nothing in the past decade to justify the voters giving him another four years in leadership.

And having worked on tenant issues at the state level under Democratic Senate leaders Bill Lockyer, John Burton and Don Perata, I have seen firsthand how leadership makes a tremendous difference.

Tenant measures that went nowhere under Lockyer became law under Burton. And after Burton was termed out and Perata came in, tenant issues again became politically difficult.

Burton’s departure highlights the critical political context of Prop 93. If extending term limits kept a solid and productive progressive like Burton in power, I would be all for it.

But Prop 93 keeps politically bankrupt leadership in power, at a time when new leadership is needed to build public opposition to the Schwarzenegger agenda.


Striking WGA union members are the big losers

We all know about the writers' strike losers: the scribes, salary-less and pacing with placards. The studios, production gone dry and worries about a disastrous pilot season rising. Even the county of Los Angeles is out some $1.5 billion in lost wages and related economic activity, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

You can add in the movie business if the guild decides to picket the Feb. 24 Academy Award show as it did the Golden Globes. For the record, a Globes-style scale-back of the Oscars could cost the local economy $130 million, according to the development corporation's estimates.

But while much of the industry is suffering--not to mention the entertainment-starved viewers--some have been spared. For a few, the protracted stoppage has proved a boom for business:

Donald Trump

When the sixth season wrapped in April, Trump's reality show The Apprentice looked to be a goner, teetering on the brink of being "fired" itself. But with new programming at a premium thanks to the writers strike, it'll take more than a tired tagline and still-angry Omarosa to put the final dagger in this franchise. Not to mention that rather than tune out, as viewers have done in recent seasons, some 10 million have focused their attention back on The Donald.

Deadline Hollywood's Nikki Finke

Whether it's industry news or gossip, veteran entertainment journalist Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily Web site is rarely without insults, er, analysis. But her biggest story of all has been the ongoing strike, which has catapulted her site from "a" destination to "the" destination.

Before the strike, Deadline averaged some 350,000 page views a day; but since the stoppage began, that number has jumped to about a million, she has said in interviews. Justin Stangel, a head writer for The Late Show with David Letterman, summed up the industry-wide obsession when he wrote on his own blog: "I feel like I am having an affair with Nikki Finke. I am spending much more time with her than my wife." Guess that's why The New York Observer recently crowned Finke the Media Mensh of the Year.

Super Bowl Ads

The Super Bowl has long been the biggest event on television, garnering some 90 million viewers from year to year. But with the watch-worthy alternatives dwindling thanks to the writers' strike, the Tivo-proof event has taken on added significance this year--and advertisers have taken notice.

News Corp.'s (nyse: NWS - news - people ) Fox, the bowl's host network, reportedly sold all but one of the telecast's 63 spots by late November, in many cases getting as much as $2.7 million for a 30-second ad. By comparison, last year's host CBS (nyse: CBS - news - people ) had only sold some 70% of its ads by the first of the year.

Reality TV

Without scripted competition to fill network schedules, the nets have loaded up on the ridiculous "reality." In place of scripted offerings like Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy and The Office, they're serving up everything from NBC's Baby Borrowers, Fox's When Women Rule the World and the CW's Farmer Wants a Wife to Disney (nyse: DIS - news - people ) ABC's Dance War: Bruno vs. Carrie Ann and CBS' search for America's Top Dog (yes, as in the canine).

Harvey Weinstein

Weinstein's fare may be having a rough time at the box office, but when it comes to picket lines, he's receiving nothing but accolades. Thanks to an independent agreement between Weinstein and the Writers Guild, the struggling film company will have the pick of the litter in terms of talent. Next up: Nine, a planned film from Chicago director Rob Marshall.

Fox's American Idol

Though Idol's premiere numbers are down slightly from last year, Fox's blockbuster singing competition remains a ratings juggernaut in its seventh season. To put the success in perspective: Upward of 33 million tuned in for the show's season premier, more than twice as many viewers than any other reoccurring series garnered that week. As the season--and the competition--heats up, expect ratings to rise, too.

Jonathan Handel

Though his days as associate counsel for the Writers Guild are a thing of the past, Handel is still part of the action. As a Troy Gould attorney, Handel has become one of the most-quoted sources on the strike, offering his expert opinions to dozens of outlets, including Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, as well as Forbes.com. His musings now appear on a Huffington Post blog as well. And don't be surprised if a plush book deal materializes.

Ben Silverman

First Hollywood's Golden Boy got his dream job; now the NBC Entertainment co-chairman is getting his dream line-up--or at least one heavy on his go-to reality fare. Silverman has been able to line the ratings-challenged network's schedule with unscripted offerings like American Gladiators and another round of The Apprentice. Expect more to follow suit.

Tom Cruise

By signing an early interim agreement with the Writers Guild, the controversial A-lister became an instant hero on the picket lines. But the guild wasn't the only beneficiary--the agreement was a win for United Artists, the defunct studio that Cruise revived after he was unceremoniously dumped by Viacom (nyse: VIA - news - people ) in 2006. After a disappointing start with box-office dud Lions for Lambs, the shingle can start hiring writers and get back to work as the majors remain dark.

Presidential Candidates

Largely free of the late-night skewering (of the pre-written variety, anyway), politicians are able to play it straight. That bodes particularly well for Hillary Clinton, who was the butt of some 700 jokes on the late night shows--nearly as many as all of her Democratic opponents combined--between January and October of last year. And without scripted fare to distract them, voters may actually be paying attention.


Unions strangle market-oriented economy

In coping with tough economic times, local union leaders said the best defense was a good offense. "I'm the business manager of IBEW Local 380," said Kenneth R. MacDougall, whose union represents 1,000 electricians working in suburban pharmaceutical facilities and power plants. "But," he said, "I like to say I'm the business development manager."

Instead of singing the blues at the bargaining table, unions, he and others said, need to work with employers to generate business. "It's about profits," MacDougall said. When unions do that, they can be in a better position to negotiate, regardless of the economic climate. MacDougall was one about 140 local labor leaders who gathered in Atlantic City for a three-day conference organized by the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO. The conference ends today.

Top on the agenda was the presidential election and labor's response, the looming negotiations between the city and several municipal unions, and the controversy of minority access to the building trades, which sent various union leaders into sidebar meetings.

Mayor Nutter addressed two out of the three issues in a brief appearance Sunday evening. He called for diversity in membership and leadership, and he said, "It's time for labor and management respect in Philadelphia."

Nutter also stressed the importance of unions in economic development, just as union leaders did in interviews during the conference.

"The dynamics of the economy actually fall back on the union," MacDougall said.

Electrical contractors are the actual employers of members of MacDougall's local of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, based in Collegeville.

But the contractors get their work from companies such as Sunoco Inc., Merck & Co. Inc., and GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C.

"We actually went to Merck and other end-users and asked, 'How can our union make your business more profitable?' " MacDougall said.

First, he said, the executives had to lift their jaws off the floor. "We built a partnership. I found out what they are trying to achieve as a company, and then I can tailor the electrical piece."

The drug companies asked the union to train electricians in certain federal safety standards. That helped lower insurance costs. "We are adding value," MacDougall said.

Michael Barnes, the business agent of Local 8 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees stagehands union, pointed to successful joint-lobbying efforts by his union and others and the business community that will bring two large film studios to the the region.

"That's literally hundreds of new jobs in what we consider our 21st-century manufacturing," he said. "Culture is our second-largest export behind military."

Coming into negotiations with the city, Cathy Scott, president of the 6,500-member union that represents Philadelphia's white-collar workers, said it would be important for her union to help the city improve efficiency - especially if a slowdown erodes the tax base.

Scott, who heads the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 47, said one strategy the union would push was the relaxation of residency requirements for job applicants - not for job-holders.

That should make it easier, for example, for the city's health department to hire its own pharmacists, she said, instead of using more-expensive outside contractors.


Labor-state hit with RICO suit over property ban

In what could be the beginning of a legal firestorm, three property owners sued Jackson County last week for more than $20 million, alleging their constitutional property rights under Measure 37 have been trampled. At the same time a coalition of almost 100 local landowners and attorneys is forming to challenge the county's decision to no longer honor waivers that were approved under the controversial property rights law.

Medford resident David Smith, a member of the newly formed Citizens for Constitutional Fairness, said the dollar amount that property owners say they've lost after the passage of Measure 49 — the fix for Measure 37 — could be significant. "I think it's going to be $1 billion," Smith said. "It's basically going to bankrupt the county if they don't do anything."

In addition to the three property owners who have already filed suits in Jackson County Circuit Court, Smith said that at a meeting held last week to discuss options for Measure 37 claimants, he talked to 80 landowners who are considering legal action. Though a class action suit is being considered, Smith said his group is still trying to determine if that's the best course of action.

"We may have 100 lawsuits pretty soon," he said.

Don Rowlett, owner of the 692-acre Box R Ranch in the Greensprings, has filed the biggest suit so far, asking for $15.8 million in damages.

Albert Gray and the Gray Family Living Revocable Trust, which owns 162.5 acres near Ashland, have asked for $2.9 million in damages, and Robert Ferns, who owns 440 acres east of Medford, is seeking $3 million in his suit.

Both Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith and County Counsel Allie O'Connor said they couldn't comment on any pending lawsuits Monday.

County officials have previously stated that they were treating Measure 37 claims as tort claims against the county. In the orders approving the claims, the county stated it did not have the money to pay compensation and instead waived land-use regulations that the county stated diminished the value of the affected properties.

Measure 37, approved by voters in 2004, gave property owners the right to file a claim to waive existing land-use regulations that have been enacted since they purchased their land. In Jackson County, 571 landowners received waivers from land-use laws.

County commissioners have generally been supportive of Measure 37.

Measure 49, billed as the "fix" for Measure 37 and approved by voters in November 2007, places sharp limits on development, allowing up to 3-parcel lot splits in a fast-track process.

Medford attorney Bob Robertson is handling all three suits. David Smith said another attorney, William Bernard of Utah, is also applying to practice law in Oregon so that he can help with the legal battle. Smith said Bernard helped with the original formation of the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission.

In the suits, Robertson argues that both the U.S. and Oregon constitutions have specific language protecting contracts and the county essentially approved a contract when it granted the waivers. He said the Oregon Constitution prohibits passage of any law impairing the obligation of contracts.

In a letter David Smith wrote to the county attorney on January 24, he stated that the county's waiver orders were recorded on land titles.

"In our opinion, the fact that these orders were recorded made the order final and implemented it so that it is beyond attack by any subsequent legislative action," said Smith.

Robertson said that in addition to the three suits he filed, he expects more. David Smith's mother-in-law, Velda Dickey, has an approved claim from Jackson County for her 70-acre property off Interstate 5 at Valley View Road. Smith's family intends to file a suit for more than $30 million in lost value, said Robertson.

Dwayne Cross and Bud Kaufmann own more than 3,000 acres on Hillcrest Road and plan to file a claim for more than $100 million.

"According to our rough calculation there may be somewhere between $500 million to $1 billion dollars in lost property value in Jackson County alone," he stated.

Robertson said the ultimate goal of the lawsuits is not to seek monetary damage, but to have the county take some action to recognize that the property owners have vested rights because of the approved claims.

The suit states that the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, which is not named in the legal action, passed a regulation attempting to void the county waiver granted under a Measure 37 claim.

Robertson wrote that he considers the state action stripping property owners of their rights as "fraudulent."

David Smith said he thinks the state may have violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, (known as RICO) when it voided the waivers through an administrative rule.

"I think that is a fraudulent scheme that has some criminal element to it," he said.

David Smith, who used to teach real estate and constitutional law, said his basic legal argument is that the county approved Measure 37 claims as a legal matter rather than as a land-use issue. He contends the county settled the claims on a contractual basis, waiving land use regulations instead of paying out money.

Smith said property owners with approved claims have spent more than $300,000 in some cases in an effort to develop their land, and many of them are older people.


Labor-state Dems outperform GOP

For the Oregon House Republicans, the numbers just keep getting worse. The latest financial reports show that the House Democrats, taking advantage of their year-old majority, now have a more than 10-to-1 money advantage over the GOP.

The Democrats have now banked nearly $380,000 in their caucus fund compared to not quite $32,000 for the Republicans. "It's quite a stark contrast, isn't it?" said John DiLorenzo, the veteran lawyer-lobbyist who was once quite tied in with the GOP and says he now splits his money about equally between candidates of the two parties.

Nick Smith, a spokesman for Hanna, insisted that the January balance sheet doesn't say much.

"These numbers are not a sign of our impending doom," he said. "We're highly confident the caucus will have the numbers it needs to be competitive" in the fall.

Michele Rossolo, who runs the House Democratic campaign apparatus, also played down the numbers. "We always think of ourselves as the underdogs and we will be outspent," she said.

Well, plucky underdogs or not, the Democrats are assembling a financial juggernaut. House Majority Leader Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, who wants to be the next speaker, has given $45,000 since the session to the caucus PAC. The money is also coming in from other Democratic legislators who find that they're able to raise money not only from their traditional donors - unions, trial lawyers, etc. - but lots of businesses as well.

"It's hard to dispute the fact that people contribute to those in power," acknowledged Smith, the GOP spokesman. Still, the House Republicans have some things to sell. For GOP-oriented donors, their only route back into power in Salem this session is through the House, where Democrats have a narrow 31-29 lead. Democrats have a virtually unassailable grip on the Senate and the governorship is not up until 2010.

Paul Phillips, a former Republican legislator who is now a lobbyist, said Republicans have had a hard time recovering from their sudden loss of power in the 2006 election and their subsequent leadership changes (Hanna took over the caucus leadership only after the 2007 session). "People are scratching their heads saying, 'Where are you guys going?'" said Phillips.

It doesn't help the Republicans that they've had a couple of bad weeks with their candidates. Last week, Republican Matt Wingard acknowledged that he had been convicted of misdemeanor assault for hitting his son with a screwdriver. Wingard is still in the race, but Hanna is looking for another opponent.

And this week, Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, announced she would not run again, giving Democrats an excellent shot at her seat.

It is a long time until November and things can still turn around for the Republicans. But this January has to feel particularly chilly for them.


Change to Win: Meet the New Boss

Change to Win chair Anna Burger issued the following statement in anticipation of President Bush's final State of the Union address tonight.

"Change begins now in America. Seven years of the Bush administration has left the state of our union weaker, poorer and less prepared for the future. Our nation is facing one of most serious economic downturns in decades. Working families are struggling to make ends meet due to rising food and gas prices, home heating bills and health care costs. Real wages are declining, unemployment is rising and retirement benefits are disappearing. The Bush administration has sacrificed the needs of working men and women for the interests of the powerful and privileged.

"Now is the time to reverse the policies of the Bush administration. We need bold and immediate action from our congressional leadership to begin restoring the American Dream for all working families."

"The congressional leadership needs to develop an immediate stimulus program that will boost the purchasing power of America's working families and reinvigorate our economy. The eligibility period for unemployment insurance should be extended and benefits improved. Assistance should be provided to the states to help pay for essential programs, such as Medicaid and a temporary increase in food stamp benefits, SSI benefits, and home heating assistance. We need to provide immediate help to families at risk of losing their homes due to foreclosures and falling housing prices.

"Congress must also provide a long-term vision for restoring the American Dream by developing comprehensive health care reform that combats skyrocketing health care costs and provides access to quality, affordable health care for all men, women and children.

"Our leaders need to initiate a program to rebuild America's infrastructure that addresses neglected investments and helps create good jobs with wages that can support a family, while ending free trade deals that continue to send our jobs overseas and drive down wages and labor standards.

"The American Dream is realized or lost at work. We must fix whathappens in the workplace. Our economic growth program must include protection for the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Restoring worker bargaining power can turn the sub-standard jobs of today into the middle-class jobs of tomorrow that are the foundation of the American Dream.

"As the Bush administration looks to the past, we must look to the future. Change to Win is the labor movement of the 21st century and we believe that change begins now."

Change to Win is a partnership of seven unions and six million members founded in 2005 to organize workers of the new American economy. Change to Win committed to restoring the American Dream so that all workers have a paycheck that can support a family, affordable health care, a secure and dignified retirement, and the opportunity for the next generation to be better off. The seven affiliated unions are: Service Employees International Union, UNITE HERE, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Laborers' International Union of North America, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and United Farm Workers of America.


AFL-CIO shout out - Kucinich

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