Union cash colors the California ballot

Pushed by fights over gambling and term limits, Indian tribes, race tracks and labor unions are pouring million-dollar contributions into campaigns for and against propositions on Tuesday's presidential primary ballot.

Altogether, the seven propositions have drawn more than $160 million in donations, with 95 percent of the money coming from contributors that have given at least $1 million. While the amount is large, it falls short of the spending record set two years ago. The bulk of the contributions this year is flowing to the campaigns over four Indian gambling compacts—propositions 94 through 97.

The proposals would allow four Southern California tribes—the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Mission Indians and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation—to add 17,000 slot machines at their casinos.

The four tribes and their allies have raised $101 million, almost all of it coming from the tribes.

Their opponents, a coalition made up of two other tribes, races tracks and a union representing casino workers, have raised $29 million.

"All of the tribal gaming measures voters have ever faced have been expensive, and this is the most expensive set of measures yet," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit organization that tracks campaign spending.

Spending on the other three measures has been
small in comparison.

Proposition 91, a transportation funding proposal that has been abandoned by its supporters, has drawn no support.

Proposition 92, which would shake up funding requirements for community colleges, has drawn $6.3 million in funding, much of it from teachers unions that have lined up on opposite sides.

The term limits measure, Proposition 93, has generated $23.2 million in donations. Supporters have attracted about twice as much money as opponents from a who's who of corporations, unions and professions that lobby at the Capitol.

California's current term limits allow lawmakers to serve up to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate. Proposition 93 would cut the maximum service time from 14 to 12 years, but allow all 12 years to be served in one house.

The measure's opponents say that would extend the terms of most lawmakers by eliminating the need for them to win a seat in the other house to remain in the Legislature beyond the current six- or eight-year limit.

Those critics contend that the measure's donors, led by the Service Employees International Union and the California Teachers Association, are trying to butter up lawmakers who see the proposal as a way to stay in office longer.

But teachers union spokeswoman Sandra Jackson said the organization supports the proposal because it would allow lawmakers to stay in office long enough to understand complicated subjects such as education funding.

"As it is now, legislators aren't there very long before they have to worry about re-election or the next campaign," she said. "There really isn't a period to learn about what's going on in Sacramento."

One of the most powerful interests at the Capitol switched sides in the midst of the campaign. The state prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, gave $2 million to the No-on-93 campaign after contributing $100,000 to support the measure.

Critics contend the union was getting back at lawmakers after they refused to approve a pay raise for the guards. Instead, union officials said they were upset with the Legislature's failure to fix the state's overcrowded prison system.

State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner has given $2.5 million to the No-on-93 campaign, triggering claims that he's using his role as the measure's leading opponent to aid a possible run for governor in 2010.

Poizner said he jumped into the campaign because he disliked Proposition 93 and thought any change in term limits should be coupled with a measure that would take away lawmakers' ability to draw the boundaries of their legislative districts.

Despite the millions flowing to this year's initiative races, the total is not close to a spending record. That was set during the November 2006 election, when donors poured $333 million into campaigns for and against 13 ballot propositions.

Alexander, of the voter foundation, said the record for spending on a single proposition also was set in that election, when $154.3 million was spent in the unsuccessful campaign over Proposition 87, which would have imposed a tax on oil production.

The huge donations are possible because there are no limits on how much contributors can give to ballot measures campaigns. The U.S. Supreme Court prohibited caps on such donations when it struck down a Berkeley ordinance in 1981.

But Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based think tank, says there should be a limit of $100,000.

"It really distorts the situation when you're able to have wealthy interests present their initiatives and others cannot," he said. "Basically, you can buy your way onto the ballot."


SEIU's new PAC backs leftist Republicans

The name of the political action group Republicans Who Care doesn’t immediately distinguish it from the many other organizations that conduct independent expenditure campaigns in support or opposition to political candidates.

But Republicans Who Care has a special distinction. It has received substantial funding from the political committee of a major national labor organization, the Service Employees International Union, long a major player in Democratic Party politics. And that money is earmarked for an ad campaign aimed at helping nine-term Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest , a GOP moderate, weather a strong challenge from the right in his contest for the Feb. 12 primary in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District.

Republicans Who Care, which generally supports moderate Republican candidates, received $200,000 from the Service Employees International Union’s Political Education and Action Fund, and is using $180,000 of it on a television ad buy in Baltimore, which reaches pockets of 1st District voters on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay, and in Salisbury on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, which makes up most of the district’s territory. The ads will run until primary day.

Kirk Walder, the spokesman for Republicans who Care, said, “It’s no secret” that the centrist Gilchrest “is an SEIU Republican.” Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman for SEIU, said Gilchrest stands up for workers on key issues, including his recent votes for motions to override President Bush’s vetoes of legislation aimed at expanding the major federal children’s health insurance program, as well as his votes to increase the minimum wage, reauthorize the Head Start program pre-school program for disadvantaged children and provide student loan relief.

The SEIU has been associated with such Democratic Party figures as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio — and made a splash prior to the 2004 presidential primaries by backing the campaign of Howard Dean, whose appeal was largely to liberal activists who opposed the Iraq war. But Mueller said that the union gave money to Republicans Who Care “with the understanding it would be used to support different Republican candidates.” She stated that of the 1.9 million union members, more than 300,000 (16 percent) of them are registered Republicans.

Mueller noted that the SEIU has given money to and/or endorsed other moderate Republicans and even some who might be seen as somewhat conservative, such as Sens. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Reps. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California and Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio.

Walder defended his group’s acceptance of SEIU money and the using it on an ad run attacking Gilchrest’s primary opponents, saying that the conservative group known as the Club for Growth has spent heavily on anti-Gilchrest ads to benefit the campaign of a conservative challenger, state Sen. Andy Harris. “It’s unfortunate they are trying to defeat Republicans,” Walder said of the Club for Growth.

Other Gilchrest supporters note that the incumbent has been endorsed by Bush, who received 62 percent of the 1st District vote in his 2004 general election, even though Gilchrest has had some major policy disagreements with the president.

But Pat Toomey, the former Pennsylvania congressman who heads The Club for Growth, argues that the union’s involvement confirms his group’s contention that Gilchrest is not conservative enough to continue representing the 1st District.

“On the campaign trail, Wayne Gilchrest claims that he is a conservative, but it is clear that he doesn’t even come close,” Toomey declared. “Wayne Gilchrest is not a conservative, and one has to wonder how Rep. Gilchrest can even call himself a Republican when the same labor union that supported John Kerry and Howard Dean is funding his re-election effort.”

Chris Meekins, Harris’ campaign manager, alleged, “This is an outrageous money-laundering scheme from a left-wing Democratic labor union attempting to assist Gilchrest’s campaign. It is clear Republicans and conservatives are no longer supporting Gilchrest, so he has to turn to people who do — liberal special interest groups.”

But the other major challenger, state Sen. E. J. Pipkin, took shots at both opponents, saying through Mike Brown, his campaign manager, “It is amazing to me that Pat Toomey would comment on Club for Growth activities given their track record of illegal activity.” But he added about Republicans Who Care, “This is more Washington business-as-usual and is another example of why it’s time for Gilchrest to go ... and for the record, we are not taking union money.”

The Republicans Who Care ad questions the fiscal conservatism of both Pipkin and Harris — who have been campaigning heavily on their claims that they have cut spending and taxes — by saying they both voted for millions of dollars in spending for projects such as a music hall in Montgomery County and redecoration of state legislative offices in Annapolis. And after reiterating that Marylanders recently received a big tax increase, it ends by telling voters, “No more big spending votes that waste our taxes.”

The Club for Growth attacked the ad, saying it is “completely disingenuous” and noting that Gilchrest has voted for congressional “earmarks” to fund projects such as the Maine Lobster Institute.

Meanwhile, the political action committee of another moderate group, the Republican Main Street Partnership, is doing a $50,000 radio ad campaign on Baltimore talk radio stations going after only Harris, accusing him of supporting earmarked state projects. These ads also highlight the endorsements Gilchrest has received from Bush and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.


Union voters wary of seniority scam

Big-city, Coastal Democratic leaders are selling it, but landlocked, rural Republican voters are its likely buyers. Large state-employee unions are feverishly bankrolling it, but union households are ambivalent toward it. The Republican governor who used to oppose it now supports it, while GOP lawmakers who hotly denounce it will happily accept its future benefit to them.

Thanks to Attorney General Jerry Brown, who approved its bizarre title, it’s billed as "Limits on Legislators’ Terms in Office" on the February 5 ballot. Despite its misleading title, the measure would all but guarantee that 18 state senators and 24 state Assembly members - more than one-third of California’s extremely unpopular Legislature - could cling to office for another four and six years, respectively.

Welcome to the paradox that is Proposition 93 - a stealth measure that’s got voters so confused that many of those planning to vote for it don’t know it would, for the first time, significantly weaken term limits in California.

"This is a public policy that people don’t know the details about," says Mark Baldassare, president of the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, a pollster attuned to how California voters think. Although term limits are wildly popular with Californians, ignorance about how they actually work is widespread, with just 1 percent of likely voters "able to identify the total amount of time legislators can serve right now"- 14 years. Says Baldassare: "Only 1 percent!"

According to multiple polls, Californians’ views on term limits are in dramatic conflict with what they plan to do on February 5, thanks to carefully designed, confusing double meanings in Prop. 93. While voters overwhelmingly support existing term limits, which since 1990 have confined legislators to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate, these same voters are now leaning toward approving Prop. 93.

One study by the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies predicts that if this initiative passes, the average legislator will serve four more years than he or she does now - and legislators’ terms will return to the average time in office before term limits took effect.

All this is the consequence of one of the slickest confusion-peddling campaigns in election-season memory, in a state known for purposely confusing ballot measures. If Prop. 93 passes, 42 termed-out legislators - 34 this year and eight in 2010 - would get to run again, in safe seats designed to return all incumbents to office. Seventeen of them, including state Senators Gil Cedillo and Gloria Romero of Los Angeles, would end up serving a total of more than 14 years in office - for as long as 18 years. (And historically vociferous term-limits supporter and Republican state Senator Tom McClintock of Thousand Oaks would get to stay for 26 years.)

Part of the voter ignorance is due to the California media, who have for months dramatically underplayed the fact that one-third of the termed-out Legislature - a consistently unpopular body of 120 politicians with a 41 percent approval rating - could overstay. Only a handful of references to the 42 hangers-on in the Legislature showed up in California newspaper coverage this month - and the legislators were almost never identified by name. (Read the rest of the Max Taves article and check the list of the 42 legislators who could run again here.)


UAW strikes Volvo in Right To Work state

Volvo AB said that the United Auto Workers, or UAW, union called a strike this morning at 6:00 a.m. Swedish time for the nearly more than 2,600 members at Volvo's and Mack's plant in New River Valley, Virginia. According to the company, the strike will stop practically all production until further notice.

The company noted that the negotiations with the UAW, which have been under way since January 8, had not succeeded till the expiry of contract on January 31. Slightly more than 2,600 of a total of 2,900 employees at the plant in New River Valley are covered by the strike, which will stop practically all production at the plant until further notice.

Volvo's and Mack's plant in New River Valley currently produces about 100 trucks per day, most of which are Volvo.


Union racism delays Convention Center project

Another deadline will be blown today on the $700 million expansion of the Convention Center, as start of construction awaits a deal between the building-trades unions and City Council over minority hiring.

The Convention Center Authority, already working on a razor-thin margin to retain conventions in March and April 2011, will not be able to make its deadline today for sending out bids on the project, authority chairman Thomas "Buck" Riley said yesterday. That could jeopardize the center's ability to reel in those conventions and their 32,000 attendees.

"And I'm not just crying wolf," Riley said.

The question now on the table: Do the unions intend to comply with what Council is asking, or could the standoff kill the expansion altogether?

In December, Council passed a resolution that prohibits the city's finance director from signing a project labor agreement - required by the governor before construction can begin - until the city receives from the 15 unions in the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council plans for minority inclusion and demographic statistics.

Council members have argued that minorities have long been underrepresented in the building-trades unions. Federal statistics show that building-trades unions in the Philadelphia region are only 8 percent minority, and an Inquirer analysis of statistics from the Office of Housing and Community Development on publicly funded projects showed that 80 percent of the union workers are white and 70 percent live outside the city.

Yesterday, Council failed to offer the required resolution allowing projects to be bid because, members said, the unions as a group had not provided the information or plans they were supposed to. Even after what some called a "historic" meeting with labor leaders and Council members last week, only 12 of 15 unions submitted information to Council by Wednesday, and much of it was incomplete, Council sources said.

"We were a little bit disappointed," said Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller.

The new deadline is Monday, when Council will reconvene, and Miller said she expected more complete packages.

"I think it's going to be a busy weekend for a lot of our unions," said Tony Wigglesworth, whose Philadelphia Area Labor Management Committee is acting as an intermediary for Council, the Convention Center and the building trades.

Wigglesworth said that Pat Gillespie, business manager for the Building and Construction Trades Council, was committed to working with Council, but that bringing all the unions into line was another matter.

Gillespie could not be reached for comment.

The collection of demographic information from the unions has proved to be "the most complex thing I've tried to do," said Wigglesworth, a veteran of labor-management issues whose nonprofit company specializes in the area.

Some of the unions are under court orders not to keep track of race because of past discrimination. Others have sprawling memberships beyond Philadelphia. Some don't have e-mail.

A clearer picture should emerge today as Wigglesworth and the building trades meet to explain just what they will have to do to meet Council's demands.

Mike Fera, president and business manager of the Cement Masons and Plasterers Union Local 592, was credited as the only union leader to submit a viable inclusion plan and complete demographic numbers.

Fera said he had to separate his units outside of Philadelphia, narrow the numbers down to about 600, then go over a list and guess at each member's ethnicity. He mistook a few Italian union members for Hispanics, he confessed, but was corrected by his business agents. He reported that 26 percent of his membership are minorities.

Fera said that it only took him a few hours, but that other, larger unions might have problems.

"This is the way the Council says it's going to be - so this is the way it's going to be," said Fera.

Councilwoman Miller said: "The ball's in their court."


Striking unionists sell-out the little guy

"Peace at Last?" said the headline in Variety. Michael O'Donnell, a leadman and set dresser, had brought a copy of the Hollywood trade paper for his friend, Joe Sabella, a foley artist. On this day in mid-January, the news was that the Directors Guild of America had reached a new contract agreement with the Assn. of Motion Picture and Television Producers -- a deal, it was now hoped, that augured movement toward a settlement between striking writers and the AMPTP.

But for O'Donnell and Sabella - who are part of that vast and largely forgotten below-the-line class of skilled entertainment industry labor - the "peace at last?" question was not greeted just by hope but also a fair measure of cynicism and disillusionment. "Both of them are failing their membership horribly," was O'Donnell's assessment of the WGA and AMPTP leaders.

There are signs that the strike might be approaching settlement, now that negotiators for both sides have resumed talks. But over lunch at an un-crowded Twain's coffee shop not far from the CBS-Radford lot, O'Donnell and Sabella conveyed mostly frustration.

From their vantage point, this three-month-old writers strike amounts to an esoteric dispute between fat cats, less a face-off based in principle than in ego and grandstanding. Put another way, O'Donnell and Sabella don't see a Democrat debating a Republican onstage; they just see two guys in suits, and out of touch with the people hit the hardest.

"This is a factory town," O'Donnell said, later adding, "If we were in Detroit we'd be making Thunderbirds."

Given their union affiliation -- Sabella and O'Donnell belong to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, or IATSE -- you'd think they'd naturally ally themselves with the WGA picketers.

But in fact, over a 90-minute discussion, their ire was directed more at their union brethren, particularly the political leadership at the top: WGA President Patric Verrone and chief negotiator David Young.

"Non-concern" was the term Sabella would later use, struggling to find a word that captured the disregard from above for people like him, put out of work.

Joining them for lunch were Sabella's wife, Alexandra, and O'Donnell's ex-wife, Gail. Gail O'Donnell has phoned everyone from NBC-Universal chief Jeff Zucker to President Bush, alarmed that higher political powers have remained silent as the local economy suffers.

If the men conveyed resignation, the women wore their fear more readily. Alexandra Sabella brought out a copy of a letter written in November by IATSE International President Thomas C. Short to Verrone, criticizing WGA chief negotiator David Young for public comments in which Young seems to revel in "the havoc I've wreaked." (Young subsequently has claimed that he was misquoted.)

A comment like that trickled down to the table at Twain's as indicative of the "non-concern."

Sabella, 54, has a daughter in school in Thousand Oaks and a monthly nut of around $8,000, he said. To fill up his time and bring in some cash, he's been waxing motorcycles and cars, a longtime vocation.

As a foley artist, it is Sabella's job to provide much of the ambient, naturalistic sound audiences take for granted. When the strike hit, Sabella was working on all the "CSI" procedurals on CBS.

For instance, if characters are doing an autopsy, "we do the cutting into the flesh, the opening of the flesh," he said.

O'Donnell, 52, the leadman/set dresser, says he normally has to "hump a 90-hour week to take on two grand." He knows the business all too well; his father, Charlie O'Donnell, is the longtime announcer on "Jeopardy."

As a leadman on movies, he works closely with the set decorator, building up worlds and breaking them down; on "Terminator 3," for instance, that involved turning a vacant lot into a veterinary clinic and back again into a vacant lot.

With a mortgage to pay on his Toluca Lake condo, he's been working on an idea for a children's TV show and is playing more guitar, jamming with other set dressers.

On the one hand, O'Donnell and Sabella understand the principle behind the WGA strike, the need to fight for a fair share of whatever revenue streams emerge from new media.

"The sons and daughters of the idle rich," was what O'Donnell called the people who run the studios.

Mostly, though, they just want to get back to work -- even if these past three months have been a painful reminder that, to the creative community and the studio executives, guys like them are pretty much just needed when they're needed.

Sabella would later compare himself to a tool in a drawer. "If we get tarnished and worn, they'll just throw us away and get new ones," he said. "We're a tool, and we'll be there when they open the drawer. Ready to work again."


Unions can't change public's mind about seniority

In the 17-plus years since voters approved legislative term limits, has the constant flow of new faces at the Capitol reinvigorated the Legislature with fresh ideas and energy? Or has the legislative branch been diminished by the loss of experience and the constant churning of lawmakers who feel they have to focus more time on raising money and campaigning for their next offices?

It's a debate that's been quietly waged for years among academics and political insiders. But it's been strangely absent from the Proposition 93 campaign, even as voters are being asked to consider changing term limits.

Instead, the proponents of Proposition 93 — many of whom dislike the idea of term limits — have stressed that the measure shortens the total possible time a lawmakercould spend in office, almost making it sound as if it strengthens the current law.

And the opponents? They have turned it into a referendum on Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, and Senate leader Don Perata, D-Oakland, by focusing on the provision that allows them and other current lawmakers to remain in office.

"A debate on term limits would have been very enlightening for the general public, but proponents figured they can't change the public's mind about term limits," said Jack Pitney, government professor at Claremont McKenna College. "And opponents felt they didn't really need to engage the merits of the issue."

For good reason. Over the years,
two-thirds of the public has consistently backed the concept of limiting the time lawmakers serve in office.

That's put the proponents in an awkward box. They acknowledge that Proposition 93 would give many lawmakers, especially Assembly members, more time in office because it would enable them to spend all 12 years in one chamber.

That's a good thing, they argue, because lawmakers need more time in office to be effective. But that pitch, at least to voters, has been more implicit than stated.

The No on 93 campaign has been more blunt. They've attacked the measure by blasting Nunez and Perata for what they call sleazy conduct — Nunez for buying lavish gifts and taking expensive trips, and Perata for being investigated by the FBI for corruption allegations.

The more subtle message to voters is to remind them why they supported term limits in the first place: It ejects lawmakers before they get too corruptible, before they are overly influenced by lobbyists and special interests.

Such subtleties have been swallowed up in the multimillion-dollar ad war over Proposition 93, leaving voters with 30-second spots that emphasize simple ideas, one-liners and sound bites rather than a sincere discussion of the merits of term limits.

Political scientists say that's unfortunate, because both sides have compelling points to make.

Why term limits work

Lew Uhler, the president of the National Tax Limitations Committee who helped write the 1990 ballot measure, believes lawmakers start cutting corners and cashing in on relationships with lobbyists and interest groups after six to eight years in office.

"It takes that amount of time for the lobbyists to establish relationships," Uhler said. "That's when lobbyists begin to have more influence."

Lobbyists and special-interest groups have poured $14 million into the Yes on 93 campaign, proof enough, said Kevin Spillane, spokesman for the No on 93 campaign, that term limits are effective in thwarting powerful influence groups.

"Lobbyists don't like term limits," Spillane said. "It prevents them from building long-term relationships with legislators. New legislators instinctively are suspicious of lobbyists, so they keep their distance."

Term limits, supporters say, also have eliminated the stranglehold of power by the few: The law was specifically aimed at ridding the Capitol of former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, the self-proclaimed Ayatollah of the Legislature. It also broke the system that rewarded lawmakers who'd amassed power through seniority, who established their own mini-fiefdoms as committee chairs or leaders and were often seen as trading influence with high-powered lobbyists and special-interest groups.

The churn caused by term limits also hastened a more diverse body. Women, African Americans and Latinos have become more prominent, particularly in the Democratic caucuses: 40 of the current 72 Democratic lawmakers — 56 percent — are either African-American, Latino or Asian. Women comprise 37 percent of the two Democratic caucuses. Before 1990, women and minorities were far less represented.

Why term limits fail

The lack of experience has been at the heart of critics' arguments against term limits for years.

An exhaustive 2004 study on term limits by academics Bruce Cain and Thad Kousser found that lawmakers' oversight of the executive branch has declined, the Legislature is less likely to make substantial changes to the governor's budget, and that frequent turnover — especially in the Assembly, where typically one-third of the membership are freshmen every two years — has sharply reduced members' expertise on issues.

Critics also say lawmakers are continuously jockeying for leadership posts, committee chairs and, ultimately, the next political seat to run for — which, along with raising campaign cash, distracts them from their job of working on complex issues that face the Legislature.

"No matter how smart, capable and talented they are," said Tim Hodson, executive director for the Center for California Studies at Sacramento State University, "it means one-third of legislators are always at the bottom of the learning curve."

Former lawmaker Liz Figueroa, who served parts of Alameda and Santa Clara counties before being termed out in 2007, remembers when she was at the bottom of the learning curve.

In 1996, she was one of 31 Assembly freshmen to vote to deregulate the electrical industry — a decision that would haunt California as the state succumbed to the electricity crisis of 2000-2001 marked by rolling blackouts, price spikes and the bankruptcy of PG&E.

"I can tell you that's one of the issues I wish I could have had more first-hand knowledge about," said Figueroa, who now serves on the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. "This was a prime example of why you need experienced people in the Legislature."

But deregulation might also be the best example of what both sides fear: The bill was approved in large part by inexperienced lawmakers, but it was pushed by entrenched lawmakers who had not yet been termed out — lawmakers who wielded considerable influence and had deep ties to big-monied special interests.


California SEIU has a crush on Obama

The head of the United Healthcare Workers is urging the union's umbrella group, the SEIU state council, to support Barack Obama now that John Edwards has dropped out of the presidential race.

"We feel Obama is the best candidate for working families, and we will urge the Service Employees International Union's state council to officially endorse him at their meeting on Friday," United Healthcare Workers President Sal Rosselli said Thursday in a statement.

He said his union, which has 150,000 members in Southern and Northern California, "has a huge capacity to make a real difference in the California primary, given our extensive and experienced field operation, ability to phone bank, precinct walk and reach union members throughout the state."

SEIU has about 650,000 members in California. Many are city, county and state workers. Others are in-home support and health care workers.

Although the election is just days away, SEIU's backing could help Obama cut into Hillary Rodham Clinton's lead among Democratic base voters, many of whom are union members.


Gov't union locks out its own employees

They say the neon lights are bright on Broadway, They say there's always magic in the air, But when you're walking down the street, And you didn't have enough to eat, The glitter rubs right off and you're nowhere.

My favourite time of the day is around 5 or 6 in the morning. There is nobody around. Nothing has happened yet. The moon, when there are not thick dark clouds, or a blizzard, is always bright. Traffic is nowhere like it will be when the ice covered streets welcome the morning rush to work. The only people you see are the ones walking their dogs. Or, the ones delivering your newspaper. Sometimes, the ones walking their dogs are also stuffing the morning paper into people's mailboxes. Sometimes, they wave as I am driving the empty streets. It is a nice way to start the new day.

One recent morning, I decided to drive down Broadway Avenue. It is lined with mostly older homes, except for the final run heading west. There, you will find an old folks home, a shopping centre, the Tartan Curling Club, and a barrel -- a barrel that has gone black from wear and tear, fire and smoke. At this time of the day, it stands there alone, waiting to get baked.

The black barrel is outside the headquarters of the big union that calls itself the Saskatchewan Government Employees Union. They like to flex their muscle, this union does. They tried it last winter. They yanked their workers and put them on the strike line. Jail guards were yanked. Highway workers were yanked. That the people of the province had their lives put in danger didn't matter. But the SGEU ended up with its tail between its legs in one of the biggest public relations disasters in this province's union history.

So, now it is around 11 in the morning and I am driving down Broadway Avenue and the black barrel has come alive. There are flames licking at its top, small curls of black smoke are going into the fresh air, and there is a small group of people huddled around it. It is cold, January always is, and they are trying to stay warm. But they know they only get a few minutes to get warmed up around the black barrel. Because they have to walk around with the signs around their necks. That is the job they now do, in the dark of a January morning in Saskatchewan. They are members of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP). It has to be the longest name for a union in the whole country.

They have been on the picket line since Nov. 6. They did not have a great Christmas. You see, the CEP people work for the SGEU. Union to union has been wedded. So, here you have this union locking out its own employees -- this union that stands for the rights of people to go on strike, get a good deal, and then locks out its own employees because it can't make a deal with them.

So, every day, they are out there, this handful of unionized people who aren't allowed to go to work because they are locked out.

I am wondering, as I drive past the people with the picket signs, are all the unions in the country watching this thing unfold, and wondering just what the SGEU's strategy is? The big union ousts a small group of people who have been trying to get a deal for almost three years?

Meanwhile, the fire in the big black barrel continues to burn every day, its golden flames crawling over the lips of the barrel. And a dog, a black and white dog, follows the strikers, leaving only to wander over to a big sign strung up in front of SGEU headquarters. He lifts his leg, and he ...

Well, you get the picture.


SEIU serves strike notice in Illinois

Clerical and administrative employees who have worked without a contract for 17 months at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford have voted to strike for three days if a fair deal is not reached soon.

The strike would affect more than 100 employees at the Rockford campus, 1601 Parkview Ave., said Jeff Dexter, higher education director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73. Employees at the University of Illinois’ Chicago and Peoria campuses also would strike.

They would not strike before Feb. 6, when a federal mediation session is scheduled between management and workers at the Chicago campus, Dexter said.

“We’re going to see what comes out of the Feb. 6 talks,” he said. “We’re hoping those talks are successful.”

Sticking points in the bargaining sessions are wages, job security and sliding scale of parking fees.

University officials issued a statement today, saying they also hope next week’s bargaining session will be positive. If a strike happens, it will be the first on Rockford’s campus, said Erin Werthman, the local campus’ public relations coordinator.

“The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford strives to maintain good relationships with the labor unions representing our employees,” the statement read.
“Each of our employees is critical to the college’s mission of education, innovation and service. Along with our parent campus, the University of Illinois at Chicago, we strive to retain a competitive employment culture. We will continue conversation in good faith at the negotiating table, and we look forward to reaching agreement on the union contract.”


Labor-state GOP Gov. frightens workers

Union leaders yesterday accused Governor Carcieri of trying to “frighten” 3,143 state workers eligible to retire into leaving state government before July 1 to avoid having to pay more — and in some cases, the full tab — for their post-retirement health coverage.

They hurled words such as “devastating” and “betrayal” at Carcieri’s attempts to cut the taxpayer cost of this retiree health benefit by $9.8 million.

They described his proposal to allow state retirees to return to the state payroll without giving up their pensions — a practice that was outlawed in the early 1990s — as a thinly veiled attempt to head off chaos across state government if Carcieri drives state employees out in droves. Within the Department of Corrections alone, union chief Richard Ferruccio said 173 employees are now, or soon will be, eligible to retire, which would “create a very serious situation” at the state prison if they all left at once.

During a four-hour televised hearing by the House Finance Committee, union leaders also described as “repulsive” the Republican governor’s efforts to shut off a program that provides $3,600 annual stipends — and free college tuition — to the families of police officers and firefighters who have been killed, injured on the job or stricken with cancer, to save another $165,000.

The proposals were contained in the deficit-avoidance plan that Carcieri proposed last week in an attempt to plug a $151-million hole in the current-year budget and lay the foundation for further cuts during the new fiscal year, which begins July 1 under the threat of a much larger potential deficit, estimated at somewhere between $384 million and $450 million.

While most of yesterday’s testimony centered on Carcieri’s attempts to cut employee benefits, the hearing also provided a forum for Carcieri’s top legal adviser, Kernan F. King, to argue for the repeal of what he characterized as an “anti-privatization” law passed last year.

Defenders say the new law simply requires the administration to do a detailed cost-benefit analysis before it hires a private company to do work now done by state employees, but King said the law would stretch a routine contract award out over three years and give new opportunities to sue to anyone potentially affected by a privatization.

“This legislation is a nightmare,” he told the lawmakers. “It will prevent a balanced budget. It will grind government to a halt and it will unleash an avalanche of litigation.”

“It would give anybody who’s under a drug-release program the opportunity to sue if they are getting treatment. It would give anybody at the ACI the opportunity to sue. It would give anybody at Zambarano hospital the opportunity to sue. It would give the fourth cousin of [Channel 10 reporter] Bill Rappleye the opportunity to sue, it is that broad ….”

Eventually, House Finance Committee Chairman Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, cut him off, saying: “Can we reduce the hyperbole? Can we speak to the issues? I don’t think government is going to grind to a halt.”

King tried another tack. He likened the new law to Patriots coach Bill Belichick giving these instructions to quarterback Tom Brady for the Super Bowl: “You are going to have to wear a 20-pound brace on your left leg. You are going to have to throw not with your usual throwing arm, but the other one, and those four big guys who weigh about 300 pounds in front of you are not going to be there. Go Pats. Go win that game.”

But James Cenerini, lobbyist for Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, told the committee that “Carcieri’s track record on privatization does not warrant blind trust or a blank check.” He cited, as examples, the state Department of Transportation’s payment of the equivalent of $102,000 a year to a typist provided by a private contractor, and the award of a state staffing contract worth up to $11 million annually to Smart Staffing Service under terms that were not offered to any other potential bidders: the state agreed to front the company the money to meet each payroll in advance.

Responding to King’s suggestion that the legislature restore the status quo, Costantino said: “I am not sure if I have complete faith in that process, as much as you have.”

DOT union leader Brendan Fogarty said his department was considering privatizing its real estate and materials sections, but the idea was scrapped after his director, Jerome Williams, did the kind of detailed analysis the new law requires and determined there were “no savings to be found.”

Recasting King’s football analogy, he said: “We’re not asking Tom Brady to throw left-handed, and we’re not asking him to wear a 20-pound weight. We’re asking coach Belichick not to film the opposing coaches.”

No votes were taken yesterday as the committee attempted to slog through Carcieri’s much more complicated and far-reaching proposal to lower — and in some cases, eliminate — the state subsidy for post-retirement health benefits.

For starters, the administration wants to impose minimum age-and-work requirements for the health benefit. After June 30, a retiree would have to be at least 59 and have worked for the state at least 20 years to qualify for the benefit.

The current subsidy is keyed to how many years an employee has worked for the state. Longtime state workers pay nothing toward their post-retirement health care. Others with shorter work histories pay up to 50 percent of the rate the state is charged for an “active” employee. The state not only pays the other half, it also pays the difference between that rate and the higher rate the insurer is actually charging the state for this older and presumably sicker group. Carcieri wants eligible retirees to pay 20 percent of the actual premium cost.

Altogether, the state expects the two moves to shave $9.8 million off the overall $33.3-million cost of retiree health care.

Here’s what this would mean to the 60-year-old who retires after working for the state for 15 years: before July 1, this retiree would be required to pay $2,714 for health coverage; after July 1, this employee would no longer qualify for a subsidy and would have to pay the full $8,461 cost to the state of an individual plan.

For the 60-year-old who put in 28 years with the state, waiting to retire could make the difference between paying nothing under current rules and $1,692 (which is 20 percent of that $8,461) annually.

The move would also have implications for newly retired teachers, who are currently allowed to buy coverage at the reduced “active” rate, with the state paying the approximate $3,000 difference between that and the actual cost.

State budget officer Rosemary Booth Gallogly told the lawmakers that the governor’s plan is aimed at bringing the benefits more in line with private industry, and starting to put enough money aside in a “trust fund” to make sure the state can keep its retiree health-care promises in the future.

Two recent studies show how increasingly rare, and costly, the benefit is. Retiree health care will cost state taxpayers $700 million over the next 30 years, a tab that must be disclosed for the first time because of new accounting standards, according to a recent study produced by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Center on the States.

Nationally, only 28 percent of employers were expected to offer traditional medical coverage to employees under age 65, and only 26 percent to those over 65 who retired last year, according to a survey by Watson Wyatt and the National Business Group on Health.


Gov't union secrecy rules in Washington State

Under Washington State's open-records laws, e-mails written on public computers are public records. But the Seattle teachers union argued successfully this month that e-mails about a grievance that their members sent via work computers were not public, because they weren't about Seattle Public Schools business.

"They pertain solely to union business, not anything to do with the operation of the school district itself," said Rich Wood, a spokesman for the union. The Jan. 18 ruling by King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector technically affects only 13 e-mail exchanges among a teacher and the Seattle Education Association's (SEA) president and executive director, but open-records advocates worry it will give public agencies an excuse not to release records that should be public.

"I think the order is just wrong," said Michele Earl-Hubbard, an attorney who specializes in open-records law. "They're using work computers; they're discussing things on public computers, presumably on public time. I can't see why they would be exempt."

Earl-Hubbard said the fact that the e-mails were written on district computers made them public. Not only that, but the district saved them — making it apparent they were the public's business, she said. But the union argued that e-mails must pass a "three-pronged" legal test: be written, be in possession of the district and have to do with district business.

Seattle Public Schools spokesman David Tucker said the district was prepared to release the e-mails but that SEA intervened. Although Seattle Public Schools was the defendant, a school-district attorney didn't argue against the union's stance in the hearing.

"We didn't have an active position on this," Tucker said.

The parent who requested the e-mails in the first place wasn't involved in the court action. In October, Jennifer Aspelund had requested access to e-mails involving a Sanislo Elementary School teacher.

People can't always afford to go to court to fight for open records, so the school district should have argued in support of its usual policy — to release e-mails written on public computers, said Micheal Reitz, general counsel for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

"It's just appalling that the school district would show up and indicate that it has no interest other than settling the case as quickly as possible," he said.

Rulings in a superior court don't set a legal precedent, but Earl-Hubbard said this case creates a model for what she called "cooperative lawsuits" — cases in which the parties agree.


Reitz agreed. "What was the judge going to do?" he said. "It was kind of an obvious ruling as far as settling the differences between the parties."

As for the school district, Tucker said, it won't change its policy about releasing e-mails. Wood said SEA is encouraging its members to use personal e-mail accounts for union business instead of their work accounts.


Teamsters cost UPS $2.6 billion in 4th quarter

UPS lost $2.6 billion in the fourth quarter as costs from their landmark agreement with the Teamsters union pushed the country's largest transportation company into the red.

The cause of the first quarterly loss as a public company was a $6.1 billion charge in the U.S. Domestic Package segment in connection with UPS's withdrawal from the Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund. That withdrawal was a condition of the historic five-year agreement with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, eight months before expiration of the existing contract. As a result of the charge for the pension fund, the company reported a $4.8 billion loss in its domestic package business, compared to a $1.2 billion profit for the same period last year.

For the fourth quarter, UPS total revenue rose 6.1 percent to $13.3 billion, justifying the comment of Chairman and CEO Scott Davis when he said, "In 2007, UPS delivered on its forecast in an economic environment that became increasingly challenging over the year."

The U.S. domestic package business generated $8.3 billion, a 2.2 percent increase. International package operations brought in $2.8 billion, up 17.3 percent compared with a year earlier. The supply chain and freight segment increased revenue 7.8 percent to reach $2.2 billion in the quarter.


Pilots union pickets at airport

Six members of the Air Line Pilots Association briefly picketed outside Capital City (MI) Airport on Wednesday to protest the lack of a contract with feeder carrier Pinnacle Airlines Corp. Pinnacle is one of two commuter carriers that flies for Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines Corp.

Pinnacle operates four daily flights weekdays and three flights Saturdays and Sundays. Pinnacle pilots haven't had a contract since 2005. "If we were forced to go on strike at some point, service could be interrupted into here," said pilot Amy Kotzer, who flew in from Minneapolis for the picket.

Union officials say terms over pay and job security have yet to be resolved. Pinnacle earlier this month filed a federal lawsuit against the union, accusing it of bad-faith bargaining. Company officials said the union made additional demands after essentially reaching an agreement with Pinnacle.

"We're going back to the negotiation table with the federal mediator this Thursday and Friday," airline spokesman Joe Williams said. "We remain committed to a new contract for our pilots and hope to have an agreement completed soon."


Steelworker strike looms in Venezuela

Ternium SA's Siderurgica del Orinoco, Venezuela's only maker of flat-steel products, may be affected by an immediate strike after a negotiating session failed to produce an agreement on wages, the Sutiss union said.

Workers are meeting to decide whether to walk out for 48 hours, a move that had previously been considered for Feb. 4, spokesman Johnny Luna said in a telephone interview. The two sides have yet to agree on pay, benefits, and the rest of the so-called socioeconomic clauses in the contract, Luna said.


Yale cheers UNITE racketeers v. Aramark

Aramark, the food-services company formerly employed by Yale University Dining Services, is now facing allegations of mismanagement and poor food quality from cafeteria workers and custodians in New Haven Public Schools.

Complaints about Aramark began in late November when a few parents expressed concern over the food quality at a school board meeting and have escalated to today’s union-led protest rally at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School in New Haven.

The rally is being organized by UNITE HERE, a union that includes hotel, restaurant and some cafeteria employees and is affiliated with the Federation of Hospital and University Employees, the union for service workers at Yale. Council 4 and Service Employees International Union, both custodial-worker unions, are also involved in the organizing the rally.

Protesters will be asking the New Haven Board of Education to terminate Aramark’s contract because they think the company puts profit before the needs of the students, said Evan Cobb, director of communications for FHUE.

According to UNITE HERE, Aramark has lost money for the New Haven school district, creating a $1.1 million deficit. Cobb said they have also failed to fill empty positions in the custodial and food- service department and to rectify equipment shortages.

“Aramark has shown that they can’t do the job right, and we need to do something about it,” Cobb said.

But Aramark denies these claims. Kristine Grow, a spokeswoman for Aramark, said the uproar in New Haven has nothing to do with the service or quality of food, and the unions are simply attempting to get more members. She said they are distributing misinformation to Aramark’s employees in order to compel them to join the union.

“We have produced $1 million in savings per year through energy efficiency, we have increased the number of students participating in our meal plan, and we have reinvested by purchasing new kitchen equipment,” said Grow.

Cheryl Barbara, a chef employed by the school district who spoke at a recent school board meeting, said she packs a lunch for her children everyday because she is not satisfied with the quality of the food she is given to prepare by Aramark.

The Local 287 division of Council 4 had almost 100 percent of its membership sign a petition calling for the Board of Education to fire Aramark, said Larry Dorman, a Council 4 spokesman. He said members felt Aramark has badly mismanaged custodial services, and the company’s inefficient decision-making process has made it difficult for them to do their jobs.

“Aramark’s presence has added a harmful air of bureaucratic management,” Dorman said. “And over the next few weeks, we will be out in the community letting people know about the situation.”

Yale notified Aramark that they would not renew their contract in June 2007, and the corporation has not been in control of University dining services since Jan. 1, 2008. Administrators said the decision had nothing to do with the quality of service being provided by Aramark.

“Dining Services had reached a level of customer satisfaction and fundamental stability, in some part due to Aramark’s management,” Ernst Huff, associate vice president for student financial and administrative services told the News in August. “We’ve just reached a point where we can now move on without necessarily having a large corporation as a partner.”

Hugh Baran ’09 has been publicizing the rally on campus and plans to attend the rally today. He said he thinks Aramark is a company that does not operate with the public good in mind.

“For me, one of the most compelling things about it is that this is one of the only meals some kids get all day, but the meal is bad,” Baran said. “It’s just really appalling.”

Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo, the director of communications for New Haven public schools, said the district leadership has heard the concerns and are taking them very seriously. So far they have not taken any action on the issue.

The protest rally will feature a number of speakers, including General President of UNITE HERE Bruce Raynor and John W. Wilhelm, president of UNITE HERE’s hospitality division. There may also be a speech from a New Haven Public Schools student, Cobb said.

The rally is scheduled to take place at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School in New Haven.


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