Unions kept Fed watchdog busy in early-Jan.

On January 14, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Terry Howell, former President of Steelworkers Local 8-505, was sentenced to three years supervised probation, including six months of house arrest, ordered to pay restitution, and fined $2,000 for embezzling $13,210 in union funds. On October 26, 2007, Howell pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the same amount. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Cincinnati District Office.

On January 11, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Charyle Emel, former President of American Postal Workers Local 2013, was sentenced to one year probation and ordered to make restitution, pay $60 to the United States Postal Service, and a $25 special assessment. On February 23, 2007, Emel pled guilty to one count of falsifying union financial records by willfully making or causing to be made a false loan agreement between her and the local totaling $12,864.10. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Philadelphia District Office.

On January 9, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Graham Paul Vane, former President of the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 1280, pled guilty to one count of embezzling over $170,000 in union funds, and four counts of making false statements to a government agency. The final embezzlement amount will be determined at Vane’s sentencing hearing. On May 24, 2007, Vane was indicted on one count of embezzling union funds in the same approximate amount, and four counts of false statements to a government agency. The guilty plea follows an investigation by the OLMS San Francisco District Office.

On January 9, 2008, a failure to maintain records investigation conducted by the OLMS New Orleans District Office resulted in the subject entering into a Pre-Trial Diversion Agreement with the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. Under the terms of the Pre-Trial Diversion Agreement, the subject must make full restitution to the union, and not hold any union office during the duration of the agreement. Due to the confidential nature of the Pre-Trial Diversion program, details that could identify the subject are not public information.

On January 8, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Kurt Swanstrom, former Financial Secretary and Treasurer of PACE/USW Local 5-1560, was indicted on one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $12,327, one count of falsification of union records, and one count of filing a false labor organization report. The indictment follows an investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office.

On January 8, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Kathleen Drake, former Secretary-Treasurer of Machinists Local 2339-C, pled guilty to one count of falsification of union records, and agreed to make restitution in the amount of $17,035. The guilty plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office.

On January 7, 2008, in the City Court of Peekskill, New York, Glenroy Richards, former President of AFGE Local 2440, was charged with grand larceny in the third degree. During the period of July 2006 to November 2006, Richards is alleged to have utilized his union-issued debit card to withdraw a total of $11,243 from the union’s checking account. The charge follows an investigation by the OLMS New York District Office.


SEIU combo with collectivist foreign billionaire

Here comes Big George again. Billionaire George Soros is weighing in heavily with more cash, delivering $2.5 million to a new political organization called Fund for America.

According to a year-end campaign report filed with the Internal Revenue Service and uncovered by The Times' Dan Morain, Fund for America was organized by Taco Bell heir Rob McKay, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and Anna Burger of the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU matched Soros with another $2.5 million, too. Other major donors include investor Donald Sussman, who has given $1 million and AKT Development of Sacramento.

Although it cannot get directly involved in advocacy for or against candidates, Fund for America is expected to air television ads and take other political action aimed at helping Democrats claim the White House and retain control of Congress.The group is organized as a "527," so named for the revenue code section that defines it.

Fund for America is the liberal answer to the conservative Freedom's Watch, organized by former political aides to President Bush and funded by wealthy Republicans including billionaire Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas. But as a nonprofit corporation, Freedom's Watch is not required to disclose its donors.


Teachers demand to be paid for striking

Striking Downingtown (PA) Area School District teachers and the school board made substantial progress yesterday toward resolving wage differences that separate them but they did not reach a settlement. The strike will continue today and classes remain canceled.

No new talks are scheduled. Even if no settlement is reached, the 850 teachers, who went on strike Tuesday, must return to work on Feb. 14 so that students can receive 180 days of instruction by June 15, as required by state law.

School board spokeswoman Patricia McGlone said last night that during eight hours of talks that ended at 5:30 p.m., "They thought they had successfully resolved several of the outstanding issues." But the board said in a statement that the union "demanded to be compensated for the days they chose to be on strike," putting a halt to the talks.

Paul Gottlieb, a Pennsylvania State Education Association staffer and union spokesman, said last night, "The union never asked for pay for days we were out on strike.

"We did propose to make up in-service days that had been missed in a way that would have benefited the district."

Gottlieb called the board's characterization of the talks "a blatant misconstruction of what happened."

"The negotiations broke down over a whole host of issues, including the district's going back on an agreement they made earlier to make all aspects of the contract fully retroactive," he said.

The strike is the first in the 11,730-student district, Chester County's largest, since 1980.


AFL-CIO pans local gov't corruption clean-up

At 68, Joseph Manko has lived a life committed to two passions: politics and public service. He has raised money for presidential candidates, won a delegate spot at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and most recently, co-chaired Mayor Nutter's fund-raising committee. He has also served as a Lower Merion Township commissioner and on the Fairmount Park Commission. Two weeks ago Nutter also named him a member of the city's high-profile Zoning Board of Adjustment.

But for the first time, he has found himself forced to choose between his twin passions. Because of a Philadelphia Board of Ethics ruling that took effect with Nutter's first day, Manko is prohibited from being politically active while serving on the park commission or zoning board. He won't even be able to wear a campaign button for a presidential candidate.

"It's over the top," Manko said this week. "It's going to make people who want to voluntarily serve give up a significant part of their First Amendment rights. . . . Now I won't be able to do anything but vote or give money."

Rules limiting political activity have long applied to full-time city employees, as spelled out in the Philadelphia City Charter.

But members of city boards and commissions generally have been exempt, thanks to a number of piecemeal rulings by the city solicitor's office over the years. Though there were some exceptions, for the most part only boards that paid members $40 or more per meeting fell under the charter provision.

That changed after the city Department of Licenses and Inspections asked the Ethics Board last October to offer its opinion on whether the political activity limits applied to four boards the department oversees.

The Ethics Board took the opportunity to evaluate 81 city boards and commissions with an eye toward creating a comprehensive and consistent standard.

It then issued an opinion that extended the limits to members of 25 city boards and commissions. The Ethics Board did so on the theory that those bodies wield considerable power and thus, under the rules of the City Charter, should be as free of politics as possible. Compensation to board members was also a factor.

The Philadelphia Prisons Board and Free Library, for instance, are covered by the limits but the Police Advisory Board and Solid Waste Advisory Committee are not.

The ruling - which specified at least 18 prohibited political activities - has set off something of a firestorm among Philadelphians active in both civic and political life.

"Geez, I can't wear a 'Senator Casey' button? It doesn't make sense," said Patrick Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization of unions.

Eiding has been a member of the City Planning Commission for the last two years. He now has to decide whether he can continue to serve. Playing politics, he acknowledged, is central to the role of a labor leader.

"If I find I cannot do my everyday job because of it, I will have to back out," Eiding said.

His advisers are reviewing the restrictions, he said, and if they recommend he step off the planning commission, he will. Already he is making plans to resign from two political committees he chairs.

"There has to be a line drawn someplace. I don't know what the ethics of Philadelphia has to do with electing someone president," Eiding said.

Even good government types have questions about the impact of the Ethics Board's ruling.

"I'd have to know more about their thinking than I currently do to be able to say it is good or bad," said Zack Stalberg, president of the watchdog group Committee of Seventy. "But I'm definitely concerned that it could prevent good people from taking these jobs, which are for the most part thankless kinds of jobs anyway."

Ethics Board members say they are fully aware of the criticism, including that their ruling means the city's standards are now more stringent than those for most federal employees.

"All of us have heard from friends or friends of friends who say, 'What do you mean I can't wear a Hillary button?' " said Richard Glazer, chairman of the five-member board. "I tell them I agree the law is overly broad, and if you feel strongly about it, you ought to do something about changing it."

But that change should come in the form of a ballot initiative to reform the City Charter, Glazer said.

The Ethics Board was merely enforcing the law as stated in the charter, not creating it, he said.

"I'm proud of what we did in terms of coming up with a way to deal with this going forward," Glazer said.

One person who thinks a mistake has been made is Maurice Floyd. A longtime city political consultant, he for years has earned $50,000 annually as a member of the Board of Viewers, which reviews eminent-domain cases.

The Ethics Board said he must now comply with the restrictions, but Floyd believes that is wrong because his board is controlled by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

"They're overreaching on this stuff," he said. Nonetheless, for now, Floyd intends to do nonpolitical consulting work. "I'm taking a wait-and-see attitude," he said.

Nutter as a councilman led the push that two years ago resulted in the newly reinvigorated Ethics Board.

As mayor, he is asking potential appointees to submit signed forms saying they understand their political limitations.

In an interview last week, he downplayed any hindrance the restrictions have had on his effort to fill board positions.

At the same time, Nutter said: "I am somewhat concerned about the impact on the overall group of people that you can approach."

He said he intended to hold a discussion "very soon" with the Ethics Board.

"I don't completely understand all the logic they used, why they selected some boards and not others," he said.

Two elected officials who have reservations about the new limits are City Councilmen Bill Green and Bill Greenlee. Last month, they sought to introduce a resolution to hold hearings on the matter, saying in a letter to colleagues: "We believe the Ethics Board exceeded its authority . . . [and] essentially amended the charter without holding public hearings, let alone informing the public of their intent."

At the mayor's request, they've agreed to hold off until Nutter meets with the councilmen.

Said Green, "I don't think we want to limit the pool of people who are qualified professionals who give up time to serve the city."

Restricted Activities

Here are examples of political activities prohibited by the city charter, according to an opinion of the Philadelphia Board of Ethics:

Serving as an officer or member of a committee of a political party or body. This includes being a ward leader or committeeman.

Distributing printed matter, badges or buttons in support of any candidate for public or party office or political party or body.

Wearing badges, emblems, signs, posters and the like in favor of or against a political party, body or candidate. This includes wearing campaign buttons and displaying campaign posters or lawn signs.

Arranging a public meeting, rally, dinner or social function for a political functionary.

Soliciting money for the support of any issue, political party or body, or any political purpose that is identified with a candidate for public or party office.

Campaigning for any candidate for political office anywhere in the United States; it is not limited to Philadelphia or Pennsylvania.

For the full list (.pdf) of restricted activities, go to http://go.philly.com/cityethics


Leftist shibboleth: The seniority system

In what looks like an outright collapse at the end of a long campaign to change term limits, support for Proposition 93 dipped to its lowest level just as voters are prepared to head to the polls Tuesday. Only 33 percent of would-be voters say they support the ballot measure while 46 percent are opposed, according to a Field Poll whose results were released this morning.

The dramatic drop coincides with a total reversal among Republicans, once the biggest backers of the proposal. Republicans oppose the measure by 2-to-1 - 56 percent to 27 percent - despite Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's belated endorsement of the measure two weeks ago.

"In December, when awareness was very low, the only cues voters had to go on was the ballot summary, and Republicans were very supportive," Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, said. "Now, it's cast as a very partisan issue, as self-serving to Democratic leadership, and Republicans are recoiling. Saying this would benefit Democratic leadership, that's all you need to throw doubt onto it."

The ballot summary, written by Attorney General Jerry Brown, emphasized that the measure would reduce the amount of time lawmakers could serve - from 14 years to 12. Republicans initially embraced the concept, seeing it as a further tightening of term limits.

But the measure would allow lawmakers to serve all 12 years in a single chamber - a virtual increase for most Assembly members, who largely serve six years and are blocked from more time in office because their district Senate seats are already occupied.

The measure would also allow lawmakers who are scheduled to be term-limited at the end of 2008 to stay on for an additional four or six years.

For instance, Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, would be able to serve six more years if the measure passes, while Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, would be able to serve four more. An additional 34 legislators termed out in 2008 and 10 termed out in 2010 would get four to six years extra.

The spokesman for the No on 93 campaign said the poll results confirmed voters are "repulsed" by the "loophole" that allows Núñez and Perata to stay in office longer. "That was what the initiative was really about," said Kevin Spillane. "Voters see this as a scam."

Campaign finance reports also showed that interest groups weighed in heavily for the Yes on 93 side, contributing nearly the full bulk of the $16 million the campaign raised. Núñez's campaign committee, the Committee to Protect California, contributed $1.1 million to the Yes on 93 campaign.

The No on 93 campaign has been outspent by nearly 2-to-1, raising $8.7 million, including $2.5 million from the chairman of the effort, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner.

With 21 percent of voters still undecided, proponents are holding out hope that a large turnout could help them.

"If the trend of recent primaries is accurate, you will see a tremendous turnout of Democrats, and if we've done our job, we'll see things turn out," said Richard Stapler, spokesman for the Yes on 93 campaign. "A lot has happened this week with our outreach. Mail is hitting peoples' homes talking about the benefits of it, and we're running commercials in English and Spanish."

But so far, Democratic support hasn't moved significantly. Initially worried that the proposal sought to tighten term limits, Democrats' support was tepid at best. Even now, as Republicans say it's a Democratic power grab, Democrats aren't exactly enthusiastic: Only 37 percent support Proposition 93, while 39 percent oppose it and 24 percent are undecided.

The only ideological group that supports the measure are those that consider themselves to be strongly liberal, with 46 percent supportive and 34 percent opposed. Voters who consider themselves to be strongly conservative are the most strongly opposed: Only 28 percent support, while 56 percent oppose the measure.

"The question became, could the yes side rally Democrats to defect to their side," DiCamillo said. "The answer is no. Democrats really haven't budged."

The Field Poll also showed that support is gaining for Propositions 94 to 97 - the four Indian gaming measures - with 47 percent in favor, 34 percent against and 19 percent undecided.

The poll, conducted in English and Spanish, surveyed 1,105 likely voters from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.


News Guild agonizes over Writers Guild strike

Readers of entertainment news have been hit with some startling contradictions lately. Jay Leno, that jovial late-night comedian, may be in trouble with the Writers Guild of America for writing his own jokes. Leno’s case is complicated by the fact that as a member of the Writers Guild, he is prohibited from writing his own material when the union calls a strike.

The writers are just asking for their share of Internet sales, but for me, an illusion is at stake. I want to believe that entertainers are not reading from cue cards or a teleprompter, even though I know they are. It’s like Toto pulling the curtain aside to reveal the real Wizard of Oz, a puny little guy pushing buttons.

Strike is a harsh word, and I am no stranger to strikes. As a child of the Depression, I knew the fear that arrived with heavy black headlines when John L. Lewis announced a strike by the United Mine Workers. My father worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, so when there were no coal trains, he was laid off.

Our family never knew exactly where he was working during the layoff because he took different day jobs wherever he could at any of the manufacturers in Lock Haven at the time. We knew when he worked at the dye-works, though, because he’d come home with hands stained crayola colors such as maize and magenta. We made it through hard times without going on relief only because our neighborhood market let us run a bill.

I have been on both sides of the line. When I was looking for a teaching job, the principal of a striking school district asked me to come in to work. I didn’t have to think long before telling him I wouldn’t cross a picket line. Scab is an ugly word.

But if someone asked me to write a television script, especially a soap opera, I might be tempted. After an opener like “Victor may go to prison,” the rest of the scene would comprise expressions like “Oh,” “Really” and “So” using different intonations. Every so often I’d add a “Bingo!” for punch. Long takes and lengthy pauses would stretch things out, and I wouldn’t get in trouble with the union.

“Pioneers in Television,” a series running on WPSU, peered behind the curtain to reveal the secrets of the first late-night comedians. Steve Allen was a genius. He went on the air cold with only a one-page outline in front of him, and he was hilarious.

In the best of both worlds, writers would be paid their fair share and some slack would be cut for the people in front of the cameras.


Worker choice could stanch population outflow

Michigan residents continue to flee the Great Lake State and are doing so at a near-record rate, according to one vital measure. A leading indicator of a Michigan diaspora, or dispersion, comes from United Van Lines (UVL), which annually releases its household moving data for the calendar year.

Citizens Moving Out. In January 2006, Michigan was tied with North Dakota for number one among the 48 contiguous states for outbound client traffic, at 66 percent. Through October 2007, Michigan stood alone in UVL rankings at number one, with 66.4 percent of its traffic being outbound. This is only one-half of one percentage point off Michigan's all-time high of 66.9 percent, a figure the state has not seen since 1981, when the state's annual unemployment rate was 12.5 percent.

Saginaw-based Stevens Worldwide Van Lines reports numbers similar to those posted by UVL. Morrie Stevens, chairman and CEO of the 102-year-old company, told the Mackinac Center that in calendar year 2007 his company's shipments were running 2 to 1 in favor of leaving Michigan.

Stevens believes the outbound traffic is "a function of the weak economy as displaced workers and young people leave to find better opportunities elsewhere."

Today Michigan has the worst unemployment rate in the nation, 7.7 percent, but even that figure is deceptive, masked by the state's ability to export its unemployed.

Policies Prompt Flight

Michigan policymakers have done little to slow this outbound migration. In fact, both political parties have done the opposite, by catering to special interests that benefit from higher taxes or advocate for the imposition of additional regulatory burdens. Such policies raise the relative cost of living and working in Michigan.

Lansing's most recent policy mistake--a nearly $1.4 billion tax hike imposed in 2007--has not gone unnoticed by political and business leaders alike.

Since the Michigan legislature and governor approved the tax hike last year, the state of Indiana has erected billboards near the border encouraging Michiganians to "Come on IN for Lower Taxes, Business and Housing Costs." (They've also taunted Illinois, another neighbor on a tax-hike spree.)

Indiana is running radio ads with the same message on Lansing, Michigan's WJIM. None of this Hoosier activity is funded with tax dollars.

Tax Revenues Drop

Adding to the pain, as more people leave the state, housing prices may drop further, and with them property tax assessments and tax revenues, reducing revenue to schools and local governments. Michigan is already dead last in home price appreciation (-3.7 percent), according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, and sixth in property foreclosures, according to RealtyTrac.

People are the basis of all economic development. It is people who create, produce, employ, work, and generate wealth. Thus few things will have a stronger effect on a state's economy than stanching the flow of its people to "opportunity states" by making itself more attractive to people and job providers alike.

The impact of Michigan's diaspora may be starting to sink in with lawmakers. State Demographer Kenneth Darga was invited to speak at the state's annual Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference, held on January 11. This is the first time a demographer has been invited to testify at this conference since at least 1980, and may be the first time ever.

GDP Plummets

Michigan's current economic troubles have no precedent. Customarily, the state has done better than other states when the national economy is growing and relatively worse when it contracts. This time it's different: Michigan's relative economic performance as measured by its rank among the states in per-capita state Gross Domestic Product has plummeted--during a period of economic growth nationally.

State GDP is the value of all the goods and services produced within the state's geographical borders. In 1999 Michigan ranked 16th in the nation in nominal state GDP per capita. By 2006 it had fallen to 39th place, and it is likely to drop further.

Reforms Long Advocated

Despite all these problems, the Michigan malaise can be reversed. For starters, we recommend the state adopt many of the hundreds of policies the Mackinac Center has already proposed. Below are four categories on which the Center has written exhaustively.

Tax Reform. Repeal the new Michigan Business Tax (which replaced the Single Business Tax) and replace it with nothing

Budget Reform. Adopt the more-than $2 billion in spending reductions recommended by the Mackinac Center in major budget studies, commentaries, and special Policy Briefs.

Regulatory Reform. Reverse the rapid growth of business regulations, especially in environmental permitting and property rights infringements.

Labor Reform. Adopt labor reforms, such as enacting a right-to-work statute and repealing Michigan's prevailing wage law.

Economic history over the centuries and from around the world makes it clear that only these types of policies will restore Michigan's status as a magnet for people and commerce. History also shows what happens to places that fail to attract these.


FBI probes labor unions' investment

Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno's longstanding marriage with organized labor may be headed for a breakup. Labor leaders publicly reiterated their support for Bruno and his GOP Senate majority following news that the FBI had slapped Albany-area unions with subpoenas in an ongoing probe of the senator's outside business interests.

But even as they insisted there is "nothing to" the FBI investigation, union bigs privately conceded the subpoenas are one more chink in the Republican powerhouse's armor. "The conventional strategy of many building trades and public sector unions is about to end," one highly placed labor leader said. "They've made their bets on Bruno, but it's all unraveling."

Last Friday, several capital region building trades locals, including the laborers, painters, carpenters and Teamsters, got subpoenas for documents related to Bruno and his consulting company, Capital Business Consultants.

The FBI also wants documents related to Wright Investors Service of Milford, Conn., and its holding company, Winthrop Corp.

Bruno worked for Winthrop as a business development agent from about 1995, when he became majority leader, to last December, when he severed his ties to the company.

The unions have sent tens of millions of dollars to Wright to manage, but insisted they didn't know the company was paying Bruno. It's unclear if Bruno disclosed his Wright connection to his union allies.

A union source said the FBI's requests were sweeping, adding: "They really want everything," including cell phone logs, travel records and receipts from any meals, drinks and gifts provided to Bruno.

The subpoenas, first reported by the Albany Times Union, are returnable Feb. 14.

The FBI probe, which Bruno made public in December 2006, seemed to be on the back burner recently as the senator's wife, Barbara, battled Alzheimer's. She died Jan. 7.

A source familiar with the investigation suggested it recently kicked into high gear because the five-year statute of limitations on most federal cases is looming.

The FBI sought information from the unions dating to 2003.

A Bruno spokesman said the lawmaker is cooperating with the FBI. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Stephen Madarasz, spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, the state's largest public workers union, said the subpoenas "won't make a difference, on the whole," in the organization's "warm relationship" with Bruno. "All it is at this point is some questions," he said.

Madarasz also noted that the CSEA, like many other unions, is being pulled in two directions after having supported both Bruno and Gov. Spitzer.

The governor has made no secret of his desire to help his fellow Democrats end GOP control of the Senate, which soured Spitzer's relationship with Bruno and led to the Troopergate scandal.

The Democratic Party controls every statewide elected office, and its enrollment numbers are growing statewide as the GOP's shrink.

As a result, labor is increasingly hedging its bets when it comes to control of the Senate, where the Republicans hold a slim two-seat majority - with one upstate seat up for grabs in a Feb. 26 special election.


Jumbo gov't union sees dues-growth in Dakotas

Yankton city (SD) employees will decide later this month whether to join the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

About 80 employees are eligible to vote in the Feb. 20 election. The effort to unionize will need a simple majority to proceed. The organization says it has 1.4 million members nationwide and represents about 2,000 employees in North Dakota and South Dakota.


AFT raids statewide union

A three-year labor agreement expired this week, but Franklin County Children Services cannot begin to negotiate a new contract until workers decide which union represents them.

An election is expected to take place Feb. 27, with 520 workers deciding whether to leave the Professionals Guild of Ohio and join the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said Beth Earl, a social worker and the membership's elected leader.

Earl said that many children services employees weren't happy when the guild left the federation last year.

"We liked that we were affiliated with that larger union," she said. "They can provide much more services to us; they have good support. We just feel that they are able to meet our needs at this time."

The Ohio Federation of Teachers has more than 20,000 members and is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

Chauncey Mason, executive director of the Professionals Guild of Ohio, said it has more than 700 members, including the 500 or so from Franklin County Children Services.

"It would be a big loss for us," he said. "But we respect the rights of our members to select the union they want to represent them."

Children services administrators have no role in the discussions, said Heather Saling, director of human resources. "We're just standing back and watching," she said.

The most recent contract was ratified in 2005, but not before bitter negotiations led to an 18-day strike.

Both Earl and Saling said the terms of the old contract will remain in effect.

After the Ohio Federation of Teachers filed the petition in November for the election, the guild dismissed

Earl and the other union leaders.

Earl said she expects to resume her official position under the new union local if members choose the federation. Contract negotiations would follow, she said.


Union pushes to roll-back privatization

The ferry workers union is ramping up a campaign to undo privatization of the fleet -- and restore the system as an extension of B.C.'s highways. With just over a year to the next election, the Save Our Ferries campaign appears to be aimed not at B.C. Ferries, but directly at Premier Gordon Campell's Liberal Party.

Campbell privatized running of the fleet in 2003, giving the company a mandate to operate on a commercial basis, float loans for all new vessels and push as fast as possible to full user-pay funding. About 22 million people ride the ferries each year. The campaign will push for public hearings on privatization and an end to it, if the public demands it.

To be launched this morning at www.saveourferries.com, the campaign offers detailed analysis of the company's public financial disclosures and concludes that:

- The company has outstanding bond debts of $950 million and room for another $335 million in bank loans for new ferries, a total of $1.285 billion in debt that taxpayers will inherit if the company fails. To back its debt, the company has mortgaged its terminal leases, its vessels and even its guaranteed annual provincial subsidy.

- The need to generate money that used to be part of regular provincial spending will drive fares up massively by 2011 -- by a minimum of 103 per cent on the Bowen Island route, 82 per cent on the Sunshine Coast, 79 per cent between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert, and 43 per cent on Vancouver Island-Lower Mainland routes. The figures are based on two-per-cent inflation and include fuel surcharges up to 2008. Fares will be higher if further fuel surcharges are approved, or new ship construction is included.

- The "scary" financial position of the company requires more public oversight. In late 2006, the auditor-general said the company puts the province at "significant risk" and recommended the government improve monitoring and reporting. Campbell has yet to respond.

Gregg Dow, a crew member on the Queen of Nanaimo assigned to run the campaign, said the push is aimed at forcing Campbell to hold public consultations on the Coastal Ferry Act that designed the system.

"The ferry system is an economic engine of the province," Dow said. "Higher and higher fares are not good for tourism, for manufacturing, for farming, businesses or the social fabric. The last thing we need to do right now is turn small islands into ghost towns.

"User pay? Is the highway to Stewart, or Kimberley, fully user pay? Is TransLink? The Lions Gate Bridge? Do people really think they get on a bus and pay the full cost of running it? Why should ferry users?"

Transport Minister Kevin Falcon said fare increases under the NDP in the 1990s were greater than in the past seven years under the Liberals.

"And you haven't got politicians interfering," he said. "I think that's a far better system than what we had in the '90s.

"What you had in the '90s was a corporation that was basically bankrupt.

"The NDP had to write off $1 billion and they, frankly, pissed away half a billion dollars on three boats that are still sitting in the harbour in North Vancouver.

"So, the question you have to ask is: What does saveourferries.com want us to go back to?

"Apparently, they want us to go back to government running the ferry fleet. I'm asking, 'For what benefit?' "


City tries to force racial diversity on unions

Confusion reigns over how City Council intends to force unions to bring more diversity to their membership. Some members say they have struck out on their own. They have been huddling with the building trades trying to develop a diversity commission to study they issue.

Hard line members of Council insist there is an ordinance in place already. They believe each union is required to have a council approved diversity agreement in place prior to going to work on the Pennsylvania Convention Center expansion.

Gov. Ed Rendell's office says he is monitoring the situation. Council President Anna Verna's office says the Governor is doing much more. Ms. Verna says at the Governor's request she called a recess until Monday of Council's regular Thursday meeting. The recess, her spokesman said, is to give union's more time to deliver to council demographic information on the ethnic makeup of their membership. She hopes to have an resolution introduced and passed Monday calling on the mayor to form a diversity commission.

The mayor's office acknowledges there is talk of forming a diversity commission. It could have as many as 30 members. Its assignment would be to work on creating union diversity on all public and private projects in the city.

In December, Council passed a diversity amendment to the Convention Center expansion agreement.

The Nutter administration claims how the diversity is created is for City Council and the unions to work out.

Mayoral spokesman Doug Oliver however promised, "Any Commission would not interfere with any agreement counsel [already] has with the trade unions."

An amendment passed in December demands that each trade union working at the expansion have a council approved plan to increase diversity in its ranks. The plans must be approved before the union can sign the project labor agreement.

A project labor agreement (PLA) is a contract between management and unions setting working conditions and how labor disputes will be resolved. It usually, among other things, guarantees labor will not strike during the project.

Building Trades president Pat Gillespie said yesterday the amendment does not have labor's consent.

"People don't understand what a PLA is," Mr. Gillespie commented. "They don't understand who can sign and will sign a PLA agreement. I don't want a PLA on this project. I never wanted a PLA on this project. The state is insisting we have to [have one]. Council's agreement was not our agreement.

"[Amendment sponsor Councilman Frank] DiCicco was grandstanding ... [and] now we have a nearly $1 billion project tied up in this political nonsense."

Mr. Gillespie claims the building trades last week met with "nine or 10" members of Council at the Bellevue Hotel and "hammered out" an agreement to form a diversity commission.

According to Mr. Gillespie, the commission would be responsible for conducting a demographic study of union diversity. The building trades would be a part of the committee.

Mr. Gillespie complained he got word this week council members had changed their agreement. Staff members "franctically" informed him they would need the demographic information on unions by no later than 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

"There were some substantive changes to the documents we submitted. I saw immediately this wasn't going to work," he stated. "I got some information together and submitted it. I grant you it was miniscule.'

He then promised, "These changes they made we won't abide by."

Mr. Gillespie said Council's changes to the diversity committee agreement included sanctions if the trades didn't submit all the diversity information Council required or if the information was found to be inaccurate. Council also allegedly demanded to share control of the committee and Council insisted it should have the right to change the committee findings if it didn't like them.

Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller says it was her idea to call the building trades and ask them to meet with Council at the Bellevue.

The goal of the diversity commission, she said, would be to get unions to make commitments to a diversity plan, provide City Council with accurate union demographic makeup, and commit unions to a five-year goal to increase minority inclusion.

Councilman Wilson Goode maintains there is already a diversity plan ordinance in place with which the unions must comply.

"We will abide by our ordinance," he promised. "No union will sign a PLA until the diversity agreement is signed by Council. The Convention Center Authority will have to live with that. It understands what is called for. There is no confusion.

"Council's only responsibility after passing the ordinance in December was to make itself available for approval of the diversity plans."


Union voters struggle with racial preferences

Latino voters are poised to play a pivotal role in Tuesday's Democratic primaries, giving a likely boost to Hillary Clinton and frustrating the momentum enjoyed in the past week by Barack Obama, who is struggling to make himself known among a voter group that has been overwhelmingly supportive of his New York rival.

Voters and political officials say that Obama's failure to connect effectively with Latinos is driven less by historical tensions between black and Latino communities than by the fact that Latinos know and like Clinton and have had little contact with the Illinois senator. Still, it could cost Obama critical delegates in states with significant Latino communities, including California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, New York, and New Jersey.

"We all like Obama. Under any other circumstances, we would probably be supporting Obama. I would probably be yelling and screaming for Obama if Hillary were not in the race," said Representative Jose Serrano, a New York Democrat who has endorsed Clinton. But Serrano said former president Clinton and the senator "understand who we are" and have been diligent advocates on issues important to Latinos.

Obama, the first African-American with a serious chance of winning the presidency, noted that he won his Illinois Senate seat with solid Hispanic backing, and merely needs to get out his message to Latino voters. "The Latinos who know me have voted for me in overwhelming numbers," Obama told reporters recently. "When they know my track record, I do well."

Obama's mistake, some Latino leaders complained, is that he waited too long to court the critical voter group. But others noted that Obama, once considered a long shot for the nomination, had no choice but to focus his energies on early states such as Iowa, where his win helped catapult him to prominence in the race.

"It's a new group for him. He spent a year in Iowa, and I doubt he met many Latinos in Iowa," said Bob Mulholland, former chairman of the California Democratic Party.

Scrambling to close the gap, the Obama camp has unleashed a series of Spanish-language ads and dispatched Latino surrogates around the region to campaign for him.

Obama last week held an outdoor town meeting in a Latino neighborhood of Los Angeles, embracing California Representative Xavier Becerra and noting the names of every local Hispanic official in the crowd. Obama referred to questioners as "brother," and peppered his answers with appeals to join people of all races toward a common goal.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, also used his longtime relationship with Latino voters to stump for Obama in New Mexico and California over the weekend, underscoring Obama's work on the failed immigration reform bill last year. But Obama still faces a steep uphill battle in wresting Latino votes away from Clinton.

Hispanics are "clearly her strongest group, and clearly his weakest group," said Gary M. Segura, a political science professor at the University of Washington, Seattle, and a specialist on Latino politics.

Political leaders and analysts, while agreeing there has been interracial discord in the past between blacks and Latinos, rejected the notion that Hispanics were reluctant to vote for Obama because of his race.

"We find it extremely frustrating that there's this conversation out there about Latinos not being willing to support an African-American. It's simply not true," said Cecilia Muñoz, senior vice president of the National Council of La Raza, noting that most members of the Congressional Black Caucus have large Latino populations in their districts.

Maria Elena Durazo, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and an Obama supporter, said "it's no different from any other community when they're frustrated, they want a job," and may blame another ethnic group for taking those jobs. But she also noted that African-American leaders marched in pro-immigration parades.

"There is a history of tension between the African-American and Latino communities. It's been there, but it's been largely overcome," said Marshall Ganz, a Harvard lecturer and longtime labor organizer who worked with the United Farm Workers' Cesar Chavez. Obama "isn't known," said Ganz, who is working for Obama. "As he becomes known, he's going to become a very appealing candidate."

Exit polling data, however, suggest contrasting trends between African-American and Latino voters.

Obama has captured a huge majority of the black vote so far, and has inspired a strong turnout among African-American voters, said David Bositis, senior research associate at the Washington-based Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Obama's win in heavily white Iowa, and his dominance in rural white counties in Nevada, helped convince black voters elsewhere that he was electable, prompting a huge turnout for him in South Carolina among black Democrats.

Obama's popularity among black voters gives him an advantage in Super Tuesday contests in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Missouri, and could blunt Clinton's edge in New York and New Jersey, Bositis said.

But Clinton, with a long list of endorsements from Latino elected officials and a longtime relationship with the Hispanic community, is well positioned in delegate-rich California, where Latinos comprise 14 to 17 percent of Democratic primary voters. While no Democratic contest is winner-take-all, a solid showing for Clinton among Latino voters could deliver her victories in states where Obama has been catching up, analysts say.

The Latino preference for Clinton is apparent on the campaign trail. In Nevada, Latina members of the Culinary Workers union shouted "Hillary! Hillary!" at a caucus site, defying their union's endorsement of Obama. Exit polls showed that Clinton bested Obama by a 64 to 26 percent margin among Latinos in Nevada, where caucuses were moved up in part to give more attention to Hispanic voters.

"Bill Clinton did an excellent job of doing outreach" among Latinos, and Hillary Clinton is closely association with the Clinton years, said Representative Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat who is supporting Obama.

With just days to go before 22 states go to the polls in the Democratic primary, Obama has little time to catch up among Latinos. The Illinois senator did pick up the endorsement on Friday of the 650,000-member California Service Employees International Union, which has many Hispanics and which Durazo said has a strong get-out-the-vote organization.

"It's a real challenge for him," Kennedy said in an interview. But "I feel if people think about it and are conscious of [his message], he'll pick up steam," he said.

Rockard J. Delgadillo, the Los Angeles City Attorney, said he believes fellow Hispanics are moving toward Obama. To many Democrats, "When I was making my decision, I listened to [other Democrats] talk about how Bill Clinton was the first African-American president," Delgadillo said.

"I thought to myself, Obama could be the first Latino president."


Sending union-backed incumbents a message

We're on the verge of holding the first of three statewide elections in California this year, and it's beginning to look like the politicians should have left the election schedule alone. Besides adding more than $80 million in election costs for the 58 counties, the additional election will contribute to the voter fatigue that's been nipping at civic participation over the last few decades in California.

Golden State voters may have some say in nominating the Republican and Democratic standard-bearers this year, but it may not be much more than it would have been if the primary had been held in March or June like in past presidential years. Even if voters get excited about California's presidential primary on Tuesday, it's doubtful that the excitement will carry over to the June primary for the rest of the state and local contests or the general election in November.

I'm ready to declare the extra election in California an $80 million mistake. If Tuesday's primary isn't a boondoggle, then the June primary is. There's no way that legislators can argue persuasively that both primary elections are needed.

Of course, this extra election really wasn't about the voters having their say in presidential politics. That was the cover story, but this was always about California's self-important legislators desperately trying to get extra time in office. That's what will happen if Proposition 93, the term limits measure, passes on Tuesday.

Voters must remember that as they stare down Proposition 93 in the voting booth.

What an opportunity for Californians. You want to send a message to politicians? You want to take out your frustrations on a Legislature that's ducked every tough issue to come before it? Then vote a big fat "no" on Proposition 93.

Now if you think they've been doing a good job, then vote "yes." If you take that opinion, I'd also suggest an adult school civics course for a refresher on how our elected officials are supposed to be representing us.

From my perch, here's all you really need to know about Proposition 93: The Sacramento Bee reported that incumbent Democratic legislators have put more than $1.4 million into the campaign to pass Proposition 93. The rest of the campaign has been funded by special interests, such as public employee unions, that have benefitted under the current Legislature.

We're not talking a multi-million-dollar campaign because they are interested in good public policy. The politicians are looking to prolong their careers and the special interests want to make sure that they get more taxpayer-financed goodies from friendly politicians.

All that campaign money is going to television and radio advertisements trying to persuade you that Proposition 93 is a change for the good. It's not, but the politicians and their surrogates think they can trick voters into supporting it with a clever ad campaign. They are having some success.

The Los Angeles Times/CNN/Politico poll released last week shows 50% of voters supporting Proposition 93, with 46% opposed.

So proponents can say this election is about the presidential campaign, but it's really about prolonging the careers of Assembly Speaker Fabián Núñez, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and other termed-out legislators.

But there's another problem for those who argue the extra election helps California's clout in the presidential nominating process. They must admit the compressed primary season has limited candidate appearances in the state, making the "California campaign" a tiny slice of the action. We are just two days from the election, and the candidates -- those who are left -- have barely begun to talk about California issues.

This is the most populous and diverse state in the nation, and yet the California campaign seems to be only campaign dust when compared with the attention given to Iowa, New Hampshire and the other early states. That has not changed by adding another California election.

The nominations in both parties still have not been decided, and those who pushed the additional California election claim that is evidence that they made a wise decision.

But California still could have had its say on the presidency without adding an extra election. Remember that when you vote in three elections this year.

- Jim Boren is The Fresno Bee’s editorial page editor.


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