Unions, Governator rejected on seniority-scam

The second attempt to modify state legislators' term limits fared only slightly better than the first. Proposition 93 went down to defeat Tuesday as voters balked at allowing dozens of lame duck lawmakers to run for new terms. The measure was trailing 53 percent to 47 percent early Wednesday, with two-thirds of precincts reporting.

California's current term limits are among the toughest in the nation. They allow legislators to serve up to 14 years in most cases — six in the Assembly and eight in the state Senate.

The measure would have cut the maximum time from 14 years to 12, but it would have allowed all 12 years to be served in one house or split between the two.

Pre-election polls showed voters supporting those changes, but a transition phase provision in the measure generated opposition. It would have allowed sitting legislators to serve 12 years in their current houses, regardless of how much time they had spent in the other house. That would have allowed nearly a third of current lawmakers to serve more than 14 years.

"Speaker Nunez and Sen. Perata thought they could pull a fast one over on the voters with Proposition 93," said state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, referring to Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, the Legislature's top leaders and key backers of Proposition 93.

Poizner put $2.5 million of the fortune he amassed as a Silicon Valley businessman into the No-on-93 campaign.

Perata would have been able to run for one more four-year term in the Senate under the proposal, despite already serving more than 11 years in the Legislature.

Nunez would have been able to seek three more two-year terms in the Assembly if the ballot measure had passed. Without it, he'll be termed out of the Assembly this fall but will be eligible to run for two four-year terms in the Senate.

Supporters said the proposition would have maintained reasonable term limits while easing the exodus of experienced legislators and the musical-chairs atmosphere that take place every two years at the Capitol as termed-out lawmakers scramble to run for other offices.

The transition phase was needed, the proposition's supporters said, to protect the initiative against lawsuits claiming that the measure violated the constitution's equal protection requirements.

Nunez said in statement that Proposition 93 "is, and always has been about making the state Legislature work better for the people of California." He encouraged the measure's opponents to come up with their own proposals for modifying term limits.

Proposition 93 was the second attempt to modify term limits adopted by California voters in 1990. Proposition 45 of 2002 would have allowed termed-out legislators to run for up to four more years if they obtained voter signatures equal to at least 20 percent of the vote in their last election.

It failed after getting a little more than 42 percent of the vote.


Voters deal unions a Casino War defeat

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he's counting on four wealthy Indian tribes and their expanding gambling operations to help close California's massive budget shortfall. Voters gave their blessing Tuesday to the deals allowing the tribes to add thousands of slot machines. Now the question is: will the money really make much of a difference?

Propositions 94-97 give the tribes rights to 17,000 additional slot machines in exchange for promises to share hundreds of millions of dollars annually with the cash-strapped state. With about 70 percent of the votes counted early Wednesday, the measures were leading by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.

How much California will actually take in is up for debate, especially in the next 18 months as the state struggles to close an estimated $14.5 billion shortfall.

The tribes' nonstop television ads in recent months have promised California will get about $400 million annually from the deals through 2030, totaling nearly $9 billion. Schwarzenegger bet weeks ago that they would pass, and his finance team has budgeted for the tribes' big checks to begin arriving in Sacramento by the end of the summer. That means he's banking that they will begin the work of installing new slot machines almost immediately.

Even if the governor and tribes are right, the deals would cover just 4 percent of the state's shortfall. And at most, the gambling revenue would amount to less than one half of 1 percent of the state's general fund budget in any given year through 2030.

The state's nonpartisan legislative analyst, Elizabeth Hill, has warned even those estimates are too rosy. She says the governor's betting on far too much revenue, far too soon.

Even as the tribes and their supporters celebrated their victory Tuesday night at a downtown Los Angeles ballroom, Roger Salazar, spokesman for the ballot fight, said it was too soon to say how quickly the slots would be installed or exactly how much they'd be able to pay the state in the next year.

"We're probably looking at an additional $200 million over the next year but we'll wait till the dust settles before deciding how many slot machines the tribes will add," he said.

California's casino industry is already second only to Nevada's, and the new gambling compacts represents a 30 percent increase in the number of slots in the state.

"Voters said yes to hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue for the state each year, and once again said yes to standing with California's Indian tribes" said Salazar.

The deals would not have required voter approval, but a coalition of two other gambling-rich tribes, a horse track owner and a casino-workers' union gathered nearly a million signatures to force referendums on the deals onto the ballot. They raised over $30 million to defeat the agreements, but the four tribes that stand to gain raised about $104 million, for a blitz of television ads to urge their approval.

Those opposed argued the deals unfairly consolidate casino wealth in the hands of a few tribes in the state while doing little to help dozens of others that remain in poverty across California. They also worried the deals would cut into race track profits, increase competition and curb workers' rights.

"They outspent us 4-to-1 and that makes it tough to win any political contest," said Scott Macdonald, spokesman for the opposition group, No on Unfair Gambling Deals. "There are real concerns about sharing more revenues with poor tribes, protecting workers and local communities who are losing a voice. We hope the governor is listening if he wants to do more of these."


NYT compares Unions to Mafia

Smithfield Foods, which raises, kills and processes more pigs than any company on earth, does not like some of the things a union has been saying about conditions at its giant slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, N.C., where 4,650 people work and 32,000 hogs die every day.

So Smithfield has filed a racketeering lawsuit against the union, on the theory that speaking out about labor, environmental and safety issues in order to pressure the company to unionize amounts to extortion like that used by organized crime. “It’s economic warfare,” explained G. Robert Blakey, one of Smithfield’s lawyers. “It’s actually the same thing as what John Gotti used to do. What the union is saying in effect to Smithfield is, ‘You’ve got to partner up with us to run your company.’ ”

One hesitates to argue with Mr. Blakey, who helped write the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, the 1970 law Smithfield is suing under, as a staff lawyer in the Senate. But what Mr. Blakey calls extortion sounds quite a bit like free speech.

Gene Bruskin, the director of the union’s organizing drive and a defendant in the suit, said his work “bears no relationship to the Mafia whatsoever.”

“If we kidnapped the C.E.O. and we said, ‘We know where your children go to school,’ that’s a Mafia-like act,” Mr. Bruskin said. “If we told the truth about how the company abuses workers to its customers, that’s traditional free speech.”

Smithfield says the union, the United Food and Commercial Workers International, and its officials violated RICO by issuing press releases, contacting civil rights and environmental groups, organizing protests and calling for boycotts.

But the most striking assertion in the suit, one Smithfield devotes five pages to, is that the union was engaged in racketeering when it urged local governments in New York, Boston and other cities to pass resolutions condemning the company. After meeting with the union in 2006, a dozen members of the New York City Council sponsored a resolution calling for the city to stop buying meat from Smithfield’s Tar Heel factory “until the company ends all forms of abuse, intimidation and violence against its workers,” citing a ruling by a federal appeals court in Washington that Smithfield had engaged in “intense and widespread coercion” in battling unionization at its Tar Heel plant.

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito was a sponsor of the resolution, and she said she had been happy to meet with representatives of labor and business groups to hear their concerns. The practice Smithfield calls racketeering is, Ms. Mark-Viverito said, what others call lobbying. The First Amendment has a name for it, too: the right to petition the government.

Ms. Mark-Viverito said Smithfield’s lawsuit made no sense to her as a matter of logic, to say nothing of principle. But it did resonate as an exercise of corporate power. “It’s a wacky strategy,” she said, “that is aimed at coercing the union into backing off.”

Perhaps the union should file its own RICO suit based on the company’s RICO suit.

Smithfield’s lawsuit contains other nuggets. It complains, for instance, that the union interfered with its relationship with Paula Deen, “a celebrity chef” who has a contract to promote Smithfield products on her show on the Food Network. The union has demonstrated at Ms. Deen’s public appearances.

In a recent court filing, Smithfield added another complaint: the union “deprived Smithfield of an incomparable marketing opportunity” by persuading Oprah Winfrey not to allow Ms. Deen to promote Smithfield hams on Ms. Winfrey’s show.

Smithfield’s 94-page lawsuit sputters with an outrage not always grounded in a sure command of the English language. A union representative, for instance, was said to have made “salacious statements” at a water permit hearing by arguing that granting the permit would damage the environment.

The suit seeks more than $17 million, an order barring the union from publishing “reports or press releases designed to mislead the public,” another barring demonstrations “at Paula Deen events,” and a third barring the union “from participating in the drafting, encouraging, sponsorship and/or passage of public condemnations of plaintiffs by cities, townships or other organizations.”

The courts seem receptive to this new kind of racketeering suit. Last week, Judge Robert E. Payne of Federal District Court in Richmond, Va., rejected a motion to dismiss the case, which is now scheduled for trial in October.

Mr. Blakey said he knew of six racketeering suits against unions for so-called corporate campaigns meant to pressure companies into unionizing by drawing attention to their asserted shortcomings. Five of the suits survived motions to dismiss, he said, at which point the unions generally entered into settlements.

“When they settle,” Mr. Blakey said, “it normally breaks the campaign.”

A century ago, Upton Sinclair educated the nation about the filth, degradation and misery that pervaded Chicago’s stockyards by writing down what happened in them in “The Jungle.”

Sinclair figures in the Smithfield suit, too.

“On or about April 20, 2007,” the suit says, a union organizer named Jason Lefkowitz had the temerity to quote Sinclair in a critique of Ms. Deen in an online newsletter. That’s right: Smithfield maintains that it is a form of racketeering to quote an American master.

Mr. Blakey said it was perfectly appropriate to cite activities protected by the First Amendment as evidence of racketeering, and he seemed to have little sympathy for the argument that some things should be hashed out through debate rather than litigation.

On the other hand, listen to Upton Sinclair, as quoted in the RICO suit. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” Sinclair wrote, “when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”


Voters remove union-backed Council members

Nine months of bitter campaigning came to a climax today as Pinole (CA) voters appeared to be leaning toward recalling City Councilwoman Maria Alegria and Councilman Stephen Tilton.

With 25 percent of precincts reporting, a large majority of voters answered "yes" to the recall question for both targets. "I'm thrilled that the people have the moxie and the intelligence to stand up against usurpers of power," said Anne Prescott, a Pinole resident and voter who was among about 60 recall supporters who gathered this evening at the San Pablo Avenue home of Viktor Manrique and Richard White to monitor results. Resident Bob Marieiro described the mood there as being "on the verge of euphoric."

Alegria did not immediately return a call for comment; Tilton is out of town.

In the race to replace Alegria in the event she is recalled, Roy Swearingen holds a large lead over Steve Denlis; Virginia Fujita is the lone candidate to replace Tilton if he is recalled.

The night's third race in Pinole, for the seat vacated by the resignation of David Cole, appeared to be going to Debbie Long, who holds a large lead over Ivette Ricco.

Turnout in Pinole was high, according to Contra Costa elections official Steve Weir, who said that as of Tuesday morning, the county had credited 2,944 of 4,575 vote-by-mail ballots in the city, a return rate of 64.4 percent -- the highest return rate of any city in Contra Costa.

"We hope this can be a blueprint for all people to realize that government of the people, by the people and for the people is alive and well in Pinole," said Joel Gannotti, a Pinole resident who joined the pro-recall celebration.

A newly formed group, Concerned Citizens of Pinole, began the recall drive shortly after the council majority of Alegria, Tilton and Cole prevailed in a 3-2 vote in May to dismiss former City Manager Belinda Espinosa. That vote came after months of public debate over the delinquent city loans of a restaurateur who is a friend of the trio and from whom the sponsors said Espinosa was trying to collect. Over the ensuing months, during which Cole resigned to join the U.S. Army, the recall drive evolved into a referendum on the overall performance of the remaining duo, including their responsiveness to the needs of ordinary residents and their relationship with developers and unions having business with the city.

The involvement of the Democratic Party of Contra Costa, several state legislators and the Contra Costa Central Labor Council on the side of Alegria and Tilton played to the recall sponsors' portrayal of their drive as a rising-up of ordinary residents against special interests and a political machine.

Firefighters Local 1230, which will negotiate a new contract with the city in the coming months, invested heavily in Alegria's campaign in the form of money, polling and lobbying voters.

Alegria and Tilton sought to cast the recall drive as a costly and divisive tantrum by a present and a former council member, Mary Horton and Betty Boyle, who they said were angry over the results of the November 2006 council election, in which incumbent Cole finished first, newcomer Tilton second and incumbent Horton third just ahead of incumbent Boyle, in a race for three seats.

The duo and Alegria's campaign consultant stayed on that message throughout the campaign, characterizing their opponents as bitter, vicious liars and likening their drive to a McCarthyite witch hunt. Alegria and Tilton cast themselves as conscientious public servants who made a difficult decision to let go Espinosa and refused to be intimidated by what they described as political thugs and bullies.

The labor council produced several fliers trashing Espinosa.

The last days of the campaign were marred by allegations of cheating and tampering as each side accused the other of trashing its signs. One man was arrested two weeks ago after he admitted removing pro-recall signs from a shopping center and tossing them into a garbage bin

On Monday, Alegria said her daughter filed a complaint with police against a so-far-unidentified person who she said cut up an anti-recall sign and threw it in a garbage bin behind a restaurant Saturday.

On Tuesday morning, members of Concerned Citizens of Pinole stood near the westbound Interstate 80 on-ramp at Pinole Valley Road, and near the eastbound off-ramp in the evening, brandishing placards promoting the recall and the candidacy of Long, who had publicly declared her support for the recall. Long was with the group in the afternoon.

"I think it's going to go 2-1 (in favor of recall)," Concerned Citizens member Dave Vida predicted. He said he made a $5 bet with another member of the group who bet the recall would win by 3-1. "I have to pay her."

As the results started coming in late this evening, Vida suggested the firefighters union needed new leadership.

"They've lost a lot of their political capital by opposing the vote of the people," he said.

A large white pickup truck with two "No Recall" signs stood at the corner of Pinole Valley Road at the entrance to the parking area of Collins Elementary School, one of several polling places in the city. That prompted cries of foul from recall supporters, who said the sign-bearing truck, apparently the same one that stood outside the downtown Pinole fire station on previous days, violated the spirit if not the letter of the law that bars electioneering within 100 feet of a polling place.

Election inspector Ed Allen said the truck was there legally because the 100-foot exclusion radius begins at the door to the building, not the school premises. Polling took place in a multipurpose room about 200 feet from the street entrance to the school grounds.

Alegria, who happened by with a supporter, Jerrold Parsons, said, "I'm very conscientious about where my signs are."

Earlier in the day, she told the Times she was "humbled" by the outpouring of support for her that she saw from residents.

"We've run a very good campaign," she said before the polls closed Tuesday. "I'm very hopeful, but you don't know the results until you see the numbers coming in."

On Tuesday, in a late-in-the-campaign filing, Alegria reported receiving another $3,284 from the Central Labor Council's PAC and $600 from the firefighters union. Last week the two groups gave her $10,322 and $4,806, respectively; the late-in-the-campaign filings do not specify whether the donations are cash or in-kind (nonmonetary).

Both groups are conducting separate but parallel campaigns as well.

As of late last month, Alegria reported she had paid her campaign consultant, Media and Associates, more than $54,000 for the campaign.


Gov't unions deny pushing up health-care costs

Leaders of two city unions yesterday blasted a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which said the rising cost of benefits for Philadelphia workers could financially cripple the city.

"It's a beat-up-on-the-employees report," said Cathy Scott, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 47, which represents the city's white-collar workers. Scott was joined by Brian McBride, president of Local 22, the firefighters union. AFSCME 47 and Local 22 are two of the four city unions whose contracts expire in June. Talks have not yet started with the Nutter administration.

Both unions yesterday spoke out against the report released last month by Pew and the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, authored by Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene.

The study concluded that union benefit costs are higher in Philadelphia than in most other cities and are rising at an alarming rate. The authors said that the city should consider taking more control over the four union health funds, and could reduce pension costs by raising the retirement age or shifting to 401(k) plans.

"This was put out for a reason - to mislead the public and opinion-makers," said Deborah Willig, of the Center City law firm Willig, Williams & Davidson, which has represented AFSCME 47 for 30 years and Local 22 for 21 years.

The union leaders said that the study did not provide complete information on the management of the health-care funds or the cost-saving measures the unions are taking.

Report author Katherine Barrett and researcher David Thornburgh, of Econsult, said that they had requested interviews with the union presidents for the study and were turned down.

And Pew's managing director of information and civic initiatives, Don Kimelman, said that the focus of the report - the rising costs - is not in question.

"You can argue small points here," Kimelman said. "The big point is the big and rising costs and how do we handle them."

The unions took issue with the suggestion that the health-care funds might be better managed if all four individual funds were combined and the city had more control.

Wendy Pongracz, a partner in Willig's firm who serves as counsel to the union's health and welfare funds, said that the funds are carefully controlled by boards with city and union representation. She also said that administrative costs make up less than 5 percent of the health-fund budgets.

"It makes it sound like the city pours gallons of money into the unions who then waste it," she said.

Willig noted that there was no proof that the city would do a better job managing the funds.

"They have been saying we could save money since Rendell came into office," she said. "When it's time for them to put the evidence on the table, they can't prove it." *


Mysterious motive for UAW strike

Volvo is refuting claims that the strike at the Dublin plant is over health and safety concerns Union members walked off the job last Friday saying that Volvo was trying to dismantle basic health and safety protections. Specifically eliminating safety and evacuation training and noise abatement programs.

Volvo spokesman Jim McNamara said today in a statement that the company was surprised the union used safety as a reason it's striking: "If it were up to the company we would still be negotiating and our people would still be at work. We are surprised the union has used plant health and safety issues as a reason for striking. The only health and safety proposals we had on the table were to reduce redundant language in the contract.

We're eager to work with the union to address all their health and safety concerns and we don't understand why people can't keep working while we do this. We think any safety concerns can be easily addressed together.

Beyond this our main focus is on achieving a contract that is fair for both parties and addresses improving workforce stability and reducing manpower movement, controlling the skyrocketing cost of health care and addresses a serious absentee problem that the UAW acknowledges."

-Jim McNamara, Volvo Trucks North America Spokesman


UAW ducks accountability for strike

Five days after contract negotiations ceased, striking workers continued to walk the picket line Tuesday at Volvo Trucks North America plant in Dublin, Va. Thousands of workers from southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia walked off the job at midnight last Friday when the current contract expired, Volvo spokesman Jim McNamara said. Currently, negotiations between the company and United Auto Workers Local 2069 have ceased, McNamara confirmed.

“Unfair labor practices is the reason we’re on strike,” UAW Local 2069 President Lester Hancock said Monday, while walking the picket line at the plant. Hancock declined to cite specific reasons why contract negotiations ceased and workers went on strike.

Late last year, Volvo announced a impending layoff of up to 650 workers this year. However, Hancock said this was not the reason for the strike.

Hancock said the union realizes the “whole trucking industry” is in a downturn, which could spur the layoff. “It’s everywhere,” he said. “It’s not just Volvo.”

McNamara also declined to cite specific reasons for the strike.

“If it were up to the company, Volvo, we would still be negotiating and our people would still be at work,” he said. “And we’re surprised that the UAW has used plant health and safety as a reason for striking.”

McNamara said negotiations on the current contract began on Jan. 8, “and continued until the union left the bargaining table” at the time of the strike.

“Volvo is committed to the collective bargaining process and we are willing to continue to bargain in good faith until an agreement can be achieved,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., pledged to stand by the striking workers Monday while speaking to a crowd of more than 1,500 at the United Auto Workers Annual Legislative Political Conference in Washington D.C.

“We have a situation down in Dublin that is on my mind today, and it is on a lot of your minds, I’m sure,” Webb said. “I am very concerned about the UAW Local 2069 strike that began last week, and I’m going to be watching it closely. We want a good resolution. We want the kind of business in Virginia that the plant affords, but we also want our workers to be taken care of. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that happens.”

The Dublin Volvo plant employs just under 2,900 individuals, McNamara said. About 2,600 of these employees are members of the local UAW.

Many employees of the plant reside in Mercer, McDowell and Monroe counties in West Virginia, and in Tazewell, Bland and Giles counties in Virginia.

The New River Valley plant manufactures all heavy duty trucks for Volvo and Mack Trucks sold in the United States and Canada, McNamara said.

“In terms of size, it is the largest truck plant globally for the Volvo group,” he said.

Although the volume of trucks produced at the plant fluctuates from year to year due to market demands, McNamara said at the time of the strike the plant was producing about 100 trucks a day, most of which were Volvo.


Strike threat v. hospital pays off for SEIU

In the midst of tough times, the former Aliquippa (PA) Community Hospital got two pieces of much-needed good news last week.

First, the management of Commonwealth Medical Center, as the facility has been renamed, and Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania, which represents a majority of the hospital’s employees, agreed to open talks in coming weeks. The agreement between the two sides came just one day before the union’s workers were set to go on strike.

Second, and of even more importance, the state Department of Health informed the hospital that it had been granted a full license for the next two years. The hospital had been operating with the lowest-allowable provisional license since the middle of last year. That license was to expire on Saturday. If the hospital was unable to upgrade to a full license by then, it would have had to close.

These were two close calls. Still, the good news that each brought is to be welcomed.

Let’s hope they are a portent of better things to come for the hospital and its workers.


Collective bargaining triumphs in federal court

Twenty-nine Benton, Arkansas retirees who lost health insurance benefits in 2003 and 2004 are a step closer to regaining benefits and back premiums. U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court verdict awarding the premiums. Representing the nonuniformed retirees in court was their union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 2957.

Twenty-nine vested Benton retirees are entitled to payment of health insurance benefits dating back to 2003, justices ruled. The Eighth Circuit upheld the ruling of Saline County District Court, Benton Division. Jurists deterstarted mined the resolutions "were unconstitutional impairments" of the collective bargaining agreement. A similar lawsuit involving retired Benton police officers and firemen remains pending.

City Attorney Brent Houston said Benton's options will be reviewed in a meeting tentatively set for Thursday in the Benton Municipal Building.

The city is evaluating the Eighth Circuit's ruling with attorney David Fuqua of Central Arkansas Risk Management Association. CARMA, a group representing local governments, will bear all legal expenses for the litigation.

Houston foresees no further appeal. "I don't anticipate there being any fur- ther appeals or a motion for rehearing, which could be the next step," Houston said.

Benton could ask the Eighth Circuit to rehear the case, but the city would have to cite divergent rulings issued by other U.S. appeals courts, and those verdicts don't exist, Houston said.

The only other appeal could be to the U.S. Supreme Court, and that won't be done, he said.

As well as the city, defendants in the case include Mayor Rick Holland and 2003 aldermen Doug Stracener, Phillip Montalvo, Karla J. Haley,Willie Floyd, Freeman, Leroy Allen, Ann Hall, Robin Berry, Claudine Ramsey and Charles Cunningham. (The ruling misspelled the last names of Stracener and Cunningham).

Two resolutions, and subsequent cuts and end of retiree benefits, led to the lawsuit.

Here's a timeline:

• Oct. 13, 2003 - Council passes a resolution limiting fullhealth premiums to employees having 29 or more years service, effective Jan. 1, 2004. The city also ceases paying premiums for employees with less than 10 years' service, and would pay only 3 percent of premiums for each employee with 10 through 28 years' service.

Reduced payments were short-lived.

• March 22, 2004 - The council passes a resolution terminating all insurance payments for retirees. It states a belief that state law requires plaintiffs to pay all health-insurance benefits. The vote comes after state Attorney General's Office issues opinion advising that state law forbids paying insurance for retirees.

• May 17, 2004 - Plaintiffs filed suit in district court seeking to bar Benton from enforcing the March 22 resolution.

• Feb. 17, 2006- The district court certifies the case for appeal.

• Jan. 9, 2007 - District court holds a one-day bench trial to review the plaintiff's remedy. After the trial, each side moved to amend its pleadings to conform to evidence.

Plaintiffs sought to include the council's October 2003 resolution as an additional breach of the collective bargaining agreement.

Defendants opposed the addition, "and moved to include the defense of illegality to its answer," justices wrote.

• Jan. 31, 2007 - District court accepts plaintiff's motion, and denies defendants' motion.

Union-negotiated collective bargaining for non-uniformed employees began in 1976. The agreement at issue became effective June 14, 2002 and expired Dec. 31, 2004. The agreement stated that "[r]etirement coverage is 100 percent paid by the City of Benton."

Benton started paying health insurance premiums for nonuniformed retirees' in 1989.

The Eighth Circuit justices issuing the ruling were W. Duane Benton, David S. Doty and Roger L. Wollman.

The status of a 4 percent pay hike planned for Benton employees this year is unknown. Aldermen planned to review the city's financial outlook this month to see if the increase could be awarded retroactively to Jan. 1.


SEIU rules: Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?

Since Clark County (NV) Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani took office last year, she and Commissioner Tom Collins have been fierce advocates of organized labor, especially the county employees union. At Tuesday’s meeting, for example, they pushed successfully to give former county workers who missed out on retroactive pay increases a second shot at them. That came over the objections of county management.

Whether it’s an aside on carpet cleaning at the airport or a sharp rebuke of management’s interpretation of the county’s collective bargaining agreement, the two are particularly sensitive to labor issues big and small. The brazenness of their advocacy has rubbed some county officials the wrong way. Organized labor — specifically the Service Employees International Union, which represents rank-and-file county workers — played a major role in getting Collins and Giunchigliani elected, and some question their seemingly unswerving loyalty on labor issues. One county official even privately called the pair “Pavlovian.”

Collins and Giunchigliani, on the other hand, are anything but shy in laying out their case: The county can pay to take care of workers now with living wages and benefits, they say, or pay later through social services and subsidies at the public hospital.

“We need to look at the big picture,” Collins said Tuesday.

That refrain — a common one for Collins — came as Giunchigliani suggested that commissioners hold off on approving the lowest bidder for a cleaning contract at the county’s new McCarran International Airport rent-a-car center.

A competitor for the contract suggested that commissioners take into account factors other than dollars and cents. Collins and Giunchigliani rushed to defend that idea.

“I think we could better define what we want for responsible and responsive bidding,” Giunchigliani said. “I would like to look at our policy for recommending businesses.”

But redefining how the county approaches such issues comes with a price tag — at least upfront. The cleaning contract, for example, drew eight bids, ranging from $398,100 to $849,120. If commissioners weigh factors such as the wages those businesses pay their employees, it could mean using a more expensive contractor.

The retroactive pay issue is another one likely to cost the county thousands of dollars. The county and SEIU struck a deal on a new contract in March that gave employees a retroactive 3 percent raise because the old contract had expired eight months earlier. It also said that employees who resigned or quit during those eight months had 30 days to request the retroactive increase for the time they worked.

But after hearing from former workers who missed the deadline, Collins and Giunchigliani argued that the county should have done a better job notifying the 150 eligible former employees who did not ask for the retroactive pay. County management pointed out that the contract didn’t require the county to put out notification.

Still, Collins and Giunchigliani said, the county should have taken on the responsibility.

“What I do want to do is be fair to our employees,” Collins said.

He and Giunchigliani persuaded their colleagues to have the county renotify former workers and give them another 30 days to apply for the retroactive pay. If all 150 workers respond, it will cost the county about $130,000.

This week’s meeting provided only the latest examples of labor issues that probably wouldn’t have been raised at all before 2007.

In December, a group that commissioners appointed to make recommendations on how to boost small, minority- and women-owned businesses suggested changing the county’s labor requirements for large projects at McCarran. The requirements force nonunion shops to contribute to union trust funds and limit companies to using seven nonunion employees, and even then only if they hire an equal number of union workers.

Collins’ response was typical in its bluntness: “I would recommend we say, ‘Thank you very much for your report,’ but not accept these recommendations.”

The pair hasn’t always been successful, though.

They tried unsuccessfully to prevent University Medical Center management from outsourcing janitorial services at a county building operated by the hospital. Management wanted to go with a company that would perform the work for $16,000 a year, while it would cost the county $73,000 to do the work itself. Collins and Giunchigliani were outvoted by their colleagues.

The hospital is struggling to stabilize its finances. That effort will require the county to bring UMC’s staffing in line with patient volumes. Hospital administrators think they can do it through attrition rather than layoffs.

UMC’s interim CEO, Kathy Silver, said Tuesday, “It’s pretty clear to anyone watching that you have some commissioners who are more concerned about labor issues than others.”

That doesn’t necessarily concern her, she said, but it does mean she has to be sure to do her homework before bringing a proposed contract before commissioners.


Unions too racially-imbalanced to admit it

When Philadelphia City Council reached a compromise Monday with construction unions on minority hiring for the $700 million Convention Center expansion project, four of the 15 unions were not part of the deal. Yesterday, this question remained unanswered: Would those four be forced to comply with the agreement or would they be allowed to slide?

"It would be a disservice to the unions that complied not to ask the other unions to comply," said Patrick Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council. The four unions, however, represent more than 24,000 active and retired carpenters, electricians, operating engineers and roofers and are among the most politically influential associations in the region.

The Convention Center Authority has said any union not complying with Council's demands would not be allowed to sign the project labor agreement, which sets out work rules between the center and unions and contractors.

But as of yesterday, neither the Governor's Office nor the authority would say what that meant. "I have no idea what the consequences might be," said Gov. Rendell's spokesman, Chuck Ardo. That will be part of a review of Council's action, he said.

Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, who led negotiations with the unions, could not be reached for comment.

Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr. said yesterday that the authority's position "should be that they can't work on the project."

Mayor Nutter's spokesman, Doug Oliver, said it would be up to the state and Convention Center Authority to decide.

"For our part, we'll continue to ask that all unions comply," Oliver said. "Whether they do or not and what subsequently happens will, again, be determined by the Convention Center and the state."

Part of the agreement reached Monday calls for a mayoral Advisory Commission on Construction Industry Diversity to oversee the development of long-term plans for minority inclusion in the trades.

Anthony Wigglesworth, who mediated discussions among the unions, Council and the authority, said two of the four unions - the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers Local 30 and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 542 - were expected to comply.

But the carpenters and electricians are another story.

Headed by Edward J. Coryell Sr., the Metropolitan Regional Council of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America has always stood apart from the other building-trade unions.

"They dance to their own drumbeat," said Patrick J. Eiding, who heads the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, an umbrella group. "They are not part of my council and they could be, if they want to be."

Last year, the carpenters union had 12,762 members, including 9,289 who are active, making it one of the largest unions in Philadelphia. Counted among its members is U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who chairs the city Democratic Party. According to the latest campaign finance reports filed Jan. 31, its political action committee had $1.4 million on hand. In 2006 and 2007, it donated at least $47,000 to Council members and candidates. Coryell has not returned repeated phone calls on the issue.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 also has been generous to politicians. As of Jan. 31, Local 98's political action committee had $2 million in the bank. The local last year also donated thousands of dollars to at least nine Council members and candidates.

Local 98's business manager, John J. Dougherty, shrugged Monday when told he might be excluded from the project labor agreement. Dougherty flatly said he would not cooperate with Council but would work with the mayor's commission on diversity. "I don't get paid by City Council," Dougherty said, "I get paid by Local 98."


Union-sympathy: Si Newhouse's draconian act

This year will be a break in tradition for the Vanity Fair-organized Oscar party, as the magazine announced Tuesday that its support for the ongoing writers strike clashes with the idea of a glamorous party.

A new casualty has been registered in the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike. Vanity Fair released a statement Tuesday announcing that its annual Oscar party would not take place this year due to current circumstances.

“After much consideration, and in support of the writers and everyone else affected by this strike, we have decided that this is not the appropriate year to hold our annual Oscar party,” the magazine said in a statement. “We want to congratulate all of this year's nominees and we look forward to hosting our 15th Oscar party next year.”

The editor of Vanity Fair, Graydon Carter, said that the cancellation was the proper thing to do, regardless of recent promising signs in talks between the striking writers and production companies.

“A magazine like Vanity Fair is a group of writers and artists, and we are in solidarity with the writers and artists out there,” Mr. Carter was quoted by the New York Times as saying.

“Whether the strike is over or not, there are a lot of bruised feelings. I don’t think it’s appropriate for a big magazine from the East to come in and pretend nothing happened.”

He added, “There will be something sort of liberating about ordering Chinese food and watching the Oscars in bed.”

The Oscar ceremony is scheduled to take place Feb. 24 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. The awards show will be televised by ABC.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been adamant that the show will take place, reaffirming its intentions Monday, during the traditional Academy Awards luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

Sid Ganis, president of the academy, told those present that honoring and celebrating the art of movie-making is essential. “We're going to hand out Oscars not because of some quaint showbiz notion that the show must go on,” USA Today quoted him as saying. “The Oscar exists because the academy founders believed movies were not just a business and people need to be reminded of this.”

The Grammy Awards received a waiver last week from the WGA, along with a promise not to picket, but such a waiver has not been bestowed upon the Oscars yet. Despite organizers’ determination to hold the ceremony, many actors have said they will not cross picket lines.


IBEW hosts polling-place fistfight

Super Tuesday was billed as a fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but one Chicago polling place saw that fight come to actual blows. Chicago Police were called to a West Side polling place Tuesday morning when two female election judges reportedly got into a fight, leaving one injured and one in police custody.

The incident occurred about 10:50 a.m. at 600 W. Washington, according to News Affairs Officer Laura Kubiak. An altercation turned physical between two female judges when one judge, in her 50s, was struck in the face by Evon McAllister, 37, of 2800 block of West Jackson Boulevard, police News Affairs Officer Tom Polick said, unable to comment on what started the fight. McAllister was charged with one count of misdemeanor battery.

Fire Media Affairs spokesman Richard Rosado said one person was taken from the Washington Street address in good condition to Rush University Medical Center. An Internet search showed 600 W. Washington is the IBEW Local 134 Hall.


Privatization causes roach infestation in schools

Grand Rapids (MI) school superintendent Bernard Taylor has a message for his employees: Clean up after yourselves. As the district battles roaches at Lincoln Campus and pests in other buildings, union leaders told the Board of Education on Monday the problems stem from too few custodians and privatized cafeteria aides they say are not tidying up as they should.

But Taylor, who has been sparring with labor leaders for months, dismissed the talk as union bluster. "As always, let me set the record straight," he said. "Not all of us do small things, like keeping food in plastic containers. Custodians aren't the only people responsible for cleaning a school. We all must do what we can to keep our learning environment clean and healthy."

The district has hired outside exterminators and changed policies to help eliminate roaches from Lincoln School, part of a three-building campus that serves special-needs students.

The school has kitchens in each room as students learn to feed themselves and prepare their own meals, and roaches have been a problem for about a year.

The district has paid a local company about $2,000 to inspect, set traps and spray pesticide. Staff also has removed half of the building's refrigerators, taken out some appliances and directed teachers to make sure food not in cans is stored in plastic.

Taylor added that any student could bring pest problems from home.

"Janitors are not our maids, and they are not intended to be our maids," board Treasurer Catherine Mueller said. "It's not beneath my dignity to bend down and pick up a piece of trash on the floor, and that should go for everybody in the schools."

But union leaders said the problems intensified after custodial jobs were eliminated and an outside firm was contracted to clean cafeterias.

Steve Spica, president of the Grand Rapids Educational Support Personnel, said there are 31 daytime custodial jobs -- about one for every two buildings -- and 76 assigned to nighttime maintenance. That's down from about 350 custodians several years ago.

Union leaders said pest and cleanliness problems go far beyond Lincoln Campus. Mice are an issue in several buildings -- including the central office -- and there are complaints about air quality in Riverside Middle School.

The district once had three workers assigned to pest prevention. Now, there is one person, who has other duties as well.

"We can't keep privatizing jobs and expecting people to do more and more and not have a problem like this," Spica said.


Feds nab gov't union embezzler-family

An Ocean County (NJ) man admitted to a federal judge in Newark yesterday that he helped set up a job for his wife at a union local that paid her close to $100,000 over two years for little or no work. August "Augie" Vergallito, 72, of Brick, faces up to 16 months in prison when he is sentenced in May on a count of embezzling funds from the International Union of Production, Clerical and Public Employees Local 911. Vergallito's wife, Rhoda, 73, also pleaded guilty yesterday to embezzlement in connection with the fleecing of the local, while his daughter, Kim, 43, acknowledged lying to a federal grand jury that was investigating the matter. They, too, face sentencing in May.

Vergallito was accused last year of orchestrating a scheme that looted the local by using a fictitious president, padding the payroll with family members, conducting sham elections and failing to hold membership meetings.

Also charged with Vergallito and his family members were Charles Purcel, the local's bookkeeper and financial manager, and Isaac Barocas, an alleged associate of Vergallito's who prosecutors said served as president of the local.

Purcel has a trial date in the case later this month, while Barocas has entered a guilty plea, said Assistant U.S. Attorney V. Grady O'Malley. Members of Local 911, located in Brick, include bus drivers and employees of municipal water commissions.

Yesterday's hearing was held up for more than a half-hour when U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton expressed concern over Vergallito's confusing answers to some of the questions that formed the factual basis of his plea.

When Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Colone asked him whether he had exercised control over Local 911 from 1999 through 2006, Vergallito replied: "I don't want to lie, I honestly can't recall that."

She later asked whether he had power over the local's hiring.

"Yeah, I'll say yes to anything," Vergallito responded.

He also put the blame exclusively on Purcel for raising his wife's salary for her no-show job as the local's office manager from $35,000 in 2005 to $58,000 the next year.

After a private session the judge held in chambers with the lawyers, the proceedings resumed and Vergallito answered with nothing more than a crisp "yes" to all of the questions posed to him by his lawyer, Paul Brickfield.

The judge accepted his plea after he said he purposely got his wife a full-time salary for a job that wasn't full-time, knowing it was wrong.

Vergallito and his wife may also be expected to make some restitution for the funds embezzled in the scheme. The amount will be offset by any money they eventually pay back as part of civil litigation involving the now-defunct Local 734 of the Laborers International Union of North America, O'Malley said.

The union's international brought suit against Vergallito and others claiming the local had been run in a corrupt manner. The case is pending in federal court in Newark.

Several years ago, a federal judge removed the administrators of Local 734's welfare and pension funds after an independent hearing officer found that friends, relatives and partners of Vergallito had been hired for non-essential or part-time jobs at grossly inflated salaries. The officer also raised questions about the local's ties to organized crime.

In 1996, Vergallito was barred from participating in any union matters for 13 years as part of a guilty plea he entered for activities in connection with his position as plan administrator of Local 734.


City should accept union demand, raise taxes

Is the threat of a strike not enough? For most students, it's difficult to perceive what a faculty strike would mean. For administrators, the idea of it must be frightening: will they have to teach in faculty members' stead? For faculty, it's a nightmare. Will they be able to pay their bills? In some cases, faculty are still paying off student loans. For other teachers, they're just trying to pay rent.

But these intangible impacts of a strike don't seem to be enough for the Portland State administration. They've let the bargaining sessions with the PSU faculty union enter mediation, one of the first steps in the process that leads to a faculty strike. Now, the administration is bickering with faculty over barely more than a 2 percent raise. The administration has offered a close to 10 percent increase-a little less than 5 percent for both this year and next year-while the PSU faculty have dropped their original request of over 20 percent to just around 12 percent.

As the groups have reached this stalemate during mediation, PSU's administration now dangles in front of the faculty a mere snack in the place of what should be a meal. These professors and instructors have been paid salaries that are below their peers statewide for years, and now must be given recompense.

The administration must make the move and accept the faculty union's proposal. Not only does the administration have the means and the money, they have the threat of a strike staring them in the face.

Roy Koch, Portland State's provost, told the Vanguard last week that the 10 percent increase would cost more than the $2.2 million the state legislature set aside for salary increases at Portland State. Tuition dollars and other state funds will cover whatever costs bleed over the $2.2 million. Koch wouldn't say how much more than the $2.2 million PSU plans to spend, just that the university has already offered to spend more.

Portland State students may not be able to readily answer what a strike would mean. For some, it could mean they wouldn't be able to finish a degree when they had planned. For others, it might make them lose financial aid they were depending on to live.

But every student in this university should agree on one thing: We are more than glad to know that our already inflated cost of tuition might go to pay for increases to the consistently meager, dismal faculty salaries.

The university administration now must bend far more than they have to save everyone the fear and intangibles of a strike. Accept the faculty union's proposal and end these embittered arguments.


Tough question for AFSCME-backed Dem

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