Obama's patriotism questioned

An interview in The Nation's blog with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH):

"I've talked to Barack a lot about his Patriot Corporation Act, which is not trade per se, but it's certainly part of the economic package around globalization. The Patriot Corporation Act has not gotten the attention that I would hope it would. But, basically it says that if you play by the rules, if you pay decent wages, health benefits, pension; do your production here; don't resist unionization on neutral card check, then you will be designated a "Patriot Corporation" and you will get tax advantages and some [preference] on government contracts."

There is so much here that's profoundly objectionable. On card check, it's "patriotic" to support the elimination of the secret ballot in the workplace? It's "patriotic" to pay an employee $14 an hour, but not $13.83? Play by the rules? What does that mean?

The most striking offense here is the idea that the federal government would be defining patriotism, company by company. And if the federal government defines a company as a patriot, than it will be defining -- if only by omission -- the companies that are not patriots.

A terrible, terrible idea.

UPDATE (1:50 p.m.): Welcome, Instapundit and Jonah Goldberg readers, and thanks to them both. The bill Sen. Brown is talking about is S. 1945, introduced last August by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), with Brown and Obama as cosponsors. Sen. Durbin's office issued a news release at the time.


News Union takes Big Print dues hit

Newsroom union leaders at Newsday of Melville, N.Y., and The Sun of Baltimore, the only two Tribune Company dailies with editorial bargaining units, were not surprised with today's announcement of further Tribune job cuts - and said they actually welcomed the option of buyouts over layoffs.

But Sun reporter Bill Salganik, president of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, and Zachary Dowdy, president of Newsday's Graphic Communications Conference Local 406, said more cuts in the face of recent past buyouts at both papers, and other Tribune properties such as the Los Angeles Times, are unsettling.

"Continuing to cut journalists and cut customer service people is not a good thing," said Salganik, a 30-year Sun veteran who spoke just hours after the paper announced a buyout offer seeking to eliminate 45 jobs newspaperwide. "Those of us who work here don't feel like there are too many of us."

Salganik noted that the job cut announcement comes less than a year after cutbacks in June that included 40 buyouts and three layoffs. "People are getting hardened to it," he added.

He admitted, however, that buyouts are preferable to the alternative: "There are always some who are glad to leave with a check. We certainly like voluntary buyouts to layoffs."

Dowdy, a nine-year Newsday employee, agreed. "Buyouts are clearly better than layoffs," he said. "They are voluntary, and folks can be moving on to better things."

His newsroom, which underwent three waves of buyouts over an 18-month period about five years ago, had yet to find out specifics of any job-cut plan Wednesday afternoon. He said staffers are anticipating some kind of buyout package as well.

"We don’t know yet where it's going to affect us. It is not that much of a surprise," Dowdy said. "But it is still unsettling. It is always disturbing when people have to be let go."

Despite the job cuts announced today, which are expected to reduce Tribune's companywide workforce by up to 500 people, Salganik is not ready to denounce the recent takeover by new Tribune chairman Sam Zell.

"A change is welcome and he has only been in charge for six weeks," he said. "This still looks like the old Tribune, but we will see what happens."


Conflict-of-interest: SEIU in the middle

Union families and public officials statewide are keeping a close watch on the Mounds View (MN) School District after its legal counsel engaged a newly seated school board member in a conflict-of-interest dispute regarding her husband's employment as a custodian in the school system. The dispute could cost Susan Murphy her seat on the school board, even though she won election last November with the second-most votes out of five candidates.

Throughout her campaign Murphy made no attempt to hide the fact that her husband, Martin, is a member of the Service Employees International Union Local 284 bargaining unit that negotiates with Mounds View Schools. She even knocked doors with Martin and other members of Local 284.

Murphy pledged to abstain from voting on her husband's contract, and, according to the election results, that was good enough for the citizens of the Mounds View School District.

But it wasn't good enough for John Roszak, the district's attorney.

According to school board records, Roszak not only advised the school board of Murphy's "potential" conflict of interest under state law, but also he warned board members that if they "knowingly participated in board processes or actions … tainted by a direct or indirect conflict of interest," they too would be subject to criminal and civil penalties.

Murphy's attorney, Jay Lindgren, called that interpretation of state statute unprecedented and overly narrow.

"The school district's attorney has reached the conclusion that the fact that Susan's husband is employed by the school district is a conflict of interest, and (Roszak) thinks the only way for her to resolve it is to resign or be removed from office," Lindgren said. "We think that's crazy."

The school board has not taken a position regarding the alleged conflict of interest, but Roszak is pushing for an official inquiry into the matter by a retired Hennepin County judge.

Murphy has refused to participate in such an inquiry, which, according to Lindgren, "would examine Ms. Murphy's income and household expenses and how she and her husband share money in their household."

Instead, Murphy will continue to act as a member of the Mounds View School Board, abstaining from voting only on matters relating to her husband's collective bargaining agreement, while the attorneys, Lindgren said, seek to negotiate an agreement.

Statewide attention

Lindgren's law firm, Dorsey and Whitney, is handling Murphy's case at the request of the Minnesota American Civil Liberties Union. Her case drew the ACLU's attention because of its broad implications regarding election law.

According to Lindgren, the statute regarding an elected official's conflict of interest applies not only to school board members, but to city council and county board members as well.

If Mounds View unseats Murphy from its school board, the ripple effect throughout the state's web of local governments would be huge.

"We have to keep this from happening," Lindgren said.

Clarifying the statute

The state constitution lays out the qualifications candidates must meet for election to a school board. The candidate must be 21 years old, for example, and must live in the school district he or she seeks to represent.

The constitution says nothing, though, about whether or not the candidate's spouse may be an employee of the school district. For that reason, Murphy's case could end up challenging the constitutionality of the statute in question.

"Even if (Roszak) is right, that Minnesota law says you cannot be an elected official if your spouse is in a union employed by the public unit of government, then I think there's really a good argument that the statute is unconstitutional," Lindgren said.

For that reason, a state legislator who represents the north-metro suburbs served by Mounds View Schools already has drafted legislation that would clarify the conflict-of-interest statute and protect other school board members from criminal and civil penalties.

"My hope is that the counsel for the Mounds View district and the counsel for (Murphy) can come to an agreement as to what the statute actually means," Rep. Paul Gardner of Shoreview said. "But just as a backup I do have some legislation drafted that would essentially remove any potential penalty for the other board members if there was a conflict of interest."

Gardner, who called Roszak's interpretation of the statute "kind of overkill," said he has asked the Attorney General's Office to look into the statute as well.

"It's kind of amazing that we've had to go this far," he said, "but this could have repercussions for city councils and school boards throughout the state."


SEIU served with dues hit in California

A group of civil engineers are raising concerns about Riverside (CA) County's decision to eliminate their building and safety department jobs in the wake of the region's housing slump and declining revenues. In an interview this week, five of the employees say enough work exists for them to remain with the county and fear the layoffs are an attempt to permanently outsource their jobs to private engineering firms.

"There was no warning given to us in advance. There are still plans on the rack," said Thomas Hsu, an associate engineer and eight-year county employee. "From our point of view, we still have work." The department issues building permits, reviews plans and makes inspections. It relies entirely on fees charged to builders and residents to fund operations.

Last week, county officials said with business down by as much as half, there was no work -- and no money -- for the employees. Effective Wednesday, the department laid off 40 employees, including 14 of its 15 civil engineers.

The cutbacks are needed because there is not enough work for that many engineers, county spokesman Ray Smith said Wednesday.

"It is a cyclical situation," he said. "In the early to mid-1990s, the same thing happened: The staff was reduced by 50 percent. It is not something done lightly."

The county has long had contracts with two private engineering firms -- Scott Fazekas & Associates, of Irvine, and Willdan Associates, of Anaheim -- to handle excess workload.

County engineers have 10 days to process and check the plans once they are submitted, said David Brunmier, a junior engineer and another laid-off employee.

"We had too much work," he said.

When the in-house engineers can't make that deadline, the county sends the plans to the private firms. Private engineers do the same plan checks and reviews that county engineers perform.

As late as December, the county was sending dozens of plans to Scott Fazekas & Associates because in-house engineers didn't have the time, according to the employees and log sheets of the outsourced plans.

Smith said the county plans to use the contractors less because not enough work exists. Fazekas has a contract with the county that runs through December for an amount not to exceed $250,000. The firm was paid $10,000 for work last month.

"We expect that to decrease in the future," he said.

Willdan hasn't been used since before July 1, Smith said.

The five civil engineers interviewed this week plan to meet today with supervisors to express their concerns over the layoffs. The employees also have enlisted the help of their union, the Service Employees International Union Local 721.

The union sought additional details on the private firms the county uses for plan review, how many plans still must be reviewed by engineers and the number of management positions eliminated in the layoffs.

In a Feb. 6 written response to the union, Ronald Komers, an assistant county executive officer, said 29 plans have yet to be processed, and one management employee was affected by the layoffs.

Komers said the outside firms will conduct structural and nonstructural plan review.

"It is important to note that the costs of using contract services is not borne by the Building & Safety Department but is borne by the permit holders," Komers wrote.

But the employees note that the work county engineers do also is paid by permit holders, and they keep track of the hours they work on each plan in order to bill builders.

Smith said county engineers are paid through fees, and Komers' letter was not an attempt to compare the two.

Smith said the number of plans needing review varies day to day, and the 29 outstanding on Feb. 6 is a small number.

In December, the building department had 1,040 permits to review, down 48 percent from the year before, he said.

"Twenty-nine doesn't amount to a mountain of work," Smith said.

Still, the five civil engineers said they felt blindsided by the announcement that they would lose their jobs and believe it could hurt the level of service provided to residents and builders.

Hsu said he ran into clients in the hallway of the county building after the announcement.

"When they heard this news, they felt sad," he said.


Labor-state AFSCME workers disciplined

In a sweeping mea culpa, Bucks County (PA) officials announced Wednesday they had disciplined 11 dispatchers and four supervisors at the call center for botching a 911 call from a disabled Doylestown woman who died in a house fire Jan. 29.

Ten dispatchers were available when Brenda Orr's call came in at 10:31 a.m., but the phone rang six times before an 11th dispatcher, who was already on an ambulance call, picked it up "out of frustration" and put it on hold, said Emergency Communications Coordinator Brent Wiggins. "None of the 10 dispatchers provided a reasonable explanation as to why they were unavailable to answer that 911 call," Wiggins said Wednesday at a news conference to release the results of the county's internal investigation.

Three of the center's on-duty supervisors, who could have been overseeing the call center, were in a meeting at the time and a fourth was filling out paperwork, he said. ''No one was actually listening or monitoring what was going on out on the floor,'' Wiggins said.

Most of the 15 workers received letters of reprimand in their personnel files, officials said. No one was fired.

Jim Cawley, chairman of the county commissioners, said all of the dispatchers were required to review Orr's 911 call with their supervisors and compare it to a properly handled call.

The county has also overhauled its policy guidelines to prohibit putting 911 callers on hold and to require two supervisors on the floor at all times.

''If there is any good news to be had out of this tragic situation, it is that we are all refocused and redoubling our efforts'' at the Emergency Operations Center, Cawley said.

Orr, 53, died from smoke and soot inhalation in the blaze, which gutted her ranch home at 340 Doyle St. Investigators determined it was accidental.

County Fire Marshal Nick Rafferty said it is unlikely Orr would have survived if the call had been handled differently because evidence suggests the fire was fairly advanced by the time she called.

But Doylestown officials have said they will never know for sure.

Authorities suspect that Orr, who had multiple sclerosis and spent much of her time in bed because of her health, had been smoking and the cigarette started a fire in her bed. Rafferty said there were other potential fire sources near the bed, including a heating pad and electrical cords.

Regardless of the cause of the fire, Cawley said, errors were made in handling Orr's distress call, from allowing the phone to ring six times before answering it to placing the call on hold for 26 seconds and speaking discourteously to Orr.

''There were mistakes made, and for those mistakes we are truly sorry,'' Cawley said. ''The loss of Brenda Orr's life was a tragedy, but we do not need to compound the tragedy by undermining the public's trust or faith in our 911 system.''

According to a recording of the call, a male dispatcher first picked up Orr's call and said, ''911, can you hold one second, please?'' Orr replied, ''I can't! It's an emergency, nine, one, one emergency, three, four, zero Doyle. Bed on fire!''

When a second dispatcher picked up the call 26 seconds later, she asked Orr for her emergency and Orr again said her bed was on fire and repeated her street address. The dispatcher urged Orr to leave the house. Orr told her she couldn't because she was disabled.

By the time the first firefighters were dispatched, 2 minutes and 9 seconds had elapsed.

County officials said Wednesday that the average dispatch time for fire calls in January was 2 minutes, 24 seconds. And Cawley said the ''vast majority'' of the 900,000 calls the dispatch center receives every year are handled properly.

Doylestown Police Chief James Donnelly, who brought his concerns about the slow response to Borough Council after the fire, said he hopes the county's reply restores residents' confidence in 911.

''I'm not going to judge the county,'' Donnelly said. ''I just don't want it to happen again for anyone in Bucks County. They depend on the 911 system. Hopefully this will satisfy the public.''

Cawley and Wiggins said a new 911 center, scheduled to be completed in summer, will have technology that might have prevented Orr's call from going unanswered at first, such as a system that automatically routes calls to unoccupied dispatchers.

The new center will also be set up to place supervisors at the center of the room, making it easier for them to supervise dispatchers.

Dispatchers belong to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Brenda Orr's parents, Gene and Martha Orr, were not taking calls Wednesday, said a person who answered the phone at their Doylestown home. Her sister Cynthia, of Perkasie, could not be reached.


Unions picket labor-state industrialists

Protesters picketed Wednesday outside the headquarters of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce in Madison to draw attention to the lobbying group's funding of political ads.

Critics contend the WMC has been raising money during the last few elections to fund ads that are used to fight candidates that group opposes. The WMC did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the matter.

Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, who is working with a consortium of labor and professional organizations critical of WMC's practices, said Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler is the next candidate the WMC Issues Committee is targeting.

The picketers held signs reading "Don't Let WMC Buy Our Supreme Court."

The consortium estimated that WMC is trying to raise between $2 million and $4 million to defeat Butler, who is up for re-election in the April 1 general election.


Striking writers' hangover

While most writers headed back to work Wednesday, scribes who took a force majeure hit last month are still figuring out what comes next. At least 100 writers were cut from studio rosters in January as the congloms took advantage of the writers strike to trim overhead. Some of those writers were working on primetime series currently on the air; as per the WGA deal, they’ll be invited to return to the writing staff of the show on which they were working - although their overall deals are still kaput.

Recently terminated scribes who weren’t working, or whose shows aren’t coming back, won’t see their deals reinstated. "It all stands as is," said one studio chief. "We’re not even talking about going back and putting those deals back together. We’re obligated to offer show deals to people who were working on series, and we’ll abide by that. But I can’t imagine anyone being brought back otherwise."

Terminated scribes who will continue on shows through at least the balance of this season were negotiating their fees this week.

Meanwhile, in certain cases, even scribes with jobs still face uncertain weeks ahead. The nets and studios have decided to push back some series to fall, which could mean several more months sans paychecks for some writers.

As for the other suddenly pact-free scribes who are now back on the street, many are wondering what comes next.

"Many of those force majeured are very viable writers and had made real money for the studios but, for whatever reason, were cut," said one agent who saw a handful of his clients’ deals terminated. "I see a lot of those people landing elsewhere. The next couple of weeks are going to blow by."

Agents are already starting to aggressively shop many of those force majeured scribes to other studios; scripts that were sacked from development sheets may also be pitched elsewhere.

Whether the studios are interested in jumping into a whole new litany of overall deals -- particularly with scribes who have just been laid off by competitors -- is another question.

"People tended to get rid of the writers they felt were least promising, having worked with them for a while," one exec said. "Look over that list, the pickings were relatively slim. But we’re certainly open to script development with writers. And we’re never going to say we’re never going to make overall deals. But we’re going to be extraordinarily more judicious about it."

The list of force majeured writers includes well-known names. ABC Studios axed Rod Lurie, Barbara Hall, Larry Charles, Peter Horton and several comedy teams (Gabe Sachs & Jeff Judah, Bill Martin & Mike Schiff and Joshua Sternin & Jeffrey Ventimilia). CBS Paramount let go Barry Schindel, John McNamara, Mark Johnson and Rene Echevarria; 20th removed Kevin Falls, Jonathan Lisco and Gretchen Berg & Aaron Harberts.

Nonetheless, one agent said he’s not holding his breath waiting for studios to suddenly reverse course and try to rehire scribes whose deals were cut.

"They’re going to be free agents now, and they’ll try to get on shows," he said.

On the flip side, spec scripts may continue to grow in importance at the studios and nets -- so much so that one studio exec believes the price for prewritten projects may actually increase. What’s more, agents looking to stoke interest in clients may increasingly take those writers directly to the networks, hoping to create a bidding war at the studios.

A big question mark is whether studios will remain stingy when it comes to signing new overall pacts. One agent thinks they will -- to a point.

"That guy who was on 'CSI’ for three years who never developed a show but got a $1.2 million, two-year deal because the studio thought he was a good bet -- those deals are going to go away in the short term," he said. "But people who’ve shown they have a strong voice, they’ll get deals. People who’ve proven they can really run a show, they’ll get deals."

A studio chief said he can’t justify paying any more "stupid" premiums for talent. If it didn’t make a lot of sense before, it definitely doesn’t make sense now that the networks are pledging to develop fewer projects, he said.

"We just don’t need the same number of writers," he said. "As the volume of scripts and pilots and even scripted series goes down, we’ve got to be more careful. I don’t think we need a roster the same size to service what will be less development."

One question on everyone’s mind: Is this newfound financial restraint at the studios permanent, or will one studio break ranks and start opening its wallet, prompting the rest of the industry to do so as well?

"Like sports teams that are on the bottom, a studio that feels more desperate may choose to do it," one exec said. "That will be hard for all of us, because we’re used to competing so hard. My goal is to try and think more simply about what our needs are and not worry about other people and what they’re doing.

"Ultimately, studios are run for profit, and they’re going to have to make decisions in their own self-interest," he added. "I hope that doesn’t cause us all to act like idiots again."


Labor-state hostility to worker-choice

For more years than I care to remember, this newspaper has promoted the belief that West Virginia can be more than it has been. The thinking seems simple enough: Let's adopt policies that encourage investment - the same sort of policies that have worked in other states. Let's revise our tax code so it does not punish capital investment. Let's create a reliable judicial system and improve the efficiency of government.

The goal is to create more opportunities for employment in West Virginia - to create reasons for our young people to stay here and for more young, motivated people and their families to move here. But we all have learned that such thinking, while conventional and full of promise, isn't always welcome.

Since last year's release of "Unleashing Capitalism: Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It," we have seen myriad reactions to the suggestions of economic policy reforms included in the book.

Many West Virginians have expressed their support for the lessons taught in "Unleashing Capitalism." They welcome the analyses and perspectives that editor Russell S. Sobel and his 23 colleagues offered in its pages. They are ready to start changing West Virginia's future, to elevate it from the nation's lowest economic rankings.

West Virginia's reaction has surprised Sobel, a West Virginia University economics professor who is grateful for the sort of response that his academic exercise has prompted. The authors of "Unleashing Capitalism" have started a discussion about West Virginia's future.

But it is clear that not everyone has accepted "Unleashing Capitalism." I believe resistance or indifference has emerged essentially from three, perhaps four groups:

The Hard Left and Friends: Some people just don't like capitalism. They don't trust it. I see no advantage in making their argument for them here. A few op-ed columnists have submitted their thoughts for publication in state newspapers. I'll leave it at that.

Some in the labor community instinctively found fault with the book's advocacy of right-to-work laws. While that tenet hardly was a cornerstone of the book, it still attracted some attention.

The Political Class: One thing we do know - the political class is critical to change.

This group consists of two or three distinct subgroups. Some elected public officials have adopted the steady-as-we-go mentality. They resist any sudden changes in the tax code, concerned those changes may interrupt the state's tax revenue stream. I believe they are sincere. They don't want to take risks that lead to financial distress. They also don't seem terribly inclined to find ways to reduce government spending, thus lightening the tax burden on citizens and businesses.

Some in the Political Class also don't want to risk drastic change for fear they would lose their standing and power. They would rather defend the past and present than make changes to improve the future. That's sad.

Some in this group are not elected officials. They may be bureaucrats or even private citizens who are reluctant to support change because they fear they may lose what they have. They appear to fear the competition that a more robust economy surely would inspire.

The Uninformed and Disenchanted: In sheer numbers, this likely is the biggest group of all. Whether we like it or not, many West Virginians do not read the news. They have little or no interest in government. Some are too busy working, raising children and trying to get by to contemplate the future when tomorrow is the next very real hurdle in their lives. Some have just given up. They don't vote. They don't trust government.

Others simply have come to accept their fate. Promises of a brighter future are not believable. They are not aware of "Unleashing Capitalism." They are not apt to read or believe a book about how changing economic policies could improve their lives.

What an opportunity: The changes contemplated in "Unleashing Capitalism" stand to benefit the most those citizens who have the least hope.

The work continues. Sobel appeared in late January before a meeting of the joint House and Senate Finance Committee. He said this week that he felt the legislators were eager to hear about "Unleashing Capitalism." Some have contacted him since the hearing at the Capitol.

"I think they are looking to me for input that they can take to the floor," Sobel said.

Sobel -- a devoted professor -- clearly is pleased that "Unleashing Capitalism" has helped ignite a serious conversation about West Virginia's future. He said he and his colleagues are working on tracking what is occurring regarding state policies. Matt E. Ryan, a co-editor of the book, has had columns in The State Journal that focus on some of the bills before the Legislature.

Sobel said he has heard people talk about why West Virginia can't change its future.

"They say, 'We can't afford it,'" Sobel said, who quickly added, "We can't afford not to do it."


- Dan Page is editor and publisher of The State Journal.


Workers sweat SEIU's anti-decert tactics

Nurses at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center today will end two days of voting to determine the future of their union. The vote is the latest in what has been a long and contentious relationship involving pro-union nurses, those opposed to it and the hospital.

Sue Weinstein, executive director of the Service Employees International Union Local 121RN, said the efforts to decertify is something the hospital's management has had a hand in. "I do believe this is absolutely backed by management," Weinstein said. But a spokeswoman for the hospital said management had nothing to do with the call for the vote. Decertification "is not a management-led effort. It is led by nurses who want the decertification of the union," said Kathy Roche, hospital spokeswoman.

The hospital has remained away from the process as required by law and followed all regulations, she said.

SEIU represents about 1,000 nurses at the hospital but the effort to decertify the union involves about 30, Weinstein said.

It was more-recently hired nurses who signed a petition calling for a decertification vote and not veteran nurses, she said.

"I am confident the majority of our registered nurses understand how important it is" to have a union and will support keeping it, Weinstein said.

She said the hospital has tried "to buy" nurses by offering time-and-a-half pay for the last four hours of 12 hours shifts, rather
than straight time, if they agree to decertify the union.

"I've never seen anything like this," Weinstein said.

Roche said regulations ban the hospital from doing anything that would be considered a threat, interrogation, promise or spying.

"We have upheld the law to a letter," she said.

Information in a Feb. 8 memo from the hospital told nurses what would happen to wages if the union remains or if it is decertified, Roche said.

"If nurses vote to decertify the union, an unintended consequence of decertification is the nurses will be paid the same straight-time rate for eight hours and (overtime for the remaining four of a 12-hour shift)," she said.

Nurses receive straight time now as part of the labor contract, but if the union is decertified, state law would require overtime be paid for time worked over eight hours, Roche said.

Jeannie Badertscher, a nurse who supports decertifying the union, said more than 300 nurses signed a petition requesting the election, including people who didn't wish to have a union more than five years ago when the nurses joined SEIU.

Others have changed their minds with time, she said.

The hospital has had some changes since the union arrived and may have new approaches in the operation of the facility, she said.

"I think we have new leadership in our hospital Let's see how things go," she said.

Last year nurses went on strike twice, once for 24 hours and later for five days. They were about to go on a 10-day strike in late December when negotiations resumed and a contract agreement averted the job action.

In California the trend has been for hospital nurses to join unions, said Joanne Spetz, associate professor in the School of Nursing at UC San Francisco.

In the last 10 years, the number of hospital nurses who are in unions has increased from 35 percent to 50 percent according to federal data, Spetz said, adding the percentages are also increasing on a national level.

While wages can play a role in nurses' decisions to join unions, it's not the biggest factor, since unionized nurses earn about 3 percent to 5 percent more than those who are not part of a bargaining group, Spetz said.

"Working conditions end up being a big factor," she said.

Northern California hospitals have more experience working with unions; nurses in about 80 percent of hospitals in the Bay Area and San Francisco have bargaining groups, she said.

It's in recent years that the movement to organize nurses in Southern California has grown.


Publicly-supported unionism in Georgia

The Labor-Management Relations Studies Program at Georgia State University was established to serve the training and educational needs of working people, their employers and their labor organizations in Georgia. The program seeks to equip workplace leaders with the knowledge and skills to create a better workplace for employers and employees. The major focus of this program is conducting continuing education classes throughout Georgia. The Labor-Management Relations Studies Program also works directly with local unions and employers in strategic planning efforts to improve organizational efficiency.

Labor-Management Relations Studies continuing education classes cover a wide variety of topics and issues, such as:

* Union effectiveness
* Steward training
* Grievance handling
* Labor economics
* Labor law
* Collective bargaining
* Negotiation skills
* Arbitration

Other issues often included in our education programs are:

* Drug testing
* Violence in the workplace
* Sexual harassment
* Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
* Strategic planning


Leftist union front-group heartbroken

Members of the labor-backed Working Families Party and the NY Paid Family Leave Coalition sent Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno a broken-heart Valentine as a symbol of their upset over the Senate's inaction on a bill that would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for people caring for a new baby or seriously ill family member.

The bill passed the Assembly last year, and is supported by Gov. Eliot Spitzer. It has a majority sponsor, Sen. Morahan, but hasn't moved in the Senate.

Bruno could argue to the WFP that heartbreak is a two-way street, and the party hasn't exactly been a supportive partner in recent years.

A close Spitzer ally, the WFP is playing a big role in the 48th SD race, running the field operation there for the Senate Democrates - as it did in the 7th SD special last year that cost the Senate GOP Michael Balboni's old seat.

The WFP also stayed neutral in the 2006 35th SD race in which Democrat Andrea Stewart-Cousins ousted then- Republican Sen. Nick Spano. The party endorsed Spano in 2004 and provided him with his 18-vote margin of victory over Stewart-Cousins that year.

In exchange (but not a quid-pro-quo, of course, since that would be illegal), the Senate passed a bill to increase the minimum wage - a major issue for the WFP, and a bill that was carried by Spano.


News Unions ride labor-state paper down, out

"It's been no fun dying on the vine," says Ron McCrea, senior news editor of The Capital Times. McCrea, 65, knows something about dying. He presided over the death of the strike paper known as the Madison (WI) Press Connection in 1980 and then went to work for the Washington Star, which abruptly shut down in 1981 after 128 years.

And then there's his own near-death from a cancerous liver only to be saved by a transplant operation in April 2007. In a phone interview last Friday night, McCrea sounded like a guy who has new lease on life, in more ways than one.

Buoyant wouldn't be the right word, but he was definitely upbeat about the paper's announcement that it will cease publication as a daily on April 26 and shift to onilne publication and two weekly print editions (one news, one arts) to be distributed free in the Madison area.

"We took practically every step imaginable to sell the paper [to new readers] in the last few years, and it didn't work,' he says. The Capital Times, which approached 50,000 circulation in its heyday, has dropped to less than 17,000 and had become, in practical terms, a boutique journalistic product sustained by its very profitable half-ownership of the Capital Newspapers publishing conglomerate.

Things were getting so bad, McCrea says, that sources were becoming reluctant to give story tips to Cap Times reporters because the paper's readership was so small and the larger papers might ignore its scoops.

"I can't tell you how many times I've had the experience of talking to people about a great story we've had, and nobody has a clue that we published it," he says.

Perhaps the low point was the paper's failed attempt to woo new subscribers in Madison's "blue" neighborhoods on the near-west and near-east sides.

The mass home delivery of free papers produced precious few subscriptions, despite these being strongholds of John Kerry and Ralph Nader voters who presumably share The Capital Times' liberal philosophy.

"We thought this would be a rich target for us to fill out our circulation, but people just weren't buying," he says. "Some people even complained that we were littering! They asked that we take the papers away."

McCrea's conclusion: "You can only do so much before you finally have to face reality."

Reality is online publishing and those two weekly editions. The move will save Capital Newspapers a ton in newsprint costs and result in perhaps 15 of the paper's 60 newsroom positions being eliminated, in addition to other job cuts in production and delivery.

"I do feel upbeat because I've been there when they've simply folded the paper and told people to go home," he says. "This is war by other means. Online is clearly the future of journalism."

McCrea says the paper is being "very, very humane" in handling the job cuts by offering a buyout package that includes from ten to 52 weeks of salary, depending on longevity, some health-insurance coverage and other benefits.

With a few exceptions, all employees will have to apply for newly posted jobs by Feb. 18, McCrea says. The new staff will be announced on March 10. Those who aren't hired will receive the same severance package as the staffers who accepted the buyout.

McCrea's endorsement of the impending changes carries weight, given his long history at The Capital Times. He was a strike leader in 1977, when five unions at what was then called Madison Newspapers Inc. walked out when management unilaterally introduced new printing technology in a particularly brutal fashion.

"Madison Newspapers laid off half off its printers in one blow, [regardless] of seniority, with women and the disabled first," he recalls "Those who returned to work the next day were told that their pay was being cut by a third. They were just bleeding in total despair."

The striking unions failed to shut down the two dailies, which doomed the strike from the beginning. McCrea became editor of the strike paper, the Madison Press Connection, which never rose higher than 12,000 in circulation and folded in 1980 after employees went payless for five months.

The strike formally ended in 1982 when the last two unions finally gave up. All five unions were decertified, though the strikers had the satisfaction of collecting $1.5 million from MNI as part of their settlements. The two papers remain union-free to this day.

McCrea went to work as press secretary for the newly elected Gov. Tony Earl in 1982, but when Earl lost his re-election bid in 1986, McCrea found himself unemployable in Madison. He left town to work at the New York edition of Newsday (since shuttered as well) before he made his peace with the Cap Times and returned to the paper in 1995.

There was no clearer sign than McCrea's return that the extraordinary animosity of the strike had finally passed.

But the damage had been done. The strike had put the proudly progressive Capital Times on the same side with the then bluntly anti-union Lee Enterprises, which owns the other half of the publishing company. McCrea admits the strike cost the Cap Times readers it never regained.

The decision to cease daily publication was tightly compartmentalized within top management. The staff was kept in the dark until the announcement, and even senior news editor McCrea didn't know it was coming. He says he had no role in drawing up the job descriptions for the new online paper and its weekly news and arts editions.

Similarly, he has no insight on how the captimes.com will distinguish itself on the broader Madison.com website, which also features stories from the Wisconsin State Journal and Channel 27. But he concedes that the prospect of running a seven-day-a-week, 18-hour-a-day online paper is daunting.

"I don't know how the hell we'll staff it with basically ten editors and 20 reporters," he says. "Right now, they're saying you can expect to work nights, days, weekends -- that needs to be clarified."

A third-generation newsman, McCrea has the proverbial news ink in his veins. "I don't have the warmth of feeling for Web readers that I do for newspaper readers," he admits. "I tend to think that newspaper readers bring more worldliness and wider life experiences to their reading."

The Cap Times has announced that the two weekly print editions, each with an expected circulation of 80,000, will be distributed free. Is the company's goal to target Isthmus audience and advertisers?

McCrea says his bosses deny this. "We all love Isthmus," he says. "We did focus groups a couple of years ago, when we were looking to refashion The Capital Times one more time. In the focus groups, everybody just loved Isthmus. Everything they wanted was already in Isthmus. We came away feeling a little dispirited."

That doesn't put such questions to rest. In the compartmentalized world of Capital Newspapers, advertising strategy wouldn't be shared with editorial staffers like McCrea.

On Friday night, McCrea was unsure what his own decision would be. "These are fairly nice terms," he said. "It's a far cry from having someone from security appear at your desk and escort you out of the building to a hotel to learn about your severance."

In a follow-up interview on Monday night, McCrea was more somber. He had made up his mind -- to accept the buyout offer -- in his case, 44 weeks of pay -- and retire.

But he also hopes to consult on shaping the new Cap Times.


News Union already misses writers strike

Facing his writing staff on Wednesday for the first time since the end of a 100-day strike, Shane Brennan, the co-executive producer of the CBS drama “NCIS,” asked a question that drew blank stares. “Can anyone remember what we were working on three months ago?” Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz, the co-creators of “Gossip Girl” on CW network, have returned to work. “Somehow I remembered my office being much nicer,” Ms. Savage said.

Similar scenes played out in dozens of writers’ conference rooms in New York and the Los Angeles area as the entertainment industry — particularly the television business — returned to work and sought to jump-start production. The strike, which was formally called off Tuesday night by the Writers Guild of America, had halted production of 46 dramas and 17 comedies.

Mr. Brennan, whose show is watched by about 18 million viewers each week, instructed the nine writers seated around a large table to forget the various plots they had been working on before the strike.

“All we’re going to do is waste a day trying to remember it,” he said. He added with a chuckle, “While I sound like I know what I’m talking about, and that I have a plan, I really am making this up as I go.”

For many writers, returning to work brought an emotion akin to what they remembered experiencing on their first day of high school. There was the giddy mood accompanying the start of something new and fresh — and the pit of anxiety in their stomachs as they made the transition from mostly idle days to a daunting workload. And who was that guy in the corner? “I almost didn’t recognize you with that new beard,” said Mr. Brennan to Greg Weidman, a production assistant.

On the Warner Brothers lot, Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz, the co-creators of “Gossip Girl,” the teenage soap opera on CW network, likened reopening their offices to starting up a summer camp after the winter. “Nobody had been cleaning and there was crime scene tape across the door,” Ms. Savage said. Walking into her office, she said, “And somehow I remembered my office being much nicer.”

Mr. Schwartz, who will resume work on his other series, NBC’s “Chuck,” in a few weeks, tried to cheer her up. “There are still tumbleweeds blowing through half the office. It’s going to take a little time to feel normal again.”

Upstairs, in the “Gossip Girl” writers’ room, Ms. Savage started a discussion with five writers about possible story lines for the show, which focuses on a group of privileged high school students in New York. One writer mentioned college visits as a possibility, while another talked about a new love triangle. But the writers, all good friends, kept breaking off to catch up on their own gossip. “O.K., is anybody watching ‘Celebrity Rehab’ on VH1?” asked Mr. Schwartz.

In New York, Warren Leight, the show runner on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” was tucking into a delivered lunch along with a bustling office filled with writers, producers and researchers. The “Criminal Intent” crew had no scripts banked when work stopped on Nov. 5, so on Wednesday they were just beginning to map out story lines for the next five episodes.

“It’s like putting a harness back on,” he said. “Actually, like putting 10 harnesses back on.”

Chatter on both coasts centered on how relieved everyone was that the strike was finally over. “As I drove into work today, I just thought, ‘Thank God people are going to be able to come back to work and support their families and get on with their lives,’ ” said Glenn Gordon Caron, the creator of “Medium,” the NBC drama starring Patricia Arquette as a mother with psychic powers.

“I’m really, really, really, really happy to be back,” he said. “Wait. I want to add another ‘really’ to that.”

With the writers back, hustle and bustle returned to the studio lots in Los Angeles and Burbank. Teamsters who had refused to cross picket lines, snarling the transport of movie sets during the strike, smiled and waved at guards as they drove through the wrought-iron gates of Paramount Pictures. Studio cafeterias cooked more food. And casting directors, waiting around for new scripts to fill with guest stars, started working the phones.

The strike may officially be over, but the dust will not settle any time soon. In the coming days, writers must vote on the tentative contract that was reached between studio executives and guild leaders in recent weeks.

Although approval is expected — union leaders characterized portions involving payment for the streaming of programs on the Web as a “huge victory” — many guild members said they would retain raw feelings about the strike.

Many writers found themselves with no jobs waiting after the strike. Some shows, like “Big Shots” on ABC, were canceled during the walkout because of low ratings. Others, like “Heroes” on NBC, are experiencing delays, forcing some writers to wait several more months before production can resume.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County officials were still working to tabulate what the strike had cost the local economy. About $3.2 billion was the latest guess from Jack Kyser, the chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

Mr. Kyser said writers and production workers had lost $772 million in wages. The strike also led to $981 million in lost revenue at businesses that serve the industry, Mr. Kyser said.

People at the Smoke House, a restaurant across from the Warner Brothers lot, are happy the strike is over. The restaurant, whose red Naugahyde booths have been a favorite of stars like Judy Garland and George Clooney (who named his production company for it), experienced a revenue slide of 17 percent in recent months, according to Lee Spencer, the owner. Taking a particular toll was the lack of so-called wrap parties, informal gatherings after a production.

“A whole cast and crew might come over and drop $5,000 to $10,000 on somebody’s black American Express,” Mr. Lee said. “It’s the cream puff stuff like that we need to run a healthy business.” Mr. Lee said he had to cut the hours of employees, including those of Irene and Phil, the lounge’s singer-and-keyboardist duo. Mr. Lee, like many other business owners interviewed, said the reservation line started ringing with more frequency as soon as rumors started to spread that writers were getting close to a deal. “Bam! Right back to normal,” he said.

Despite the outsize shadow it casts on Los Angeles, the entertainment industry employs only about 250,000 in the area, out of about 4.17 million total jobs, not counting farming. So the city hardly ground to a halt, despite the dire predictions of some studio executives and news media outlets. Many visitors to Los Angeles, along with a large swath of the local population, were untouched, Mr. Kyser said.

Some establishments might actually see a reverse effect now that the strike has been resolved. At Raffles L’Ermitage, a luxury hotel that operates a popular industry watering hole called the Writers Bar, revenue climbed 20 percent during the strike, according to Jack Naderkhani, the general manager.

“Many in the industry considered the bar to be neutral territory,” he said. Or, as a hotel spokeswoman wondered in an e-mail message, “maybe there’s some comfort in hanging out in a place with your name on it” when you are out of work.


Leftist gov't-unions in far-flung token strikes

Germany's public-sector workers today begin nationwide token strikes, which they plan to expand "massively" in the coming days to support their wage demands. Walk-outs will focus on the health-care sector today, with 5,500 nurses and other workers expected to stop work in 53 clinics in Bavaria, said Jan Jyrczyk, a spokesman for Ver.di. There will be more strikes tomorrow. The union wants 8 percent more pay.

"There's a real determination to see this demand through," Jyrczyk said in a telephone interview. "We're looking at steady strike action that will become massive unless employers agree to a real improvement in wages."

Ver.di Chairman Frank Bsirske yesterday vowed to disrupt public services across the country after a third round of talks on pay stalled. Germany's largest unions are seeking the biggest pay rises this decade after several years of moderate wage increases.

Stoppages by health workers lasting 3 hours will include the states of Bavaria, Saarland, where 1,500 plan strikes, Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and North-Rhine Westphalia, where 4,000 workers at 50 clinics will cease work, according to Ver.di's Web site. Stoppages may also occur at Berlin's Charite hospital, the biggest university clinic in Europe, Jyrczyk said.

Bsirske vowed on Feb. 12 to broaden strike action steadily from Feb. 14 until the fourth round of pay talks in Potsdam, near Berlin, on Feb. 25. Strikes would be staged by groups including police, trash collectors, savings-bank tellers and kindergarten teachers, Bsirske said. Ver.di represents 1.3 million public-sector workers.

Unlimited Strike

German law requires that employers and unions exhaust regular pay negotiations before a majority of union members can vote for an all-out, unlimited strike.

Talks between Ver.di and the government broke down after the union "showed a complete lack of readiness" to discuss an offer of 5 percent more pay, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Feb. 12. Ver.di has asked for a minimum increase of 200 euros ($292) a month for its lowest-paid public- sector members.

Ver.di's pay demand has been matched this year by the IG Metall union, which represents workers at companies including Porsche AG and ThyssenKrupp AG, Germany's biggest steelmaker.

Europe's biggest economy grew 2.9 percent in 2006, the fastest in six years, and 2.5 percent last year even as private consumption slumped. German inflation was 2.2 percent last year, using a national measure, the fastest since 1994.


UFCW nurses union pickets at hospital

Clusters of Providence Centralia (WA) Hospital nurses stood on the sidewalks outside the hospital yesterday holding signs and waving to passing vehicles as part of an informational picketing campaign.

The event was organized by United Staff Nurses Union Local 141 to draw awareness to ongoing contract negotiations between the union and the hospital’s management. The two sides have been engaged in negotiations since April 2007, and have made little progress since the contract expired last June.

A federal mediator has been called in, but several points of contention still exist between the two parties. Number one, according to those who picketed Tuesday, was the fact that nurses in Centralia would not make the same amount of money as those at Providence St. Peter’s Hospital in Olympia.

“They are trying to tell us that we are not as well educated, which is not true,” said Laurel Fath, a nurse at the hospital for 21 years.

Management vehemently denied that accusation, stating that the failure to come to an agreement has nothing to do with the quality of nurses, and is more an issue of economics.

“That is absolutely not true,” said the hospital’s chief executive Cindy Mayo. “That was never part of the bargaining discussion. We are very proud of our nurses. ... Nothing at the bargaining table has been about quality.”

A release by the hospital contended that though Centralia’s pay is not at parity with Olympia or Tacoma hospitals, Centralia nurses receive other benefits that make up for the short term differences.

Hospital management said their offer currently on the table would provide an immediate 3.25 percent pay increase, and a stipulation that would bring the rate of pay “within pennies” of Olympia and Tacoma by 2009.

Management has also twice offered a temporary pay increase of 3 percent while negotiations are ongoing, according to the hospital.

Union representative John Aslakson said both offers were unacceptable because they ask the nurses to accept a rate of pay that is below the industry standard during a time when nurses are in high demand.

“There’s a nation-wide shortage,” Aslakson said. “The investment in their staff is the biggest asset they can have.”

Mayo said that management’s stance is based on financial circumstances. A release by the hospital said the hospital failed to achieve its annual budget goals, and actually showed losses in the last quarter.

However, union representatives said improvements to the hospital, which they happen to support, and a perceived added layer of management positions at the hospital indicate a different truth.

“I think you just have to look around,” Aslakson said. “They are buying equipment, there is a new building on the other side of the hospital.”

Chris Thomas, public relations coordinator for the hospital, said when setting a pay scale the hospital has to “balance the cost of living” in comparison to Olympia and Tacoma.

Aslakson said that cost of living should be a moot point, and drew the comparison between nurses and law enforcement officers.

“Do you think the state patrol in Olympia makes more money than a state patrol here,” he said. “You get paid the same.”

There are many other issues involved in the contract dispute, according to both management and the union. One contentious issue is retroactive pay, which union representatives say has been completely refused by management.

Mayo acknowledged the issue had been discussed at the bargaining table, along with overtime, benefits and pay for days off.

Diane Stedham-Jewell, a member of the union’s negotiating team, said one of the issues she has with management’s offer is that nurses who come in on their day off would no longer get double-time pay. Instead, she said, the nurse would get time-and-a-half.

“To come in on your day off, that’s a sacrifice,” said Stedham-Jewell. “Our nurses have been very strong in saying that we’re not going to work a day off if we’re not compensated.”

Neither the union nor the hospital’s management has a date set for the next negotiations meeting. Though this picketing was relegated to informational, and nurses only took part when they were not scheduled for a shift, Aslakson said an actual strike could always be an option.

By law, health care employees have the right to strike but must adhere to specific conditions in addition to those required of workers in other lines of work. Health care units are required to give a 30-day notice and 10-day notice before a strike. During this period, negotiations continue with a federal mediator.


Gov't-unions prefer tax-hikes to privatization

Two weeks after voters approved a property tax cut, Tampa taxpayers might lose some of those savings to an increase in the trash rate. On Wednesday, Mayor Pam Iorio proposed raising the garbage pickup fees about $19 a year to raise $3.2 million. The money would help offset the city's projected $16.8 million shortfall for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. Like governments across the state, the city is looking for ways to cut costs and raise revenue. In addition to raising trash rates, the city is looking at other ideas, including layoffs and a reduction in debt payments.

The gap between revenue and expenditures largely is because of property tax law changes, including the Jan. 29 passage of Amendment 1, and projected increases in the police department's budget.

Iorio suggested raising solid waste rates by $1.58 a month in a meeting Wednesday with the city council to discuss budget issues and potential layoffs. The measure would need the council's approval.

A couple of weeks ago, Iorio told The Tampa Tribune she did not want to make up the difference by raising rates for services. On Wednesday, however, she said the trash rate increase is "pretty small."

"As we were going through options, we saw this," Iorio said. The council last approved a solid waste rate increase, for 3 percent, in 2005.

The average solid waste bill for a residential customer is $25.25. The roughly $19 annual increase would cut into the approximately $300 the average Tampa homeowner is expected to save because Amendment 1 passed in January.

The trash rate increases would be accompanied by a change in the way the solid waste department is organized.

Combining Divisions Of Government

About three years ago, Iorio created the "Clean City" division of government, responsible for ensuring medians are clean, litter is picked up and illegal advertising signs are removed. The $4.5 million division drew its money from the city's general fund.

Iorio wants to make the division part of the solid waste department, which is run as an enterprise fund, meaning money generated from garbage pickup rates goes toward sustaining the department.

Moving the Clean City division to the solid waste department would take some pressure off of the city's general fund, but a rate increase would be necessary, Iorio said. No timeline for that rate increase has been discussed.

The city also expects to cut about $3.8 million through a previously announced plan - called "Changing the Business of Government" - to lay off about 100 people, mostly janitors and security personnel. The mayor wants to hire private firms instead, a proposal that has met resistance from some city council members.

That resistance remained palpable Wednesday at the meeting in the mayor's conference room, where Councilman John Dingfelder pointed out that the council had concerns about the mayor's plan. Iorio acknowledged the council has the right to vote against the contracts that would be needed to privatize the work, but not without consequence.

"The cuts will be made somewhere else, and the cuts likely will be made where the public will feel it," Iorio said.

The city also expects to whittle down the deficit by $4.5 million because the debt service on bonds issued to pay for the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center is declining.

The rest of the deficit would be balanced through fund transfers, attrition and layoffs.

Iorio said she could not estimate how many city workers would lose their jobs but said layoffs would be "minimal."

Last year, 121 people were laid off - though many later got other city jobs - in a move that saved the city about $14 million.

"We're not looking at anything nearly as severe as that," Iorio said.

Iorio repeatedly said she wanted to make cuts without affecting city services.

Councilwoman Mary Mulhern suggested the city consider salary cuts or merit raise freezes for city employees not covered by union contracts.

Iorio said she doesn't want to freeze wages for nonunion employees while continuing to give union workers raises. The fire union, she said, wants raises averaging about 10 percent, whereas the city administration has offered 5.8 percent increases. The two sides are at an impasse in their negotiations, and the matter is expected to be settled by the council.

Iorio asked the council "to send a message" on pay increases when voting on the fire contract.

Full Budget Coming This Summer

Dingfelder asked whether the city could move more slowly on plans to redesign Curtis Hixon Park. Phase 1 is expected to cost the city about $15 million. Iorio said she intends to proceed as planned.

Iorio will present a full budget to the council this summer, and public hearings will be held in September before the council votes on the spending plan.

Also Wednesday, Fire Chief Dennis Jones told the council he has long-term plans to build two new fire stations in the New Tampa area, hire 81 new firefighters and staff two ambulances, for a total cost of $16.6 million. Iorio said she wants to continue hiring seven firefighters a year, despite budget shortfalls.

The police department's budget is projected to increase from about $127 million to $133 million.

Several council members and the mayor cautioned that although they might be able to cut from the budget without dramatically affecting services, they have deep concerns about what lies ahead. The state's Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, they said, isn't looking favorably upon local governments, and new plans by the state Legislature also could have a big impact on the city.

"This is only the start of the problem," Councilman Charlie Miranda said.


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