Hoffa + Barack: So happy together

If you wanted to conjure up an unlikely photo op—something along the lines of George W. Bush in a loving arms-around with Dennis Kucinich—you might try putting skinny Barack Obama in a happy embrace with burly Teamsters union leader Jim Hoffa Jr. These are not exactly birds of a feather. But there they were last week, grinning and gripping in San Antonio, as Hoffa vowed to put DRIVE—the union's powerful political-action committee—in gear for Obama in the upcoming campaigns.

It's an odd-bedfellows alliance that represents a major shift for the union, as well as one more indication that Obama-mania can jump all divides.

Just a few months ago, the surest way to find a passionate Obama supporter was to head for the nearest WiFi-enabled coffeehouse. If there was a Teamster around at all, he was probably out back delivering a truckload of latte cups. Hoffa's 1.4 million members wear the bluest of America's collars. They're freight drivers, warehouse workers, trash haulers, even cops. If they went looking for a Democrat in the early primaries, they were more likely to go for John Edwards, who at least tried to speak their language.

And when it comes to Teamsters, the Democrat part is hardly a given. This is the union that backed Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. A short-lived liberal era under ousted reformer Ron Carey ended abruptly with Hoffa's election in 1998. The new union chief made a big point of saying that the Teamsters would no longer be an "ATM for the Democratic Party."

Hoffa gave a late and half-hearted endorsement to Al Gore in 2000. But by Labor Day 2001, Bush and Hoffa were chummy enough for the president to chow down some ribs at a big Teamsters Labor Day barbecue in Michigan. There, Bush praised the union leader, who was helping lobby Congress for a pet GOP project to allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But that was then. Bush's refusal to heed the union's complaints about allowing low-paid Mexican truckers to haul NAFTA-spawned goods across the border soured relations badly.

Hoffa went looking for a winner in 2004 with his friend, ex-Missouri congressman Dick Gephardt (whose old man was a Teamster milkman), then signed on with John Kerry after Gephardt faltered. But again, there was no full-court press by the union.

This time, with an endorsement right on the eve of crucial primaries in blue-collar-heavy states, the Teamsters finally seem to have settled on someone they actually like. And wouldn't you know it, the union that's long served as a national stereotype for beer-drinking Archie Bunker types has picked a jug-eared black lawyer from Harvard who looks like he couldn't find the air brake in an 18-wheeler.

And if that kind of irony gets you giddy, consider that Obama's most constant comparison these days is to the Kennedy brothers: That would be Robert F., who once tried to take a swing at Hoffa's dad outside a Senate hearing room and later helped send him to prison, and John F., whose assassination, according to claims by Hoffa Sr.'s own late lawyer, was co-engineered by the late Teamsters big.

Not that anyone believes that stuff.

Whatever the unlikelihood of this labor-latte alliance, Obama's 10 straight wins and his rock-star rallies have made Hoffa a believer. "He is the candidate in the best position to lead our movement to restore the American dream to working people in this country," said Hoffa last week.

An unspoken factor in the endorsement may also have been some lingering suspicion among Hoffa and his aides from the days when the Clintons were closely aligned with Carey, Hoffa's hated predecessor, who was forced out in a campaign-funding scandal. There was also pressure to make a clean sweep of the big unions that, along with the Teamsters, broke away from the AFL-CIO three years ago to form the rival group Change to Win. SEIU, the service employees' union, has already gone for Obama, as has UNITE-HERE, the clothing and hotel workers' union, along with the United Food and Commercial Workers.

But Hoffa insisted that the endorsement followed the results of internal union polling that showed Obama was well-liked by his members. The union declined to give specifics, but several people familiar with them said the surveys found that local officers went heavily for Obama and the membership gave him more than 60 percent approval ratings. Both McCain and Clinton registered substantially lower.

Still, the decision wasn't easy. "I gotta tell you, there was a fierce debate on the executive board," said Dan Kane Jr., who heads a Bronx trucking local. "It wasn't anti-Hillary—she's our senator, and we've supported her before and will again. It was just who we thought could win." Kane, a second-generation Teamster whose father is a close Hoffa aide, said he wrestled with his own vote in last month's primary, ultimately opting for Obama. "I am thinking the only times the Democrats have won has been when someone energetic ran. I think we need some excitement now. If the young people show up for this one, I think we have a good chance."

Gregory Floyd is the new leader of Local 237 in Manhattan. His is the largest Teamster local in the country, with 24,000 members, many of them city employees, and another 8,000 active retirees. As with most New York labor unions, Hillary Clinton looms large in his world, but he said that his local was still going with Obama. "We know that we need to defeat the Republicans and turn the country around," said Floyd last week. "The endorsement of Barack Obama is a good one. We are going to be a political powerhouse in this fight."

The endorsement has also bridged the Teamsters' long-standing divide between those who once backed Carey and the Hoffa forces. Sandy Pope, leader of a Queens-based local that represents warehouse workers, ran two years ago on an anti-Hoffa slate. But last week, she praised his endorsement in the presidential primary. "I think it's great," she said. Pope noted that Obama had proved himself with wins in states like Wisconsin, Missouri, and Minnesota where the Teamsters have many members. "My argument to Teamsters is that when you see the states Obama took in the Midwest, it makes a stronger argument for winning our members in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania."

The union is no small presence in those battleground states. It has some 60,000 members in Ohio, which votes on March 4. Assuming that the race is still on by April 22, when Pennsylvania votes, the union has 80,000 members there, along with a long tradition of playing a big role in local and statewide races.

Despite the union's endorsement, Clinton still retains the loyalty of New York's most powerful Teamster, Gary LaBarbera, who heads both the council overseeing local Teamsters affairs as well as the million-member New York City Labor Council. "He's sticking with Hillary Clinton, who he thinks is a great leader," said Carolyn Daly, a council spokeswoman.

Members of LaBarbera's Local 282 haul construction material and debris, and last month, the union's name surfaced in the big Gambino crime-family case in Brooklyn. Some of the schemes charged in the indictment stem from trucking employers who allegedly used mob muscle to scam the union out of benefits owed on behalf of employees.

But unlike the bad old days when John Gotti's gang ruled the roost at the local, LaBarbera helped squelch the scammers. He did so by retaining an independent, court-supervised investigator who helped break the case. The investigator, Robert Machado, was first to spot the schemes, tipping off federal investigators at the Office of Labor Racketeering. "I got nothing but cooperation from LaBarbera," said Machado.

Like this year's presidential race, it's another one of those things that would baffle Bobby Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa Sr. if they were around to watch.


ABC News scores Barack, unions for hypocrisy

The Service and Employees International Union announced it will start running TV ads on behalf of its endorsed candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois. In one of the ads running in Ohio, “Leadership,” various SEIU members say: "we need Obama cause we need someone who is not owned by the corporations," and "Barack Obama recognizes that we should all have the same health care as our members of Congress" and "Barack Obama is going to stand up to the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies to make health care affordable.

Speaking of pharmaceutical companies, the announcer in the ad "What We Need," almost sounds like he's selling a new drug -- Obama as the panacea for the nation's ailments. "He stood up for kids when they needed healthcare," the ad says. "We need someone like Obama. Obama. Who will take on drug companies. Who will help us keep our homes. We need to change Washington. So, we need to change the people who run it. It’s that simple."

Our friend Marc Ambinder reports today that according to "independent expenditure notices filed with the Federal Election Commission, the Service Employees International Union plans to spend more than $700,000 over the next week to help Barack Obama in Texas and Ohio."

That doesn't include, Ambinder reports, the almost $200,000 to pay the salaries of members of SEIU local 1199 to volunteer on behalf of the lanky Illinoisan, $300,000 from the group's Committee on Political Education (COPE) on door-to-door canvassing, $400,000 on direct mail in Ohio, $200,000 from the union's federal political action fund on phone banking plus $50,000 on what's called "voter persuasion."

You will recall Mr. Obama in the past expressed outrage when the SEIU was helping former Sen. John Edwards, D-NC, in Iowa (more on that HERE).

He doesn't seem so outraged anymore.

There's also Vote Hope 2008, a pro-Obama third-party group that also didn't really arouse his ire (you may recall we covered this HERE and HERE).

What say you about this contradiction?


Union organizers hijack Google search engine

Britain’s biggest private sector union is using “cyber-warfare” to open a new front in a campaign against Marks & Spencer over workers’ rights. Unite, which has nearly two million members, plans to use searches for M&S on Google from 5am today to divert users to its list of grievances. Anyone typing “M&S” or variations of “Marks & Spencer” into Google will see a direct link to the “Look Behind the Label” campaign put together by the T&G section of Unite, as well as normal search results.

The cost to the union of taking its views on to the global stage at the click of a mouse could be as little as £500. It seems a far cry from traditional modes of trade union protest.

Tony Woodley, the Unite general secretary, said: “The power of the internet gives unions the potential to go beyond its membership and reach out directly to millions of people and influence consumers. For companies like M&S, its brand is everything. A concerted campaign against a company’s behaviour can be a very effective addition to industrial action.”

Unite has been in talks with Marks & Spencer for three months over allegations of a “two-tier” workforce in companies that supply the chain with poultry and red meat. The union claims that in an attempt to drive down costs, M&S suppliers are using agency workers on a near-permanent basis, but refusing to grant such workers, often migrants, the same conditions as full-time staff.

Unite also alleges that Marks & Spencer is not clearly labelling its meat products in order to hide supplies of cheap imports from Brazil and Thailand, despite the store’s stance as one of the most ethical in the country.

Marks & Spencer denies the union’s claims fiercely and insists that it meets all national standards. A spokeswoman last night said: “We are extremely disappointed with the action Unite is taking. We are at a loss to understand why they continue to single out M&S when we have a leading position in labour standards and work very hard with all our suppliers to maintain these.”

Unite’s move reflects an increasingly flexible approach to campaigning taken by trade unions in recent years. Two years ago the GMB union took a camel to the local church of Damon Buffini, a key figure in the private equity industry, in a protest at alleged asset-stripping of the AA by Permira, his company. The biblical allusion suggested that it might be easier for the animal to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man such as Mr Buffini to get into Heaven.

Unite tested the power of the internet earlier this month by putting a short film on YouTube to highlight the plight of workers who lost their jobs last year when Lillets, the tampon company, shut its British factory and transferred work abroad to Poland and Taiwan.

Eric Lee, editor of Labourstart.org, a campaigning website for the international trade union movement, said that the internet “levelled the playing field”. Mr Lee said: “The British trade unions have lagged behind the American ones in using the power of the internet, but that seems to be changing now. It’s just such a cost-effective way of reaching as many people as possible and competing with companies that have far bigger budgets.”

Unite will also hold demonstrations at nine M&S sites across Britain today.


Special-Ed teachers out on strike 'for the kids'

As she fielded phone calls and teacher questions at the Strike Headquarters on Tuesday, union president Laura Cuchra proudly sported a pin over her heart stating, "110 percent for the kids." About 120 of 133 teachers represented by the Grundy County (IL) Education Association, the union representing the county's special education teachers, picketed during the strike that began Tuesday and is carrying into at least today.

Teachers were picketing at Minooka and Morris high schools, the construction site of the new Minooka high school, Minooka Elementary and Intermediate schools, White Oak, Saratoga and Shabbona elementary schools in Morris, all Coal City schools, including a construction site, and the co-op office.

The teacher aides are joining the strike today after a mediation session did not end in settlement Tuesday. The teachers and aides plan to be at the schools again today and also at some of the county's smaller districts.

All of Grundy County schools are still in session and substitutes are filling in where possible, but some special education students had to stay home Tuesday and today, said Stan Eisenhammer, attorney for the Grundy County Special Education Cooperative. He said of the 1,900 special education students in the county, only about 10 percent of them had to stay home.

Students in the behavioral disorder, autism and other such programs were among those to stay home.

"We will provide them with what they need some way, some how," Eisenhammer said.

The co-op employs all of the county's special education teachers and aides in 12 districts. The teachers and aides are on strike because an agreement with the co-op on a new contract was not reached. Cuchra said the holdup is over salary increases, insurance and sick days. The aides are also struggling over these issues.

"We don't feel we are being met halfway," Cuchra said before the teachers' 4 p.m. wrap-up meeting Tuesday. The Strike Headquarters is in the upstairs of the American Legion in Morris.

The teachers and aides were urged to split from the Morris Grade School District union in 2006. They formed separate unions and negotiations with the teachers began in August. A mediator was brought in January. The association met Saturday and the members said what was offered "was not good enough," Cuchra said.

Cuchra said the co-op offered a 15.75 percent raise over three years, but the teachers asked for 16.75 percent. In addition she said both sides are bumping heads over the amount of sick days for long-term employees and insurance coverage for new teachers coming in next year.

Eisenhammer said the real issue is over the insurance. The co-op offered to continue paying 85 percent for single and family coverage of all its current teachers, but anyone starting in the 2008-09 school year would have to pay full price for family coverage until they become tenure, which is four years with the co-op.

"What we are doing is not unusual to do while dealing with rising costs of insurance," Eisenhammer said.

Cuchra said this could cause the co-op to lose teachers to different jobs with higher pay in order to pay for family coverage.


News Union protests against its members

Packaging workers at The San Diego Union-Tribune who have been trying to negotiate a union contract for the last two and a half years protested Tuesday outside the newspaper's Mission Valley offices and demanded that management return to the bargaining table.

However, Pat Marrinan, the paper's manager of labor relations, said contract issues are moot because the company withdrew its recognition of the union Monday after receiving a decertification petition signed by a majority of workers in the department.

Union officials said they plan to challenge the petition by filing an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Officials with the Graphic Communications Conference of the Teamsters Union also said they were unhappy with an ultimatum made several weeks ago by managers to accept pay cuts and benefits reductions.

The company's 154 packaging workers insert printed advertisements into newspapers. A majority of the workers voted in June 2005 to be represented by the union.


UAW strike v. Volvo enters week 4

As the strike in Dublin (VA) continues, now on its fourth week, people are beginning to wonder who’s taking their time the Union or the Company? Monday, a spokesman with Volvo said the company has been contacted by the Union and will go back to negotiations and is currently working on picking a date. However, UAW Local 2069 President Lester Hancock says the announcement comes after several attempts by UAW International to resume talks with the company.

Hancock says “We’ve been willing to go back to the table ever since we had the information since February the 18th. And we made that perfectly clear to the company, that we’re willing to negotiate, and we offered a window for their choosing of what date they wanted to go back and start talking. And they declined those dates.”

The information Hancock refers to is a stack of papers requested by the Union from Volvo last October. The paper work addresses workers compensation claims and health and safety information.

Hancock says the Union didn’t receive the paperwork until recently on Feb. 18th. That same day Hancock says Volvo was contacted to resume negotiations. Later, in a letter dated Feb. 22nd, the assistant director for UAW International writes, “This letter will serve as a second notification of the Union’s desire to negotiation.”

Hancock says the ball is now in Volvo’s court to get back to them. And after the company’s announcement Monday, it looks like things are moving in the right direction

“It shouldn’t be any “who goes first” or whatever, that’s kind of childish. It just should be you know, we should be adults about it, and start being serious about start getting back to the table, and getting 3,000 people back to work,” Hancock tells us.

UAW International was in Dublin Tuesday. Hancock says they hope to have a date picked by Wednesday afternoon in order to resume negotiations.


UAW strikes American Axle over give-backs

Workers at American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc., the biggest maker of axles for General Motors Corp., went on strike after contract talks failed to resolve wage, health-care and pension issues. About 3,650 United Auto Workers members at five plants in Michigan and New York began the walkout at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday after their previous four-year agreement expired. The strike hasn't interrupted GM production, said Deborah Silverman, a spokeswoman for the automaker.

American Axle is trying to cut labour expenses to compete with rivals such as Dana Corp., which trimmed costs while in bankruptcy. American Axle, based in Detroit, had sought to reduce total wages and benefits for the UAW-represented workers to US$27 an hour from $65.

The reductions sought by American Axle "are well above the concessions we have been expecting out of the contract, leaving room for the company to back out of some requests and for the UAW to agree on large concessions," Brian Johnson, a Lehman Brothers Inc. analyst in Chicago, said in a note Tuesday to investors.

The union has sent its negotiators home, said Adrian King, president of Local 235, representing workers at a Detroit plant.

"At this point, we are about 100 miles apart between the union and the company," he said.

The company was demanding wage cuts of as much as US$14 an hour as well as the elimination of health-care benefits for future retirees and defined-benefit pensions for active workers, the UAW said. American Axle didn't provide union officials with enough information about health-care and pension plans, prompting the "unfair labour practices" walkout, King said.

American Axle chief executive officer Richard Dauch said in an e-mailed statement that "all of the changes we have proposed have been accepted by the UAW in agreements with our competitors in the United States."

A prolonged strike might disrupt production at GM factories that build pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles.

American Axle got about 78 per cent of its 2007 revenue from the automaker. Reduced costs helped the supplier post net income of US$37 million last year, after a $222.5 million loss in 2006.

A short strike won't affect GM because American Axle probably stocked up on parts because of the possibility of a walkout, said Brett Hoselton, an analyst at KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc. in Cleveland.

A new contract similar to those reached by the Detroit-based UAW with other suppliers could save American Axle $300 million before taxes, the equivalent of $2 a share, he said.


Striking teachers clash on picket-line

Teachers turned against teachers and even students Monday as the island's public-school-teacher strike entered its fifth day. The strike, which was called after 30 months of failed negotiations between the Puerto Rico Teachers Federation and government education officials, quickly deteriorated into clashes between demonstrators and police. The situation seemed to calm down during the weekend, but that changed Monday as protesters showed up before dawn at several schools in the San Juan area and became more forceful in their attempt to persuade colleagues not to show up to work.

There were verbal exchanges and even physical confrontations between some of the teachers. In some instances, protesters hurled insults at students. At least seven people were arrested throughout the day.

"We've seen teachers yelling epithets and obstructing the way of fellow teachers wanting to fulfill their duties," said Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Rafael Aragunde. "I'd like to remind them that those are their colleagues."

In addition to the protests, more than 240 time clocks were disabled in what appeared to be orchestrated sabotage, Aragunde said. There were also reports of teachers punching in, and then going to their classrooms and telling students to go home.

Protesters, although dwindling in numbers, became increasingly antagonistic after an appellate court Friday upheld the decertification by government officials of their 42,000-member union. This was done in response to the strike, which is illegal under Puerto Rican law forbidding disruption of the public-school system.

Teachers are calling for higher salaries, limits on class size and more control of local schools.

The decertification effectively leaves the union without negotiating power as it is no longer recognized as the teachers' labor organization. Aragunde said demands for further contract negotiations will not be met "under any circumstances." An Education Department spokesperson said officials will now consider sanctioning strikers.

"The sanctions can include fines and even termination in some cases," Aragunde said.

Although the strike lacks popular support -- 70 percent of the island's teachers were in classrooms Monday, according to official figures -- it has effectively paralyzed many schools. Only 40 percent of the island's 500,000 student enrollment attended classes Monday. If this continues, Aragunde said, the schools will have to extend the semester so that students may complete the 180 days of classes per semester mandated by law.

Union leader Rafael Feliciano deemed the strike a success and has called for a protest this afternoon in front of the Department of Education's headquarters in San Juan, demanding the two sides go back to the bargaining table.

"The fact that students are not attending class shows the community in a supportive role," Feliciano said.

He also disputed the attendance figures given by officials and estimated that only 30 percent of educators were in classrooms.

He vowed to continue the strike until a signed contract is negotiated.


Gov't-unions are teachers' big problem

Teachers are in a never-ending Groundhog's Day situation when they rely on the same old union strong-arm tactics to get a few extra crumbs from the Legislature. The citizens of West Virginia have always honored teachers and willingly allowed their elected representatives to pay teachers the maximum the state can afford.

But reality is that it is impossible for all teachers to be paid $70,000 if most West Virginians only make about $35,000. One education policy analyst, Dr. Vicki Murray, pointed out that "Since 1983, when 'A Nation at Risk' concluded that 'the professional working life of teachers is on the whole unacceptable,' little has changed." Murray blamed it largely on teachers unions.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs believes that teachers unions are what is wrong with public schools. He feels no amount of technology in the classroom can overcome the effects of teachers unions protecting bad teachers.

I spent over 20 years as a member of teachers unions - mostly the West Virginia Education Association.

During the infamous statewide teacher strike, I was an ardent picket captain.

I finally came to my senses, and now strongly believe there is no hope for education as long as teachers unions maintain power.

I left the union for the last 10 or so years of my career and proved the teachers union is an unnecessary entity.

Now I strongly believe the teachers unions are contributing to the ruination of America.

Christian and/or conservative teachers should abandon teachers unions without delay.

They should act as a matter of ethics, but will give themselves an immediate salary increase by eliminating the hefty dues (over $400) paid to the unions.

Most teachers are motivated by their love of helping kids, but there is nothing wrong with teachers wanting some of the things normally associated with other professionals.

Besides the limitations of taxpayer money, the shackles attached by the teacher unions are the reasons teachers have difficulty being paid like professionals.

The condition of the teaching profession will never change unless teachers break free from the unions.

I taught with some wonderful educators who were woefully underpaid, but there were too many amongst us who were a pox on the profession. All of those teachers were paid the same, based upon a non-performance formula fervently protected by the unions.

The natural progression - and great desire of the WVEA and AFT - is collective bargaining, which will lead to union-pressured labor contracts that will bust even a gambling-enriched state budget.

Teachers unions promote abortion choice, but will not tolerate teachers having choices that would allow the cream to rise to the top.

A former Michigan Teacher of the Year was censured by her state affiliate of the NEA for advocating pay based upon performance.

A New York teachers union was ready to give John Stossel an award before his revealing series "Stupid in America" revealed union shenanigans.

I urge everyone to read Stossel's hilarious comments about the teachers union's reaction to his expose.

Teachers unions want to restrict parental choice also.

A union leader made the outrageous statement that parents should not be allowed to teach their children at taxpayer expense.

In other words, the teachers unions want to reach into the taxpayer's pockets for money the unions can use as their own.

Unions have filled lawsuits to stop online learning programs.

If parents get serious about removing their children from government schools, the teachers unions will undoubtedly try to stop them.

There is no one method of education that is best for all children. Parents and teachers must be free to choose.

Educational choice for teachers and parents would allow competition for teacher salary and benefits. Attractive career choices would get the attention of the best and brightest future teachers.

If teachers ever use a free market, then we will finally see the good ones paid what they deserve.

Teachers should also abandon the unions because of the left-wing agendas the unions promote.

Most teachers I know would not donate a dime toward some of the causes their union dues promote.

The local union affiliates have consistently worked to support obscenity and evolutionism in instructional materials.

The AFT is against stating that marriage is between one man and one woman, and they are pressuring the Boy Scouts to compromise their values regarding homosexuality, which aligns the AFT with groups that want to ban Boy Scout use of school facilities.

The NEA has to tread lightly regarding how aggressive they get in promoting left-wing causes because of potential member revolt.

The NEA had to remove some content on its Remember September 11th Web site.

It is time for teachers to break free from the teachers union-controlled public schools.

Teachers of retirement age have wonderful opportunities to apply their previously stifled skills.

They can volunteer to tutor home-school students, teach in a Christian school, or open up their own for-profit educational business and run things the way they proclaimed they should be run.

Teachers remaining in the system may survive under union bondage, but they can thrive in the promised land of non-union freedom.

- Karl Priest, of Poca, is a retired teacher and state coordinator of Exodus Mandate-West Virginia, a group that promotes Christian education and home schooling.


Union member ashamed by UFCW politics

I am a 32-year member and union steward for 20 of those years with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. I have never been ashamed to say that I am affiliated with this union until now.

I decry my union's decision to abandon its middle-class, blue-collar membership and turn its back on Sen. Hillary Clinton to endorse Sen. Barack Obama. The UFCW membership is almost all from the middle class families she would fight for. Her plans of lowering taxes for the middle class, providing health care for every American, making college affordable for all, returning to fiscal responsibility, and last but not least, strengthening unions are all topics my union has fought for.

My union and its members prospered under the Bill Clinton administration and I am sure we would all once again under a Hillary Clinton administration.

As Clinton's communication director, Howard Wolfson puts it, ''The politics of hope is increasingly becoming the politics of hoping no one notices that Obama says one thing but does another.''

- Thomas Banotai, Allentown, PA


Union political front-group shines for Dems

In a major victory for Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his party, a Democratic assemblyman won a stunning upset in a State Senate election on Tuesday in a district that has been in Republican hands for a century. The win reduces the Republicans’ majority to one seat and will intensify pressure on the majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, as he tries to maintain his party’s grip on the Senate, which it has controlled for more than 40 years.

The Democrat, Darrel J. Aubertine, a dairy farmer, leaned heavily on Mr. Spitzer’s media consultant and the state Democrats’ money as he waged a costly campaign against the Republican, William A. Barclay, a lawyer and an assemblyman whose father once held the Senate seat.

Mr. Aubertine won 52 percent of the vote to 48 percent for Mr. Barclay, according to unofficial results. Republicans outnumber Democrats 78,454 to 46,824 in the north country district, and Mr. Barclay had been favored to win.

“I think it has to send shivers up their spines,” said the state Democratic chairwoman, June O’Neill, about the Republicans, as whoops and hollers erupted around her at a victory party for Mr. Aubertine at an Italian-American civic club in Watertown.

She added: “The Democratic Party can meet and beat the Republican machine anywhere. If we can do it here, we can do it anywhere.”

Mr. Aubertine said shortly after the election was called: “For the party, clearly it’s a victory, and I certainly don’t want to diminish that. I just want everyone to recognize that I take this office the same way I took the office of the Assembly, and that was to serve everyone regardless of your political affiliation or where you live.”

Mr. Bruno released a statement Tuesday night attributing Mr. Aubertine’s win to his popularity locally, and said that his party would aggressively battle to stay in power.

“We remain the majority party in the State Senate and will continue to fight for the issues that we believe most New Yorkers support,” Mr. Bruno said. “The November election is little more than eight months away, and we intend to redouble our efforts to regain seats and fight for those issues, including lower taxes, more jobs, a better quality of life and a government that is responsive and accountable to the people we serve.”

For weeks the state’s political establishment has been focused on the snow-swept 48th Senate District, some six hours from New York City.

Both party operations poured money and campaign workers into the race, and ads flickered on television screens in Jefferson, Oswego and St. Lawrence Counties, which make up the district. The Capitol in Albany emptied out on Tuesday as staffers hit the streets to wave signs, knock on doors and staff polling places.

The Democrats also relied on the Working Families Party, a union-backed group with a strong voter-mobilization operation, to get out the vote for Mr. Aubertine.

The special election was called after Senator James W. Wright, a Republican, announced his retirement.

The possibility of taking back the Senate has taken on a special urgency to Mr. Spitzer as he struggles with low approval ratings and the aftermath of a scandal last year involving his aides’ attempt to discredit Mr. Bruno.

Republican senators have continued to probe and demand more answers about the aides’ behavior and about whether Mr. Spitzer encouraged it. Gaining a Democratic-controlled Senate would not only give Mr. Spitzer a more receptive audience for his policy agenda, it would also likely end the Senate investigations into the scandal.

Mr. Barclay got an 11th-hour boost on Monday when an appeals court judge ruled that his name could also be listed on the ballot as an Independence Party candidate. The Independence Party is the state’s third-largest political party.

Mr. Barclay attempted to tie Mr. Aubertine to Mr. Spitzer’s failed and wildly unpopular proposal to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Mr. Aubertine railed against Mr. Barclay’s family for charging a fee to fish on a section of the Salmon River that runs on through the family’s estate.

The negative ads left a bad impression on many in the district.

“Overall, the mood of the electorate, it is safe to say, they are not happy with the way this election has been run,” said Bob Gorman, the managing editor of The Watertown Daily Times. “They are not happy with both candidates, and they recognize that this election and the topics were being driven by outsiders, by the state political parties rather than local politicians.”

He added: “What people are offended by is that the candidates and the political parties decided that the way to appeal to the citizens is through negative advertisements.”

But the district, he said, has been home to three secretaries of state, the creator of the Dewey Decimal System, the founder of the Woolworth’s stores and the actors Kirk Douglas and Viggo Mortensen. And he said it has been unfairly characterized as an icy backwoods backwater.

“We have a higher degree of sophistication than the people in Albany and New York City have given us credit for,” Mr. Gorman said. He added that this election was hijacked by the Democratic and Republican machines in Albany and “Gotham,” and that the two parties have treated voters in the district “like rubes and country bumpkins rather than the geographic descendants of Remington, Dewey, Woolworth, Lansing, Dulles and Rogers,” whom he called “shapers of modern America.”


Police union furious over finance disclosure

The president of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild is furious at the mayor's office for telling police commanders to disclose details of the city's proposed contract offer to officers and sergeants as they checked in for duty Tuesday. The guild's anger over disclosure of a salary-and-benefits package that would make the Seattle department the top paid law-enforcement agency in the region now threatens the implementation of changes to the police discipline system.

While the guild claims the city broke a confidentiality agreement, a spokesman for Mayor Greg Nickels denied that the city violated the bargaining process.

Seattle's police officers have been working under an expired contract for more than a year. Last month, in the midst of protracted contract talks, an expert panel appointed by Nickels delivered 29 recommendations for ways to improve police accountability. The guild agreed to discuss those recommendations, even though it claimed it wasn't obligated to do so until the next round of bargaining, in 2010.

Nickels' spokesman, Marty McOmber, said the compensation offer was made during discussions between the city and guild over the panel's recommendations — and were held separately from contract negotiations. Though guild president Rich O'Neill says that's true, he contends both sides agreed to keep details of those discussions confidential until a deal had been reached.

"It is well within the city's right to put out the facts about the offer that's on the table," McOmber said. "The city felt that the rank-and-file had a right to know what the compensation package [was] ... that their leadership would not accept."

But O'Neill said the timing is suspect since the two sides were "very, very close" to reaching an agreement. He said the guild plans to file an unfair-labor-practice complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Commission over the disclosure.

"We were down to horse-trading a couple of numbers back and forth just last week," O'Neill said. "Now they've thrown a bucket of cold water on the entire process and violated our trust.

"What they have done is forced us into a position where the gloves have to come off. After today, we are sure as hell done" talking about implementation of the panel's recommendations.

Though police can't strike, O'Neill said officers are moving ahead with plans to stage informational pickets around City Hall — and he has received assurances from other labor unions in the city that their members won't cross the police line.

A summary of the city's offer to guild members shows officers would receive a 23.8 percent wage increase over the four-year life of the contract. A 12-year veteran would see a boost in salary from $72,072 today to $89,250 in 2010, with an additional $6,285 in retroactive pay.

Starting salaries for entry-level officers would be increased 8 percent on top of the compounded raise for all officers, increasing entry-level wages from $47,340 today to $63,402 in 2010. Current health-care benefits would remain the same and officers would be allowed an additional 23 days off per year.


Hollywood can insure against another strike

Citing the risk of a SAG strike in July, Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. has introduced strike expense coverage for producers of films due to be completed in mid-June. Fireman's Fund, which annually provides about $170 million in film production premiums, said the coverage extension is the first offered by an entertainment insurance firm. The SAG-AFTRA contract covering film and primetime TV expires on June 30, and no talks have been set.

"We want to address production companies' concerns and provide them with additional support during this time of uncertainty," said VP Joe Finnegan in a statement. "We believe this coverage extension will help facilitate the financing and production of more film projects that are scheduled to wrap principal photography ahead of a possible strike or lockout."

Fireman's Fund announced the coverage on Tuesday, with the WGA set to announce results of its contract ratification vote in the wake of a bitter 100-day writers strike.

Move comes with the town worried over an actors strike this summer. High-profile members have been pressuring SAG to launch talks and to limit voting on the contract to thesps who have worked at least a specified number of days over the last six years.

SAG had no immediate reaction to the announcement. The WGA deal lessened the possibility of a SAG strike, but its leaders have said that SAG must maintain a strike threat in order to get the best possible deal, asserting that without that leverage, collective bargaining becomes "collective begging."

Fireman's Fund rep Susan Murdy said the coverage requires that a completion bond be in place prior to issuance of coverage and that production be scheduled for completion prior to June 15. She also said the coverage is aimed at claims involving circumstances that would push production into the strike period, such as an actor getting sick or injured or fire damage on a set.

Murdy said Fireman's Fund, which acts as a wholesaler, would offer the coverage only to companies that already do business with Fireman's Fund. She added that Fireman's Fund covers about 75% of productions.

Fireman's Fund also owns Intl. Film Guarantors, which has written over $9.25 billion in completion guarantees for more than 470 movies since 1990.


Striking union's complaints shot down by NLRB

A national labor board has dismissed unfair labor practice charges filed by the union of the striking Redco Foods Inc. employees in Little Falls (NY). The United States National Labor Relations Board rejected a charge filed against the company by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 50 for allegedly violating labor practice laws during the negotiation process.

Redco Vice President of Marketing George Hunter said the NLRB expelled the charge on Jan. 31 in a press release. “Redco Foods vehemently denied the charges and cooperated fully with the NLRB during its thorough investigation,” wrote Hunter. Hunter explained the union had other charges against the company, but withdrew all other allegations on Jan. 30 except for the one charge.

“Therefore, the union in effect conceded that the company had bargained in good faith for a new labor agreement, and the NLRB completely agreed,” wrote Hunter.

In a separate charge against the company, the union alleged in a Jan. 23 letter to the United States Secretary of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that Redco had violated a U.S. immigration law by bringing German nationals from its German parent company, Teekanne GmbH.

Hunter explained a Homeland Security investigator found no immigration laws were broken after visiting Redco Foods’ plant, interviewing several witnesses and reviewing company documents.

Members of BCTGM Local 50 have been on strike since the beginning of November and have been picketing outside the company facility in Little Falls and a warehouse in East Herkimer each weekday.

With about 80 employees, Redco manufactures and distributes various food and beverage items under the brands Salada, Red Rose and Junket. Each year Redco Foods sells over one billion tea bags in supermarkets nationwide under the brand names Red Rose and Salada.

Union membership had no additional comment prior to press time.


Reader questions unions' motive

In response to Gary Sanders' letter to the editor on the Iowa right-to-work law ("Non-Union Workers Get the Milk for Free," Feb. 4). It is indeed a cherished freedom that no American should have to give up. It is Sanders' right to belong to a union. It is not his right to insist others belong. Unions voluntarily choose to represent non-union members. They do this so they can count their non-union members as a part of the bargaining unit. The fair-share act is about increasing union membership and revenue and nothing more.

If you think Iowa is having trouble attracting new industry and stopping the brain drain, just pass fair-share legislation - economic development will dry up and more young people will leave Iowa.

Iowans have spoken: 80 percent support the right-to-work law. They believe it is a cherished freedom and should be protected.

- M.J. Riggan, Muscatine, Iowa


Wrist-slap expected for union-dues embezzler

A Hughes Springs man pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to embezzling more than $40,000 from an electrical workers union in Longview (TX). Kyle Batts, 38, was the financial secretary-treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers AFL-CIO Local Union 738 in Longview from 2003 to 2006, according to information from the U.S. Attorney's Office.

He admitted that he embezzled money by using a union credit card to buy $40,580.83 worth of goods and services for himself, according to the attorney's office. Batts agreed to pay full restitution.

His sentencing date hasn't been set. Batts could be sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.


AFSCME faces big dues hit in California

Teachers, classified workers and library technicians in the Elk Grove Unified School District may face layoffs this fall because of the state's fiscal crisis. The last time the district laid people off was more than 30 years ago, in 1977. More than 200 employees may be issued pink slips as the district, like many others across the state, prepares for the worst.

But pink slips do not necessarily mean layoffs. Superintendent Steven M. Ladd said the district won't know if it must have layoffs until after the state budget comes out, which could be anytime from June to September. But time is of the essence. By law, the district must issue teachers' pink slips for the next school year no later than March 15. Classified workers must be notified by May 15.

And the district has until June 30 to come up with a balanced budget, while facing a preliminary projected cut of $25 million in state funding for fiscal year 2008-09, which begins July 1.

Cuts this fiscal year also are in play, but Ladd said the target dollar amount was still in flux.

"I have to plan for the worst and hope for the best," said Ladd. "It's very difficult and very painful."

"(With) the governor's draconian budget cuts, everything is on the table," said Tom Gardner, president of the Elk Grove Education Association, which represents the district's teachers. In Elk Grove, cuts could include staff layoffs and modifications to the class-size reduction program, he said.

"All programs are being looked at," Gardner said. "We're advocating for certain things, such as increasing bus and lunch fees, to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible."

Ladd acknowledged that the district is looking at a number of programs, including class-size reduction, for cuts but couldn't be more specific Monday.

"(It's) disturbing to us to think about dismantling programs that are working so well," he said.

Gardner said his association expects the district to issue 50 to 100 pink slips to the most junior of teachers first – then to temporary teachers, first-year probation teachers and to second-year probation teachers. Most teachers are tenured upon their third year at Elk Grove.

Gardner said he would be surprised if second-year teachers receive pink slips.

Nancy Clifford, president of the district's AFSCME union, is preparing her people, too. The union represents 1,100 classified workers, except for instructional aides and transportation employees.

"We'll see a very large packet of reductions and layoffs before the board at the next meeting, Tuesday, March 4," Clifford said. "The district can't give notice until the board approves."

Clifford expects more than 100 people represented by AFSCME to suffer everything from having their work hours reduced to having their positions eliminated.

She said she is certain the district's library technicians will see their hours reduced from six to four a day.

Each school in the district has at least one library technician, so the reduction is expected to affect at least 60 people.

Clifford said her group has known about potential layoffs for at least three weeks.


Union dues decline in Right To Work state

The number of Virginia workers who belong to a union declined by about 10,000 to 129,000 in 2007, continuing the steady decline of organized labor in the commonwealth, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union members accounted for about 3.7 percent of Virginia's work force, down from 4 percent in 2006 and far below the high of 9.3 percent in 1992.

"That's quite a drop," said J. Hoult "Rip" Verkerkle, director of the University of Virginia's Program for Employment and Labor Law Studies. "But that's the story of the past three decades or so with organized labor."

As traditional industries where unions were strong — manufacturing, mining and textile industries — have moved overseas, many of those jobs have shifted to the less-organized service industry, contributing to membership drops in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states over the last 30 years, Verkerkle said.

Despite the continued decline in the commonwealth, national union membership rose to 15.67 million in 2007, up by 311,000 workers from 2006.

Virginia is a right-to-work state, which means employees of companies that have unions are not required to join that union or pay mandatory dues. Union membership rates in Virginia ranked second-lowest in the U.S., followed by North Carolina at 3 percent. The national rate is 12.1 percent.

Nearly half the country's union members live in six states: California, New York, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

In Hampton Roads, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding's Newport News shipyard is the largest unionized labor base, with about 7,000 union members.

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