Teacher unions in charter school take-down

also see: "Home-schooling ban pleases teachers union"

In possible violation of federal law, Cambridge Lakes (IL) Charter School officials asked teachers this week to denounce recent efforts to unionize, a union official said. A federal labor official confirmed that if true, the school would have broken federal labor laws. Some of the school's roughly 50 employees have been in discussions with UniServ, the union that represents Community Unit District 300 employees, for the past six to eight weeks.

Officials at the school, which opened in September, asked employees about their union activities during a meeting of all school employees Monday morning, UniServ Region 25 Director Diane Petersen said. "They're asking employees to say, 'Were you involved in the union effort?' which is illegal," Petersen said.

A document that Petersen said was handed out at the meeting, and that the Daily Herald has obtained, asks employees if they engaged in "the recently publicized acts against the interests of Northern Kane Educational Corp.," the nonprofit organization that runs the Pingree Grove charter school.

On Sunday, the Daily Herald reported that teachers at the charter school were trying to unionize.

Northern Kane Executive Director Larry Fuhrer on Monday would not confirm whether the document was distributed to employees at the meeting.

"It was a housekeeping meeting. It's not a public matter," Fuhrer said.

State and federal labor officials said that while the question does not explicitly ask about unionization efforts, charter school officials are on shaky legal ground.

"They're trying to tiptoe, but certainly if there is union-organizing activities going on at the same time, I think I'd be pretty comfortable saying that's unlawful," said Joe Barker, director of Region 13 for the National Labor Relations Board.

A notice on District 300's Web site last week said classes at the charter school started more than two hours later on Monday because of an issue with facilities.

Fuhrer, however, said Thursday classes started late because of the staff meeting.

"There weren't enough people to cover the classrooms," Fuhrer said. "We didn't have sufficient people until 10:30," when classes started.

At the meeting, according to Peterson, employees were each given a form they were expected to fill out and sign. The form gives employees three options:

• Assert that they did not act "against the interests of Northern Kane Educational Corp." and in the wake of the Daily Herald published report they "demand a public apology from those who sullied my reputation."

• Admit they did act against the interests of their employer "without regret or remorse" and "intend to assert my personal interest" above those of their employer.

• Admit they did act against the interests of their employer, but "regret and repudiate" their actions and will publicly apologize. They also will "withdraw any expression of interest given to a UniServ representative."

"That would be unlawful," Barker said. "That would be interference with organizing and union activities."

The document suggests Northern Kane may take action against employees who feel no remorse.

"Kane Educational Corp. may seek redress for my actions in any manner provided by law," the document states.

"That sounds like a threat," Barker said. "I would consider that illegal."

Fuhrer said the meeting had "absolutely nothing" to do with unionizing and said charter school officials "made no threats of any kind either overt or veiled."

Teachers contacted by the Daily Herald refused to talk on the record because, they said, they feared of losing their jobs.

Petersen said she has already asked UniServ's legal counsel to explore the charter school employees' options.

UniServ is part of the Illinois Education Association, the state's largest teachers union.

Among the possible options, Petersen said, was filing an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

"We are looking into this matter," Petersen said. "We will figure out a way for employees to get their due process."


Yet another auto workers strike

The Canadian Auto Workers called a strike on Thursday at a TRW Automotive Holdings Corp plant that supplies parts for Chrysler minivans, the second walkout by union workers at a North American parts maker this week. Chrysler said production has not yet been affected by the strike, which includes about 175 CAW-represented workers at a TRW plant in Windsor, Ontario.

The parts supplier planned to maintain production at the plant using salaried workers and hoped to resume talks with the CAW as soon as possible, TRW spokesman John Wilkerson said.

The CAW had set a strike deadline of 3 p.m. on Thursday for reaching a settlement with TRW, according to a posting on CAW Local 444's Web site. A union representative could not be reached immediately for comment.

TRW's plant supplies suspension modules and safety systems to a Chrysler plant in Windsor that assembles the automaker's top-selling pair of minivans, the Chrysler Town & Country and the Dodge Caravan.

Chrysler's Windsor assembly plant employed about 4,475 hourly workers as of the end of 2007, Chrysler spokeswoman Michele Tinson said.

Chrysler also builds the minivans in a St. Louis assembly plant represented by the United Auto Workers union. That plant does not use the Canadian supplier, Tinson said.

Chrysler has been counting on a full-year of the redesigned minivans to help shore up its retail sales at a time when it is cutting costs, revamping its vehicle line-up and pushing its dealers to merge franchise operations.

As of the start of the month, Chrysler had an inventory equivalent to 57 days supply of sales of the Town & Country and 77 days supply for the Caravan, according to data compiled by Automotive News.

Early on Tuesday, the UAW called a strike for more than 3,600 workers at American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc after contract talks broke down. No new talks are scheduled between the UAW and American Axle.


Dems pimp gov't-union dues collectors

Democrats in the Washington state Legislature say they want to help day care workers. But the way they’re going about it has a lot to do with helping unions and themselves. Lawmakers are poised to give child care center owners and workers who care for low-income children collective bargaining rights. The legislation could add 12,000 members to the growing ranks of state-paid vendors who bargain with the state.

Behind the proposal is the politically powerful Service Employees International Union, which has grown its ranks and coffers in recent years by winning bargaining rights for 28,000 home health care workers and 10,000 in-home day care providers.

The SEIU won an $85 million increase in day care subsidies last year. The higher reimbursement rates benefited both in-home day cares and day care centers; now it’s time for the centers to pay up.

Under the arrangement for in-home day cares, the state automatically deducts union dues from the providers’ state reimbursements — to the tune of $3 million under the contract negotiated last year. The situation would be the same for day care centers.

That’s money that could otherwise go one of two places: to other state programs or to the day care providers who need the help.

No wonder then that some day care centers are saying no thanks to unionization by fiat. They rightly point out that a union doesn’t have to be involved for the Legislature to do better by day care centers who care for low-income children.

If lawmakers are serious about making child care a more viable business, they can skip the union middleman and simply increase state reimbursements.

For the Democrats, there are a couple of problems with that tack. It doesn’t lock the Legislature into future bumps in reimbursement rates like collective bargaining does. That should be considered a good thing – the state is facing a massive budget shortfall in the next biennium – if not for the reality that bypassing the union would tick off one of the state’s biggest political spenders.

Democrats have good reason to fear the monster they’ve helped create. In 2004, the SEIU and its allies spent $275,000 trying to unseat Democratic state Rep. Helen Sommers, the Legislature’s senior budget writer. Sommers’ sin? Concentrating too hard on plugging a $2.6 billion budget hole and not enough on giving SEIU’s home health care workers bigger raises.

There is no question that quality child care is an important piece of early childhood development, and that improving pay is one way to attract good people to the field. But lawmakers don’t need to help a union grow to accomplish those aims.


AFSCME pay protests disrupt UCLA

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has rejected the newest offer by the University of California bargaining committee, which would have provided a $16 million wage increase for 11,000 patient care technical employees represented by the union.

A UC-issued press release stated that this offer would have raised the “average systemwide pay-rate” for the employees to $20.75 an hour. But Lakesha Harrison, the president of AFSCME Local 3299, said that the raises, stretched over 20,000 workers would only guarantee an approximate 40-cent raise across the board for the union members.

“They’re factoring in the registered nurses who are not in the union and get paid $30 to $40 an hour, and that’s how they can come up with an average of $20.75,” Harrison said.

“It’s disrespectful and a slap in the face. ... We still have people collecting cans to support their families. All we’re asking for is a living wage.”

Harrison added that the union was still demanding a $15 minimum wage for AFSCME workers to be level with other institutions, such as Kaiser Permanente and various community colleges.

“We want to see the $15 minimum instituted immediately. We want also want protection, such as a step system, to prevent (the UC) from taking away our wages over time,” Harrison said.

Other members of AFSCME Local 3299 expressed concern over issues such as high staff turnover, rising parking fees, deficient health care, and small pension.

Ricardo Lopez, a senior patient escort at the UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, said that his department suffers the highest rate of turnover.

“The job is hard ­– we do technical support, the lift team’s job, and many of our workers suffer injuries,” he said.

Lopez, who is paid $11.80 an hour for his services, said that for every 3 percent raise the UC offers the workers, parking fees and cafeteria food are raised as well.

“What’s next? Will we take the bus to work? Half of our paycheck goes into food and parking,” Lopez said.

Other union members, responding to the $2.8 million offered to the 9,000 service sector employees, said they felt the UC was trying to divide the service workers and the patient care workers by providing such differences in contract amounts.

But Nicole Savickas, coordinator for human resources and labor relations at the UC Office of the President, said that money for the service sector employees is allocated by the state, not the university.

Savickas added that a systemwide effort had taken place to provide the proposed $16 million increase for AFSCME.

“If they accepted the $16 million, we would still be in mediation. Parking rates are frozen, which is a good thing for AFSCME,” Savickas said.

She added that although the union and the UC had not reached an agreement regarding retirement, health care for the workers had been taken care of for 2008 during December 2007, and had been decreased as a result.

Savickas said that one of the concerns of the UC was extending the duration of the contract.

“I think we’ve been flexible with the duration. We’ve been offering contract extensions with the wage increases. One of our proposals was a three-year contract,” Savickas said.

Savickas said that as of Feb. 26, mediation between the union and the UC will go into fact-finding.


AFSCME pay protests disrupt Berkeley

More than a hundred employees marched on campus yesterday to protest the university's latest proposal concerning patient-care employees, low wages and high health care costs.

Workers from American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents about 11,500 employees in the five hospitals and 9,000 employees across the UC system, held pickets at all 10 campuses yesterday, including UC Berkeley. "(The university) gives and chooses who they want to pay, and they are still leaving the vast majority of the workforce in poverty and understaffed," said union president Lakesha Harrison.

In two separate protests held on campus, workers demonstrated against the proposals the university has been offering them since negotiations with AFSCME began in August 2007. The union is negotiating two separate contracts for its patient-care providers and service workers.

The university contract with its patient-care workers expired last September, said William Schlitz, AFSCME political and communications director.

Two days ago, the union turned down a proposal that would have increased wages for certain patient-care employees, raising the average statewide wage to $20.75 an hour until a new contract with the workers is finalized, said UC spokesperson Nicole Savickas.

"I am not sure why the union rejected our proposal. The purpose of the proposal was to offer a short-term solution that would extend to September of 2008," Savickas said.

The proposal would have provided almost $16 million to UC patient-care employees in annual wages and other benefits, while leaving retirement and welfare benefits unchanged, she said.

But AFSCME representatives said the proposed wage increase was inadequate, especially given the high standard of living in the Bay Area.

"The UC is good at using numbers to making things sound bigger than they actually are. Sixteen million dollars actually comes down to (an increase of) 38 cents per hour," Schlitz said.

A study, published by the Center for Labor and Community Research in January, shows that the university pays workers 25 to 30 percent less than comparable institutions do, Schlitz said.

"Most of our workers are at least 26 percent behind the market," Harrison said.

But Savickas said the proposals offered by the university have brought the salaries for patient-care providers up to the market-competitive level.

AFSCME members are also negotiating with the university for a step system, which will give bonuses to employees after every year. According to a joint study conducted by the university and AFSCME, 94 percent of comparative institutions have a step system.

"Our problem is that we are trying to pull our members out of poverty. The university is paying us poverty wages, and we will continue not to accept poverty wages," said Kathryn Lybarger, AFSCME member and protester.


Rare closed-door endorsement goes to Clintons

Meet Hillary Clinton's latest backers: New York's carpenters union, whose boss, Michael Forde, faces a bribery trial next month in a mob-linked corruption scandal. Forde, the head of one of the most powerful construction unions in the state, threw his 25,000-member New York District Council of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners behind Clinton's White House run Thursday.

The eyebrow-raising, closed-door endorsement broke ranks with the national union. "Hillary is a friend of the carpenters - always has been," said a union member leaving the endorsement. "She's a friend of labor," said another. The national carpenters union has backed John Edwards.

Forde and union business agent Martin Devereaux are set for trial Nov. 26 on charges they took bribes from contractors to allow nonunion, off-the-books labor on job sites.

Forde was originally indicted in a massive 2000 probe of mob influence in the construction industry. Among the 38 people charged was alleged Luchese crime family acting boss Steven (Stevie Wonder) Crea, who pleaded guilty to price fixing, labor racketeering, bid rigging and constraint of trade.

Forde and Devereaux were convicted in 2004 - facing up to 25 years in prison - but got their cases tossed after a judge ruled jurors improperly discussed the case before deliberating.

Forde, whose union is subject to federal anti-corruption monitoring, also has gotten in hot water more recently. A Manhattan judge fined him $10,000 last month, saying he rigged a union job referral system for a buddy.

Clinton first hooked up with Forde during her 2000 Senate run, when his union backed her that May. He was indicted four months later.

Clinton's acceptance of the new endorsement comes just as she's getting out from under headlines generated by the arrest of Norman Hsu, her disgraced mega-fund-raiser who turned out to have fled justice in 1992 and is now accused of running a $60 million Ponzi scheme.


Union front-group delivers for labor-state Dems

Democrats and many reformers greeted the day with an almost giddy excitement, following yesterday’s victory by Democratic Assemblymember Darrel Aubertine in an upstate State Senate race. Aubertine’s triumph, in an overwhelmingly GOP district that has not elected a Democrat in any of our lifetimes, trimmed the Republican margin in the State Senate to one seat and had Democrats licking their chops in anticipation of November legislative elections.

Examining the result, the Associated Press said it “carries an ominous overtone for [Senate Majority leader Joe] Bruno and the GOP, who face yielding total control of state government to the Democrats, already in command of the Assembly and the governor’s mansion.”

Certainly both sides realized the stakes were high.

According to the AP, “Each candidate spent more than $1.3 million on the campaign, which barely lasted six weeks, making it the second most expensive Senate election in state history.” That money — almost all of it from the state parties or party leadership — went to negative television ads. At the same time, the Working Families Party mounted an impressive Get Out the Vote drive on Aubertine’s behalf.

“The odds against us were staggering,” state Democratic Party co-chairman Dave Pollak told the Daily News. “It illustrates how the Democratic Party is doing a better job of speaking to the issues and the concerns of working families.” Lobbyist and political strategist Evan Stavisky
called the result “absolutely stunning.” The Democrats’ win in the 48thdistrict, he continued, ” sets the stage for the Senate Dems to make history this year.”

The Albany Project, a blog dedicated to ousting the Senate Republicans, agreed: “Our chances of retaking the state Senate just went from ‘possible to ‘dead freakin’ certain.’” Relishing he possibility of playing tit for tat with what it called “Bruno’s aging crew,” the blog’s Phillip Anderson speculated many GOP senators might retire: “They’ve relished sticking it to Senate Dems for decades and they certainly don’t want to deal with the indignity of having to fire staff… or beg for office supplies. Besides, Florida is nice.”

If party control does shift, Down With Tyranny noted, it will happen ” in time for the 2010 redistricting session, a session that is likely to get rid of one red congressional district altogether … and shift the boundaries of the Brooklyn/Staten Island district currently held by Bush rubber stamp Vito Fossella. That will leave the erratic Peter King in an increasingly blue Long Island district as the sole New York Republican in Washington.”

NY13 Blog, which wants to end Fosella’s congressional career, said the result “can’t be promising” for the one Republican member of the city’s congressional delegation. “Once again a strong ground operation has helped flip a formerly strong Republican seat,” the blog explained. “New Yorkers are leaving the Republican candidates they once supported in favor of change promised by Democrats.

Politics on the Hudson raised a number of questions: “Will Joe Bruno stay on as Senate majority leader?… Will Gov. Spitzer and Democrats look to flip a Republican senator—giving them an even number in the chamber…. Will upstate be hurt, as Republicans contend, if Democrats control the Assembly, Senate and governor’s office with all downstate leaders? Will Senate Republicans, especially many of their elderly members, retire rather than face a tough re-election battle this fall? And will the Republican-controlled Senate, already at gridlock with Spitzer, have any chance of agreeing on policy measures and getting a budget approved by the April 1 deadline?”

However this plays out, change is in the air, according to Daily Gotham. Democrats have hold on to their existing seat as they seek to pick up some Republican ones. If that happens, it said, “Bruno will be pushed aside into insignificance and Albany will take one more step out of the dysfunction that Pataki, Shelly Silver and Joe Bruno had so perfected. Pataki’s gone. Bruno is on notice. Even Silver has a challenge from Paul Newell. Reform moves forward, slowly, but surely.”

One Democrat who did not gloat was Gov. Eliot Spitzer who has warred with Bruno and made no secret of his desire for a Democratic majority in the Senate. He was (surprisingly?) gracious in victory, according to the Daily Politics. “The only thing I’d say is the election was yesterday. Today we have work to do,” he said. When pressed on whether he had anything to say on the election itself, Spitzer reportedly praised both Aubertine and the GOP candidate as Will Barclay as “good individuals.”


Union fouled decert election, re-vote ordered

For the third time in as many years, the American Federation of Professionals will conduct a certification election for Jupiter Aluminum's production workers. The election will take place Monday and Tuesday for approximately 140 employees who are eligible to vote, said Jennie Moreland, International Secretary/Treasurer of the Downers Grove (IL)-based union, which has more than 30,000 members from lawyers to metal workers.

The union has represented Jupiter's workers since 2005, but was ordered by the National Labor Relations Board to conduct another election following a decertification vote that was defeated in July 2007. The outcome of the vote was appealed and although the appeal was upheld, the NLRB ordered the new election based on statements made at the hearing.

"The company believes that the employees will make the right choice, said Jupiter spokesman Mark Schoenfield, who serves as the company's general counsel.

The AFP has a strategic alliance with the United Steelworkers union. The USW has been bargaining with the company in behalf of Jupiter's employees as it continues to negotiate its first bargaining agreement with the aluminum recycler at 1745 165th St. It also provides workers with grievance and arbitration services.

"Since our agreement with the USW, our negotiations have been moving forward very well," Moreland said.

The union and company have reached a tentative agreement on seniority, recall rights and other significant issues, but monetary matters remain outstanding, she said.

"The employer has only offered a production bonus, but there's only limited production at the plant so it doesn't mean anything," Moreland said. "There's no proposed hourly wage increases as the union is requesting."

The company recently laid off 21 bargaining unit members. They will be recalled, based on seniority, as negotiated in the labor agreement.

"We commend the Jupiter employees for their consistent and ongoing desire to have a union contract for wages for everyone," Moreland said. "We all want to ensure the prosperity of the employer is passed down to the employees."

The private, foreign-owned, for-profit company was the subject of a raid by agents of the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Attorney's office in early December. The agents executed a search warrant in connection with alleged violations of its air quality permit.

At the time, representatives for both EPA Region 5 in Chicago and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Indiana confirmed the raid and their investigation of Jupiter's aluminum recycling operation.

At the time, U.S. attorney's office spokeswoman Mary Hatton said it was the policy of the Department of Justice to not discuss an investigation until its completed. Hatton didn't return calls this week. To date, no charges have been filed in connection to the raid.

Schoenfield said Thursday there is nothing to report on the situation.


ALPA pilots will vote on decertification

Most of us dread the experience of getting stuck in an uncomfortable, overcrowded airport lounge after an overbooked or cancelled flight. But probably none of us has ever been seated on a plane that actually left the gate and was ready for take off before realizing no pilots were onboard.

That's basically what happened a few days ago as Delta and Northwest airlines recessed their merger talks. News reports indicate the number three and number five US carriers were right on the brink of a deal when they cut engines and returned to the terminal.

Suddenly, it became very important to consult pilots.

There are indeed very substantial employee issues that every merger must deal with, but the absence of consultations with the Air Line Pilots Association, AFL-CIO, (ALPA) and other labor groups has not stopped management flying solo in the past. What's different now?

Investors are deeply concerned about several costly problems still plaguing the 2005 US Airways/America West merger.

The biggest issue at US Airways is the nation's 6th largest carrier's failure after three years to reach post-merger agreements with its unions representing 30,000 employees. Pilots, ground crews, mechanics and customer service employees still work under terms of previous labor agreements which each union desperately wants to upgrade.

Aside from souring labor relations, the long delay in reaching labor settlements has largely prevented the two workforces from being integrated into a smooth, streamlined operation.

Flight crews, for example, cannot be mixed until one unifying ALPA contract is ratified.

But efficiency is not the only casualty of the current problems at US Airways that worries Wall St.

Last year, frustration with stalled negotiations prompted the International Association of Machinists, (IAM) and other unions to play a major role in nixing US Airways' offer to buy Delta.

The IAM picketed at several airports with "No Contract [at US Airways], No Delta." The offer to buy Delta went nowhere. Big-money merger enthusiasts fear labor's opposition could also jettison today's prospective NWA-Delta deal.

In fact, all the major transportation unions are dead set against repeating the mistakes at US Airways.

For example, the multi-union US Airways Labor Coalition recently issued a cautionary warning strongly advising "management teams across the industry to learn from the mistakes of US Airways management and work with labor before, during and after the merger process."

Pilot Seniority is Up in the Air

But undoubtedly the most significant problem of past mergers that specifically caused the current Delta-NWA talks to break off is the issue of pilot seniority.

In fact, despite reportedly being offered substantial financial incentives from management, it is the single issue that stopped ALPA from agreeing to the Delta-NWA merger flight plan. Seniority gaps can result in enormous differences in rank, pay and routes which then dramatically affects personal lifestyle.

It is such a huge concern for pilots because of their problematic system of seniority integration. National ALPA has no established policy of how to combine workgroups from other airlines and, in fact, almost always relies on troublesome binding arbitration to decide each individual case.

The absence of a uniform, standard seniority policy established by the national union continues to cause grave problems. Pilots know this history very well and recite it with passion.

For example, during the 1986 merger of Northwest with Republic Airlines, an arbitrator awarded junior NWA pilots the lucrative Pacific routes over the heads of the senior Republic pilots. This is still a sore point among veteran pilots at NWA, over 20 years later.

Controversy follows almost every arbitration decision.

In the recent US Airways/America West merger, both pilot groups are represented by ALPA but both argue a different point of view of how the two groups should be joined.

Finally, following ALPA procedure, an arbitrator stepped in and decided to place many junior former America West pilots in line ahead of senior US Airways' pilots. Predictably, this caused a serious rift among the 5500 pilots.

In fact, 3100 angry US Airways' pilots recently petitioned the National Medication Board to schedule an ALPA decertification election. The election will occur between March 20-April 17, 2008.

It is being pushed by the non-AFL-CIO US Airline Pilots Association (US APA). This is really a non-group without funds or collective bargaining agreements that exists through support by the same union-raiding law firm that spawned the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).

To further worsen the situation, the US Airways' ALPA Master Executive Council (MEC) filed a lawsuit against National ALPA protesting the arbitrators decision.

Other unions avoid some of these problems by having a seniority policy that extends credit for all years worked in the industry regardless of airline or union. Advocates of this system argue that it builds solidarity among airline workers and avoids the bitter division that pilots usually suffer after a merger.

The Machinists (IAM), for example, recognize the seniority of all workers joined together as a result of a merger from the "date of hire into the classification, regardless of which airline or union an employee comes from."

Will Mergers Lift Off?

The issue of seniority for the 12,000 pilots of a potential Delta-NWA combine is not likely to be settled soon and it's also unclear how all the other factors will ultimately affect the plans of Wall St. to join carriers.

It is very clear, however, that unions are now taking a much tougher stand toward mergers after the US Airways' experience. A recent national meeting of IAM Local officers "unanimously agreed that any major airline merger would be anti-competitive ... " and they "agreed to prepare their membership for demonstrations ... ."

The example of Delta-NWA management stepping back from their deal reveals nervous investors have heard labor's warning. But it is likely this is only a temporary lull in their attempts to squeeze enormous profits from downsized carriers with fewer aircraft stuffed with more passengers being charged higher prices.

Unions, however, also appear better prepared today to confidently say that mergers will neither proceed without their participation nor succeed by expecting more concessions from employees.


Union notches tribal surrender in Casino War

There won't be an Indian casino advisory measure on the June ballot in Sonoma County, but only because the Board of Supervisors thinks its pointless when federal and state officials will ignore the results.

After more than two hours of public testimony Tuesday, supervisors decided that spending $100,000 on an advisory vote would be a waste of taxpayer money when the target, the plan by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria for a casino near Rohnert Park, has virtual federal immunity from challenges and is practically guaranteed approval by the governor's office.

"It may make us feel better, but it will not make a difference," said Valerie Brown, who like the other four supervisors has consistently opposed casino development. "But do not ask me to lay off one person to fight a battle that we can not win."

Greg Sarris, chairman of the Graton tribe, said he was relieved because an election campaign would have been divisive.

Contacted after the supervisors' decision, he said it would have caused him to lose support within his tribe for his efforts to negotiate monetary mitigation measures with Rohnert Park and the county.

"It could have adversely affected the very positive and cooperative relations my tribe has with the county and the city of Rohnert Park," said Sarris, calling the proposal "a slap in the face."

The Rohnert Park City Council has negotiated a 20-year, $200 million deal with the tribe to offset effects of the casino and to pay for road widening, police and school programs. It also would funnel $5 million annually into the city's general fund.

Opponents of the Rohnert Park casino had lobbied Supervisor Mike Kerns to propose a ballot measure to the board, which had to decide the matter Tuesday because the board doesn't meet again until after the ballot placement deadline of March 7.

Kerns, attending the public hearing by teleconference from Georgia, argued that voters should have the opportunity to let federal and state officials know how they feel about casino developments in the future.

"I feel that if we are going to put the measure on the ballot, it should be countywide because we have additional proposals in the county," he said.

But his proposal died for the lack of support from Brown, Tim Smith and Mike Reilly, who indicated they agreed with legal advice from the county attorney. The fifth supervisor, Paul Kelley, was absent.

County Counsel Steven Woodside said federal law gives the Graton tribe almost carte blanche to a development project even if it's not on lands restored by tribal heritage.

Still, two hours of public testimony from almost four dozen people produced divergent views on whether there was any point to asking for the electorate's opinion, with most speakers arguing against it. In many respects, arguments mirrored issues raised during years of public hearings surrounding an environmental review on the proposed casino.

Former Supervisor Bill Kortum called for a public vote on a "glitzy Las Vegas edifice next to Highway 101, the kind of symbol that nobody envisions for Sonoma County."

But former Supervisor Helen Rudee, in a statement read by tribal support group leader Susan Moore, said the tribe's mitigation measures include funding "badly needed in so many programs." Her statement said the tribe is "acting as a model development" whose financial offers should not be rejected by a public vote.

The Rev. Chip Worthington, leader of the Stop the Casino 101 Coalition, said that, at the cost of about a quarter a voter, an election is worth the price of allowing "the right of Sonoma County residents to express themselves."

Shirlee Zane, executive director of the Council on Aging and a candidate for 3rd District supervisor, said a public vote should include the issue of gambling addiction among seniors. She said seniors are attracted to casinos that offer "cheap meals, transportation and alcohol."

Several leaders of environmental groups and construction trades unions said they opposed a referendum. They said the Graton tribe's proposal has their support because it has pledged funds to Laguna de Santa Rosa restoration and to using union labor on casino construction and hotel operation.

Mark Holmes of the Bay Institute, who noted the Graton tribe acceded to moving its casino proposal out of its original location near the San Pablo Bay, said "referendums don't always solve an issue and often you will be left with very angry people."


Curbing non-union labor in casino construction

Clark Construction Co. hopes to attract "high-level talent" to build the Firekeepers Casino near Battle Creek (MI). But in addition to their skills, the Lansing-based builder also will consider where job applicants live, according to senior project manager Duane Wixson.

"We've gotten a directive from the tribe to hire not only from the tribe, but also from the local community," Wixson said. "We've been given that directive loud and clear. There's no way we can misinterpret that."

Clark is the construction manager for the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians's casino east of Battle Creek. The company is operating with a project labor agreement with Battle Creek-area trade unions to assemble the work force, starting with a job fair March 4 at the Holiday Inn on Beckley Road in Battle Creek.

"We like to partner up with them, and what we get out of it is we make sure we have a qualified, trained staff on site," Wixson said of the PLA. "That ensures we have a quality construction job. Also, a supply of labor."

Even if they don't work for a company, individuals are encouraged to attend the job fair. Clark Construction will match qualified people to subcontractors who need their skill sets, Wixson said.

The 230,000-square-foot casino is planned for 78 acres in Emmett Charter Township, southeast of Battle Creek at exit 104 of Interstate 94. Wixson estimated 700 individuals will be needed for construction, though no more than 300 likely will be on-site at any given point. A groundbreaking date has not been set.


Big Print news union dispute drags on

While The Seattle Times Co. says it still intends to outsource its trucking operations and vehicle maintenance, company employees continue to do those jobs — and apparently will for at least another month. Late last year The Times said it would transfer the work to Penske Logistics and eliminate up to 80 company jobs, effective today. But the company remains locked in negotiations with Teamsters Local 174, which represents most of the affected workers.

Although the local's contract with The Times expired Thursday, both sides agree it will be extended indefinitely until one party notifies the other it intends to terminate the agreement in 30 days. So far neither has.

Times spokeswoman Jill Mackie would not discuss when or if The Times might act. The Teamsters have threatened to strike if the outsourcing plan moves forward.

The two sides last met Wednesday. Teamsters business agent Patty Warren said the session convinced her The Times is serious about outsourcing, and that the plan isn't a company ploy to extract contract concessions from the union.

Penske has offered to hire some Times drivers, she said, but some would lose their jobs. Those who are hired would face reductions in benefits and overtime protection, she added.

The Times says the outsourcing would help it cut costs to deal with declining revenue.

"We continue to be hopeful we can come to agreement [with the Teamsters] on how to transfer our bulk hauling work to Penske," Times Vice President Alayne Fardella said in an e-mail to employees this week.

"The longer this process drags on, the longer dollars are diverted from necessary investments and the more difficult it will be to delay additional budget cuts elsewhere," she said.

She accused the union of stalling. Warren said the negotiations are too important to rush.


SEIU's strike-breaking union-buster

In what some call a shameful betrayal of solidarity, powerhouse New York labor leader Dennis Rivera has joined Puerto Rico's governor in a stunning attempt to break the island's largest union. Eight days ago, the Puerto Rico Federation of Teachers, which represents 40,000 teachers, paralyzed island public schools with a strike.

The teachers, who earn top wages of $26,000 a year, had worked for 30 months without a contract. Union leaders were furious that Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila imposed new working conditions last year, decertified the union in January and suspended its dues checkoff.

The governor's draconian actions came after the union's membership voted in November to authorize a strike. Since 1998, Puerto Rico's government workers have not been allowed to strike.

While the clash between the teachers' militant leaders and the government was grabbing the headlines, Rivera was maneuvering to snatch control of the teachers for his Service Employees International Union.

Top labor leaders here and in Puerto Rico say Acevedo Vila gave Rivera, a close friend and a vice president of the 1.6-million member SEIU, a green light last year to oust the teachers federation and replace it with a newly formed labor group, the Union of Puerto Rican Teachers.

That new union is a subsidiary of the Puerto Rico Teachers Association, a group that has long represented principals and supervisors at island public schools.

In January, Rivera and Aida Diaz, president of the principals group, announced that the principals were affiliating with SEIU and their new subsidiary would demand an election to oust the Federation of Teachers.

The principals and supervisors, in effect, created a new union for their subordinates. What they didn't say was that they had the backing of the governor in this union-raiding scheme.

"The governor told Dennis, 'It's essentially yours to take,'" said one source who claims he was at a meeting in late December between top island union leaders, the governor and Rivera.

This week, El Diario-La Prensa reported that Rivera and Acevedo Vila also met in September at a San Juan restaurant to discuss the teachers union as well as possible financial backing by SEIU for the governor.

"That's a total fabrication," Rivera said yesterday of the Diario story. "Did I meet with the governor of Puerto Rico in a public restaurant around August? Yes, I've met with him maybe 20 times. Did I offer him donations in any way, shape or form? Absolutely not."

Rivera also denied any talks with the governor about a campaign by SEIU to become the bargaining agent for Puerto Rico's teachers.

Acevido Vila's office did not respond yesterday to a request for comment. The governor flatly denied to Puerto Rico reporters this week that he attended any meeting with Rivera to discuss financial support.

A few days after Rivera and the principals' union held their press conference, the government of Puerto Rico decertified the teachers federation. Acevedo's education secretary has ruled that the federation will not be permitted to run in any new elections for a union to represent the teachers.

In Puerto Rico, there is a long history of antagonism between independent unions, like the teachers and the electrical workers, and the labor organizations connected to the AFL-CIO or the new Change to Win federation, of which SEIU is a part.

Too many U.S.-based unions operate in an arrogant and colonialist fashion, the independents say.

What they never expected was to see the most influential Puerto Rican labor leader in the U.S. treat them just like those old Washington labor leaders have done for so long.


Scribe laments SEIU dues hit

A year ago, 108 low-paid janitors and maintenance workers at Nova Southeastern University in Davie lost their jobs when the school switched contractors after a contentious union drive.

On Monday, about 30 people marked the anniversary with a rally. Former workers held up signs that read "Victory will be ours" and "The fight continues." The crowd, which included clergy, activists and members of the Service Employees International Union, chanted, "Justice will come. Justice will come."

Speakers criticized NSU President Ray Ferrero Jr. and TCB Systems, the local firm that declined to hire all the workers after replacing UNICCO, the previous contractor.

The cause seemed righteous, but the location was all wrong.

The protest took place outside the Broward County Governmental Center, attracting a lone Fort Lauderdale police cruiser and a few odd looks from county workers on smoking breaks.

There wasn't an NSU student, professor or administrator in sight.

The only current elected official to turn out was a state representative from Miami-Dade County, Ronald Brise.

"These fights are tiring," said Hiram Ruiz, a union representative.

Injustice is bad enough, but the indifference shown by the campus community over the past year seems worse.The university thumbed its nose at these workers, mostly immigrants from Haiti, Central and South America, and the response has been one big shrug.

A year ago, there was a lot of noise from U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, a former NSU employee, and Broward County commissioners, who threatened to cut funding to a county-subsidized campus library.

But the workers' cause never really gained traction.

It's a far cry from the happy ending workers had at the University of Miami. After a widely publicized hunger strike by workers and students, and a bruising public campaign against UM President Donna Shalala, UNICCO workers got union representation, better wages and benefits.

"We have hope, and we're going to continue to fight," said Trinidad Espinosa, 48, a displaced worker. "We never failed Nova. It was Nova who failed us."

Espinosa, of Miramar, made $8.50 an hour cleaning rooms at Nova Southeastern. Now she makes $8 an hour working part time at JC Penney in Pembroke Pines.

She was a vocal leader in the union drive, which she thought would lead to higher pay, health-care benefits and better working conditions from UNICCO, a Massachusetts-based contractor.

Instead, it led to a pink slip.

Soon after the union drive, Nova Southeastern replaced UNICCO with a consortium of smaller local firms. The university mandated better pay and health benefits, but the new contractors were allowed to hire and fire at will.

Espinosa said she applied four times with TCB Systems but was repeatedly rejected.

"It doesn't seem coincidental that the ones who organized and took the lead were the ones who lost their jobs," said the Rev. Bob Tywoniak, of St. George Catholic Church in Fort Lauderdale.

The last time I saw him, in March, he led a protest at a charity luncheon where Ferrero was honored. "We're still here," he told the workers Monday. "We have not abandoned you."

Most workers have found new jobs. According to the union, 25 to 35 have not.

The union has filed an unfair labor practices charge against NSU on behalf of the fired workers with the National Labor Relations Board. Ruiz said the case is pending.

I left a message with NSU Executive Vice President George Hanbury on Monday but didn't hear back. In the past, administrators have tried to distance the school from the controversy by saying the workers were not university employees.

"In Miami, Donna Shalala ultimately had a wider vision of the university and its place in the community," Ruiz said. "With Nova, there's just an incredible level of arrogance [with the administration]. And sadly, we learned early on that it's a commuter school where the students don't get emotionally involved."

The indifference goes on.


Rank-and-file SEIU revolt v. Andy Stern

Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union and one of the country's leading labor leaders, faces dissension within the union over his centralized management style and consolidation strategy.

In recent weeks, grumblings about Mr. Stern's policies have become louder as the union's June convention approaches. Union members have set up two Web sites urging more union democracy, others have posted critical comments online, and one top official resigned his post on the union's executive committee.

At issue is Mr. Stern's approach to unionism. Mr. Stern has pursued national contracts with employers and merged smaller locals along industry lines, grouping nurses or janitors into larger groups to strengthen bargaining power. He often appoints his own leaders to newly created locals and has also sought direct agreements with executives to streamline the organizing process.

In doing so, he has distinguished the SEIU as a powerful union that is rapidly adding new members while much of the labor movement is in decline. The SEIU has 1.58 million members, according to the Labor Department. Mr. Stern also got national attention when he pulled the SEIU out of the AFL-CIO in 2005 and led six other unions in forming the rival Change to Win federation.

Some within the union say his approach undermines rank-and-file authority and argue that some locals don't want to merge with others or have him intercede in negotiations. They say that in some cases Mr. Stern has put organizing new members ahead of negotiating and providing services for current members.

The most vocal critics are in California, where Sal Rosselli, president of the SEIU's second-largest local, which represents 150,000 health-care workers, resigned his post on the SEIU executive committee this month. "Stern is further consolidating power," Mr. Rosselli says. "Our members are unanimously and with great anger frankly saying, 'No. Enough is enough.'"

Steve Trossman, director of communications for the SEIU, said Mr. Stern declined to comment on recent criticism by union officials and members. Mr. Trossman characterized the current dissension as largely between Mr. Rosselli and other leaders of locals. Mr. Trossman said changes in the SEIU have been voted on by union leaders and members. "The results in SEIU I think speak for themselves in our ability to grow and maintain standards for working people and our ability to really change people's lives."

Dave Regan, president of an SEIU local that represents 35,000 mostly health-care workers in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky, said Mr. Stern has appointed leaders of new locals only for transitional periods and that he has stepped into negotiations only when local leaders couldn't agree on how to negotiate with employers. "Do we think there's going to be 100% support for these things? Of course not," Mr. Regan said. "But the vast majority of our members recognize they are stronger in unified organizations."

Other current and former SEIU leaders say the rift is broader. Jerry Brown, former president of a local representing 22,000 health-care workers in Rhode Island and Connecticut, said his local prevented SEIU leadership from negotiating on its behalf with nursing-home chains in 2006 because it had a special clause in its merger agreement. "Most of SEIU does not have those protections," said Mr. Brown, who believes Mr. Stern has often overstepped his authority by failing to seek membership approval of plans. Mr. Trossman said he didn't know enough about the situation to comment on it.

Labor experts said the dispute highlights broader tensions among unions as leaders try to consolidate power through mergers to maintain clout with employers as union membership dwindles.

Mr. Stern, 57 years old, was elected SEIU president in 1996. He has been credited with successfully organizing workers in growing sectors of the economy like health care and building services, but the criticism could prove embarrassing and disruptive as the union approaches its four-year convention in Puerto Rico. Mr. Stern is expected to win re-election without a challenge, but a dissident faction plans to press for changes, which would allow individual members, rather than delegates, to vote for president and top officials, and have more say in mergers.

Tony Koumantzelis, 47, a building manager in Lowell, Mass., says his union was merged with other SEIU locals that represent public-sector employees in 2003 and Mr. Stern appointed a president, rather than let members elect their own, which angered members. "The big issue is the lack of a democratic process," he said. An SEIU spokesman said union rules allow for appointed leaders following mergers.

More than a dozen SEIU members of California locals have complained of mergers in videotaped comments posted online. "There's a groundswell growing among the membership. They realize they have no voice," said Arturo Diaz, 58, a computer programmer for Los Angeles County, who appears in one of the videos.


FBI still digging around for Hoffa Sr.

Federal agents dug up part of a horse farm where organized crime figures used to meet in the latest search for "the human remains of James Riddle Hoffa," a search warrant obtained Thursday says. FBI agents had refused to confirm that the target of their two-day search at Hidden Dreams Farm outside Detroit was the remains of the former Teamsters leader, who disappeared in 1975.

For years, there has been a rumor in the surrounding neighborhood that Hoffa had been killed and buried there at the order of mobsters and others who didn't want Hoffa to regain power over the union. Deb Koskovich said she heard the rumor about Hoffa's body two decades ago from a neighbor when she moved next door.

"We laughed and that was the end of that," said Koskovich, 52. "I never thought about it again until today so apparently there have been rumors."

FBI agents investigating Hoffa's disappearance spent a second day at the farm, about 20 miles from the Oakland County restaurant where the Teamsters leader was to have dinner the night he vanished.

Asked if they were looking for Hoffa's remains, FBI Agent Dawn Clenney said, "Could be," and declined to comment further on the agents' presence.

A law enforcement official in Washington said the search was based on information developed several years ago and verified more recently.

The information indicated there was a high level of suspicious activity on the farm the day Hoffa vanished, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. A backhoe appeared near a barn that organized crime members had used for meetings, but that location was never used again after Hoffa disappeared, the official said.

Clenney said the bureau has received numerous leads about Hoffa.

"This is one we felt we needed to follow up on," she said.

At the time he vanished, Hoffa was to meet with a New Jersey Teamsters boss and a Detroit Mafia captain. Investigators have longed suspected the two had him killed to prevent him from regaining the union presidency after he served time in federal prison for jury tampering.

The FBI would not say who owned the property when Hoffa disappeared.

Reporters were not allowed onto the property, a horse farm surrounded by a white wooden fence just off a dirt road, but images shot from news helicopters showed about a dozen people, some with shovels, standing by an area of newly turned dirt about 10 feet by 15 feet. Neighbors looked on from their yards but said they hadn't been told anything.

Mark Weidel, who was visiting his parents' home just up the road, said he grew up hearing rumors about Hoffa and didn't expect anything to come of this search.

"It's just another Hoffa story," he said.

Last year, the FBI crime lab concluded that blood found on the floor of a Detroit home where a one-time Hoffa ally claimed to have killed him did not belong to Hoffa.

Bloomfield Township police ripped up the floorboards from the house where Frank Sheeran claimed Hoffa was killed. Sheeran died in 2003 at age 83, and his claim was detailed in a book published months later.

A New Jersey mob hit man who died in March reportedly made a similar deathbed claim. Richard "The Iceman" Kuklinski gave author Philip Carlo what he claimed were graphic details of the infamous, unsolved killing of the union boss, The Record of Bergen County, N.J., reported. "The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer" is scheduled for release in July.

Oakland County Prosecutor David Gorcyca said Bloomfield Township police were offering assistance but he knew little about the search. He said he was surprised the FBI acted without speaking to them.

"Three years ago they said, `The Hoffa case in essence is yours to deal with,'" he said. "I'd have expected the professional courtesy of calling me."


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