Ugly union politics pollute Ohio

With just days to go before Ohio's primary, union members across the state are on the march, but they're not marching in solidarity. Labor's house is divided between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the state's most hotly contested presidential primary in decades. Obama, who casts himself as the candidate for change, has the "Change to Win" unions on his side. That's the group that formed in 2005 when five unions bolted the AFL-CIO, the nation's main labor federation, dissatisfied with the continuing decline in union membership and determined to do a better job of organizing.

The seven unions that now make up Change to Win include the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

Altogether, unions in the group have 175,000 members in Ohio, according to the Obama campaign. Other Ohio unions backing Obama have an additional 17,000 members, the campaign said.

Meanwhile, Clinton is getting major support in Ohio and across the country from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), representing state and local government employees.

In Ohio, the union has 150,000 members, according to the Clinton campaign. Other unions backing Clinton have an additional 80,000 members, the campaign said.

"It is interesting that the unions dissatisfied with the direction of organized labor are backing the candidate that is most critical of the old ways — including the Clinton administration," said political scientist John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

On both sides, hundreds of union members are making phone calls and knocking on doors to get the vote out for their candidates on Tuesday, March 4. While only 14.1 percent of Ohio workers now are union members — compared to 25 percent in 1983 — their support still is key to Democratic candidates.

"Labor union support is likely to be very helpful to both candidates because it gives them grassroots activists," said Green. "It may matter more to Obama than Clinton because she has the support of the governor and the Democratic Party activists."

There's another dimension to union support for the candidates both in Ohio and nationally: money. Independent expenditures on behalf of candidates are legal but can't be coordinated with the candidates' campaigns. Unions backing Clinton have made more than $3.6 million in such expenditures, while unions backing Obama have spent more than $3.7 million, according to the Federal Election Commission. In addition, AFSCME has spent $234,483 opposing Obama.

SEIU alone has spent more than $3 million on Obama's behalf, including money for a TV ad for Obama in Ohio that has sparked controversy. The UFCW also has aired a TV ad in Ohio for Obama.

The Clinton campaign has said Obama spoke out against such outside spending in Iowa when unions helped John Edwards, but now that the ads help him his response has been "underwhelming" and inconsistent.

Ben LaBolt, Obama's Ohio campaign spokesman, responded that Clinton has benefited from more than $5 million in spending from outside groups, including from unions, and has said nothing.

"Sen Obama has long said that he would prefer those who want to support him do it directly through the campaign," LaBolt said.

Such bickering could make it difficult for labor and the candidates to close ranks once the primaries are over, but Jamie Fant, an AFSCME retiree in Dayton who is making phone calls for Clinton, said he doesn't have time to worry about that.

"I'm not even concerned about that," Fant said. "Our primary concern is we're supporting Hillary Clinton."


Union leaders' secret agenda: force, power

Edmonton-based Merit Contractors Association of Alberta launched a second ad campaign challenging union leaders fronting the "Albertans for Change" coalition to come clean about their secret agenda for Alberta. Merit's campaign responds to new attack ads against the Stelmach government from the labour coalition headed up by leaders of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and the Alberta Building Trades Council (ABTC).

In Edmonton, Stephen Kushner, President of Merit Contractors Association, stated, "For the first time in Alberta's history, union leaders are aggressively spending mandatory union dues to try to unseat a provincial government with expensive American style attack ads. These ads make no mention of Alberta's labour laws or workplaces. Merit believes union leaders have a secret hidden agenda that if implemented will not be good for Albertans."

The Merit ads charge "Albertans for Change" is nothing more than anAlbertan version of the "Working Families" special interest organization setup by Ontario union leaders to help Ontario Liberals gain power in 2003 and get re-elected in 2007.

"The payback costs in Ontario were high - especially in the construction industry," says Kushner. After being elected, Dalton McGuinty's governmentrewrote Ontario's labour laws that, among other things, took away the right of construction workers to have a secret ballot vote on unionization elections.

The Albertans for Change ads say nothing about changing Alberta's labour laws. However, the legislative proposals of the organizations financing the ads call for similar changes to be made in Alberta. Kushner noted, "This election is similar in tone to recent Ontario elections when labour laws were not debated. Yet, after reading the platforms of both Opposition parties, it's clear they have bought into the union leaders demands. Albertans should know this information when they cast their ballots on March 3 and not let union leaders tell them how to vote."


SEIU powerplay triggers grass-roots revolt

A series of Tri-City (WA) day care centers are red hot over a bill in the Legislature that could lead to unionizing day care operators and workers in a bid to increase state subsidies for low-income clients. Critics see it as a boon for some of the state's most powerful unions -- especially the aggressive Service Employees International Union -- and fear they'll find themselves under their thumb.

"Most of us providers are not political beings in the least," said Ginger Still, who owns Kids World Childcare centers in Pasco, Richland and West Richland. "There's a good chance we will just close," said Kaye Malady, who runs Emmanuel Baptist Daycare in Pasco.

Last week the owners of 22 day cares in the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla signed a letter asking the Senate to reject the measure, House Bill 2449, which appears to be steaming its way towards passage. They argued, in part, that if the state wants to boost reimbursements for day care centers that make subsidized slots available for low-income clients the Legislature simply can appropriate more money.

"You do not need a union to tell you to increase subsidies or to allocate money for professional development for our teachers; you simply need to do it," the letter said.

But the day care centers and unions pushing the bill say it's the only way to get the state to increase lackluster funding for centers that provide care to low-income children. That's funding that could be used to bolster their bottom lines, increase wages for workers and improve training programs to improve service.

"The state's track record in supporting child care has not been as good as it should have been," said Gretchen Donart of SEIU Local 925. "To say magically, somehow the Legislature is going to have a change of heart is unrealistic."

And there's strong support in the Democrat-controlled Legislature for unionizing day cares.

"They sometimes need a stronger voice for their point of view," said House Speaker Frank Chopp, a Seattle Democrat who scoffed at the notion the bill is an election year gift to powerful unions.

"That is absolutely not the case," he said.

The bill is rooted in legislation approved two years ago that allowed licensed providers who run their day care businesses out of their homes to collectively bargain with the state for higher reimbursements.

Still, who provided such services out of her home for 12 years, said that was probably needed as some providers became frustrated by allegedly overzealous state regulators who dropped in for inspections.

Now a trio of unions, the SEIU, the Washington Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, is pushing to expand that law to include day care centers. Large chains of more than 10 centers would be exempted, though they're opposing the bill anyway.

Under the bill, day care operators and workers could be jointly represented by a union that would negotiate with the state over subsidies for accepting low-income children. Other issues, including funding for staff training and access to health programs, also could be negotiated.

The state would deduct day care union dues right out of the low-income reimbursements centers receive. Centers could opt out only by rejecting low-income clients, something the unions argue is unlikely to happen.

Because workers and employers would be represented by the same union, the bill would not allow that union to also represent workers wanting to bargain with their employer over wages. All hiring and firing decisions would stay with the day care operators.

To gain voting rights within the union workers voluntarily could choose to pay union dues. And the unions are likely to press for that.

"The benefits are much bigger if everybody joins together," Donart said.

Day care centers that don't want to unionize aren't powerless. Should the bill be signed into law, 30 percent of all day care owners and workers in each of the Department of Social and Health Service's six regions would have to register support for having an election.

At that election, owners and workers would decide whether to unionize, and possibly select a union. The unions already are divvying up territory, with an alliance of the AFT and WEA positioned to represent most of Eastern Washington.

Martha Esparza, an AFT and WEA organizer in Benton, Yakima, Franklin and Walla Walla counties, said she's encountering opposition from about six in 10 day care centers.

She said it's the unions' goal to organize day care centers and acknowledges some don't want to have anything to do with a politically active union but said "nothing ever happens when you don't have a unified voice."

"We have through long experience seen being politically active as a key to improving services in our state, including child care," Donart said.

Still has helped organize a 7 p.m. meeting Wednesday at Children's Garden Montessori in Richland for Mid-Columbia child care centers and union representatives to discuss unionization. She fears things are moving so fast day care centers will get mauled by a union movement without ever knowing it was coming.

"I guarantee there are people out there that don't know this is about to happen to them," she said. "It's happening too fast."


Sneak attack nets union targets in Casino War

“I consider that a manipulation of the National Labor Relations Board process, the Tribe and our employees," said Tribal Council member Michele Stanley. "Everyone had to fully expect that they would follow through with an election." The organizing director for the International Union Security Police & Fire Professionals of America said last week that the union called for an election, but never planned to go through with it. The union leader, Steve Maritas, said the union simply wanted to get the list of names and addresses of the casino security and surveillance personnel the union hopes to organize.

When a union representation election is scheduled, federal law requires an employer to release that list to the union. Maritas said the union plans to use the list for organizing and will ask for a late-summer election.

But Stanley said the gambit was trickery to force the Tribe to give up confidential information.

“We have always maintained that our employees'names and addresses were confidential," she said.

“It’s an abuse of the process," said Tribal General Counsel Sean Reed."The Tribe doesn’t treat its employees that way."

Stanley and other Tribal leaders denied that their efforts after the vote was announced were designed to instill fear of the union into employees.

“It was an educational process to explain to our employees what they were getting into," Tribal Chief Fred Cantu said."There was no fear in it."

Late last year, the Teamsters union lost a representation vote among housekeepers after a campaign by the employer.

Reed said if the security election had actually gone forward, the union likely would have lost that, too.

“There have been two attempts to organize here," Reed said."Both have failed."

Both Teamsters and security union leaders say they won’t give up. Reed said the National Labor Relations Board has no jurisdiction over the Tribe, and the court case that appeared to give the unions the right to attempt to organize workers was wrongly decided by a federal appeals court. But, he said, the Tribe voluntarily followed NLRB rules in conducting the Teamster election, and would have followed the same rules if the security election had taken place.

“If it comes to a vote, we’ll encourage our employees to vote," Reed said.

“We encouraged 100 percent participation in the housekeepers election," Stanley said, and the Teamsters lost by a 2 to 1 margin. Cantu and Stanley said the organizing drive has prompted the casino management to listen closely to concerns of employees.

“We grew really fast," Cantu said, and that growth might have made it difficult for workers to sense they were being heard.

“It has to be open lines of communication between our front-line employees," Cantu said,"and our management."

He said the casino’s general manager maintains an open-door policy and encourages workers to express their concerns.

The Teamsters have filed an unfair labor practice over a Tribal ordinance that all but outlaws unions on the Reservation, but Reed said that case doesn’t appear to be moving ahead. He said the Tribe would continue to argue that the federal labor board has no jurisdiction.

“Our position on that," he said,"is extremely clear."


Workers to shut U.S. ports in May Day protest

In a major step for the U.S. labor movement, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has announced that it will shut down West Coast ports on May 1, to demand an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East. In a February 22 letter to AFL-CIO president John Sweeney, ILWU International president Robert McEllrath reported that at a recent coast-wide union meeting, “One of the resolutions adopted by caucus delegates called on longshore workers to stop work during the day shift on May 1, 2008 to express their opposition to the war in Iraq.”

This is the first time in decades that an American union has decided to undertake industrial action against a U.S. war. It is doubly important that this mobilization of labor’s power is to take place on May Day, the international workers day, which is not honored in the U.S. Moreover, the resolution voted by the ILWU delegates opposes not only the hugely unpopular war in Iraq, but also the war and occupation of Afghanistan (which Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and Republican John McCain all want to expand). The motion to shut down the ports also demands the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the entire region, including the oil sheikdoms of the strategically important Persian/Arab Gulf.

The Internationalist Group has fought from the moment U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan in September 2002 for American unions to strike against the war. Despite the fact that millions have marched in the streets of Europe and the United States against the war in Iraq, the war goes on. Neither of the twin war parties of U.S. imperialism – Democrats and Republicans – and none of the capitalist candidates will stop this horrendous slaughter that has already killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The only way to stop the Pentagon killing machine is by mobilizing the power of a greater force – that of the international working class.

The action announced by the powerful West Coast dock workers union, to stop work to stop the war, should be taken up by unions and labor organizations throughout the United States and internationally. The ILWU should be commended for courageously taking the first step, and it is up to working people everywhere to back them up. Wherever support is strong enough, on May 1 there should be mass walkouts, sick-outs, labor marches, plant-gate meetings, lunch-time rallies, teach-ins. And the purpose of such actions should be not to beg the bourgeois politicians whose hands are covered with blood, having voted for every war budget for six and a half years, but a show of strength of the working people who make this country run, and who can shut it down!

Now is the time for bold class action. Opposition to the war is even greater in the U.S. working class than in the population as a whole, more than two-thirds of which wants to stop the war but is stymied by the capitalist political system. In his letter to Sweeney, the ILWU president asked “if other AFL-CIO affiliates are planning to participate in similar events.” Labor militants should make sure the answer to that question is a resounding “yes!”

There should be no illusions that this will be easy. No doubt the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) bosses will try to get the courts to rule the stop-work action illegal. The ILWU leadership could get cold feet, since this motion was passed because of overwhelming support from the delegates despite attempts to stop it or, failing that, to water it down or limit the action. And the U.S. government could try to ban it on the grounds of “national security,” just as Bush & Co. slapped a Taft-Hartley injunction on the docks during contract negotiations in the fall of 2002, saying that any work stoppage was a threat to the “war effort,” and threatened to occupy the ports with troops!

The answer to every attempt to sabotage or undercut this first labor action against this war, and against Washington’s broader “war on terror” which is intended to terrorize the world into submission must be to redouble efforts to bring out workers’ power independent of the capitalist parties and politicians. If the ILWU work stoppage is successful, it will only be a small, but very important, beginning that must be generalized and deepened. It will take industrial-strength labor action to defeat the imperialist war abroad and the bosses’ war on immigrants, oppressed minorities, poor and working people “at home.”


County weighs union-only thuggery

Depending on your viewpoint, prevailing wage complaints are either an effective tool for unions to fight for all workers or a means to harass non-union contractors and those that hire them. Another tool in organized labor's toolbox — the project labor agreement — is equally polarizing. In October, the Calhoun County (MI) Commission almost considered a proposal to change Calhoun County's purchasing policy and require project labor agreements. The county ultimately pulled the item off the agenda and commissioners never debated the issue, although it had the makings of a tough political fight.

Commissioners who opposed the change include Republicans Jase Bolger of Marshall and Greg Moore of Emmett Township and Battle Creek Democrat Betty Arnquist.

"It was after Commissioner Moore and I started asking questions ... and were joined by Commissioner Arnquist, that the issue seemed to pause," Bolger said Monday.

The change, proposed by commissioner Mike Rae, D-Pennfield Township, would require a project labor agreement and prevailing wage to be in place for all county projects $50,000 or more. The county's current purchasing policy requires prevailing wage for projects totaling $250,000 or greater, but has no requirement for a project labor agreement.

"I think it's a good idea, but there was no consensus, so it's off the table," Rae said.

Chairwoman Kate Segal and commissioner Terris Todd, both of Battle Creek, have not taken a stance on the issue.

Commission vice-chairman Eusebio Solis, D-Albion, said he would decide on the issue when and if it comes back to the board for a vote.

"I'd welcome the discussion if it comes back on (the agenda)," Solis said. "The opposition is taking the worst case scenario and running with it. ...A PLA can be fair and balanced, but the devil is in the details."

Most PLAs require local area union wages, benefits and working conditions be employed at the site and incorporate the provisions of the applicable local area union agreements.

Supports say such agreements promote "labor harmony," although critics say they effectively shut out nonunion contractors.

Independent contractor John Sears, owner of J & L Electric in Battle Creek, also urged commissioners to vote against adding a PLA to county policy.

"Since we are an open shop, I feel that it would be discriminatory that only companies who are signatory to the unions be eligible to perform work for the County," Sears said in a letter to commissioners dated Nov. 29, 2007. "If you reduce competition, construction costs will surely rise. With tax dollars already stretched thin, can the County afford this?"


Publicly-funded labor-activism in Rhode Island

For a quarter century, the Institute for Labor Studies & Research has been providing a wide variety of worker education programs. Over 50,000 Rhode Island workers have learned the skills they need to adapt to the changing economic and technological environment.

Working in collaboration with unions, employers, and the State of Rhode Island, the Institute has compiled an impressive list of achievements since its inception in 1980. Here is a partial list of the Institute's accomplishments:

* Provided literacy programs, Spanish, computer training, and adult education for thousands of Rhode Islanders;

* Created the Immigrant Workers' Rights Project to help thousands of immigrants understand their rights on the job;

* Started the Workers' Rights Project to provide books, pamphlets, and workshops addressing worker rights and health and safety on the job;

* Created and staffed the Workers' Rights Hotline to answer the questions and concerns of workers, students and employers on a wide range of workplace topics issues;

* Expanded the Labor in the Schools Program to train students and teachers from nearly every high school in Rhode Island about work- place rights;

* Broadcast LaborVision, a cable television program, shown three evenings a week, focusing on issues of importance to Rhode Island workers;

* Published Your Rights on the Job (brochures in several languages and student editions); Rhode Island Guide to Employment Law; Women in Non-Traditional Careers; Labor in the Schools Cur- riculum Resource Guide; and Steward's Guide;

* Designed a new website: RILaborInstitute.org which attracts 30,000 hits annually;

* Created Leadership for a Future, a training for new leaders from community groups, unions, and religious organizations, now in its seventh year;

* Founded the Rhode Island chapter of Labor Committee for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) to bring together Latino union members to fight for social justice;

* Offered the Hospitality Industry Training Program and the Dislocated Workers' Program to train hundreds of unemployed workers for new jobs;

* Started the Workforce Literacy and Education Project to bring unions and employers together to promote literacy in Rhode Island; and

* Conducted many Union Leadership Training programs to provide union stewards and union leaders with the tools to better represent their membership.


SAG contract strategy spells celeb strike

The Screen Actors Guild in the U.S. said it won't begin negotiations with Hollywood studios until April, causing concern in the industry there may be another work stoppage this year, after the recent writers' strike. The union released a timetable in an e-mail to its 120,000 members this week, indicated that it was undergoing a study of wages and working conditions that would be finished at the end of March. Only at that point would negotiations start with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios.

The actors union, known by its initials, SAG, is under pressure to get to the bargaining table as soon as possible.

SAG is the last major Hollywood union still without a new contract, with its current agreement expiring on June 30. There are fears there will not be enough time to hammer out a new contract.

The strike by the Writers Guild of America, or WGA — which began on Nov. 5 and lasted until Feb. 12 — shut down most TV productions and cost the Los Angeles economy an estimated $2.5 billion U.S.
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WGA members overwhelmingly approved a new contract that included higher payments for content offered over the internet. Directors previously ratified a similar deal after quick negotiations in January.

However, the actors union has said they have different issues to bring up, such as how to handle forced endorsements by actors of products placed in films.

There are differences within the union about how to proceed.

Top-drawer actors Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro took out ads in trade publications recently urging SAG to start talks immediately.

Clooney has said the industry is under strain because of the three-month writers dispute.

"I think there's a lot of strike fatigue, and I think you actually start losing negotiating power," Clooney said, according to an article in the trade publication Variety.

Members of SAG's New York board announced on Thursday that they have passed a resolution asking the guild leadership to begin discussions as soon as possible.

"I see absolutely no value to the members in delaying these talks any longer," said Sam Freed, the guild's New York branch president.

"We are dealing with serious issues. We should already be at the bargaining table."


Striking Steelworkers reject another offer

Striking CIBC employees in Sudbury, Ontario rejected the company's latest offer Friday morning by 94 per cent. Union staff representative Jim Kmit said members are not returning to work for what he called nickels and dimes. After seven weeks on the picket line, employees have only become more united, he said.

United Steelworkers Local 2020 represents 66 CIBC employees in Sudbury, mostly women. "These women are much stronger now than they were seven weeks ago," Kmit said. "They are serious. They want a decent wage offer and they want an across-the-board wage offer."

Employees voted 48-3 to reject the latest offer, compared to the narrow margin of 27 to 25 when they rejected the company's first offer Jan. 13.

Key issues are monetary, including wages, pensions and benefits. Union members say the wage structure at the bank must be changed due to inequities.

In the latest offer, the company offered employees increases ranging from zero to a little over $1 an hour over two years, said Kmit.

"The fact of the matter is you go out and strike for seven weeks, you don't go back for nickels and dimes," he said.

Kmit said the latest offer gave 22 workers 15 cents more than the last offer, 30 workers 10 cents more than the last offer, while six workers didn't get any increase.


Desert organizers in dues quest

With disputes and policy changes leaving Las Vegas dealers feeling unsettled in their job status, the Transport Workers of America sees an opportunity to expand the union's membership. The union has been striving since a failed campaign in 2001 to effectively organize dealers, and recent missteps and neglect by casino ownership has caused employees to think long and hard about unionizing.

In 2006, Wynn Resorts opted to adopt a controversial policy requiring the shared dealers' tips to include pit bosses in the split. Clearly a penny-wise and pound-foolish policy, the new system brought outrage upon the casino from dealers who did not wish to accept a paycut so that the pit bosses would not have to be paid as much from the billions collected by the house. Legal challenges were raised before the National Labor Relations Board, and the Transport Workers saw a new opportunity.

Despite Steve Wynn's pleas to dealers to trust in him, the hotel's dealers voted to unionize this past May; Caesar's Palace dealers followed suit in December. Negotiations for Wynn have already begun, and start Tuesday for Caesar's.

Now the union has targeted Harrah's Entertanment and MGM Mirage properties. Harrah's has had several of its casinos hold mandatory meetings for employees to push for votes against organizing. MGM responded with a better tactic, boosting hourly pay for its 5100 dealers from an average of $6.33 to $7.75, although the company claimed the adjustment had nothing to do with the union, but rather was to prepare for the hiring and transferring of 1000 dealers when CityCenter opens.

Still, although the raise was a wiser move than threats and intimidation tactics, the union was able to take credit for having forced the pay increases, and went further as to note that tips are the real pay for dealers. Starting Monday, the union will begin an advertising program to educate gamblers about tipping. From websites and billboards to print and live models, the union will help the public understand that tipping is the basis of pay for casino dealers.

While management from the casino chains is clearly unhappy with the prospects of organized employees, it has no one to blame but itself. Las Vegas casinos are gold mines, and greed is unbecoming and unnecessary. If employees are treated properly, the entire organization runs smoother, and customers are happier. The money is there; now a battle will ensue, forcing the owners to pay what they could have given freely, and kept employees as partners in reality as well as name.


Alternatives to teachers union exist

Free our teachers from the union. Introduce them to the Association of American Educators — an alternative, non-union organization that gives them benefits without burden. If you can afford to, offer to pay the nominal fees for a favorite teacher or two in order to show support. Teachers in every state may join (www.aaeteachers.org).

Teachers comprise any community’s most important professional community. They earn their higher educations and certificates in order to accept jobs that pay ridiculous wages and garner inadequate respect. They do so in order that commerce and industry will thrive with an educated workforce. Think a brain surgeon is more important than a teacher? Think again, unless you want an unschooled doctor digging into your skull.

In a perfect world, all teachers would work for competitive private schools that excel by attracting and rewarding the best, most dedicated and innovative professionals. In the world we have, however, most teachers work for government under contracts that encourage mediocrity. The contracts mostly represent the interests of a union that no longer cares much about kids, education or teachers.

Throughout the country, most teachers belong to the National Education Association, which is broken down by state and local chapters. Dues typically exceed $600 a year, which can be tough for teachers supporting families on wages that average $40-some thousand a year.

In some school districts, the union assumes membership and takes dues from a teacher’s wages unless the educator jumps through hoops to opt out during a short window of opportunity. The union has never succeeded at getting teachers the wages they deserve, and it typically works against efforts to reward excellence with above-average pay. The only tangible benefit most teachers see for their dues is liability insurance to cover lawsuits.

The workforce must be better prepared than ever to compete in markets that guarantee nothing and reward energy, quick thinking and ingenuity. Teachers are trying to respond by creating ever-improving, competitive schools — charter schools and neighborhood schools alike. But the union — stuck in the old world of institutionalized entitlement — gets in the way.

Take, for example, the experience of teachers at Denver’s Bruce Randolph Middle School. Principal Kristin Waters and her heroic staff lifted the inner-city school from among the worst in the state to one of the best, using what the Rocky Mountain News called “out-of-the-box strategies.”

Realizing the union resisted most innovative measures, Waters and her staff sought to free the school from union rules that were holding it back. For example, they wanted the freedom to determine how much time children should spend in school each day. But the union — supposedly dedicated to the interests of education — balked. Union leaders wanted to maintain control over a variety of everyday decisions at the school, including hiring practices, thus impeding progress.

The American Association of Educators, by contrast, is designed for today’s more competitive, progressive schools. It offers teachers twice the liability coverage the NEA sells, with fees that are less than a third of the union dues. Teachers can pay-as-they-go, and may opt in or out at any time. Money collected in excess of the cost of liability coverage pays for continuing education courses offered through major universities — open to members and non-members alike. None of the money goes to fund activism or political lobbyists.

The NEA is yesterday’s union, with no place in the cutting edge classroom. To usher in a new era, introduce teachers to the Association of American Educators — a non-coercive association designed around modern educational needs. Young minds are too important for an outdated union to waste.


The Clintons' unions resist KO

Sen. Barack Obama has bought large amounts of advertising and built extensive get-out-the-vote organizations in order to deal Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton defeats in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday intended to end her candidacy. The intensity of Obama's drive is especially apparent on television, where, using his huge financial advantage, he has outspent Clinton by nearly two to one in the two states, helping him to eat deeply into double-digit leads in polls she held just weeks ago.

But after a month in which Clinton raised $32 million — a remarkable sum but still less than the $50 million or more brought in by Obama — a travel schedule sent Clinton and Obama and their surrogates hurtling from border to border in Texas and Ohio, reflecting the expectation that the voting on Tuesday may be climactic. Clinton's advisers have suggested that she would bow out of the race if she lost either state, after 11 straight losses.

Their face-offs are not just on television. Obama has a town-hall-style meeting Westerville, Ohio, on Sunday afternoon. Clinton just announced one there, too. Obama will be at Westerville Central High School, Clinton at Westerville North High School.

In a sign of his confidence and his strategy of amassing delegates wherever he can, Obama planned to spend part of Saturday in Rhode Island, which with Vermont votes on Tuesday.

Polls suggest that the race is deadlocked in Texas; Clinton's lead in Ohio has been whittled away, but her supporters said she remained optimistic about a victory in Ohio.

"Sen. Obama is spending a lot of money on TV. If this can be purchased, he can win it," Gov. Ted Strickland, who has campaigned across the state with Clinton, said in an interview. "I think we've survived the initial blast of the Obama phenomenon, and we're now holding steady."

In Texas, Clinton presented a television advertisement starkly suggesting that Obama was not ready to lead the world in dangerous times, while in Ohio she appealed to blue-collar voters by attacking trade and tax policies that she said unfairly protected corporations.

Obama used his Texas advertisements to denounce business as usual in Washington, reprising an attack on Clinton. In Ohio, he emphasized his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was passed while Bill Clinton was president.

Obama has spent about $10 million on television advertising in Texas from early in February through Election Day, campaign officials said; Clinton has spent just less than $5 million. Obama has spent about $5.3 million for television advertising in Ohio, compared with just under $3 million for Clinton, the officials said.

Those figures do not take into account substantial advertising being presented for Obama by the Service Employees International Union. It also does not include money that Obama and Clinton spent in Texas on Spanish-language television and radio stations in a competition for Latino voters who Clinton had once considered an unassailable part of her base. "I have many friends in Texas; I know your tradition and culture," Clinton said in one broadcasting in Houston this weekend, speaking into the camera as subtitles translate her remarks into Spanish.

Obama's financial advantage is helping him beyond the airwaves.

His campaign flew 200 paid organizers from across the country to 10 campaign offices in Texas right after the Feb. 5 primaries, aides said, when some of Clinton's staff members were volunteering to work without pay. Another 150 were sent to build get-out-the-vote networks in Ohio, working for Paul Tewes, who was the Obama campaign's director in Iowa, where Obama's eight-point victory gave his campaign a boost.

Clinton's on-the-ground effort is no less aggressive and extensive; in particular, she has tapped into the network of support provided to her by Strickland. But in both states, her corps of workers is made up largely of volunteers, many from the two states. Others came here and to Texas on their own dime, typically from Washington and New York, some responding to an e-mail plea sent out by Chelsea Clinton.

"We need as many people on the ground in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont as we can get," Chelsea Clinton wrote.

To deal with the geographic demands of two diverse states, Clinton and Obama were relying on surrogates to carry their message. For Clinton, it was Dick Gephardt, the former House majority leader from Missouri, who was a longtime opponent of trade deals like NAFTA and was campaigning in the blue-collar Mahoning Valley.

For Obama, it was Arcade Fire, the popular indie-rock group who announced they would perform for Obama at Stuart's Opera House in Nelsonville on Sunday. Nelsonville is not far from Ohio University and many of the younger voters that Obama seeks.

(Aides to Clinton, distressed at the defection of a band with many fans in the Clinton headquarters, noted that the band was Canadian; in fact, while its members live there now, they grew up in Texas.)

If the Clinton and Obama campaigns succeed at their goals, every Democrat in the state will get a knock on the door from a supporter of one candidate or the other. Thousands of Obama's supporters gathered Saturday morning at 75 staging stations.

In Texas, Obama's campaign began the final part of its Caucus Education Program to make certain its supporters understand a complicated Texas voting procedure. It includes first a primary, where two-thirds of the delegates are chosen, followed by a caucus, where the remaining third are picked. Volunteers went door-to-door, leaving pamphlets explaining what the campaign has come to call the Texas Two Step, to remind Obama's supporters that they had to vote twice.

Obama has repeatedly defeated Clinton in caucuses, and his aides said that because of that, Obama could end up winning more delegates on Tuesday, even if he loses the popular vote. Clinton's aides said Saturday that in part because of defeats she had suffered to Obama in caucuses, they had made an all-out effort to identify voters who would get out for both the primary during the day and caucus at night.

Obama has been particularly aggressive in these contests in using Internet tools to identify and turn out supporters, building on tools they have developed throughout the campaign. For example, anyone using the search engine Google to look for Texas caucus locations will see an advertisement from Obama's campaign listing the caucus sites, and, after a click, inviting people to sign in with their names and e-mail addresses.

Visitors to the Web sites of The Houston Chronicle and The Cincinnati Enquirer were confronted with a moving advertisement that took up nearly half the screen that showed a video of Obama and urged voters to sign up and pledge their support to his campaign.

"We are trying to grow the electorate," said David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, referring to the Internet effort. "We have had almost 20,000 people come through our ads looking for their early vote location."

In Ohio, both candidates have focused on the urban areas and suburbs around major cities, but Clinton is campaigning as well in rural and areas and southeast Ohio, which she views as one of the strongest parts of the state. (It is where Strickland did particularly well in his election as governor.)

In Texas, both candidates staged last-minute efforts in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, where both Clinton and Obama had rallies Friday evening. Clinton's campaign brought in Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa of Los Angeles as part of an extensive roster of Latino surrogates sent across South Texas, reflecting the intensity of the struggle for those voters.

Obama focused on parts of the state with large concentrations of black residents, from Beaumont in East Texas to Houston, both with significant populations of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina.

To some extent, it is in the interest of the Clinton campaign to point to the financial disparity to try to lower expectations and provide a pre-emptive explanation for a loss or close showing. "They are dumping a lot of money there," said Mark Penn, Clinton's chief strategist, referring to the Obama campaign.

That said, Clinton had been enjoying double-digit leads in both states just two weeks ago, and her advisers have discounted the string of defeats that shook her campaign over the past month by pointing to Ohio and Texas as the states that would get her campaign back on track.

Other Democrats said that even a narrow victory in both states might not be enough to stanch a flow of uncommitted superdelegates — elected officials and party leaders — to Obama who have until now deferred to the request by Clinton's advisers to wait for the vote in the two states.

The extent of Obama's financial advantage was increasingly clear this weekend and stirred concern among Clinton's supporters.

Obama has already begun spending money on staffing and television advertisements in some states coming up after Tuesday; Clinton's expenditures there have been minimal. While that decision makes sense considering the stakes here, Clinton's campaign came under much criticism as failing to prepare for the contests after Feb. 5, leaving an open field for Obama.

Clinton will hold a 60-minute town-hall-style forum on Monday near Austin; her campaign bought time on the Fox sports channel to broadcast it statewide. Clinton's aides said part of the choice of that venue was to try to reach white male voters who have slipped away from her to Obama recently, but the bigger reason, they said, was that Fox is a relatively inexpensive television outlet.

Clinton's advisers said that a provocative television advertisement that she began broadcasting on Friday — showing children sleeping while a narrator asks who would be better able to deal as president with a middle-of-the-night telephone call or a crisis — would be shown only in Texas. Part of that strategy was based on the calculation that the security message would resonate better in Texas than Ohio, where the economy is the overwhelming issue. But another aspect, an aide said, was that the advertisements would gain free coverage in the Ohio news media, saving money.


Scribes term union organizers 'volunteers'

Bundling up against a winter breeze, Barack Obama supporter Susan Gross checked her notes a final time Saturday before leaving the parking lot of Greater Liberty Temple Church on the city’s north side to start knocking on doors. On the west side, new citizen and first-time voter Frederick Pay, a Hillary Clinton backer, walked the streets for about two hours, tallying 50 houses before his morning shift ended.

Saturday and Sunday were not days for Ohio residents to expect uninterrupted stretches on the couch watching TV.

With three days to go before the state’s pivotal primary, the Obama and Clinton campaigns enlisted hundreds of volunteers for get-out-the-vote efforts around Ohio. They even competed over titles.

Clinton embarked on an “88 Counties, 88 Hours To Victory” tour, promising events in the state’s 88 counties during the last 88 hours before polls open Tuesday.

Obama announced “One Million for Change,” an attempt to knock on one million doors before Tuesday. Volunteers planned to leave from 75 staging locations around the state beginning Saturday.

Sen. Clinton needs a win in Ohio, a crucial swing state, to break Obama’s streak of 11 consecutive primary and caucus victories. A win for Sen. Obama, who trails Clinton in state polls, would give him a boost in the argument over who could defeat a Republican in November.

Gross, 67, was one of hundreds of Washington, D.C.-area residents who rode buses into Columbus on Friday to join a weekend of canvassing. The management consultant said she hadn’t worked for a presidential campaign since Lyndon Johnson’s first campaign in 1964.

“No one has turned me on really since then until now,” Gross said. “I am certain that Sen. Obama shares the same values and vision of America that I do.”

Pay, 42, originally from Ghana, settled on Clinton after carefully studying the campaigns since becoming a U.S. citizen last summer.

“She’ll be the better person to do this right from day one,” Pay said. “She has the experience and that’s why I’m passionate about this.”

Such get-out-the-vote efforts are staples of last-minute campaigning. Volunteers stress the strengths of their preferred candidate while encouraging people to vote regardless of who they’re supporting.

The campaigns’ weekend efforts complemented repeat visits to the state by the candidates and their top surrogates.

In Cincinnati, former congressman and NAACP president Kweisi Mfume briefly addressed about 40 Obama supporters Saturday morning before they began knocking on doors.

Actor Kal Penn held events for Obama Friday and Saturday at several colleges, including Ohio University, Denison University and Ohio Wesleyan University. Penn has appeared on the Fox TV medical drama “House” and starred in the movie, “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle.”

Former President Bill Clinton attended a rallies Saturday in the northeast Ohio cities of Kirtland and Lakewood. Also Saturday, Chelsea Clinton planned rallies at the University of Akron and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Obama planned a rally Saturday night at a high school in Parma Heights in suburban Cleveland. Both Hillary Clinton and Obama planned events in Westerville in suburban Columbus today.

Over the weekend, the Ohio Student Public Interest Research Group undertook its own get-out-the-vote efforts in college precincts to encourage students to vote and inform them about their rights.

Clinton supporter Vicki Nichols was spending several hours Saturday walking up and down the streets of her neighborhoods in suburban Columbus. She met fellow Clinton backers, Obama supporters willing to listen and a few undecideds.

“I’ve never done it before, and it’s not that easy. I often get discouraged,” said Nichols, 54, a computer systems developer. “But I feel committed to this. It’s an important thing to be doing.”

For her part, Obama supporter Lynne Horning, 68, wasn’t daunted by the prospect of knocking on doors in a new city. Horning, a potter, came to Columbus on Friday from Washington, D.C. with her husband, daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons.

“I’ll do anything,” Horning said Saturday as she left a union hall staging area for her first assignment. “I’m passionate about this guy.”


The Clintons will go as low as it takes

Why would a 2006 photograph of Sen. Barack Obama wearing African tribal garments suddenly show up on the Internet? Think about it. What is the point of circulating a photograph of Obama wearing a white turban days before critical primaries, if not to inflame an anti-Muslim sentiment?

Before the Iowa contest, two volunteers with the Clinton campaign were forced to resign after they forwarded a hoax e-mail that said Obama was a Muslim. And before the South Carolina primary, Obama had to combat Internet rumors that he refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Amazingly, despite these efforts to "smear" Obama as a "security threat," he went on to win both primaries by large margins.

But after Hillary Clinton's 11 straight losses, and with Obama narrowing the gap in Texas and Ohio, the Clinton camp is showing how low it will stoop.

According to the Drudge Report, the photo was circulated by unnamed "Clinton staffers."

Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson insisted Monday that the campaign had nothing to do with making the photo public. But I don't buy it.

So much for Clinton's: ''I am honored" to be in the race with Obama -- a comment she made during the closing minutes of last Thursday's CNN debate.

There's nothing honorable about what the Clinton camp is trying to do.

Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe called the latest attack "the most shameful, offensive fear-mongering we've seen from either party in this election."

Apparently, Clinton has Maggie Williams, a loyalist from the Monica Lewinsky and Whitewater White House days, to thank for that.

Williams, who was Hillary Clinton's chief of staff, was at the center of bitter controversies and didn't mind taking the heat for her boss.

She was once reprimanded for accepting a $50,000 donation to the Democratic Party in the White House, one of the acts that led to widespread calls for campaign finance reform.

The big money came from Johnny Chung, a California businessman who figured prominently in investigations into Democratic fund-raising by the Justice Department and the Senate.

Williams was also cited in the Senate Whitewater report as being "less than truthful," about what happened to files related to that case.

So Williams is well-equipped to be Clinton's mudslinger as the floundering candidate tries to climb back up.

"If Barack Obama's campaign wants to suggest that a photo of him wearing traditional Somali clothing is divisive, they should be ashamed," Williams said in a statement released on Monday. "Hillary Clinton has worn the traditional clothing of countries she has visited and had those photos published widely.

"This is nothing more than an obvious and transparent attempt to distract from the serious issues confronting our country today and to attempt to create the very divisions they claim to decry," she said.

It takes a lot of gall for her to suggest that Clinton's donning of traditional clothing from the various countries she has visited as first lady is no different than a photograph of Obama in a turban.

Clinton is a white woman in America. As such, she can put on a Zulu crown or wrap herself in Kente cloth and no one will distort her image or accuse her of being a closeted Muslim.

More importantly, no one is spreading rumors about Clinton's religious beliefs, nor is anyone trying to mislead the public about her allegiance to this country.

By nudging voters to the image of a turban-wearing Obama, Williams is engaging in fear-mongering and is demonizing Muslims.

Frankly, the circulation of the 2-year-old photograph is similar to the infamous Willie Horton tactic used by George H. W. Bush.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who ran for the Democratic Primary in 1984 and 1988, cautioned that Obama's camp can't succumb to the temptation of responding to these negative attacks.

"Sometimes a champion has to play with pain and choose to get ahead rather than to get even," he said.

Having lost her tight grip on college-educated, middle-class, white and black voters, and with Obama racking up endorsements from several large labor unions, Clinton is desperate to hold on to working-class and blue collar workers.

There is obviously a belief that the sight of Obama's participation in a tribal ritual in Kenya will be enough to drive a lot of those voters into Clinton's camp.

That's truly shameful.

Because instead of bridging the divide, Clinton is counting on it.


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