Labor union cash fuels Dem campaigns

The union label — once a boon for Democratic candidates — didn't make one-time candidate John Edwards competitive for the party's presidential nomination. It also failed to deliver the Nevada caucus to Sen. Barack Obama, even after an endorsement from the powerful Culinary Workers Union, the bedrock of workers in Las Vegas and Nevada's chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

But Mr. Obama hopes the unions still have enough juice left to help him grab come-from-behind victories over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton tomorrow in Ohio and Texas, where the SEIU is spending $1.4 million on his behalf. Union membership may have been on the decline in the past decade, but its numbers rebounded slightly in the past year and Democratic candidates still value the funding, foot soldiers and political advertising union backing can provide.

"We currently have over 1,000 members and volunteer staff in Ohio sending direct mail and making phone calls to several hundred thousand voters in the state," SEIU spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said.

In Ohio, more than 40 percent of the party"s primary voters are from union families. To date, about three in 10 Democratic voters have come from households with at least one union member — and exit polls show they prefer Mrs. Clinton by about four percentage points.

Whether their electoral power is waxing or waning, unions still exert a strong influence on the positions the candidates take.

Mr. Obama, since scooping up endorsements from major umbrella organizations, has sharpened his attack of his rival"s support of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — through her association with the Clinton administration — that many union workers blame for the loss of factory work, particularly in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

"There are few areas of the country that have been hurt worse by these [trade] agreements than Ohio, which has lost nearly 50,000 jobs because of NAFTA and over 60,000 due to the growing trade deficit in China," Mr. Obama said on the campaign trail recently in Lorain, Ohio.

"It"s also time to let our unions do what they do best — organize our workers. If a majority of workers want a union, they should get a union. It"s that simple. We need to stand up to the business lobby and pass the Employee Free Choice Act. That"s why I"ve been fighting for it in the Senate, and that"s why I"ll make it the law of the land when I"m president of the United States."

The Obama camp is hoping the unions will help it chip away Mrs. Clinton"s advantage with Hispanics in Texas. The SEIU has about 700 members and staff canvassing for Mr. Obama, largely in outreach to communities with Spanish-language media, including two ad buys, one in English and one in Spanish.

"We're sensing that there has been a real shift among voters and a lot of momentum behind the belief that Barack Obama is the candidate who will bring the change we need," Ms. Mueller said. "We feel very confident that he will win both Texas and Ohio on Tuesday."

Clinton's campaign has been complaining lately about the fact that Mr. Obama is getting the benefits of the union support, at a time when it desperately needs advertising dollars.

"While Barack Obama once decried outside expenditures as a 'major loophole in campaign-finance reform' and urged his primary opponents to do more than just 'talk the talk,' the Obama campaign today tacitly embraced a significant, last-minute outside-expenditure effort being organized on his behalf by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union," said Howard Wolfson, communications director for the Clinton campaign.

Mr. Wolfson said Mr. Obama criticized Mr. Edwards for taking outside money from so-called 527s, independent nonprofit political organizations, after denouncing it as a campaign-finance loophole in December, but said Mr. Obama is now doing the same thing.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad buys in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown that started running Feb. 26 and run through tomorrow, when Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont will hold primaries.

"For once: Can we put American jobs for workers first? Can we have a recovery that reaches Main Street? And can we stop spending money in Iraq and start spending it here? Can we have affordable health care for everyone? For everyone? For everyone? Can we really elect a president we can believe in?" the ad says, followed by Mr. Obama saying, "Yes, we can."

The political spinning of union support by Mrs. Clinton against Mr. Obama this week and by Mr. Obama two months ago against Mr. Edwards only highlights how coveted the union endorsements continues to be and the benefits that can come with them, despite the fact that they no longer provide that warm blanket of assured victory.

"It may appear that union endorsements aren't as useful as they used to be, but you have to factor into the equation the diversity of political opinions among the different unions that is playing a part in this 2008 election cycle," said William Galston, a political analyst with the Brookings Institute.

"Each of the three candidates have had some appeal with the union movement. So you have a variety of positions pulling the unions in multiple directions."

Mr. Galston also said the unions are working on finding ways to attract workers in different fields outside of industrial work as they themselves adapt to the new economy, and there is evidence to indicate that union losses are leveling off.

In 2004, there were 15.8 million union members nationwide, about 12 percent of the U.S. work force. That was after a decline of 369,000 that year.

Last year, the number of workers belonging to a union rose by 311,000 to 15.7 million, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January.


Governator may unionize Grandma

Don't look now, but the Democrats in the California Legislature want to unionize Grandma. Really. A bill pending in the Senate would create a union to organize family members who provide child care for their kin and are paid by the state so that mothers can work outside the home. The measure already has passed in the Assembly.

The child care providers – grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings – would pay dues and be represented collectively in negotiations with the state over pay, benefits and working conditions. Child care providers who did not want to join the union would still have to pay fees – likely in the same amount as the union dues.

A Democratic staff analysis of a similar bill last year estimated that the measure could cost taxpayers $60 million a year, which would probably mean cuts to subsidized child care for poor working single moms. Each grandma would get more money, in other words, but that would mean the money the state spends on child care would not go as far, and some families would have to go without.

The only alternative would be to spend more money on the child care subsidies – and less on something else.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed last year's bill, as he had two other attempts to accomplish the same thing. But now Democrats in the Capitol seem to think the governor might change his mind.

One reason for their optimism: The bill to unionize grandmas came up late last year during Schwarzenegger's discussions on health care reform with Andy Stern, national leader of the Service Employees International Union. Stern's intervention helped turn around SEIU's California chapter on the governor's health care bill, and the union's support was crucial to getting the bill through the Assembly, though it still died in the Senate.

Schwarzenegger's aides insist that the governor did not promise Stern that he would sign the child care bill in exchange for the union's support of his health care measure. But it sure is odd that the Democrats are now rushing through the Legislature a bill that the governor has rejected in the past.

The move in California is part of a nationwide strategy by SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Since 2005, governors in eight states have issued executive orders or taken other action giving family child care providers the right to unionize and bargain as a group.

Some readers might be surprised to learn that the government actually pays people to look after their own grandchildren, nieces and nephews. The system grew out of welfare reform in the 1990s, when policymakers were looking for ways to end dependence and move mothers with young children from welfare to work.

It soon became clear that many of them could not work because they could not afford to pay for child care. The state then began a massive expansion of subsidized child care, including care provided by family members in their homes. Today, the system serves nearly 700,000 California families at a cost of more than $3 billion a year.

The state pays licensed day care providers who serve subsidized clients the same amount they charge their unsubsidized customers. Unlicensed caregivers – including family members – are paid the prevailing rate in their community. Child care centers and home-based caregivers are independent businesses, and under current law they are not allowed to collude and set a uniform price for their services.

Proponents of the bill – Senate Bill 867 – say that collective bargaining would give family caregivers the chance to raise their pay and perhaps receive benefits, including health insurance. That, in turn, might reduce turnover among family child-care providers, which is estimated at 30 percent to 40 percent a year.

Since child-care providers are independent business owners, not employees, the union would officially be known as a "provider organization." But it would function exactly like a union. The law would allow only one organization to be designated as the exclusive representative for all child-care providers. The state would be required to negotiate with the organization.

Under the current version of the bill, the first round of negotiations would not include talks over pay – a provision that would likely forestall any financial consequences until after Schwarzenegger leaves office in 2011. But there would be consequences nonetheless.

When he vetoed an earlier version of this bill in 2006, Schwarzenegger said it would "inappropriately limit" the state's ability to determine reimbursement rates for the child care it subsidizes. He also noted that, to the extent collective bargaining drove up rates paid by the state, poor families with children would actually lose because fewer families could be served by the program.

Schwarzenegger raised another concern: If collective bargaining leads to higher rates for unlicensed, family-based caregivers, that increase in rates might begin to drive the market, forcing up rates paid by families that are not eligible for state subsidies.

All of those were solid reasons for vetoing the earlier bills. None of them has changed. It will be interesting to see if Schwarzenegger has.


SEIU seniority list posted for layoffs

Some members of the three school district employee groups may be laid off as a result of the governor's proposed cuts to education funding, $4.8 billion, and those groups are urging parents to let legislators know their students will suffer if the cuts are made. During their regular meeting Tuesday, Morgan Hill (CA) Unified School District trustees heard the staff's plan to prepare for the possibility of layoffs.

For classified workers, 337 of whom are represented by the Service Employees International Union, a seniority list has been created and posted. If a reduction in force is necessary, the resolution by the board would be passed on April 8 with the 45-day notices issued between April 21 and May 16.

Teachers, 452 of them represented by the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers, must be noticed by March 15 if they are to be laid off. During the Tuesday meeting, trustees adopted the seniority list and tie breaker criteria. On March 14, the final seniority list will be posted, and the notices will be issued, with final layoff notices May 14 and release of temporary teachers on May 15.

Administrators, managers, directors and others represented by Morgan Hill Educational Leaders Association, 55 members, could be reassigned rather than laid off. A final seniority list has been posted, and a possible reassignment letter will go out March 14, The final reassignment letter will go out June 30.

The trustees expressed their displeasure at having to consider laying off employees but also at the fact that while state law requires the district to pass its budget by June 30, the state often does not pass its budget until September. This year, Deputy Superintendent Bonnie Tognazzini told trustees, it could be as late as October or November.

"So we are making decisions based on predictions but not on an actual budget, which will be passed when the government gets around to it," Trustee Bart Fisher complained. "That's the complete and utter unfairness of it."

Trustee Shelle Thomas said she hopes the board will continue to have budget conversations and a process developed for deciding what to cut.


AFSCME: Would you hire back The Clintons?

Hillary Clinton just wrapped up a rally here at the University of Toledo, her last Ohio event before heading to Texas, where's she's spending most of the next two days. (Tomorrow night, once the voting in both states is done, she'll come back to Columbus.) And the show of support for her candidacy was, well, something short of overwhelming.

The press schedule said the event was called for 9:30 a.m. I actually arrived a few minutes late, somewhat panicked that I'd never find parking. But I did -- and had no problem getting inside, where the event had begun but Clinton had yet to take the stage. By my very rough count, there were maybe 400 people in the audience. And, judging by the signs and shirts, at least half if not more were local union members, the majority of them from AFSCME.

The room -- a large meeting hall inside the student union -- certainly wasn't empty. Supporters were crowded up against the stage, so much so that one actually fainted. But towards the back there was plenty of room. As Clinton worked her way through her speech, I saw several audience members sitting on the floor, where they had plenty of room to sprawl out.

Still, by now everybody has learned not to read too much into the size of Clinton's audiences. She wasn't the one who drew NBA sized audiences in Boston and East Rutheford, but she was the utlimate victor in Massachusetts and New Jersey. And so while Obama was the one who filled arenas in Cleveland a few days ago, Clinton remains the favorite to win Ohio, according to the polls.

And listening to her just now, it was easy to see why that might be. She offered her typically thorough explanation of policy proposals, which -- however workmanlike -- hit the notes the audience wanted to hear. She talked mostly about trade, promising again to revisit NAFTA. She also took a direct swipe at Obama, citing the recent controversy over whether one of his advisers told a Canadian official Obama's pronouncements on trade were merely campaign rhetoric. "I don't have my campaign tell a foreign government behind closed doors 'that's just politics,'" Clinton said. "I tell you what I mean." (Apologies if the quote isn't exact; my notes on that line aren't perfect. For more on this flap, see Noam's writeup here.)

Health care also figured prominently in her speech, as always. And while the reporters following her may have rolled their eyes at the umpeenth discusson of the issue, she held the audience pretty rapt with a story she'd heard downstate earlier in the campaign. As Clinton told it, it was about an uninsured woman witha a troubled pregnancy who tried to get prenatal care but was turned away, because she couldn't afford $100 exam fee upfront. The woman ended up losing the baby -- and, eventually, her own life. (She also ended up costing the state far more in emergency care -- hundreds of thousands of dollars, Clinton said -- than the relatively puny costs of the proper prenatal tratment.)

Clinton also used the event to showcase her new* slogan, which she's been using in Ohio: "Who would you hire?"

It's hard to think of four words that could better capture the entirety of her argument. It stresses her experience -- or, to put in more union-friendly terms, her seniority. And while that's not exactly a new argument for Clinton, the slogan has other layers of meaning, as well. Among other things, it instantaly conjures images of people looking for jobs, which is precisely the sort of issue that Clinton hopes will be foremost in voters minds.

It is also about as close as Clinton is going to come to replicating Obama's theme of empowerment. Like all great organizers, Obama has generated such incredible enthusiasm among supporters by convincing them (rightly so!) that by supporting him they are actually creating a political force that will change their lives for the better. That's the secret of movement-building.

Clinton has never been -- and will never be -- able to do the same thing. But by asking voters "who would you hire," she does manage to make her campaign about more than herself. After all, it suggests that the voters are in charge -- and that, by casting their ballots one way or another, they have the power to change their own lives.

Naturally, the slogan is going to play well in states like Ohio, where the economy is particularly bleak. But in a year when the economy is now the voters' top concern, it's bound to resonate with voters in other states, too. In fact, I can't help but wonder why nobody at the Clinton campaign thought of this slogan earlier.


CAW-TRW strikers pin loss on Chrysler workers

Representatives of Chrysler and auto parts supplier TRW Automotive reportedly met Monday to try to find a way to resolve the six-day-old strike at TRW that has idled Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant and parts suppliers across the city. But so far, no new talks are planned to end the strike, which began Thursday with the union demanding a hike to an $11.25-an-hour wage one union rep described as a "poverty level wage."

Chrysler Canada spokesman Stuart Schorr declined to confirm or deny that a meeting had taken place, saying only that the automaker would "not be commenting on any aspects of the CAW-TRW situation."

John Wilkerson, a spokesman for TRW, also said he couldn't confirm or deny whether a meeting had occurred.

"I haven't heard anything one way or the other," said Wilkerson. "All I can say is that there's nothing new to report."

The impact of the CAW's strike against TRW was felt almost immediately by Chrysler, which idled its minivan assembly plant on Thursday within hours of the TRW shutdown. The shutdown continued with the cancellation of Monday's midnight shift.

The strike has not only shut down operations at the minivan plant but it's also having a ripple effect at other auto parts suppliers throughout the area, affecting roughly 1,500 people.

Production has ceased at Johnson Controls Inc., Integram Seating, HBPO Canada, Oakley Sub Assembly, Dakkota Integrated Systems and Syncreon Automotive (formerly known as TDS Logistics) until further notice.

All these companies supply parts to the assembly plant, where 5,000 workers have been off the job.

Ken Lewenza, president of CAW Local 444 which represents the 175 workers as well as Chrysler workers, said Monday he hadn't heard from either Chrysler or TRW but "we're willing to return to the bargaining table at any time."

Representatives of both sides in the dispute have said they want negotiations to resume but so far, no new sessions have been scheduled.

TRW's Wilkerson said: "I really don't know why talks haven't resumed. But I'm hopeful they will resume quickly."

The two sides haven't met since the strike began last Thursday.

Mike Renaud, a staff rep for the CAW, said "we're at a point in negotiations where we need some movement from the company because if it maintains its current monetary offer, we're not going anywhere with this."

Renaud said the CAW has also heard that a local employment agency is actively seeking non-union replacement workers for TRW in the midst of the strike.

"Which is astounding to me," Renaud said. "It's so antagonistic. It just doesn't speak to good efforts to try to get a settlement."

Renaud levelled blame on both TRW and Chrysler. "As far as I'm concerned, they're both just as guilty," he said.

Renaud said it seems like executive bonuses are higher than ever, "including some from these two companies. If you look at the bonuses that (executives) got just to stay with Chrysler when Cerberus bought them, it's astounding."

In the meantime, workers at TRW will receive their regular weekly paycheque this week, which covers hours worked last week, and will be eligible to start collecting strike pay next week should the dispute continue.

They would collect $165 weekly for the first three weeks and $225 thereafter.

Chrysler workers are entitled to employment insurance, although there's a dispute between the union and company over whether they are also entitled to supplementary unemployment benefits (SUB) paid by the company to top up a worker's income.

Lewenza said Chrysler is also disputing the workers' eligibility for the short work week benefits they would collect for missing shifts last week.

"They have never, ever taken that position before. We have had many short shifts as a result of supplier-related problems and we got short work week benefits," he said. "They're playing hardball.... If we don't straighten this out through negotiations there's a formal appeal process in our collective agreement and we are confident that we will ultimately get our members the supplementary benefits they're entitled to."

Workers at the other parts suppliers, whose workplaces have been idled, are not eligible for any SUB payments, according to Renaud.

Workers at TRW, which supplies suspension frames, are seeking agreement on a first contract.

Schorr said Monday that his company has nothing new to report on the dispute which has idled the company's assembly plant.

Schorr said production is being reviewed on a shift-by-shift basis.


UAW-American Axle strikers share the pain

More than two-thirds of the workforce at General Motors Corp.’s Toledo Powertrain plant will be temporarily laid off beginning March 10 after a strike at an axle supplier shut down operations at several GM assembly plants. Powertrain workers in Toledo were informed today that the plant would suspend production of its four-speed transmission next week, affecting close to 1,300 of the plant’s approximately 1,880 workers, GM Powertrain spokesman Wanda Wellman-Montion said.

The temporary production stoppage is being blamed on an ongoing strike by the United Auto Workers against American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc., a major supplier to GM.

About 3,600 workers represented by the United Auto Workers at five American Axle plants in Michigan and New York went on strike last week in a contract dispute.

American Axle and the UAW haven’t returned to the bargaining table since talks broke off on Feb. 25, although both sides have said they’re ready to resume talks at any time.

Laid-off Powertrain workers will be eligible to receive unemployment compensation and supplemental unemployment benefits from the UAW. Ms. Wellman-Montion said it was “difficult to speculate at this point” how long the shutdown will last, but said it would begin as planned even if the UAW and American Axle come to terms on a new agreement before Wednesday.

“We’ll continue with the plan, because American Axle will have to fill up their pipeline to our assembly plants,” when the strike ends, she said.

About a third of UAW workers at Toledo Powertrain will remain on the job to work on the upcoming launch of the plant’s new six-speed transmission, scheduled to begin production at the Alexis Road facility this year.

The four-speed transmission is used primarily in several large GM vehicles, such as the automakers line up full-sized pickups, vans, and sport-utility vehicles.


Ohio, Texas compared, constrasted

The Wall Street Journal has a great editorial today comparing the economic policies and fortunes of Ohio and Texas. Ohio currently ranks 47th out of 50 in economic competitiveness according to the American Legislative Exchange Council. It is a “closed shop” state, which means workers can be forced to join a union whether they wish to or not. They have the third highest corporate tax rate and sixth highest income tax. As a result Ohio has lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000 and their 2007 unemployment rate was 6%.

By contrast Texas has no income tax. It is a “right to work” state which means it has laws that make union organizing more difficult. When GM announced plans for a new plant to build hybrid cars they chose Texas. Texas has gained 36,000 manufacturing jobs since 2004 and their 2007 unemployment rate was 4.5%

So John Edwards was right after all: there are two Americas … just not the two he thought there were. On the one hand, are states like Ohio that suffer under high taxes and cumbersome work rules that make capital investments and entrepreneurship difficult. On the other hand, you have stats like Texas that keep taxes low, unions week, and regulation to an absolute minimum. To stay competitive in the 21st century, America is going to have to emulate Texas at the federal level if it does not want to bleed jobs like Ohio.


Council honors controversial unionist

Proclamation ceremonies, normally a ho-hum formality of Denver (CO) City Council meetings, have become political minefields recently. Monday night, three council members - Charlie Brown, Jeanne Faatz and Marcia Johnson - walked out of a ceremony honoring Leslie Moody for her 10 years as head of the Denver Area Labor Federation.

The snub comes just two months after businessman Barry Hirschfeld and his wife, who had been invited to City Hall on their 41st wedding anniversary to accept a proclamation honoring their century-old company, were pelted with unflattering remarks over a 1999 labor strike.

Brown said a proclamation honoring Moody would be like one honoring Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute.

"Where do we stop?" Brown asked. "I may actually bring (radio talk-show host) Mike Rosen down and recognize him for his enlightenment."

Johnson declined to comment, and Faatz would say only that she had "to be somewhere else."

Councilman Paul Lopez, a former union organizer, sponsored the proclamation. Agitated after the ceremony, Lopez said Moody deserved "honor and respect."

"We have recognized folks who are political (in past proclamations)," he said. "But despite folks being political, I still respect them. Whether I agree with them or not, they still deserve our respect. And Leslie Moody is somebody who has fought very hard for working families and fought very hard to make sure that we have a voice at the table."

Moody said Brown, Faatz and Johnson are "out of touch with working families in Denver."

"I'm not hurt," she said. "I think it was uncontroversial, so I don't think it was courageous for them to leave the room. I've put a lot of time into making the city a better place for working families, and they could have easily stayed in and honored that as well."


Tactical ULPs pay off in dues for AFL-CIO unit

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory recognized a skilled trades employees unit on Thursday, leading its parent union to drop two unfair labor practice charges. After the lab, which is partly managed by the University of California, recognized the unit, the Society of Professionals, Scientists, and Engineers dropped charges that cited a failure to recognize and bargain with the existing bargaining organization.

The unit includes 170 employees in several positions, including plumbers, mechanics and pipe fitters.

"We are pleased that we've reached an agreement with SPSE and we look forward to future good-faith negotiations," stated lab spokesperson Susan Houghton in an e-mail.

The California Public Employment Relations Board had recognized the unit late last September, right before the lab's management switched from only the University of California to the Lawrence Livermore National Security, LLC, a security group that includes the university.

But the new management had allegedly refused to recognize the unit and asked unit organizers to go through the National Labor Relations Board, which has jurisdiction over private companies.

Unlike the California Public Employment Relations Board, the National Labor Relations Board requires an employee-wide election to approve a union.

"We felt that we wanted to give our employees an opportunity to vote," Houghton said.

She added that employees were also given the opportunity to come forward and leave the union, an option that some took.

But Jeff Colvin, the society's local representative to the University Technical and Professional Employees' union, called the lab's initial refusal to recognize the unit "absurd."

Employees began organizing eight months ago in anticipation of the change, he said. Prior to the Oct. 1 transition, employees had all the rights of university employees, including the assurance that they could be dismissed only for just cause.

"All of these rights disappeared with the transition to public sector management," Colvin said.

Union officials said they did not want to hold an election because the original decision to recognize the unit was already legitimate.

"It's standard practice for these elections to be gerrymandered-the employer decides who can vote and who can't, who's in the unit and who's not," Colvin said, adding that the process can take up to a year.

Lab employees have faced other issues with the transition to private ownership, Colvin said. For example, the lab laid off 500 employees in January and has plans to lay off an additional 750 employees, he said.

The union will now begin negotiating for better severance packages for employees who have been laid off and more protections for current employees, said union organizer and the society's former president Jim Wolford.


UFCW forces costly decert petition fight

Union employees at four of southern Wisconsin's largest grocery stores have filed a petition to decertify the union. But whether a vote by more than 900 union employees at four Woodman's Food Markets to kill the union takes place remains in limbo. Hearings before the National Labor Relations Board are under way in Madison to determine if the petition is valid and if about 120 people on the petition are eligible to vote.

The hearings have totaled 14 days of testimony with another nine days scheduled. Once the testimony is completed, it will likely take the NLRB at least another month to write its opinion, said Irving Gottschalk, the NLRB's regional director in Milwaukee.

"The decision will determine whether there should be an election and who is eligible," Gottschalk said. "That's the whole point of this hearing."

Today's testimony will begin at 8:30 a.m. in the federal courthouse building Downtown. The hearings involve employees from Madison's two stores and stores in Janesville and Beloit.

Woodman's has 12 stores, six of which are represented by unions. A separate petition has been filed by a worker at the Onalaska store, near La Crosse. No petition has been filed on behalf of workers at the Woodman's store in Appleton, Gottschalk said.

The union contract with United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1473 expires March 16. The petition, which required the signatures of 30 percent of the union's employees, was filed in January.

In an interview Monday with the Wisconsin State Journal, John Eiden, president of UFCW Local 1473, said owner Phil Woodman is trying to bust the union. Eiden also contends that Woodman is refusing to negotiate a new contract.

"Instead of negotiating with his employees, he and his union-busting consultant have been bashing the union when they could be negotiating with the union and his employees that have been elected to serve on the negotiating committee," Eiden said.

"We believe he had no intentions of getting to a contract this year."

Woodman denied trying to bust the union.

"The union alleges a lot of things. I know nothing about it," Woodman told the State Journal.

"I can't really say anything. It's certainly up to the employees to decide what they want to do."

Under NLRB rules, supervisors are not eligible to vote, sign or file petitions. The hearings are trying to determine who is a supervisor, including the petitioner, Richard Rahn, who works at the East Side Woodman's.

When contacted Monday, Rahn declined to talk about the hearings or answer questions about why he filed the petition. He referred questions to his store manager, Dan Fredrickson, who also declined to comment. When asked if Rahn was a supervisor, Fredrickson said Rahn was a produce clerk.

The petition could be declared invalid by the NLRB if Rahn is found to be a supervisor or if the number of signatures drops below the 30 percent mark after the ruling by the NLRB. If the petition is found to be valid, a vote to decertify would have to be scheduled within 30 days, Gottschalk said.

"It's unusual," Gottschalk said of the length of the hearings, "but you don't normally have so many people at issue."


Organizers seek no-vote unionization law

Newspaper articles over the past several years have placed a spotlight on disputes occurring in health care regarding the unionization of employees in California. Unfortunately, these articles often do not identify the common ground among health-care leaders and union leaders, the specific points of disagreement, and the challenges that call for new frameworks to better understand these issues. It is important to look below the surface and uncover some of the more complex "roots" that would allow a clearer understanding of these ongoing disputes.

Most union leaders and health-care leaders would be in fundamental agreement about several issues, including:

-- In whatever choices workers make, they should seek to ensure that the mission of health care remains central to the workplace and is not compromised. The goal should be to build a successful organization devoted to quality service and the advancement of the well-being of individuals and community.

-- From international, national and local perspectives, the union movement has been and is an important voice that has positively influenced the lives of workers subject to harsh working conditions and substandard pay.

-- The foundational importance of the dignity of the worker and right of the worker to have a fair and just workplace.

-- The right of the worker to earn a just living wage.

-- The right of the worker, without any form of intimidation, to choose or not to choose to belong to a union.

Given these common grounds, health-care leaders do not consider themselves "anti-union." The essential conflict is not about being "pro-union" or "anti- union." The essential conflict is that union leaders and health-care leaders fundamentally disagree about the process that guarantees worker choice in an environment free of intimidation.

Today, there is a federally governed process that was designed to guard employees' rights to a fair election through the National Labor Relations Board. Although some argue that the labor board's process might be imperfect, there has not yet been an alternative that protects workers' choice, under democratic principles, in an environment free of intimidation.

Some people believe that there cannot be a fair and just workplace without the presence of a union. At St. Joseph Health System, we believe not only is it possible, but it is the employer's responsibility to create an environment of dialogue, involvement and trust between employer and employees - an environment that is free of any intimidation from managers or organizers. An environment that truly fosters workers' choice, letting them choose if they want to join a union or not, rather than having health-system leaders or the union choosing for them.

-- Deborah Proctor is president and CEO of St. Joseph Health System, an organization that operates 14 hospitals throughout California and Texas, including two hospitals in Sonoma County and one in Napa.


Labor-state GOP endorses SEIU-backed turncoat

With no Republicans announced in the state treasurer's race so far, Sen. Ben Westlund instead has so-called establishment Republicans endorsing his campaign. Westlund began serving as a Republican legislator in 1997, then ran as an independent candidate for governor in 2006 before becoming a Democrat later that year.

The Bend Democrat's campaign says his endorsements from the other side of the aisle include former Secretary of State Norma Paulus, former House Speakers Lynn Lundquist and Mark Simmons, and former House and Senate members Alan Brown, Lenn Hannon, Rob Patridge, and Lane Shetterly.

Those are in addition to endorsements from some current Republican legislators: Sen. Gary George of Newberg, Rep. Patti Smith of Corbett, Rep. Bill Garrard of Klamath Falls and Rep. Bob Jenson of Pendleton.

Westlund's campaign announced Monday that he also has been endorsed by the current State Treasurer, fellow Democrat Randall Edwards, as well as Service Employees International Union Local 503. SEIU represents 50,000 workers in Oregon, including public employees, home care and child care providers, janitors, hospital employees, and other health care workers.


SEIU official eyes dues bonanza in Puerto Rico

As of Feb. 29 the 41,000-member Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR) was maintaining an open-ended strike at public schools that started on Feb. 21 over wages, classroom size and health issues. Meanwhile, controversy continued over the role of Change to Win, a US labor federation reportedly jockeying to replace the FMPR as the teachers' representation. New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez noted that Dennis Rivera—vice president of the 1.6 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a major component of Change to Win—seems to be deeply involved in the effort.

Calling Rivera "the most influential Puerto Rican labor leader in the US," Gonzalez said members of independent unions in Puerto Rico "never expected" to see Rivera "treat them just like those old Washington labor leaders have done for so long."

Rivera has denied rumors reported in the New York Spanish-language daily El Diario-La Prensa on Feb. 23 about an alleged meeting with Puerto Rican governor Anibal Acevedo Vila in September at a San Juan restaurant; Rivera supposedly offered
Acevedo $3 to 4 million in political donations in exchange for the elimination of the FMPR. "That's a total fabrication," Rivera told Gonzalez on Feb. 28, although he said he did "meet with the governor of Puerto Rico in a public restaurant around August... I've met with him maybe 20 times." According to El Diario-La Prensa correspondent Jesus Davila, the executive director of the Brotherhood of Health Employees, Sixto Alvelo, saw Rivera and Gov. Acevedo meeting with former FMPR leaders at the Atlantica restaurant on Sept. 22. When Davila asked the governor's office about the meeting, Acevedo denied through a spokesperson that he had met with Rivera at the Atlantica at any time in 2007 to discuss the FMPR; he also denied that there had been any offer of money.


AFSCME earns gov't praise for backing new tax

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Ohio Council 8 and its retirees of chapter 1184 have endorsed the Lawrence County abused and neglected children’s levy that will be on Tuesday’s primary election ballot.

“We support the levies because communities benefit from them,” William Sams, Athens regional director for AFSCME, said. “The last thing in the world we need to do in hard times such as this is cut funding that helps families, particularly children that are subject to that agency’s care.” Gene Myers, director of Lawrence County Department of Jobs and Family Services, said he is thankful for the endorsement. “I’m very, very pleased they took up this issue,” Myers said.

The one-mil levy, if passed, would generate $626,710 annually to help care for children in foster care. Right now funding for this comes from other office funds within JFS but Myers said the number of kids in foster care in on the rise and so is the cost of keeping these children in a safe environment. Foster care costs are approximately $1.5 million a year.

The levy would increase real estate taxes by $1 for every taxable $1,000 assessed on a parcel of property. For instance, if a person owned a $100,000, the taxable amount is $35,000 and the homeowner’s taxes would increase by $35 annually. On a $50,000 house, taxes would be increased by $17.50 annually.

Myers said the money from the levy would be used only for the care of children, not for administrative costs, pay raises for employees or other expenses.


Big union protests school bus savings plan

Nearly 30 bus drivers in Niles (IN) could soon be without a job. The Niles School Board is facing a major budget shortfall next school year. To save money, the district voted to privatize bus service — something it's considered for more than a year. The school board unanimously passed the proposal at their meeting at Ballard Elementary School Monday night.

A lot of people were expected to show up, including all 28 bus drivers and several concerned parents.

The board says privatizing will help save the district a significant amount money. But drivers say it shouldn't be about dollars and cents.

After driving the same bus route for 18 years, Leona Wonacott has become a familiar face.

"You go to festivals, you go grocery shopping, and there's Johnny: ‘Hi Leona!’” she said.

But Leona is one of 28 familiar faces that could soon be replaced with new faces.

"And I just think it's sad that some of us may not have jobs anymore,” said bus driver Pat Wozniak.

The Niles School Board voted to privatize their bus service through a company called First Students.

Superintendent Doug Law says this is one of many ways to help make up the district's $1 million shortfall for next school year.

“Companies like First Students can now come in and present us with a bid that offers exactly the same service,” he told WSBT News. “We’re not cutting routes. We’re doing exactly same number of buses and everything. The difference becomes in that fringe benefits package.”

The bus drivers' union fought the privatization by offering a concessions package that would save the district $150,000 each year for the next three years.

But the school board tossed out that idea.

“The drivers cannot compete very effectively with a promise of over a $2 million savings over a five-year period,” Law explained.

Drivers say they're not just fighting for their jobs; they're fighting to keep the kids safe.

"You know if there's not the right cars there, you don't let that child off,” Wonacott said. “You call to find out if the child should be let off or not."

But the school board says they’ve made several reference checks on First Students.

“Every single one of them said that safety was outstanding,” Law said. “And that’s an important thing for the board.”

Law says the new company will interview all the current drivers. They can't all be guaranteed a job, but Law says generally in this type of situation, 80-90 percent of the drivers will be rehired.


Airline pilots' union wants dues hike

United Airlines pilots are taking steps to be ready in case the airline arranges a merger, a published report said Friday. The Air Line Pilots Association has asked its United members to approve a dues increase to help pay for a potential dispute over seniority in the event of a merger, Crain's Chicago Business reported.

Seniority is said to be the major issue of contention in talks on a merger between Delta Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp., the newspaper said. Negotiations stalled last week as pilots, who had given preliminary approval to a merger, dug in their heels over seniority issues.

The ALPA asked United pilots for an additional 0.5 percent of their wages, Crain's said, but only in the event an announcement is made of a merger involving United.


Isn't it time for a pro-union President?

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