Dems appease left-wing authoritarians

Well, just shoot me. Economic growth is stalling, inflation is rising, commodity prices are shooting up, the dollar is falling and a new bomb seems to go off in the credit markets every morning. In the midst of all this cheery news, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are reaching deep into the moldy cupboard of left-wing populism in search of remedies to cram down the nation's throat.

Judging by their campaigns, we're expected to believe: that the best fix for the health-care system is more government; that the economy is crying out for higher taxes; that giving unions more power will make everyone prosperous, and that incessant business-bashing will encourage more investment rather than drive capital offshore.

Given the extreme stands they’ve taken, Obama and Clinton may find it tough to tack to the center after the primaries.

Consider the issue of trade. They both make the North American Free Trade Agreement sound like some sort of economic plague. During the Ohio primary, they competed to see who hated it most.

By all means, let's shrink in horror of that ghastly monster, NAFTA. Never mind that in the decade after the agreement, real average hourly earnings rose by 10 percent, manufacturing output soared, and by the end of the 1990s unemployment was at its lowest rate since the 1970s.

Which is why both Clinton and Obama are probably kidding. An Obama aide has been caught telling the Canadian government that his candidate's NAFTA-bashing was merely for "political positioning." And last week a similar story popped up regarding Clinton.

What's going on here is a good old-fashioned, no-holds-barred pander for the union vote. The unions hate NAFTA, and for perfectly rational reasons. Unions, by definition, are monopolies. Unions exist to curb competition for their members. Trade increases competition, therefore to unions, trade is toxic.

But that's why free trade is a good deal for the nation as a whole. Foreign competition keeps American business on its toes. It delivers more choices and lower prices to consumers, a benefit that’s especially important to those with low incomes.

The unions are also clamoring for passage of something they call the Employee Free Choice Act, a pernicious little bill with a grand Orwellian name.

Clinton and Obama are both for it, even though it would wipe out the secret ballot in elections that certify union bargaining units. That would allow union officials to pressure workers into creating bargaining units by signing "check cards" instead of voting privately. Some "free choice."

The card-check bill would mean a lot more unionized workplaces, so let's suggest a more honest name: An Act to Drive American Capital and Jobs Offshore.

And if you happen to be in the business of delivering to market a particular resource much in demand these days — oil — well, too bad. Both Obama and Clinton have whacked Big Oil, along with the usual corporate villains such as drug companies. But Hillary took it a step farther.

After Exxon posted mammoth profits last year, she said she would "take those profits" and put them in a "strategic energy fund" that will develop smart energy alternatives.

Well, now. Stop and think about that for a second. The government would take oil-company profits, and put the money "in a fund." And voila! Smart energy alternatives will emerge, no doubt to the amazement of all? All right, show's over: Who actually believes this?

Leave aside the wonderfully innocent notion that government could accomplish such a thing. It seems not to have occurred to Clinton that once you "take those profits," the capital used to produce them will almost instantly seek more productive uses in industries other than oil. So you’d end up with a lot less oil and higher prices at the pump.

Since the mid-1980s, the economy has been buoyed by lower taxes, freer trade and limited regulation. This mix — the policy equivalent of the golden goose — would face a mortal threat if either of these candidates won in November.


SEIU shocked by decert epidemic

Leaders of a movement that has tentatively ousted the Service Employees International Union from a nursing home downtown say the union was unresponsive and unavailable too often. "[SEIU] didn't do anything for us except collect union dues," said Mary Foor, cook supervisor at the Altoona (PA) Center for Nursing Care.

Foor and others presented owner Grane Healthcare with a petition signed by 70 of the 120 bargaining-unit workers, renouncing SEIU representation at the expiration of its contract, they said. The company immediately withdrew its recognition of the union, which has appealed to the National Labor Relations Board in hopes an investigation will show the petition doesn’t represent a majority.

It was hard for workers to get an answer on almost any question they asked the union, including what it was doing with money from fundraisers, cook supervisor Debbie Hartman, housekeeper Woody Patterson and Foor said.

"No one ever gets back to anybody," Patterson said.

The union questions most of the activists' claims. It's hard to say how many workers wanted to keep the union because "since the employer action, employees are scared to speak out," said Kevin Hefty, vice president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.

Recently resigned laundry aide Gail Lightner — who was union vice president — guessed about 50 employees support the union.

The union also suspects illegal company involvement, based on seemingly coordinated if unsuccessful de-unionization movements against SEIU at Grane's four other western Pennsylvania facilities and the nearly immediate changes Grane made after receiving the petition, Hefty said.

Foor said workers acted on their own.

A former union official who didn't want her name used said the union did plenty for the workers. The union got a retirement plan for her fellow workers, good raises, every other weekend off and Easter designated as a holiday, while helping to reinstate fired and suspended workers and helping others get unemployment, she said.

But workers often didn't show up for meetings, failed to read their contract, didn't take the initiative to call a pension hot line and didn’t use the proper chain of command, she said.

The union got annual raises of 5 percent for nurses and 4 percent or more for other workers in the last contract, Hefty said.

The union also got Grane to contribute more each year for health insurance and to contribute toward a defined-benefit pension plan, he said.

The workers should have been more careful about what they asked for because managers now "can do what they want when there’s no union," the official said.

Lightner said she already has felt the effect.

She resigned when the company moved her from first to third shift after dropping recognition of the union.

She can't work third shift because she needs to care for her father, which the company knew about, she said.

"If the union had been in there, they couldn’t have thrown me on the other shift," she said. "They’ve been trying to get rid of me for years."

When presented with a decertification petition that seems to represent a majority of workers, a company can withdraw recognition of the union or file a petition for a decertification vote supervised by the Labor Relations Board, said Mike Joyce, assistant to the regional director in the board’s Pittsburgh office.

Workers can force a decertification vote with a petition representing 30 percent of the work force.

They forced such a vote in 2004 and narrowly lost.

Foor and Patterson said they are not generally anti-union.

Foor was shop steward after center workers unionized 10 years ago and worked happily for 17 years at Hillview Nursing Home as a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, she said.

Patterson was a satisfied member of the United Steelworkers Union at Proctor Silex in Pinecroft and at a clothing company in Tipton, he said.

Despite decertification, nonunionists are not making enemies of those who disagreed with them, Foor and Hartman said.

"It's not a personal thing," Hartman said.

Nobody has bothered her about her stance in favor of the union, the official said.

The former union official did not see any of the petitioners in action because they avoided her, but based on what she heard, she believes Grane permitted them to circulate on company time, in contrast to its prohibition against pro-union activity on company time, she said.

She also heard that petitioners told workers who have overused call-off privileges they would make out better if the union was out.


News union takes dues hit in San Jose

The San Jose Mercury News laid off 15 newsroom staffers Friday and lost 10 other editors and reporters through resignations and buyouts this week, shaving the editorial staff by 12 percent. The layoffs and resignations leave the Mercury News with 153 editorial staffers, according to Sylvia Ulloa, president of the San Jose Newspaper Guild, and represent the fourth round of cuts since Denver's MediaNews Group Inc. took ownership of the paper in 2006.

At the height of the dot-com boom in 2000, the paper had a newsroom staff of about 400. Mercury News President Mac Tully said the paper laid off a total of 34 workers Friday, including employees in non-newsroom positions such as circulation and classifieds.


County tries to buy AFSCME labor-peace

The Erie County (NY) Legislature’s plan to give bonuses to blue-collar workers is “a payoff to political special interests,” County Executive Chris Collins charged Friday, and he voiced confidence the control board will derail a plan that would knock the budget further out of balance. “Common sense will tell you they’re going to reject it,” Collins told reporters after he spoke with control board Chairman Anthony J. Baynes.

But Baynes insisted it’s premature to take a stand on the plan to give one-time payments of $600 to about 1,200 county workers as a way of settling a labor impasse. “We need to see what the issue is. I can’t just slam-dunk something and throw it out without looking at it,” he said. But one thing is clear, Baynes added. County officials must identify funds to pay for the bonuses.

“The county executive should figure out with [legislators] who passed this where the funds are going to come from. They can’t just say, ‘OK, we’re going to give raises,’ and there isn’t any money on the table.”

Therein lies the problem, said Collins, who argued the county can’t afford the raises. He claimed the Legislature exceeded its authority Thursday when it approved the payments without having a funding source.

“The money can’t be printed in our print shop,” said Collins, talking to reporters following Friday’s control board meeting.

The payments to members of Local 1095, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, would cost more than $800,000.

Baynes said the oversight panel has not seen the Legislature’s plan and “can’t talk in hypotheticals.”

Could state efficiency grants pay for the raises? Both Baynes and control board member Stanley J. Keysa said they doubt it, because the grants are supposed to be for initiatives that produce recurring savings.

Some might argue that giving employees a one-time payment to settle an impasse might be the carrot needed to get the union to negotiate a contract that produces savings. But Baynes seemed dismissive of the argument.

“It’s up to the unions to sit down with [Collins]. He’s a fair-minded person. Sit down and try to work this out,” Baynes said.

“To pay someone $600 to come to the table to talk is ludicrous,” Baynes added.

A state law allows legislative bodies to settle labor impasses by acting on raises.

The Buffalo Common Council took several such actions in the 1980s and 1990s.

But Collins argued the Legislature is setting a “dangerous precedent” by awarding payments to workers.

“That would encourage unions to declare an impasse when they can’t get from me what they might otherwise want, and then go running across the street to the Legislature for a handout,” Collins said.


Unions kept OLMS very busy in February

Note: An indictment is the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. As in all criminal cases, each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

On February 29, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Billy Chandler, former Secretary-Treasurer of NALC Branch 4065, was sentenced to six months probation for embezzling union funds in the amount of $31,947.93. On October 17, 2007, Chandler pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the same amount. Chandler had previously made restitution of the full amount. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Dallas District Office.

On February 29, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, Kirk Ogden, former organizer for Painters District 81, was charged with embezzling union funds in the amount of $8,653. The charge follows an investigation by the OLMS St. Louis District Office.

On February 29, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Frances Pagan, former President of Boilermakers Local Lodge 3M, pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $17,415. On February 26, 2008, an information was filed against Pagan charging him with embezzling union funds in the same amount. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office.

On February 28, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York, William Drake, former President of Steelworkers Local 1013T, was sentenced to two years supervised probation, ordered to perform 260 hours of community service, ordered to make restitution in the amount of $3,497.06, and fined $500. On November 28, 2007, Drake pled guilty to knowingly failing to disclose material facts on the local’s annual financial report for years 2001, 2002, and 2003. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Buffalo District Office.

On February 28, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, Michelle Trinh, former assistant administrator of the Writers Guild of America-West Foreign Levies Fund, was charged with conspiracy to embezzle and embezzlement of union funds. From December 2006 to February 2007, Trinh and her accomplice, Tracy Howze, used checks from the fund to embezzle union funds in the amount of $17,228.61. The charges follow an investigation by the OLMS Los Angeles District Office.

On February 26, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, an information was filed against Kyle Batts, former Secretary-Treasurer of Electrical Workers Local 738, charging him with embezzling union funds in the amount of $40,580.83. Subsequently, Batts pled guilty and agreed to pay restitution. The information and plea follow an investigation by the OLMS Dallas District Office.

On February 25, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, Curtis Smith, former President of Glass Molders Plastics Local 325, was sentenced to five years probation and up to six months electronic monitoring for embezzling union funds. Smith had previously made restitution of the full amount. On November 19, 2007, Smith pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $904.48. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Dallas District Office.

On February 22, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Ronald Schweitzer, former President of Steelworkers Local 1967, was sentenced to time served (three days), three years supervised release, ten months home detention, and ordered to pay restitution and a $100 special assessment for embezzling union funds in the amount of $58,308.30. On October 29, 2007, Schweitzer pled guilty to embezzling union funds in the amount of $58,305. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Cincinnati District Office.

On February 22, 2008, in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, Paula Adair-Butts, former office secretary of Plasterers Local 577, was sentenced to five years probation, ordered to make restitution and pay a $100 special assessment fee. On December 5, 2007, Adair-Butts pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $27,842. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Denver District Office.

On February 19, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, an embezzlement investigation conducted by the OLMS Dallas District Office resulted in the subject entering into a Pre-Trial Diversion Agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, the subject agreed to make restitution. Due to the confidential nature of the Pre-Trial Diversion program, details that could identify the subject are not public information.

On February 19, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Martin Hayes, former Secretary-Treasurer of Steelworkers Local 1671, pled guilty to one count of embezzling money from a labor organization. On June 6, 2007, Hayes was charged with embezzling union funds in the amount of $9,033.25.The guilty plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Dallas District Office.

On February 15, 2008, the Division of International Union Audits (DIUA) within the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) sent an opening letter to the International Union of Journeyman and Allied Trades (IUJAT) to initiate an audit under the International Compliance Audit Program (I-CAP). The IUJAT is headquartered in Danbury, CT. DIUA intends to begin on-site audit work during the week of April 14, 2008.

On February 15, 2008, the Division of International Union Audits (DIUA) within the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) sent an opening letter to the American Association of Classified School Employees (AACSE) to initiate an audit under the International Compliance Audit Program (I-CAP). The AACSE is headquartered in Washington, DC. DIUA intends to begin on-site audit work during the week of April 14, 2008.

On February 14, 2008, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, Randy Greear, former Secretary-Treasurer of Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers Local 37, was sentenced to two years probation, which includes six months of home detention, and a fine of $2,000. Greear had previously made full restitution to the union. On November 21, 2007, Greear pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $22,691.60. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Washington District Office.

On February 13, 2008, in Monroe County, Wisconsin Circuit Court, Carson Combs, former Secretary-Treasurer of Machinists Local Lodge 1771, was found guilty of theft. Subsequently, Combs was sentenced to one year probation, ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $410.30 plus a ten percent surcharge, and 40 hours of community service. The trial and sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Milwaukee District Office.

On February 8, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Betty Illig, former Secretary-Treasurer for Graphic Communications Workers Local 638-S and the Tri-State District Joint Council, pled guilty to embezzling $145,675 in union funds and submitting false Form LM-3 reports. The plea follows a joint investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office and the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General.

On February 8, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Carolyn M. Wallace, former President of Steelworkers Local 02-356, pled guilty to embezzling union funds in the amount of $25,200. On December 13, 2007, Wallace was charged with one count of embezzling union funds in the same amount. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Milwaukee District Office.

On February 7, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, Bridgett Cardall Hooks, former Secretary-Treasurer of Postal Workers Local 332, pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $10,820.17. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Nashville District Office.

On February 7, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, an information was filed charging Brian Dolney, former President of Machinists Lodge 2333, with one count of bank fraud totaling $11,565. Donley fraudulently negotiated union checks at the Security National Bank in Springfield, Ohio. The charge follows an investigation by the Cincinnati District Office.

On February 6, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Denise Nichols, former Secretary-Treasurer of CWA Local 4050, was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay a special assessment of $100. On October 12, 2007, Nichols pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $3,804.20. Nichols had previously paid restitution in the amount of $6,162. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Detroit District Office.

On February 6, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, an information was filed against Francis Pagan, former President of Boilermakers Local Lodge 3M, charging him with embezzling $17,415 in union funds. The charge follows an investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office.

On February 6, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Chad Mowery, former Secretary-Treasurer of BLE Division 282, was charged with embezzling $2,537 in union funds. The charge follows an investigation by the OLMS Cincinnati District Office.

On February 4, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, an information was filed against Pauline M. Gibson, former President of the Drivers, Warehousemen, Maintenance and Allied Workers of America, Local 1, charging her with making a false statement and representation of a material fact, knowing it to be false, on the local’s annual financial report. The charge follows an investigation by the OLMS Nashville District Office.

On February 4, 2008, in the Douglas County, Wisconsin Circuit Court, John Sigafus, former Secretary-Treasurer of Machinists Local W-335, pled no contest to theft of union funds in the amount of $2,500 or less. Subsequently, Sigafus was sentenced to one year probation and ordered to make restitution in the amount of $5,363.91. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Milwaukee District Office.


Hollywood preps for SAG strike

Biting at the heels of the writers strike that has finally been put to rest, is now a new threat to Hollywood; an actor's strike. The expiration of the Screen Actor's Guild contracts end on June 30, and actors are expected to strike if agreement is not reached.

Many filmmakers are already putting plans on hold and delaying shoots. Steven Spielberg is delaying his April production about the Chicago Seven, and Michael bay is hoping to keel his early June schedule for the shooting to the sequel of "Transformers". "If there is a strike, we shut down. But shutting down isn't that big a deal," said Bay.

While there is much pressure on the leaders of the SAG to initiate talks as soon as possible, they won't begin officially until early April. Some high profile actors such as George Clooney and Tom Hanks, have campaigned to get the talks initiated sooner, by taking out ads in Hollywood trade papers and meeting with Alan Rosenberg personally. Over 1,000 SAG members also petitioned Rosenberg to limit any voting on a new contract or strike authorization to those members who have worked a specified number of days during the past six years. While Rosenberg says he is opposed to the idea, he also said that he would take it to the governing board at it's meeting in April.

Rosenberg, along with SAG executive director Doug Allen, have suggested that informal talks like those that took place for the WGA, have already been going on. Both noted in a February 28 memo to members that "We will certainly continue to meet with the CEOs of the major networks and studios as we prepare for formal negotiations."


Chippewa launch offensive in Casino War

In an effort to ward off unionization efforts under the federal National Labor Relations Act, some tribes have adopted labor laws that allow employees to organize under tribal law. The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe has taken a different approach. "The position of this tribe is that the National Labor Relations Act does not apply to Indian tribes and the National Labor Relations Board does not have jurisdiction, and, that being the case, we don't believe we have to adopt an ordinance that allows union organizing to occur. The ordinance the tribe adopted prohibits union organizing," said Saginaw Chippewa attorney Sean Reed.

A wave of unionization efforts under the federal labor law began last year following a District of Columbia appeals court ruling that a casino owned and operated on tribal land by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians was subject to the NLRA.

Saginaw Chippewa Chief Fred Cantu Jr. summarily rejected the notion that the federal labor laws apply on sovereign tribal lands.

"I think the National Labor Relations Board thinks this [the NLRA] is a blanket policy that affects all of Indian country, that they have the skeleton key that fits every door, and that's not true. Each tribe is its own nation, has its own laws and government. I think it's a direct attack on our sovereignty," he said.

The tribe has had two unionization efforts in two months. Housekeeping staff at the tribe's Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort voted 192 - 88 against unionization with the Teamsters union last December.

The International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America canceled an election to unionize casino security workers two days before the scheduled Feb. 15 vote.

Cantu said the last-minute pullout was a move to avoid an unsuccessful outcome at the polls and part of a strategy to gain access to mailing lists of the tribe's employees.

"We think they were trying to save face so they decided to pull the carpet underneath our employees, which isn't fair to our employees. I think it was a tactic to manipulate the system and obtain our employees' mailing addresses."

According to a report in the Morning Sun local newspaper, the organizing director for the SPFPA confirmed that the union called for an election, but never planned to go through with it. 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, the report said.

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. If the vote had taken place and failed, under federal law the union would not be allowed to hold another vote for a year.

According to the tribe's research, since January 2001, the SPFPA has withdrawn 204 petitions after having filed for an election.

With both the Teamsters and SPFPA unions promising to continue unionizing efforts among Soaring Eagle's 3,000 employees, the tribe is taking steps to address employees' concerns while maintaining its position or sovereign authority over labor issues on its land.

"What this tribe has done is we've adopted a two-prong approach. We will actually participate to allow the election to occur and we will educate and inform our employees as to what a union would mean and, hopefully, we'll prevail on the election, at the same time fighting the sovereignty jurisdictional issue," Reed said.

Tribal leaders have been meeting with employees to discuss workplace issues and have hired a consultant to help ''educate'' employees about unions.

"We want to create a better work environment and we've indicated to our employees that we're here to strive to provide a better work environment for them," Cantu said.

What happens if a union vote is successful?

"We're going to continue to operate the way we have. We're going to make sure we have an open-door policy and address our employees' needs, and I don't really think we'll have to worry about a union winning an election," Stanley said.

Does the tribe provide good pay and working conditions?

"The Saginaw Chippewa tribe has always tried to provide good wages, good health benefits and a safe work place and we try to make it a nice place for our employees. There was some lapse at some time that brought us to this, but we're going to make sure we take care of that. We hold our employees in the highest regard and we respect them and recognize their contribution to our organization, and we feel we can handle their concerns without a third party interfering in our business," Stanley said.


UFCW sends organizers to Right To Work state

A union that represents poultry workers - and that is also on trial defending racketeering charges in court - is boosting its N.C. staff in light of Observer reports that workers at House of Raeford Farms plants are suffering. In Raeford, where the company is based, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union International recently brought in seven staffers to train local union leaders and to meet with House of Raeford's largely Latino work force.

House of Raeford and other poultry companies depend heavily on workers' hands to turn thousands of birds each day into cuts for restaurants, stores and cafeterias. In a six-part series, "The Cruelest Cuts," the Observer reported last month that House of Raeford has masked the extent of injuries inside its plants.

The newspaper reported that the N.C. poultry giant has broken the law by failing to record injuries on government safety logs, according to a top OSHA official, and that some seriously injured workers were brought back to the company's Greenville, S.C., plant hours after surgery. Employees said the company has ignored, intimidated or fired workers who were hurt on the job.

House of Raeford has said it follows the law and strives to protect workers.

Union leaders didn't know the extent of injured workers being fired or having trouble getting medical treatment before reading the Observer articles, said Jackie Nowell, UFCW's safety and health director.

UFCW leaders said they intend to survey workers to learn more about their needs. They also plan to increase the number of union stewards in plants.

The union said it is training local leaders and plant stewards to better respond to problems.

"This is different fundamentally than efforts in the past, where we would come in and do a membership campaign and sign up folks," said Ron Mattock, the union's executive assistant to the international director of organizing. "What we're trying to do is build it from the grass roots. If that means taking time to have people vent on what we haven't done, or dealing with grievances to re-establish credibility with the work force, we're willing to make that happen."

The union has struggled in recent years to attract members, particularly among Latino workers, many of whom are in the country illegally.

Last week, union leaders traveled to Eastern North Carolina to meet with workers in the Raeford area. Union officials said they hope to help injured employees receive appropriate medical treatment, increase union leadership in plants and add more Spanish-speaking representatives.

In the Observer series, more than 30 workers at four of House of Raeford's largest Carolinas plants said company medical attendants did little to help them when they suffered injuries or complained of pain.

One worker, Ernestina Ruiz, said that after months of de-boning chicken breasts she complained of pains in her hands and wrists only to be told she was fine and to return to the line. She later went to a private doctor and had surgery to remove a cyst she believes resulted from her work.

The union is ramping up efforts in seven poultry plants in the South, including four of House of Raeford's Carolinas plants. The union would like to reach out to workers at all of its plants, Nowell said, "but thought we'd start where the need was greatest."

The union is in contract talks with the company's S.C. plants and will soon begin negotiations in North Carolina.

Gina Swinea, a Philadelphia-based international representative with the union, recently met with company officials and toured the Raeford plant, located about 110 miles east of Charlotte. She and other union officials declined to provide details about the discussions.

Last week, Swinea met with about a dozen House of Raeford workers and employees from Smithfield Foods, a pork processor the union is trying to organize.

"The workers were encouraged by the (Observer's) articles because they said, `That's the truth of what's really happening. Yes, we're getting hurt,' " she said. "But people are afraid to report it for fear of retaliation."

In the Raeford plant, where union membership is about 20 percent, labor leaders say they have fought the company about plant conditions and proper safety equipment. The union also has battled the company over medical treatment for injured workers.

Some health care workers in House of Raeford plants lack medical credentials, yet they make crucial decisions about when to send injured workers to a doctor.

In 1994, under union pressure, one of the company's Raeford plants removed a plaque outside the first-aid attendant's office that read "nurse's station." Workers had told the union they believed they were seeing a licensed nurse.

House of Raeford said Friday it abides by its collective bargaining agreements. If disputes arise, the union can file a grievance or go to binding arbitration, the company said.

"We are pleased there have been no significant disagreements such as this in the recent past, and none that are safety related," a company statement said.

Justin Hakes, legal information director with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Virginia, is skeptical of the union's plans. Workers should initiate organizing activity, he said, not outsiders.

The foundation represents workers who feel they were unfairly forced to join or support union activities. Hakes said he has seen an increase in the number of Spanish-speaking workers who felt deceived by unions. He said his group is assisting 300 workers across the country who have filed lawsuits relating to union activity. None work in poultry plants.

Union membership in poultry plants has fallen in recent years as the work force has changed from predominantly African American to heavily Latino immigrants. Labor leaders say employers have learned to capitalize on a fearful work force and strong anti-labor laws.

More than 80 percent of the nation's poultry is processed in the South, where union membership is lower than any part of the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina in 2007 had a union membership rate of 4.1 percent. North Carolina had a union membership rate of 3 percent -- the lowest in the nation.

The Carolinas and most Southern states are right-to-work states, giving employees an option of joining, even in unionized shops. As a result, labor officials say, unions have less power when negotiating with management.


Houston, we've got a problem

Assemblyman Guy Houston's transfer of more than $100,000 of mostly labor union donations from two state campaign committees into his Contra Costa (CA) supervisor account is fueling talk of local election finance reform. County Supervisor John Gioia will ask his board colleagues later this month to pass a law that would cap such transfers at $25,000 per election. "It's a bait and switch," Gioia said. "You're telling contributors that you are running for one office but spending the money on another. Donors deserve to know what race they are supporting."

The local use of dollars collected for a partisan state office is unfair to the other candidates and it heightens the influence of Sacramento-style politics in local races, Gioia said.

"I don't want to see a county supervisor elected whose allegiance is largely to broad, special interest groups from outside the county," Gioia said.

Houston's campaign associates said they won't comment until they see what Gioia has in mind.

A cap may not even be legal, said Bob Stern, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies.

"It's a legitimate campaign issue, but the legal question is, 'Can you stop it?' and I think the answer is probably no," Stern said. "As long as the candidate complies with the contribution limits for the race, I don't think the county can restrict it."

Regardless, it's too late to stop Houston's switcharoo. He moved the money Dec. 31.

But Gioia said if the cap passes muster with the board, he will ask the assemblyman to abide by the "spirit" of the ordinance.

NO CHECK FOR YOU: Gioia may want to check in with Orinda Realtor Clark Wallace before he makes that call.

Wallace has asked Houston twice in writing since August to refund his $100 contribution to one of the assemblyman's state accounts that was later transferred to the supervisor fund. Wallace said he would never have given Houston the money if he had known the legislator planned to use it to run against incumbent Supervisor Mary Piepho.

"I haven't heard a word from him," Wallace said. "Now, I'm doubly offended."

There's apparently no need to take it personally, Mr. Wallace. Houston's campaign said the lawmaker's policy is not to return contributions.

OOPS: Policy or no policy, Houston may have no choice but to ship back the bucks he collected from political action committees.

The county caps total political action committee contributions at $40,000 per election cycle, and Houston exceeded the limit by $3,850 in his last campaign finance report.

Houston's campaign said it will recheck the figures and will comply with county law.

HEY, NO FAIR! Two key questions come to mind in this debate:

Is it fair for a state legislator with greater access to donations to sweep into a local contest and overrun candidates with outside money?

Or it is wrong to punish a candidate for being a successful fundraiser?

Houston undeniably outraised Piepho, even without the transfer. He reported $187,796 in contributions as of Dec. 31, with a quarter of the money coming from donors with Contra Costa addresses.

Of the total, $108,300 came from his 2006 Assembly campaign and his 2010 Board of Equalization account. Houston said he's not running for the Board of Equalization. He is one of several legislators who opened board accounts to raise money. It's a legal but dubious practice.

Houston's contributor list is a disparate group ranging from labor unions ($19,900) to nonunion contractors ($1,000), the development and construction industry ($72,175), banking interests ($12,000) and American Indian gaming ($6,025).

By comparison, Piepho raised about $18,000. Almost two-thirds of her money came from donors within the county.

But Piepho also voluntarily limited her contributor pool. Since her 2004 campaign, she has refused to take union, homebuilder or refinery money in order to avoid any hint of quid pro quo.

Money helps, but it by no means guarantees a victory. We'll find out Election Day which candidate's strategy paid off.


Teaching marketing, union-style

A Yuma High School marketing teacher is facing dismissal for what district officials term "unprofessional and insubordinate conduct" surrounding a school club's finances. Mark Rau, a YHS marketing teacher and the former adviser to the school's Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA), is facing Yuma Union High School district allegations of financial irregularity and inappropriate conduct involving funds raised by the club and the YHS student store, the Cell Block.

DECA is a student organization that encourages student participation in marketing competitions and activities. YHS' DECA group managed the Cell Block under faculty supervision, which included Rau.

Rau is fighting the allegations, according to his attorney, John Meerchaum of the law firm Meerchaum and Meyer. Rau contends he can account for all finances in question and did not violate any policies he was aware of at the time.

Meerchaum said the hearing would be held over a three-day period next week: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. It will take place at the YUHSD office board room before a hearing officer. The hearing was scheduled at Rau's request.

Rau was placed on administrative leave in September, but Meerchaum said the teacher was not made aware of the district's charges against him until December.

"It involves accounting issues to club monies," Meerchaum said. "He was accused of not following the rules ... There have been no claims of theft or embezzlement."

No criminal charges have been filed at this time. YUHSD Superintendent Toni Badone said it was currently an internal matter being dealt with by the district.

She would not comment on the allegations against Rau. "It's a personnel matter. I can't comment in any way, shape or form," Badone told The Sun on Friday.

Notice of intent to dismiss

Rau and Meerchaum provided The Sun with a copy of the notice of intent to dismiss, which was sent to Rau by YUHSD.

According to the district's notice, the recommendation to terminate is based on "unprofessional conduct, numerous violations of district policies and the club advisor handbook, state administrative rules and regulations, breach of conduct, breach of Club Sponsor Agreement, and insubordination."

Specific incidents cited by the notice include:

-Falsification of financial records and failure to follow required internal procedures regarding approval of purchases for the Cell Block: The notice accuses Rau of fabricating requisition forms in the amount of $12,000 to Caliber, a vendor that supplied items to the store.

The notice said Caliber representatives confirmed to the district that they would meet with Rau at the beginning of the fiscal year and determine approximately what would be purchased. Individual purchase orders would then be submitted against the $12,000 amount, rather than the district receiving $12,000 worth of merchandise in a bulk purchase.

Rau claims he had reviewed this purchasing method and understood it did not violate any policies.

The notice also claims false cash collection reports were submitted for an inaccurate amount of food and water sold at the student store on Aug. 30.

-Mishandling of funds and deposits: The notice claims six checks totaling $913 for commissions on YHS "Criminal" merchandise sold by Wal-Mart were deposited into an account at AEA Federal Credit Union rather than the auxiliary account for the Cell Block.

Rau claims he has receipts and records of "every penny obtained by the Wal-Mart sales" going directly to purchase items for DECA and the Cell Block.

-Numerous unauthorized transactions: The district claims reviews of records have indicated the unauthorized sale of items such as hats, food and bottled water by DECA and the Cell Block. Records by students of purchases were supposedly improperly kept in some cases.

Rau claims these sales were done based on an understanding of procedures he thought he had with the district and claims he can account for all cash collected.

-Improper procedures with cash: Rau kept envelopes holding cash for the DECA club in his classroom, which the district claims is a violation of money-handling procedures.

Rau claims this is common procedure done by most clubs at least before November 2007.

-Conflict of interest: The district also claims Rau tried to enter into an agreement to sell Criminal-insignia jeans supplied by JNY Inc. - a company Rau allegedly had a business relationship with.

Rau said he never told anyone he was a consultant for JNY but did say that if the sale of jeans was a success, he might retire as a teacher and become a sales representative. Rau said he made these statements to his superiors at YHS and was never told it was inappropriate.

Meerchaum said these types of "accounting issues" and money handling are not uncommon in school clubs run by students or individual faculty advisers. In a statement prepared by his attorney, Rau claims neither he nor any other club adviser at YHS was made aware of these policies before he was placed on leave.

Former 'educator of the year'

"We've got a highly respected teacher who's done wonders with a lot of students who may not have finished high school ... Yuma High DECA was one of the better if not the best in the state of Arizona," Meerchaum said.

Rau was voted 2005-2006 Outstanding Educator of the Year this summer by his peers in the Arizona Marketing Educators, according to previous reports in The Sun.

During his time as adviser, YHS DECA won numerous awards in state and national competitions. Their achievements received recognition on a segment of NBC's "Today Show" and "Good Morning America" in 2005.

A Yuma student, then-senior Mick Magin, was elected president of the state DECA organization 2005 when Rau was leading DECA at YHS. This was the first time a Yuma student had garnered this honor. Mick Magin is the son of Jeff Magin, YHS principal.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Office of the Auditor General is conducting an investigation into "possible financial irregularities" at YHS. No one at the auditor general's office or YUHSD will confirm or deny if this investigation is linked to Rau or the Cell Block.

The investigation has been under way since October. It was started at the request of the district, according to Jeff Larson, general counsel for the auditor general.

Larson said the investigation remains ongoing, adding it is not unusual for an audit to take months to complete. It involves obtaining and reviewing extensive records and documentation.

"Nothing has changed. We're still investigating," Larson told The Sun on Friday.

He could not provide any information on exactly what kind of improprieties they were examining, the amount of money in question or the identities of any people of interest in the investigation.

He said a report would be made available to the public when the probe was finished but he could not provide any indication of when that would be.


Publicly-funded labor-activism in Nebraska

William Brennan Institute for Labor Studies began in 1980 as the result of the combined efforts of the Nebraska labor movement and the University of Nebraska. Its statewide mission is to foster creative and critical thinking among labor leaders, potential leaders, and interested members by providing relevant information and training in the skills needed in today’s changing economy and workplace.

The Institute offers open enrollment courses for union members and contract courses for specific local unions, state associations, or central labor councils. Most courses last one to two days and are taught on weekends, but the Institute will contract to meet any scheduling needs. The cost of contract courses is normally less expensive than sending members to one of the open enrollment programs. The basic training cost is $200 per day plus a per participant charge for instructional material. There may be additional costs for meeting space, meals, or instructors who are not Institute staff.

Spring 2008 Schedule

Increasing Your Local Union's Political Effectiveness

Politics is one of four primary tools unions have for improving the lives of working families in the U.S. Decisions made by elected officials from President to school board member directly impact jobs, safety, health care, and much more. It is an election year and this workshop will help unions maximize their political clout.

Who should attend: Union leaders, policy makers and activists

Topics include: Explaining why politics is important; evaluating your union's past efforts; analyzing your membership; communication techniques that work; effective lobbying techniques.


News union takes dues hit in Duluth

The Duluth (MN) News Tribune will cut more than 10 percent of its staff. The staff was told of the company's intention to reduce its workforce by between 10 percent and 15 percent during contract negotiations Wednesday, said Steve Kuchera, a reporter for the paper and a member of the Lake Superior Newspaper Guild.

The paper employs 225 people. Forum, N.D.-based Forum Communications, which owns the paper, will offer voluntary buyouts to guild-represented employees, Kuchera said. The guild represents 134 workers.

Publisher Steve McLister told the Associated Press that advertising revenue has fallen more than 10 percent since Oct. 1. He added that the company doesn't expect sales to improve over the rest of the year.

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