State gov't aid to union politics defended

Texas State Rep. Leo Berman has asked for an attorney general's opinion on whether teachers unions can lawfully fund political campaigns with money deducted from payroll checks. Berman, chair of the House Election's Committee, said his request is a direct challenge to the Texas State Teachers Association Political Action Committee, the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported. The union tends to contribute more to Democrats than Republicans.

"Is it permissible for government resources to be utilized to process government paycheck deductions for political campaign donations?" Berman, of Tyler, asks in the request.

Deductions from teachers' payroll checks are voluntary. School districts process the authorizations, which include union dues and political contributions to association PACs.

Berman objects to using state time and resources to administer the deductions. He said school district employees and resources which are funded by taxpayer dollars are being used regularly to collect and distribute political contributions.

"The Democrats have raised a lot of their money through the teachers' unions," said Berman. "So through using the payroll deduction process, they're using state funds, state equipment and state time to raise political money. That doesn't fit with Texas state law."

Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association said he was surprised by Berman's request.

"This was debated when the payroll deduction bill was passed," Kouri said. "I think the legislative intent was clear, that adults can decide how to spend their money. And that the deduction system set up for things like the United Way and insurance and other things can be used for this purpose, too. Perhaps (Berman) doesn't have as much legislative history as I do."

Berman pointed to a Texas Ethics Commission ruling that said "the use of state equipment or state employees' work time to handle campaign contributions or expenditures is a misapplication of state property."


SEIU rank-and-file chafe at the dues-bit

A behind-the-scenes battle between centralized union power and the grass-roots voices of workers is raging, and the outcome could help determine the fate of the American labor movement. It's taking place within the nation's fastest-growing union — the 1.9-million-member Service Employees International Union — but the questions being raised about union democracy and how a struggling labor movement can survive are sparking a broader discussion within labor.

With 175,000 Service Employees members in Missouri and Illinois, the two states are key battlegrounds in the struggle, which centers on the leadership of union president Andy Stern. One of the country's most dynamic yet controversial labor leaders, Stern believes that consolidating small local unions — sometimes across several states — boosts efficiency and helps workers take on large corporations.

"Since 1996, we have had the greatest period of sustained growth in the history of the labor movement," says Steve Trossman, SEIU's chief spokesman, partly by getting local leaders to take a broader national view of the industries they represent.

But some workers and union officials counter that strong leadership can't come at the cost of diminishing the participation of workers.

"One thing I think the top leadership forgot is the members are the CEOs, not us," says Tony Condra, secretary-treasurer of Local 2000 in St. Louis. "That's how we look at it in Missouri — the members are the title-holders of the whole structure."

Condra, of University City, is helping lead an effort to reverse some actions of the union's Washington-based leadership. He says the failure to listen to workers' voices prompted some local members to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

Paula Jones, a member of Local 2000 who works at a nursing home in Florissant, says that contracts negotiated between senior union officials and management at local nursing homes have compromised workers' ability to advocate for resources and supplies for their patients.

"Workers had lost their voice" because of deals Stern supporters made several years ago with management "behind our back without discussing it with union members," says Jones, a certified medical technician.

Others, however, deny that workers are shut out of negotiations, and they contend that it's helpful to unions and employers to form agreements that help unions organize a new workplace while giving the employer some assurances of cooperation.

Nancy Cross is Missouri director for SEIU Local 1 — a case study of the new type of "mega" locals within the union. Based in Chicago, it represents some 43,000 janitors and building services workers throughout Illinois; it also has offices in St. Louis, Kansas City and Milwaukee. Of the 6,000 members in Missouri, two-thirds are in St. Louis.

"I think the centralization of the property services workers with Chicago benefited the members here when we went to negotiate contracts," she says. "We had a fight but we had resources that the two local unions (in St. Louis and Kansas City) would not have had. The fact that we had a big local behind us helped us get what we needed to get."

Stern, 57, has led the Service Employees International Union since taking over in 1996 for his mentor, John Sweeney, who left the SEIU to become president of the umbrella AFL-CIO.

In the fall of 2005, Stern was the driving force behind the seven breakaway unions that met in St. Louis to form the rival Change to Win federation, aiming to focus more on organizing and less on politics. Critics say the pressure to add numbers has consumed SEIU.

The SEIU represents janitors, government employees and 1 million health care workers — making it the country's largest union for medical workers.

Stern's backers say that a reeling labor movement — though St. Louis has remained a labor stronghold — needs to try new approaches.

But Sal Rosselli, president of SEIU's United Healthcare Workers West and the leading foe of Stern's changes, doesn't buy Stern's approach. He resigned his position on the union's executive board to protest Stern's actions.

Rosselli says his unit has grown to 150,000 members in California through old-fashioned organizing and representation of members, "without compromising the ability of workers to be in control of their union."

Stern's allies contend that Rosselli is hurting the union's unity at a critical time, when it is working to secure Sen. Barack Obama's nomination and election as president.

Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at the University of California at Berkeley, says the debate "has a lot of implications for labor," especially because SEIU is noted for innovative organizing tactics. "This is a legitimate division over the tensions between centralization and democracy."

The struggle is difficult to evaluate at this point, says Bob Bruno, associate professor of labor and politics at the University of Illinois.

On the one hand, top SEIU leaders appear to be abiding by democratic processes in terms of following bylaws, holding elections and the like, and are achieving results, Bruno says. On the other hand, he says, "There is a legitimate question about how you go about growing a union — should you centralize power or decentralize power?"

A showdown is expected when the union holds its convention in June in Puerto Rico, with a fight looming over whether to allow members to directly elect their leaders and to have more say in mergers.


School unions confront P-word

Twice last week, Maine communities discussed privatizing schools; first Newcastle's Raoul Nelson broached the subject during the Monday night board of selectmen meeting, then South Bristol voters discussed the possibility during annual town meeting on Tuesday.

At issue is Governor Baldacci's continued cry for education cuts, and on March 15, the Legislative Appropriation Committee voted to accept the governor's plan to cut general purpose aid to schools by more than $34 million dollars.

The proposed cuts are forcing Union 74 minimum receiver schools to discuss options.

Newcastle selectman and school board candidate Raoul Nelson talked to the board about privatizing Great Salt Bay Consolidated School, ending with the board wanting specifics.

At South Bristol's Annual Town Meeting on March 11, voters discussed considering the same for South Bristol School, but decided instead to support the school budget.

Nelson next discussed the issue with the Great Salt Bay Community School District (Damariscotta, Newcastle and Bremen) committee on March 12, in light of the just-announced loss of approximately $300,000 in state subsidy to the Damariscotta school.

Working on the budget, the GSB board told Union 74 Supt. Robert Bouchard to cut a further $100,000 from his proposed flat budget.

Union 74 Supt. Robert Bouchard believes some people are possibly confusing the terms "opting out" with "going private". "They are two different things," he said.

According to Bouchard, it might make more sense for South Bristol to opt out of joining the Regional School Union, but said the annual town meeting forum was not the place for the discussion. The penalty for not joining the RSU for a minimum receiver is not much, considering South Bristol lost 50 percent of the subsidy. "Not every town is in the position to say no to the subsidy," said Bouchard.

Advocates for privatization are using the community of Southport as an example. "Southport has looked into going private, and they've hired a lawyer," said Bouchard, "but there are lots of steps."

Bouchard explained just a few of the steps, including closing the school, establishing a private education foundation, with the foundation buying the school for fair market value. Parents would have to withdraw their kids and agree to enroll them in the new private school.

"I think Southport decided that was not a route that really appealed to them," said Bouchard. "But they did have to work through the process."

For now, Bouchard is faced with cutting the budget for GSB by $100,000. "I know where I'm going to start, but I don't know where I'm going to end."


Unions' racketeering tactics raise concern

The number of representation petitions filed and elections held across all industries declined in 2007, according to data from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Unions successfully continued to organize the nation's healthcare industry, however. IRI Consultants and the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) released the data and analysis in the 30th Labor Activity in Healthcare Report.

Unions won 72 percent of representation (RC) elections held in healthcare in 2007 - versus a union win-rate of 62 percent in non-healthcare industries. The success rates for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC) and various state nurses associations were even higher at 79, 80 and 83 percent, respectively. The SEIU accounted for 47 percent of all representation petitions filed in the healthcare industry in 2007.

The states with the highest number of RC petitions filed in healthcare in 2007 include California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Washington. Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon and Puerto Rico were the states and territories with the largest percentage increase in RC petition filings.

In addition to analyses of national, regional and state representation and petition data, the report includes articles that review NLRB decisions from 2007 and discuss such legislative issues as nurse-staffing ratios, card-check and so-called neutrality laws. The report also highlights unions' organizing efforts in Texas' healthcare industry and surveys the year's major news stories in the labor movement. These include:

- The CNA/NNOC joining the AFL-CIO and its partnering with the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP)

- Disaffiliation of the state nurses associations of New York, Ohio, Oregon and Washington from the United American Nurses (UAN)

- The American Nurses Association's termination of its relationship with the UAN -- Internal strife between SEIU leadership and its locals, particularly in California

- Unions' unprecedented financial and personnel commitments to support candidates during the 2008 election cycle

The report raises concerns about potential impacts of corporate campaigns being conducted by SEIU and UNITE-HERE against vendors that support healthcare providers, including Aramark, Cintas and ServiceMaster.

Corporate campaigns are designed to damage an organization's reputation and image by inflicting significant external pressure on an organization in hopes of gaining leverage. Union-sponsored campaigns often aim for negotiating strength or to force employers to accept "neutrality," "free access" or "card check recognition" that make organizing workers far easier by side-stepping traditional secret-ballot elections overseen by the NLRB.

Founded in 1979, IRI Consultants offers organization development, corporate communications and employee relations consulting, training and leadership development services that help clients implement best practices to improve employee job satisfaction, enhance workplace productivity and facilitate and apply effective communication strategies.

ASHHRA, a division of the American Hospital Association, is the nation's only membership organization exclusively dedicated to meeting the professional needs of human resources leaders in healthcare.


Outsourcing to Mexico confounds UAW strikers

As the UAW's strike at five U.S. American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. plants continues, the Detroit auto supplier has moved some axle production for General Motors Corp.'s large SUVs to its plant in Mexico, an industry analyst said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, discussions between the company and the UAW continued Wednesday.

"Things are moving forward," said American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers.

Rogers declined to comment on a note by KeyBanc analyst Brett Hoselton, who wrote that the supplier moved some production to Mexico, giving the company more time to weather the strike.

"In short, it is a waiting game," Hoselton wrote.

American Axle has done the same for its second-largest customer, Chrysler LLC, which will allow the automaker to continue operations indefinitely at SUV and pickup plants in Newark, Del., and Saltillo, Mexico, despite the strike, said Chrysler spokeswoman Michele Tinson.

The strike has forced GM to shut down seven pickup and SUV assembly plants, and slow or halt production at 22 other plants.

CSM Worldwide expects GM next week to cut production at its Shreveport, La., factory, which makes the Hummer H3 and two midsize pickups.

By the end of the month, CSM estimates that lost volume because of the strike will add up to more than 100,000 vehicles, which won't be replaced because of slow pickup and SUV sales.


FOP decertified in Right To Work state

Pasco County (FL) sheriff's detention deputies have voted 132-62 not to retain union membership. Brian Deehan, immediate past president of the detention deputies' union, said the majority "thought we were best-suited without" Fraternal Order of Police representation. "I just felt we could represent ourselves better than the FOP can," Deehan said. "The reason it came about is we believe in Maj. Brian Head, who oversees jail operations, and we stand by Sheriff Bob White. That's what the bottom line is."

Votes were cast Tuesday and Wednesday at the jails in Land O' Lakes and New Port Richey. The votes were tallied Wednesday evening by the Public Employees Relations Commission.

Officials said 253 of the deputies who work at the jails were eligible to vote.

White didn't have anything to do with the vote and will continue working with his deputies whether they are part of a union or not, agency spokesman Kevin Doll said.

Bill Hastings, who represented detention deputies for the FOP, said they were not at a contract impasse with White, as are the law enforcement deputies, who include those on patrol.

"We had the same issues as the law enforcement side: the refusal to provide gap insurance and disciplinary issues in reference to just cause," Hastings said. "The contracts are very similar. You want consistency throughout the agency."

Hastings said that contract negotiations were in progress a couple of months ago when he heard that some detention deputies wanted to push for a decertification vote.

"I think they thought negotiations would proceed quickly and they just didn't," Hastings said. "They became disenchanted."

Both sides have 15 days to contest the vote, but that doesn't happen very often, said Steve Meck, general counsel for the Public Employees Relations Commission. After 15 days, with no objections, a vote is certified.

"In a decertification, someone says at least 30 percent of the employees are showing a desire not to be represented anymore and they want another election," Meck said. "It's usually a pretty routine thing."

Meanwhile, relations between White and the law enforcement deputies' union representatives seem as contentious as ever.

The union recently filed an unfair labor practices complaint against White with the employees commission, said Paul Noeske, a staff representative with the FOP. The action came after White released a "resolution" of impasse issues between himself and law enforcement deputies. The union contends that White ruled in favor of himself.

"That's why we believe the county commission should be the legislative body" authorized to resolve an impasse and not White, Noeske said.


Michigan Teamsters face dues hit

About 160 people could lose their jobs after a trucking company shutters its plant and a well-known packaging business lays off dozens of workers. Martin Transportation Systems Inc., 4169 Davison Road, Burton, will close its doors April 18, leaving 97 employees jobless. In a separate move, Landaal Packaging Systems plans to lay off about 60 workers permanently from its Flint Packaging Division, 3256 B Iron St., Burton, beginning in April, according to WARN notices sent by the companies to the state.

Steve Kimberlin, personnel manager for MTS, confirmed the closure but said he couldn't comment on why the facility is closing.

MTS was founded in Flint as Martin Leasing Co. by Minnie Martin in the late 1970s. It is now based in Byron Center, near Grand Rapids, and has about 10 locations.

The company hauls auto parts primarily for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, Kimberlin said.

Nina Bugbee, president of Teamsters Local 332, which represents about 60 MTS workers in Burton, said the union met with represented workers this month to inform them of the closing.

"We had no idea that they were going to close until we opened our mail one day," she said.

Bugbee said the union and its legal representation will meet with the company to talk about possible transfers and such issues as severance pay, health insurance and accrued vacation pay.

"Some of them have as much as 14, 15 years' seniority," she said. "Obviously, this was shocking, and they're very concerned because they've been able to make a pretty good living."

The company closed a Swartz Creek location last year when it lost work with GM Service and Parts Operations, Kimberlin said. He said a minimal number of workers were laid off then.

Layoffs at Landaal, a packaging and box-making company, also are related to SPO changes.

Executive Vice President Steve Landaal said SPO recently announced it would be doing in-house certain packaging work that companies such as Landaal had been performing.

"GM SPO makes up the majority of the business at this facility," he said of the roughly 200-employee Burton plant.

Landaal said the company hopes it doesn't have to lay off any workers or at least fewer than the roughly 60 it estimated in its required notice to the state. Layoffs will begin in April and continue through the end of July, he said.

"Our sales/marketing organization has been hard at work to try to backflow that business with new business, either from GM or diversifying from other manufacturers and other companies," he said. "Our motivation is to save the jobs of a lot of good people."

Landaal, a family-owned business, also operates a Delta Containers Division in Bay City.

Its former president, Thomas Landaal, a prominent community leader, died in December after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 53.

In its notice, Landaal said the company is reviewing options to offer affected employees severance benefits and outplacement service.

Under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN, certain businesses that are closing or that plan mass layoffs must give at least 60 days' notice to individual workers or their labor union, the state and the chief local elected official.

Employers typically fall under the WARN Act if they have 100 or more employees and if they plan a plant closure or layoff affecting 50 or more workers.

Burton Mayor Charles Smiley said he wasn't aware of the pending MTS closure or layoffs at Landaal Packaging and hasn't been contacted by either business for help.

"It's tragic any time we're going to lose any jobs," he said.


A.G.'s office in divisive union turmoil

Continuing turmoil in the state attorney general's office has produced a rift among union leaders and is leading to suggestions that an unsuccessful former candidate for the office may be involved in a divisive movement to unionize the office.

For nearly a year, Attorney General Lori Swanson's office has been roiled by complaints of low morale, numerous departures and an atmosphere of intimidation. An attempt to unionize the office has led to charges that lawyers and others active in the effort have been dismissed for their union activity.

Most recently, an assistant attorney general who was active in union organizing was suspended last week after charging that Swanson and her aides had pressured subordinates into compromising ethical situations.

The latest controversies led Swanson to issue a 15-page written response calling the attempts to unionize her office illegal. Though she received union endorsements during her DFL campaign in 2006, Swanson said union organizers had resorted to "shrill name-calling" and were attempting to "stir the pot" because their efforts were failing.

Even within organized labor, the ongoing feud has inspired divisions. The union leading the organizing attempts, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, has come under attack.

In an unusual move last week, a sister AFSCME affiliate in Minnesota sided with Swanson, and said in a letter it did not support "the tactics or position" of AFSCME Council 5 director Eliot Seide, who, it said, was misinterpreting state law.

'Things have escalated'

Steve Giorgi, the assistant director of AFSCME Council 65, representing mostly outstate public employees, said that while union organizing had been attempted previously at the attorney general's office, "under this attorney general, things have escalated." Employees in the attorney general's office were "clearly exempt" from being organized into a union under state law, he said.

Giorgi's union has been joined by several others, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 292, that have backed Swanson. But in letters supporting Swanson, most of the unions have not specifically been critical of the union attempting to organize her office.

"Thanks for the excellent job," wrote Harry Melander, executive secretary of the St. Paul Building and Construction Trades Council.

The origins of the uprising in Swanson's office are also disputed. Amy Lawler, an assistant attorney general who was placed on leave after raising "ethical concerns" about office policies, said some in Swanson's office believed that former House Minority Leader Matt Entenza was behind the union organizing in an attempt to politically embarrass Swanson.

A former DFL candidate for attorney general, Entenza dropped out of the 2006 race after his private investigation of former Attorney General Mike Hatch -- Swanson's longtime mentor -- came to light.

In an e-mail Wednesday, Entenza dismissed any suggestion of his involvement. "I have not played any role in a union organizing campaign, but I strongly support the right of employees to be represented by a union if they want to be," he said.

Swanson's office declined comment on any suggestion Entenza has played a role.

'About rights, not politics'

Lawler said in an interview that she was hired in November and was taken to coffee by Chuck Roehrdanz, an attorney in the office's medical fraud division, who tried to explain why unionizing the office was a bad idea.

"[He said], 'I don't know if you've followed this Entenza character,'" said Lawler, adding that Roehrdanz then told her that Entenza "was probably behind this to try to somehow get back at [Swanson] or something, to try to take her down. It was a very pointed -- he was very accusatory," Lawler said.

A spokesman for Swanson's office released a statement from Roehrdanz which disputed some of Lawler's account but did not address whether he had discussed Entenza. A spokesman for Swanson said Roehrdanz would not be available for further comment.

An AFSCME Council 5 spokesperson denied that Entenza was behind the efforts. "This organizing effort is about workers' rights, not politics," said the spokesperson, Jennifer Munt.

In a letter last week to her superiors outlining her concerns, Lawler had listed a series of incidents -- all of them involving unnamed office employees -- in which she said Swanson or her lieutenants placed workers in predicaments that "rob the office of its moral force."

In one instance, Lawler said, a lawyer was asked to issue a civil investigative demand against a company when the attorney did not believe they had proper cause to do so. The attorney, she said, refused and later resigned.

In her letter, Lawler asked to return to work and suggested "that we begin an open and honest dialogue about what can be done to improve the office."

In a lengthy response, the attorney general's office refuted Lawler's claims and said she was "casually tossing around loaded words" without identifying specific cases or naming individual employees.


SEIU goes on strike in N.Y.

A strike by union workers at hundreds of apartment buildings in the Bronx is making life a little harder for tenants. The workers hit the picket lines Thursday morning in a battle with building owners over wages.

Tenants of one Bronx apartment building rely heavily on Eric Pimental's ability to get things done.

But at midnight, he and some 4,000 other Bronx based residential building employees walked off the job - officially striking over wage and benefit increases.

"None of our guys want to go because we don't get paid," Pimental said.

"The workers cannot survive or keep pace with the cost of living with the contract they're offering us now," added Kyle Bragg, of the Service Employees International Union.

The tenants are caught in the middle.

"This is going to affect garbage, deliveries, and everything," said David Hochhauser, of the local tenant association. "It's really terrible."

"These guys work hard, and they're really good," added Achsah Kaufman. "Their presence here makes all the difference."

On average - the workers make about $5 less per hour than their counterparts in the other boroughs - primarily because in the past, rents, and landlord income levels are lower in the Bronx.

"Our income has shrunk down dramatically," Michael Lauber, President of the Bronx Realty Advisory Board said. "We would like to offer even more money but it's a matter of what you can afford and you have to draw the line as to what you can afford."

But Pimental says that's ridiculous.

"They raised the rent up in this building by 16-percent not long ago in this building. They obviously have the money for it," Pimental told CBS 2.


Strike pay won't cover UAW workers' losses

Three weeks into a strike that has shut dozens of North American auto plants, idled over 40,000 workers and threatened credit ratings for the industry, striking workers at American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc say they expect no quick resolution. American Axle workers walking picket lines outside the auto parts supplier's plants in Detroit and Three Rivers, Michigan, say they expect a long strike and could not live on the company's current offer of sharply reduced wages.

"It's what we have to do," said Ryan Hugan, who has worked for American Axle almost since its start in 1994. "We will do it as long as we have to. We just feel that we are being treated unfairly."

Hugan warmed his hands over a barrel fire as he and other workers represented by the United Auto Workers picketed American Axle's sprawling plant in Detroit.

Now in its fourth week, the strike dwarfs short walkouts at General Motors Corp and Chrysler last year and shows few signs of ending. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said last week talks had been a "one-way" street of American Axle demands.

American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers said on Tuesday the company was "having meaningful discussions on a number of topics" and progress was being made.

Some 3,650 UAW workers went on strike at American Axle plants in Michigan and New York on Feb. 26, and few expected a repeat of the one-day walkout that led to a contract in 2004.

GM has nearly 30 facilities partly or fully shut because of the strike, affecting more than 37,000 hourly workers and 4,600 salaried employees. Some auto parts suppliers also have had to cut back because of the loss of GM production.

GM U.S. sales chief Mark LaNeve told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday the automaker had enough inventory to withstand a strike lasting at least another month.

The impact, too, has been felt by smaller firms in Three Rivers, a small city near the Indiana border where the American Axle plant is the biggest employer.

"The conversations I have had with business owners indicate that sales are down," city manager Joe Bippus said.


Standard & Poor's Corp placed GM, American Axle, Lear Corp and Tenneco Inc ratings on ratings watch negative on Monday because of the lengthening strike. Lear and Tenneco, which also produce parts used on large pickup trucks and SUVs, also have been hurt by GM's production shutdowns.

CSM Worldwide analyst Joe Langley said on Wednesday GM could weather a several-month walkout before an impact, given its oversupply of full-sized pickup trucks, SUVs and vans.

"With the two sides still far from resolution and no immediate need for GM to get involved, the likelihood of the strike continuing into April is growing more probable," he said.

American Axle has said wages and benefits run more than $70 per hour, about three times those of competitors, and it would have to close plants without wage cuts to as low as $14 per hour.

"Not knowing when it is going to end, it is hard to make plans," said Willie Roop, 44, who has worked 12 years at the plant in Three Rivers, where he has lived most of his life.

"I think people were prepared to begin with," said Roop. "Most of the people I talk to seem to be doing pretty good. You cut back where you can and try to help each other out."

Workers said they have been hard-pressed to get by on the $200 per week in strike pay, compared with more than $1,100 a week before the strike, but noted they would not get much more if they accepted the $14-per-hour wage demanded by American Axle.

At that wage rate, workers could not even afford to buy the GM pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles for which they are producing the axles and gears, they said.

"If American Axle closes or if I'm making $14 an hour, I'll lose my house," Keith Bardol said. "So I'm here walking."

Bardol, who transferred to Detroit from Buffalo, New York, said he was disappointed with the proposed wage cuts and with American Axle Chief Executive Dick Dauch, a co-founder of the company.

"A lot of people really believed Dauch when he talked about how 'we're a family' and 'we're all in this together,'" Bardol said. "People had a lot of respect for him, but now I just feel like I've been duped."

American Axle has idled the Buffalo plant. It also has facilities in Cheektowaga and Tonawanda, New York, that it is seeking to close, union officials have said.

Worker Shawn Hall said he had thanked Dauch every day for the first 13 years he had worked at the Detroit axle plant, until the strike began.

"We know it's the downturn and we have to give back, but he's hit us right there," Hall said, making a swinging motion with his picket sign at knee level. "If I have to stand out here until I'm in Bermuda shorts and sandals, I'll do it."


N.H. teachers authorize strike, set date

Teachers in Nashua, New Hampshire, have set a strike date as negotiations continue on a new contract. The Nashua Teachers' Union voted Wednesday to set a strike date of March 31. The union said the strike will not happen if a contract settlement is reached before that time.

The union said it has been negotiating with the city for nearly two years for a new contract.


Iowa Dems eager to end worker-choice

The House debated expanding the state's collective bargaining law into late Wednesday night, the first serious debate over the hotly partisan issue in more than 30 years. Majority Democrats are pushing to allow public workers to bring almost any issue to the bargaining table. The law, passed in 1974, tightly controls issues that can be bargained, and unions have chafed over those restrictions for years.

Republicans on Wednesday night offered several amendments to limit the expansion and enhance the rights of managers. They were rejected on largely party-line votes, and lawmakers were expected to debate other details into early Thursday morning.

Democratic leaders noted their effort only affects public-sector workers and contend such changes are long overdue. But Republicans counter that Democrats are only seeking to repay public employee unions, a key part of the party's political base.

"It's obviously political payback," said House Minority Leader Chris Rants, R-Sioux City. "Obviously the unions have been waiting."

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, acknowledged the collective bargaining change would help public-sector unions, but said that's not a reason to oppose it.

"Anything that benefits labor unions, the minority leader likes to destroy," McCarthy said. "The minority leader truly hates unions."

The state's collective bargaining law was passed and signed into law by Republican Gov. Robert D. Ray 34 years ago. The measure is a carefully balanced measure that's full of compromises, but the topic remains politically divisive and lawmakers haven't touched the law since its passage.

The law gave public employees the right to form unions and bargain with their employers, but workers agreed not to strike. The law also spelled out the topics subject to bargaining - generally wages, hours and working conditions - and established a binding arbitration system.

If the two sides deadlock on an issue, it is sent to a neutral arbitrator who can impose a settlement.

The measure now being considered would significantly broaden the topics up for negotiation. This would make Iowa one of 27 states with "open scope" laws allowing negotiations over virtually everything that an arbitrator eventually considers reasonable.

McCarthy used the example of a police force that wants to negotiate with a city over the purchase of weapons or body armor. Under the current law, a city can refuse to discuss the issue and that effectively takes it off the table.

Rants raised the potential that the measure could open the door for forcing workers to pay union dues, even if they aren't a member of the union.

"It's wide-ranging and all encompassing," said Rants.

McCarthy said that's banned by another section of the law. He accused Rants of trying to create an issue for the November elections.

It's clear why the issue has such political implications.

Unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -which represents state workers -and the state's teacher union are among the most ardent supporters of Democratic candidates.

And Republicans rely on the staunch support of businesses that are energized at the mere mention of the words labor union.


Nurses: It's all about forced union-dues

The California Nurses Association (CNA) has intentionally twisted the facts concerning our ongoing negotiations and the upcoming strike, most recently in an op-ed in the Appeal-Democrat ("For a third time, nurses stand up," March 16). Let's set the record straight.

Union representatives claimed, "A supermajority of RNs voted in January to reject management's last offer..."

Not true. According to the union's own "bargaining alert" issued Feb. 1, only 221 nurses voted to reject the offers. There are more than 500 represented nurses at Fremont-Rideout. Do the math!

Union representatives said, "Recently the National Labor Relations Board decided to charge FRHG with violations of federal labor law."

The NLRB made no such charges. It is the union that recently filed 33 new baseless charges against Fremont-Rideout. Previously, the union filed at least 25 different charges, but the NLRB dismissed all claims of serious violations and the vast majority of other claims. To date, the NLRB has not found us guilty of a single unfair labor practice. The NLRB plans to hold a hearing on the few remaining charges. We are confident those will be resolved in our favor.

Why does CNA keep filing charges? When there are charges outstanding, our nurses are prevented from a secret ballot election to decertify the union. In spite of intense union efforts to prevent them from doing so, 33 percent of our nurses signed petitions demanding a decertification vote (30 percent is required for a vote). CNA is afraid of a secret ballot vote for obvious reasons.

Union representatives also claimed, "Our ... critical issue is called union security ..."

"Union security" is their euphemism for mandating that all nurses pay union dues or fees, whether or not they choose to join the union. This is the real issue. Mandatory union dues, promoted under the guise of "union security," would put approximately half a million dollars into the coffers of CNA union leaders every year. That's security for the union, but it is fundamentally unfair to the many nurses who do not support or want CNA. We strongly believe that our nurses should not be forced to pay against their will to work at Fremont-Rideout.

Finally, the union has unfairly criticized our commitment on ensuring patient safety during the upcoming strike by guaranteeing 10 shifts to qualified replacement nurses. The union cynically orchestrated the strike at Fremont-Rideout to coincide with the first day of a 10-day strike at six Sutter hospitals, impacting approximately 5,000 nurses. We're forced to make those guarantees or the best qualified nurses would otherwise choose to work for Sutter.

Let me be clear about the last, best and final offers presented to the union on Jan. 8. The board of directors and administration at FRHG are justifiably proud of our nurses who work long, hard hours to provide the highest quality of care. We are committed to ensuring they are justly rewarded. The two-year offers represent over $12 million in additional wages and benefits to our employees, with $8 million of those increases dedicated exclusively to our nurses.

The offers also include language that our nurses requested when extraordinary, unforeseen circumstances require a nurse to "float" from one unit to another.

It's time for the union to do what's in the best interests of our nurses instead of what's in the union's financial interest. Stop calling strikes to force our nurses to pay dues. Allow the nurses to determine their own futures with regard to union representation. Accept our last, best and final offers.

- Theresa Hamilton is the chief executive officer of Fremont-Rideout Health Group.


Labor-state pols back SEIU in dispute

A contentious labor standoff between Twin Cities security guards and their employers grew more heated Wednesday, as government officials publicly called on the security companies to reduce health care costs for the union workforce. Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 26 were joined by Congressman Keith Ellison and Minneapolis City Council members Ralph Remington, Elizabeth Glidden, Gary Schiff, Don Samuels and Betsy Hodges at the press conference in the Minneapolis City Hall rotunda.

The conference was held a day after union membership overwhelmingly rejected the “final” contract proposal from a consortium of five security companies.

About 800 Twin Cities security officers are represented by the local branch of the union, which organized in 2005 and operates within the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Its members represent approximately 80 percent of the private security workforce in those cities. Buildings that rely on SEIU workers include Block E, the IDS Center, Ameriprise Financial Center and the U.S. Bank Building.

“These folks who put it on line to keep people safe ought to have some economic security,” Ellison said, calling affordable health care “the issue of our time.”

“We have the power in our hands to re-slice the pie in a way that’s fair for our security officers, and for all workers.”

Ellison also attended the union’s Feb. 9 meeting, at which members authorized its leaders to call a strike, if necessary. Union members held a one-day strike Feb. 25 after a previous round of negotiations failed.

But Javier Morillo, president of the SEIU Local 26, called another strike “a last resort,” and did not set a deadline for resolving the union contract. More than 91 percent of voting union members voted against the latest contract proposal.

Union negotiators said the proposed five-year contract would require employees to pay more than $1,000 per month for family health insurance.

Of the approximately 800 officers in the SEIU Local 26, only 17 percent are currently enrolled in any employer health plan and less than 2 percent are enrolled in family health insurance.

“It’s up to building owners to do what those in other cities have done and make health care affordable for working families every day,” Remington said before a crowd of a few dozen union members who attended the conference.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman was not at the event, but sent a written statement urging the security companies to return to the negotiating table.

Guy Thomas, the lead representative for ABM Security Services, AlliedBarton Security Services, American Security, Viking Security and Securitas Security Services USA, did not respond to several calls seeking a response Wednesday.


SEIU opposes worker-choice over dues

The board of Altoona (PA) Regional Health System pleased a minority group of registered nurses this week when it rejected a proposed contract that would have required all RNs to pay for union representation — dues for members and discounted fees for the rest. The board is insisting that its first contract with the Service Employees International Union include an "open shop" provision.

This would allow nurses to decide whether or not to join the union and pay dues, even though the union would represent all RNs in collective bargaining, said Jerry Kobell, regional director of the National Labor Relations Board.

The board’s insistence on an open shop contributed to a breakdown of talks that had been within a few hours of completion Monday. On Tuesday, union members voted to authorize a two-week strike notice that the union will file today.

Recently, 119 anti-union nurses sent hospital administrators a petition asking for the open shop. About 500 of the 800 nurses signed a petition asking for a more restrictive arrangement.

It’s a matter of individual freedom, said open-shop supporter Pat Rose.

"This is America," wrote hospital Operations Director Ron McConnell Tuesday. "Management feel[s] strongly that RNs should have the freedom to choose."

Unionists for whom an "agency shop" is critical invoke a similar political argument.

"That’s how democracy works," said Paula Stellabotte, referring to the 56 percent of those who cast ballots last May to give the union the right to bargain for all the nurses and their 82 percent rejection of a board contract Tuesday. "Majority rules."

"I don’t feel the hospital has ever wronged me," said union opponent Kim Stultz.

Monica Morroni-McMahon wants to give managers in new posts — McConnell and Vice President for Nursing Administration Chris Rickens — an opportunity to make changes.

They both have positive ideas, and both seem to be "truly listening" to nurse concerns, she said.

"I respect her position," said union supporter Bonnie Franciosi. But McConnell and Rickens have been in their posts about a year and nothing much has changed, she said. With management, responses to requested reforms are "always pending," she said.

Stultz and Rose said nurses are well-educated professionals and capable of speaking for themselves before management, with no need of the union as intermediary.

Morroni-McMahon said the lead negotiator seems to have undue influence over the 50 or so nurses on the committee, seemingly a "mentor" to them.

The negotiator helps them deal with management in contract talks, Franciosi said.

"[But] I’m not brainwashed," Stellabotte said. "We can handle [him]."

Unionization can help negotiate a guarantee that management work with nurses to tap the wealth of specific knowledge they have collectively about patient care and staffing, Stellabotte said.

Efforts to share that knowledge previously always have "fallen flat," she said.

"People act like the union is a monster come into the building," she said. "It’s just us."

Anti-union nurse Tina Marcaurelle is uncomfortable with the union on moral and ethical grounds that she declined to specify.

But unionization can make nurses partners with management in figuring out how to recruit and retain nurses, keep staff levels up and eliminate mandatory overtime, Franciosi and Stellabotte said.

McConnell says mandatory overtime hours are minuscule now, but Franciosi says Tuesday evening two recovery room nurses had to work a double shift.

Stellabotte didn’t know the specifics, but conceded that open shop is a major impediment.

Besides, with the union bargaining for all the nurses by law, "why should [they] ride for free?" she asked rhetorically.


Curbing non-union labor in Cleveland

University Hospitals will pay to train up to 60 Cleveland high school graduates for jobs on its $1.2 billion expansion project. As many as 20 students who graduate this spring from Max Hayes Career and Technical High School will receive eight weeks of pre-apprenticeship training, starting June 2. The hospital system will provide a $5,400 training fee for each student and pay them $10 per hour while they take the 40-hour-a-week course.

University Hospitals will sponsor 20 more students each of the next two years as the Vision 2010 expansion is completed, said Margaret Hewitt, vice president of construction services. In all, the hospital system will spend more than $500,000.

University Hospitals five-year building plan includes an outpatient health and urgent-care center in Twinsburg; a neonatal intensive care unit at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland; a 120-bed cancer hospital and a Center for Emergency Medicine on the University Hospitals Case Medical Center campus in Cleveland; and a 600-bed UH Ahuja Medical Center in Beachwood.

After becoming apprentices, the students also will get a shot at jobs on one of the 14 projects that make up the expansion.

If Vision 2010 contractors don't need the students, they will get work on other University Hospitals projects, Hewitt said.

The arrangement is part of a project labor agreement that University Hospitals voluntarily struck with the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council. Such agreements set hiring standards for publicly funded projects, but Vision 2010 does not include any public money.

Mayor Frank Jackson, who proposed that University Hospitals pay for the apprentice training, said he hopes other companies and institutions follow their example.

"You can see how this can begin to provide great opportunity for kids coming out of high school who don't want to go to college," he said. "It's a template."

The training will be provided by the nonprofit Union Construction Industry Partnership-Apprenticeship Skills Achievement Program. The city gave the building industry money to start the program in 2004.

Max Hayes hopes to pick students for the training as soon as today, Principal David Volosin said. He said the school will select students based on their skills, grades and attendance records.

Cleveland school officials want unions to eventually exempt Max Hayes graduates from pre-apprenticeship training. Officials said they are working with the unions to make sure the schools' courses are adequate.


IBEW goes unpunished for excessive bribe

The campaign committee of former Philadelphia City Councilman Juan Ramos was fined $500 by the Philadelphia Board of Ethics for improperly accepting $2,500 more than allowable last year from one donor. The fine marks the first time the board has issued a financial penalty in its two-year history, its executive director, J. Shane Creamer Jr., said yesterday.

The payment, made Feb. 22, was disclosed at yesterday's monthly board meeting. Under a larger settlement agreement that Ramos reached with the board last month, his political committee also returned the $2,500.

City campaign-finance rules last year permitted candidates to accept no more than $10,000 from an individual political action committee.

The Friends of Juan Ramos Committee received a $10,000 contribution from the "Local 98 Committee on Political" after it had already accepted $2,500 from the "Local 98 IBEW Comm on Political Ed."

The ethics board's computerized review of donations did not catch the excess contribution because the name of the PAC appeared differently in each listing. Creamer said he noted the irregularity while doing a manual review of the contributions.

The Local 98 PAC is run by electricians union leader John J. Dougherty, now a candidate for the state Senate from the First District.

Ramos stated in the agreement that his committee had been unaware that it violated the campaign cap until it was so informed by the ethics board.

Yesterday, Ramos, who lost his reelection bid and is now a senior adviser at the Bravo Group government relations firm, referred calls to his lawyer, Michael Schaedle.

Schaedle said that now that Ramos is in private life, he "viewed this as an appropriate thing to get done and demonstrate his commitment to ethics reform."

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