Governator face-slaps AFSCME

Legislation to grant collective bargaining rights to grandmas, aunts and other subsidized child-care providers was vetoed Thursday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Senate Bill 867 targeted a pivotal service for low-income parents, with about 90,000 providers assisting 700,000 families at a public cost of more than $3 billion. Schwarzenegger's veto message cited the state's massive budget deficit, which despite recent trims is pegged at $8 billion.

"Given California's significant budget challenge, I cannot consider bills that would add significant fiscal pressures to the state's structural budget deficit," he wrote.

SB 867, similar to legislation vetoed last year, was sponsored by the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"We believe (the veto) is a slap in the face to working Californians and hard-working child-care providers all over the state," said Joe Wilson, AFSCME's assistant director of organizing.

Sen. Gil Cedillo, a Los Angeles Democrat who proposed SB 867, was traveling Thursday and unavailable. His bill passed the Legislature weeks ago on a party-line vote, with Republicans opposed.

California's subsidized child-care system stemmed, in part, from pressures in the 1990s for the state to help welfare mothers re-enter the work force by paying relatives or others to provide care.

The cost of SB 867 was uncertain, but a legislative analysis said the state and federal tab would rise by about $60 million annually if negotiations led to a 5 percent hike in child-care rates.

Wilson countered that SB 867 was crafted to avoid worsening the state's budget crisis. It specifically excluded reimbursement rates from being negotiated in the first contract, he said.

Supporters of SB 867 said it would bolster a vital program that suffers from extreme turnover – an estimated 30 percent to 40 percent annually – because providers typically work more than 60 hours per week for annual salaries of less than $16,000.

Opponents countered that granting collective bargaining rights would cost taxpayers more for less care. They argued that SB 867 would also allow providers to be charged union fees and would limit opportunities for non-union competition.

"The bottom line is that the state would have spent millions more for fewer services," said state Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks.


Right To Work petition threatens labor-state

Colorado business and labor are jousting over two proposals that would combat corporate fraud and protect workers from being fired. The setting is not the picket lines but the state Initiative Title Setting Review Board, where three members spend hours tweaking lines of text and debating the pitfalls of misplaced conjunctions. Two labor-backed ballot proposals turned into six initiatives, each with different language. The process is frustrating the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, which hired an attorney to fight labor's plans.

"They are not clear on what they'll withdraw," said Doug Friednash of Fairfield & Woods. "What they've done is created a shotgun approach."

The first two original measures have cleared the title board. The chamber has appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court.

The next four measures, all splintering from the first two, passed the board Wednesday.

The half-dozen initiative texts give the backers multiple options for what ultimately gets taken to the voters. The strategy allows labor to choose the most politically palatable proposal and, until the decision is made, keeps business guessing as to what, exactly, it'll be fighting this fall.

This process "is not like a legislative committee where you have debate," said Mark Grueskin of Isaacson Rosenbaum, who represents the backers. "This is the process where you refine."

The showdown comes as conservatives collect signatures for a "right-to-work" initiative that would outlaw arrangements requiring all employees to pay fees for union representation.

The Denver and state chambers have not endorsed the right-to-work initiative.

The corporate-crime measure extends penalties to employees who fail to stop it from occurring in their workplace. It also allows any Colorado resident to sue a company or its employees for fraud, with the proceeds going to the government.

The measure was intended to apply to executives, but the title board said the language made it apply to all employees. So backers came back with a proposal that limited it to executives.

They also split the proposal into two pieces, minimizing the risk the Supreme Court will find the full proposal violates the "single subject" rule.

A "just cause" proposal requires employers to show they have a reason to terminate an employee. The original measure did not have any exemptions and required a layoff of 10 percent of the work force before the firings were considered legitimate.

The modified version considered Wednesday creates certain employer exemptions and says adverse economic circumstances are sufficient.

What is the Initiative Title Setting Review Board?

The board considers whether a ballot proposal contains a "single subject." Initiatives cannot have two distinct and unrelated actions in them.

The board doesn't consider whether proposed ballot initiatives are good public policy.

If the proposal passes the single subject test, then the board must set a title for it that is "brief, unambiguous, and in the form of a question that is answered 'yes' to vote in favor of the proposed change and 'no' to vote against the proposed change."


Nurses go out on strike, scabs flown in

Replacement nurses from Palm Springs, Memphis, Tenn., and elsewhere across the country arrived in Yuba City Thursday to step in for employees who plan to strike today at Fremont-Rideout Health Group hospitals. In preparation for the 24-hour strike, 130 replacement nurses learned protocol and procedures specific to Fremont-Rideout during an eight-hour introductory training.

"Not every hospital is the same," said Walter Stiehn, a traveling nurse from North Carolina who specializes in critical care. "The basics are the same. The biggest problem we have is knowing where everything is."

Stiehn, a traveling nurse for the last four years, said he just got off assignment in Maryland when the recruiting firm, TruStaff, notified him of the need for nurses in California.

The strike, approved by 221 nurses earlier this month, was intended to be a 24-hour protest to force hospital administration back to the negotiating table. But because of a 10-day strike at 10 Bay Area Sutter hospitals, Fremont-Rideout nurses who do not report to work Friday will not be permitted back into the hospital for 10 days.

Liesel Buchner, director of clinical care at Fremont-Rideout, said the hospital recruited nurses in specialty fields such as intensive care, cardiovascular care and labor and delivery units in order to provide patients with competent, qualified staff during the strike.

"They know what they are doing," Buchner said. "We just want them to know our way of doing things so there are no surprises."

Replacement nurses will be paid from $37 to $50 an hour to work in California, depending on their specialty and experience, according to TruStaff's Web site.

Location of the specific assignment was not specified in the advertisements.

The traveling nurse position was developed in response to a national nursing shortage. Roughly 118,000 registered nurses were needed in 2006 to fill vacancies nationwide, according to the American Hospital Association.

Fremont-Rideout hospital administrators said employees are not allowed to return to work for 10 days because of the timing with the Bay Area strikes.

"We need to be competitive," Fremont-Rideout CEO Theresa Hamilton said. "We are not going to get the best quality for (only) 24 hours if the same nurses can be guaranteed 10 days somewhere else."

Replacement nurse Stacey Turner, of Atlanta, said she is focused on patient care; the politics of the strike are not her concern.

"I try not to get involved," she said. "I'm here to take care of patients."

Heather Avalos, a RN at the Rideout Memorial Hospital ICU and a member of the nurses' union, said a majority of nurses employed by Fremont-Rideout support the union, but not all may be able to join the picket line.

"We understand that not everyone can take 10 days off without pay," she said. "I feel bad for them because they don't want to be in there, but I hope they find ways to support us from the inside."

Avalos said a number of nurses who are striking are finding temporary work at other clinics and medical facilities out of the area.

"The only bad thing is they may like it so much better there and then leave to work there," she said.

Fremont-Rideout nurses said they are striking for better patient care, though hospital officials claim what the nurses really want is mandatory union membership.

Nurses and hospital administrators have been in contract negotiations for more than a year.

Fremont-Rideout administrators made their "best and final" offer in January. Nurses voted to reject that offer three weeks later.

Union supporters said more than 200 nurses participated in a one-day August strike, and again during a two-day strike in October.

Susan Henderson, critical care education supervisor, said the hospital is trying to do the best it can in the situation.

"No one looks forward to a strike," Henderson said. "We just make sure we focus is on patient care."

Strike set today

• What: Third strike in less than one year at Fremont-Rideout Health Group facilities.
• Schedule: Picket lines 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Fremont Medical Center in Yuba City and Rideout Memorial Hospital in Marysville.
• Rally: Noon at Fremont Medical Center


Lawmakers rescind union-only PLA

New bid requests for renovating the George Harvey Justice Building in Binghamton (NY) could go out early next month as county officials get the $16.9 million project back on track after a legal battle over whether workers should be limited to union members.

Deputy County Executive Patrick Brennan said bids could be advertised in early April and low bidders awarded contracts by the end of April -- if the project doesn't encounter any more snags. That would put the construction start date around the middle of June, Brennan said.

Broome County legislators voted Thursday to rescind a controversial project labor agreement they'd approved in November. That agreement would have limited workers on the project to 10 percent non-union tradesmen. The other 90 percent would have to be hired from local unions.

Non-union contractors challenged the agreement in court, halting the scheduled December opening of bids. A judge granted a stay on the project and held hearings on the agreement in January. On March 6, state Supreme Court Justice Ferris Lebous ruled the labor agreement void because the project did not meet the special criteria necessary to supersede the state's public bidding laws.

County officials said they approved the labor agreement to give work on the project to local workers. But local non-union contractors said they and their employees would have been financially hurt.

Thursday's vote by the legislature allows Broome County to proceed with the renovation project without the project labor agreement, Brennan said.

The George Harvey Justice Building, built in 1939, stood empty for years on Hawley Street until lawmakers voted last year to spend the county's $16.9 million in tobacco settlement money on renovating the building for county office space.

The county plans to move the district attorney's office, probation office, and the public defender's office to the George Harvey Justice Building. Currently, the county leases space for those offices. The building has already been gutted to its support beams and outer walls as the first part of the construction project.


Iowa Dems sneak attack on middle class

Political payback to organized labor took precedence over sticking up for middle class families in the Iowa House on Wednesday and Thursday. House Democrats, under cover of darkness, brought up the most far-reaching revisions to Iowa’s collective bargaining since it’s inception in 1974. Back then it took the Iowa House 13 days to debate the bill it was so controversial. House Democrats jammed the revisions through in about 13 hours of debate most of which came during the night.

House File 2645 was scheduled to be debated on Wednesday. Democrats camouflaged it as a non-controversial set of technical changes. In order for any amendment to be eligible for the debate on Wednesday, any amendments must be filed by 4 p.m. the day before. At 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, Democrats dropped a 14 page amendment (H-8164 written by organized labor) onto HF 2645. This last minute maneuver is common in the legislature when a legislator or party wants to hide their intentions until the last minute to avoid and negative media coverage or pushback from the public.

The bill, with the amendment, adds several mandatory bargaining items to the teacher quality law and eliminates some provisions that provided a balance between management and labor. The changes significantly tilt the playing field in favor of labor. The Des Moines Register reported on 3-20-08 that “school boards would lose much of their authority to determine a number of issues, including scheduling, class size and early retirement benefits for staff…”

None however were as controversial as the House Democrats attempt to sneak through the wildly controversial “Fair Share” provision. “Fair Share” is not fair. It is forced unionism. The House Democrats plan allowed forced unionism, which is currently illegal, to be placed onto the bargaining table by public employee unions. Forced unionism legislation like “Fair Share” forces non-union public employees - like teachers- to pay union dues. The only way for public employees to avoid paying union dues is to quit their jobs. The effect of any forced unionism legislation is the same as a direct repeal of the Right to Work law.

House File 2645 is a Trojan Horse in which organized labor hoped to subvert Iowa’s Right to Work law and codify a laundry list of the teacher’s union hopes and desires.

However, House Republicans sacked the Trojan Horse and Democrats were forced to offer a provision that prevents any forced unionism provisions from finding their way to the bargaining table.

That, however, was just the non-controversial section of the bill.

The rest of the House Democrat’s plan stripped school board members, city council members and county supervisors of their ability to control the level of property tax increases. That ability is forfeited to an unnamed and unelected adjudicator. The reason is because property taxes makeup the vast majority of local government revenue and pay for nearly all of any employee contract. If the costs for that contract increase, so do property taxes.

During debate on the floor, Democratic Representative Delores Mertz, a former county supervisor, and Democratic Representative Deborah Barry, a former city council member, both admitted that the bill might result in property tax increases. Democratic Representative Doris Kelley from Cedar Falls admitted that the bill very well could result in tuition increases at the University of Northern Iowa.

By increasing what is eligible in negotiations between management and labor, House Democrats exposed property taxpayers to a series of tax increases. Organized labor doesn’t ask to bargain for things if they do not plan to increase the benefits to their members. Which is great for union members but bad for taxpayers because taxpayers are the people who foot the bill for public sector union salary and benefit increases.

Currently in the items which can be discussed in the scope of union bargaining are: Wages, vacations, holidays, seniority, transfer procedures, job classifications, procedures for staff reduction, in-service training.

Items that Democrats are adding to the list: Work shift schedules, insurance carriers, leaves of absence, shift differentials, overtime compensation, supplemental pay, health or safety matters, evaluation procedures, preparation time, class size, work uniforms, staffing levels, retirement systems.

With public employee unions able to bargain for that list of items, what use is there for managers, principals or superintendants anymore?

The specific language of the bill forces school districts and local governments to pay for whatever the eventual employment agreement is between labor and management. The language also states that if there is an impasse, an adjudicator decides between the two positions. Which means that if the adjudicator makes a decision on class size that forces a school district to hire more teachers or build new classrooms to meet the bargained class size number, the school district must levy property taxes to cover those increased costs. The only alternative is to cut something that the district is currently offering to shift those resources to cover the newly bargained for benefits.

House Republicans offered an amendment (H-8211) which would have prevented property tax increases from going into effect as a result of anything contained in this bill. Naturally, House Democrats voted along party lines to defeat it.

During debate on H-8211 Democratic Representative Mary Mascher of Iowa City went to the extreme measure of tracking down a state trooper in the Capitol Building and had him physically remove a guest of Republican Leader Rants from the floor of the House. Leader Rants had two of his local Sioux City School Board members at the Capitol Thursday to witness first hand the devastating impact this bill would have on their ability to control costs for the Sioux City School District. It seems Democrats are so embarrassed by their own actions that they didn’t want any eyewitnesses.

Because House Republicans refused to back down and continued to debate the bill through the night, Democrats deployed a rarely used parliamentary tactic to cut off debate and set the vote to a time certain just before noon on March 20. At the time Democrats cut off debate, 34 House Republicans were in line to speak against the Democrat’s plan.

What makes all of this even worse is that not only did the House Democrats hide their plan from Iowans, and not only did they push the debate up against the Easter Weekend, but they did it while most school administrators are on Spring Break vacation and not paying attention to what’s happening at the Statehouse. But even worse than that, the Senate Democrats cleared the schedule on Thursday in order to be able to ram this bill through committee and the floor and down to the Governor before the weekend. Why? So local officials and other people who know the effect of tilting the bargaining table in favor of organized labor won’t have time to talk to legislators and stop the bill from getting to the Governor.


Racism threat idles workers

Blue Diamond Almonds – the world's largest processor of almonds – reportedly has closed down for the rest of week because of concerns about a major protest here organized by a national Latino student group, which is busing more than 500 demonstrators to the plant Friday afternoon.

The demonstration will begin FRIDAY, at 1:30 p.m. at Blue Diamond Almonds (17th & C Streets), according to of M.E.Ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan).

The students – representing chapters throughout the U.S. at a national conference this week at CSUS – will spearhead Friday what will be the largest rally yet to support under-represented workers at Blue Diamond Almonds plant. Hundreds of workers´ rights and community activists are expected to join the rally.

The protest is expected to be intense – legal aid, including that provided by members of the National Lawyers Guild and ACLU, will be available the rally.

After Blue Diamond workers began organizing in 2004, the company mounted an aggressive anti-union campaign that resulted in being found guilty by the National Labor Relations Board of 20 labor law violations. Workers have been building support in Sacramento, and around the country and world in their fight for "free and fair" elections, despite firings, threats and harassment.

MEChA is the nation's largest Chicano student group and is taking this strong action to support Blue Diamond workers´ long fight to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). MEChA has 10 U.S. regions, with 23 chapters in Northern California alone. MEChA has supported workers´ organizing since its founding in 1969.


Labor movement attack on supervisors

The International Labor Organization (ILO) released a decision by its Committee on Freedom of Association today holding that the National Labor Relations Board’s recent interpretation of the term “supervisor” “appear[s] to give rise to an overly wide definition of supervisory staff that would go beyond freedom of association principles” by excluding such workers from the protections of the National Labor Relations Act.

The Committee issued its decision in response to the AFL-CIO’s complaint that the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) decisions in the Oakwood Trilogy violate principles of freedom of association that bind the United States by virtue of its membership in the ILO.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney welcomed the decision. “The Bush-dominated NLRB has taken every opportunity to arm U.S. employers with the tools to defeat the attempt of workers to gain a voice at work. The ILO’s decision in this case vindicates workers’ rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining, despite the attempts at spinning it by U.S. employers. We will continue to expose the shameful conduct of the U.S. government in every forum available to us as we seek to strengthen the ability of workers to form and join unions.”

The Committee reiterated that under internationally accepted core labor standards, the term “supervisor” must encompass “only those persons who genuinely represent the interests of employers.” The Committee agreed that by interpreting the National Labor Relations Act to exclude from its protections employees whose work simply involves the authority to “assign” or “responsibly to direct” others on a sporadic basis, the Board’s decision is not in accord with these standards.

As employers begin applying Oakwood where their employees seek to form and join unions, “this definition might lead to the exclusion of wide categories of workers from protection of their freedom of association rights,” the Committee stated. The Committee also recognized that the definition may well lead “to a clogging of the representation and collective bargaining process through an increase in appeals filed by employers with a view to challenging the status of employees in bargaining units.” It called upon the U.S. Government to “take all necessary steps to ensure that” the exclusion of supervisors is limited to those individuals who genuinely represent the interests of workers, and requested to be kept informed of progress made.

The ILO is a United Nations agency dedicated to strengthening the rights of workers. Its decisions, including those of the CFA, are made on a tripartite basis among government, employer, and worker representatives. Since its creation more than 50 years ago, the CFA has examined over 2,300 cases involving violations of internationally accepted workers’ rights.


Progressive universal health-care rationing

The state's new subsidized health insurance program will cost "significantly" more than the $869 million Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick proposed in his 2009 budget just two months ago, the state's top financial official said yesterday, after insurers were granted an increase of about 10 percent.

To close the gap, the Patrick administration has asked insurers, hospitals, healthcare advocates, and business leaders to propose ways to cut costs and raise revenue. During two closed-door meetings in the last two weeks, several dozen proposals have been put forward, including raising assessments on insurers, hospitals, and businesses. The goals are to solve the short-term funding problem for next year and ensure the long-term survival of the state's near-universal health insurance initiative.

Leslie Kirwan, secretary of administration and finance, declined yesterday to discuss specifics of the proposals or the size of the budget gap, but said that without changes, the state doesn't expect "to be able to live within" the proposed budget.

A state panel yesterday approved a contract to pay insurers about 10 percent more for each person enrolled in the subsidized insurance program, starting July 1. The insurers had asked for about a 15 percent increase, but agreed to take less after weeks of negotiations. Still, the state's cost is higher than was included in the governor's budget. Under the contract, the state also would assume more of the financial risk if the en rollees were to use more medical care than expected.

To partly offset the increased costs, the panel yesterday also voted to raise premiums by 10 percent for some of the 176,000 people enrolled in Commonwealth Care, and to increase copayments for many more. Starting July 1, the lowest premiums will range from $39 to $116 per month.

"We have closed some of the fiscal gap here, but we have not closed most of it," Kirwan said during the meeting at which the Commonwealth Health Insurance Connector approved the contract and premium increases.

Kirwan said the gap also is because of increased enrollment, now expected to exceed projections for both the current fiscal year and the next, which will begin July 1. Paradoxically, enrollment dropped slightly last month, because the state has begun disqualifying people who became ineligible because of changes in income or access to other insurance. But that is expected to be a temporary downturn. The budget figure of $869 million already was significantly higher than projected by legislative architects of the plan because of the enrollment boom.

Healthcare advocates vehemently had opposed increased premiums and copayments for enrollees, which were first proposed in February. They argued that the insurance would become unaffordable for many of the low-income people it was designed to serve and that it was unfair to ask enrollees to pay more without also asking more of businesses, hospitals, and insurers.

The administration muted its criticism by negotiating slightly smaller premium and copay increases, and by agreeing to seek similar but unspecified "sacrifices" from other parties.

"We're still disappointed that, at this point, the only ones making the sacrifices are enrollees and taxpayers," said the Rev. Hurmon Hamilton, president of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, a group of congregations that advocates for healthcare access. "But the administration is very committed to seeing all the stakeholders do their share. That's where the fight goes now."

Hamilton and other advocates pointed to private health insurers and some hospitals that they said are benefiting greatly from healthcare reform through additional members and insured patients. Some suggested that both insurers and hospitals should contribute more than the $160 million each they now pay annually to the state's free-care pool, which pays for hospital care for the uninsured. Money is being shifted from the pool to help pay for subsidies.

Advocates also said the state needs to get more money from businesses that are not providing insurance for their employees. A penalty on those businesses - of up to $295 per uninsured employee per year - has raised only about $6 million this year, far less than originally expected.

"Healthcare reform is not sustainable financially and it's also not sustainable politically if the best we can do is more taxpayer money and shifting costs to consumers," said Nancy Turnbull, an associate dean at the Harvard School of Public Health and member of the connector board. "We have to find other ways [to raise money and control costs] and we have to find them very quickly."

Kirwan declined to say that the state was targeting any particular sector for help. Most of the groups that helped the state pass healthcare reform two years ago are participating in the administration-led discussions about addressing the cost of Commonwealth Care. Yet, convincing them to cough up more money will not be easy.

Organizations representing insurers, businesses, and hospitals said yesterday they were already doing a lot. "The employer community is picking up its fair share," said Richard Lord, president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts and a member of the connector board. More than 85,000 employees were newly insured by employers last year, according to data released yesterday by the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans.

"This is successful because everyone has done something," said Tim Gens, senior vice president for policy at the Massachusetts Hospital Association. "We're willing to consider doing more," if everyone else is.

For members of Commonwealth Care, the premiums will go up 10 percent on average. For example, people with incomes between $21,000 and $26,000 who are now paying $70 per month, will pay $77. Only those with incomes more than about $15,000 pay any premiums.

Copayments will rise $5 for a primary-care doctor's visit, to $10 for some patients and $15 for others. Copayments for drugs also will rise. For enrollees at the highest income levels covered in the program - individuals making between $26,000 and $31,000 a year - copayments for use of the emergency room and for outpatient surgery also will rise. For the first time, there will be caps on out-of-pocket expenses for all medical care, excluding medicines, of $750 or $1,500, depending on the individual's income. They placed a separate cap on medication expenses.

The copayments and premiums originally proposed would have raised about $30 million in revenue, according to Celia Wcislo, assistant division director of labor union 1199 SEIU and a member of the connector board. She said the revised schedule shaves off nearly $10 million, which she called a substantial concession to the concerns raised by advocates.

Underlying the discussions yesterday was the issue of rising healthcare costs statewide. State Medicaid director Thomas Dehner, also a connector board member, said the healthcare reform law had accelerated the increase by providing care for more people and increasing the rates the state pays hospitals and doctors.

Board member Dolores Mitchell, who manages health insurance for state workers, said the state has to focus on "wringing the excess costs . . . out of the system. Everybody wants an omelet, but nobody wants to break some eggs."


SEIU uses hard-ball politics to press advantage

The 200 parking-lot employees at Denver International Airport have a bigger bargaining tool this spring, when they are due to renegotiate their contract, thanks to the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The Service Employees International Union chapter director for the parking employees, Dennis DeMaio, said the union is fully prepared to strike should it need to, and its employees are concerned about a possible cut in health-insurance coverage. The current contract expires April 15, and DeMaio calls it "outdated."

"There's the potential for some problems if an agreement isn't put in place soon," DeMaio said. "And I think that's why the City Council is concerned."

The leverage SEIU can use: Imagine how hard it could be for convention organizers if the 40 percent of the more than 6,000 delegates who are union members refused to land at DIA while their brothers and sisters were striking.

Several council members raised questions Wednesday about a new contract the city is considering for the DIA parking operator.

Simply put, the lowest bid seems too low. Councilman Paul Lopez wondered at a committee meeting whether the low management fee proposed by Standard Parking was possible because of cuts among workers.

"I hope that (lower fee) doesn't come on the backs of the employees," Lopez said.

The parking employees and their new contract already have been discussed in at least one meeting of the Denver host committee's labor subcommittee, of which DeMaio is a member.

DeMaio said he is at present most concerned with the city's proposed change to the amount of money it reimburses to the parking operator for employee health care coverage from 85 percent to 75 percent.

"How are (employees) going to afford health care when the city is proposing cutting the existing inadequate level?" DeMaio said.

Lopez said Thursday that he doesn't support the health-coverage reduction.

"It's not April 15 yet, and so I hope that there can be an agreement between the contractor and the employees at DIA," Lopez said. "I think it's in our best interest to make sure we are maximizing our community benefits and creating good jobs."

The city's host committee dealt with union problems soon after it won the bid to host the Democrats.

Only one hotel here is unionized, and the Pepsi Center, where the delegates will gather, isn't represented by unions, though union workers will be on hand for the convention.


Iowa Dems say 'Union Yes'

Iowa lawmakers pushed ahead Thursday to expand public employee union negotiating powers despite mass outcries from opponents that clogged lawmakers' phone lines at times. Critics said the proposal would strip power away from local elected officials and management staff, and could raise property taxes if expensive union proposals are forced on governments.

Des Moines officials, for example, said House File 2645 could pave the way for a scenario in which residents could see a 7 percent increase in taxes, or roughly $69 a year for a $150,000 home.

But advocates noted there is little or no proof that the 27 other states with similar types of laws have encountered higher taxes because of it. The proposal, they say, focuses squarely on improving work conditions.

"That argument is a red herring," Joe Twarog, a teacher at the Labor Center at the University of Massachusetts, said about the increased-tax theory. "People used that same argument to fight child labor as well as health and safety laws. Those are old, old, old arguments."

Iowa's public employees have what is known as "limited scope" union negotiating powers, meaning their representatives have the power to negotiate on only a few issues, such as wages and job classifications.

This legislation would open negotiations to a much wider range of issues. Some states have had such laws in place for more than 70 years, and advocates say they promote a stronger work force.

Many lawmakers initially considered House File 2645 to be a noncontroversial bill that would make minor changes in Iowa's collective bargaining laws. But an amendment proposed Tuesday afternoon, a day before debate began, extended bargaining powers.

Republicans complained that the proposal was offered at the last minute and that the public was being shut out of the typical input process. House Republicans purposely dragged out debate for more than 12 hours Wednesday and Thursday as a way to hold up the legislation and give the public more time to digest it.

"This is making legislation a secret," said House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, a Sioux City Republican. "They're going to jam this thing through before the public knows what's being debated."

Senate Majority Leader Michael Gronstal, a Council Bluffs Democrat, said the proposal "makes modest changes" in the law that dictates public employee union negotiations. He did not directly answer a question about why debate was seemingly on a fast track. "Exaggeration is a tool of the minority," he said.

Unions have pressed lawmakers for more power at the negotiating table for at least two decades. Now that Democrats are in control, the leaders have chosen not to resist this year, said Republican Sen. Mary Lundby of Marion.

"The Democrats won the majority with union help. You've got to pay some of those bills back," said Lundby.

The labor-crafted bill would mean management would employees could finally sit down as equals on all issues, advocates said.

It would open the door for more negotiations but wouldn't guarantee union gains, said Ken Mertes, president of a 450-member union representing workers for the city, schools, roads and libraries in the Sioux City area. "It was a 30-year-old law and needed an improvement," said Mertes, of Communications Workers of America Local 7103.

Cathy Glasson, president of Service Employees International Union Local 199, which represents 2,200 members in Iowa, said the bill is a way to improve services provided to taxpayers. "By allowing these workers a little more input at the bargaining table, we're increasing the quality of public services," she said. "It's a critical bill, honestly."

Des Moines locals could, for example, negotiate for items such as health insurance for city retirees and minimum staffing levels at police and fire departments.

But if the city were to lose in arbitration, it would cost $3 million a year for the insurance and $3 million for overtime for police and firefighters, said City Manager Rick Clark. Such a result would trigger a 7 percent property tax increase, he said.

Polk County Supervisor Robert Brownell estimated that if unions end up with certain gains thanks to this bill, it could quickly cost Polk property taxpayers "between $3.5 million and $4 million without even breaking a sweat."

Union leadership could push to staff the new Polk County Jail with civilians and for health insurance for county retirees. An arbitrator could end up requiring both.

Brownell, a Republican up for re-election in 2008, said the threat of arbitration means local governments either will have to make stiff concessions or risk big taxpayer-funded losses.

"The problem with binding arbitration is it's a job that's decided by a guy who's not elected by anybody," Brownell said. "It's a roll of the dice."

By law, arbitrators must look at government entities' financial means before choosing which priorities they'll be required to meet, said Brad Hudson, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Education Association. Arbitrators can't force a government entity to go beyond its budgetary allotment or go into bankruptcy, he said.

Also under the bill, Iowa school boards would lose much of their authority to determine issues, including scheduling, class size and early retirement benefits.

The House approved the proposal Thursday in a 52-47 vote split along party lines.

Senate leaders said they were hoping to consider the bill Thursday but Republicans were stalling the procedures necessary to begin debate.

By 10 p.m., the phones that kept two Senate operators very busy all day had quieted, and the Republicans, who want Democrats to agree to a public hearing and to postpone debate until Monday, seemed ready to hole up for the weekend. Senate Minority Leader Ron Wieck of Sioux City said they ordered ham for Easter Sunday dinner at the Statehouse.


Union-only business-as-usual in Philly

With prodding from Gov. Rendell, the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council today signed a project labor agreement that clears the way for the Convention Center Authority to choose a contractor to build the center's long-planned new wing. The authority could not seek bids for the $700 million state-funded construction project until the trades council formally accepted the agreement. It provides that only union labor will be used and that labor groups won't strike while the expansion is underway.

Rendell said he had persuaded Patrick C. Gillespie, the council's business agent, to sign the accord because of the strong possibility that conventions booked into the expanded building in 2011 would take their meetings elsewhere if it's not finished on schedule early that year.

"I expressed to Pat . . . the importance of no further delays," the governor said in a conference call with reporters from his office. Delays in recent months, caused by the protracted dispute over minority participation in the project, already had made some convention planners "really nervous and close to cancelling," he said.

Rendell said Gillespie had asked him, in exchange for signing the agreement, to support the candidacy of electricians' union leader John J. Dougherty for the State Senate to replace embattled incumbent Sen. Vincent Fumo.

But Rendell said he declined. He said he wasn't endorsing any of the three candidates in the state Senate Democratic primary race now and wasn't sure if he would support anyone.

The governor added that he would consider supporting a request by Gillespie to be reappointed to the Convention Center Authority board, where he lost his seat after Mayor Nutter took office. Gillespie had been named by John Street four years ago to the 15-member board, which is composed entirely of political appointees from the region.

Rendell said would "figure out a way to deal with" the reluctance of two of the largest and most powerufl unions - electricians and carpenters - to support City Council's effort to assure participation by minority sub-contractors and workers in the Convention Center project. The authority has said unions that do not comply with Council's demands wouldn't be allowed to participate.

Reached after the governor's news conference, Gillespie said he was assured that the construction work - the largest capital improvement Pennsylvania has ever undertaken - would be "totally a building-trades" project.

"The politics of this are finished and now we have to get down to the hard work of building it on time and on budget," Gillespie said.

The authority has been ready for more than a month to send out a 400-page, foot-high set of specifications to six construction companies that have pre-qualified to bid on the first phase of the project, pouring concrete and erecting a steel frame. That work would start this summer or fall and cost about $100 million, authority officials have said. The authority plans to seek bids for the rest of the construction later this year.

The expansion site, between Broad, 13th, Arch and Race streets, has been acquired and is largely cleared. A former office building at 121 N. Broad St. and a historic station on Race Street are the only structures left and will be taken down in a second phase of demolition this spring.

Once the center is enlarged, will have about 1 million square feet of exhibit space, equal to Washington, D.C.'s, convention center, and enabling the city to host larger meetings and trade shows or two medium-sized shows simultaneously.


NLRB favors AFL-CIO over workers

Community Medical Center violated the National Labor Relations Act by interfering in a union recognition election held last year for the hospital's registered nurses, an administrative law judge has ruled. In a 33-page decision, Judge Bruce D. Rosenstein of the National Labor Relations Board Division of Judges overturned the January 2007 election results and called for a new election.

"We welcome the order because it acknowledges that the medical center broke the law," Catherine Heuschkel, a registered nurse who works with cardiac patients at the hospital, said in a statement. "It's what we've known all along and waited 14 months to hear. The ruling will give us the ability to make a free choice."

Community Medical said it disagrees with the findings and will challenge them.

In the disputed election, nurses rejected the proposal to join the New York Nurses Association by a vote of 407 to 316. It was the second unsuccessful attempt by the hospital nurses to unionize.

The ruling handed down last week found that Community engaged in unfair labor practices by: Directing representatives of the union to retrieve their vehicles from its parking garage and leave the parking garage.

Hiring a former union organizer and assigning him to the campaign in response to the union's efforts without providing assurances to employees that any information received from the former union organizer concerning who supported the union would not be used against them.

Promising improved terms and conditions of employment, including a "shared governance" concept, in order to discourage employees from selecting the union as their collective bargaining representative. The nurses association had called shared governance a false concept.

The order requires the hospital management not to intimidate nurses into voting against unionization or interfere with nurses' right to support a union, and to post notices throughout the hospital stating that it will not engage in such behavior.
Was outcome affected?

Nurses who had campaigned for unionization said Wednesday they were happy that the union backed them up and that the judge made the ruling he did. Some also said that the election results may have been different if it were not for the hospital's actions.

"I think that if it wasn't for some of the tactics that the hospital had used, we probably would have educated more nurses about it," said Regina Smith, 51, of Brick, a registered nurse in the emergency department.

Smith said nurses deserve to be educated on both sides of the issue before making a decision. When organizers tried to post information about the union on hospital bulletin boards it was taken down, she said.

However, Nancy Vaccaro, a registered nurse in the neurology department, said nurses had access to information on both sides of the issue before casting their votes. She also said she believes the accusations in the ruling are false.

"Everybody was very much informed. Nobody was ever denied literature," said Vaccaro, 46, of Lacey.

Vaccaro said she voted against unionization because "I don't think there is anything they could have done that we couldn't have done ourselves."
Hospital plans appeal

Community Medical Center intends to file exceptions to the decision with the NLRB, Mark D. Pilla, executive director of the hospital, said in a prepared statement.

"We believe our nurses made informed decisions in both elections," Pilla said, referring to the unsuccessful union elections held in 2005 and 2007. "We do not believe that the Medical Center engaged in conduct that was wrongful and affected the outcome of the election."

Mark Genovese, spokesman for the New York State Nurses Association, said that the union will soon hold strategy meetings with nurses to assess the level of support for unionizing, before another election is held.

"I think that there is probably going to be another push to unionize," said Smith, the emergency department nurse in favor of joining the union.


No-vote unionism would boost the economy

As the American economy slips closer to recession, we need to look beyond the short term fixes coming from the Bush Administration and focus on real solutions that will last. Working people are losing their hold on the vanishing middle class because they no longer have the freedoms to form a voice at work, yes a UNION and to bargain for a better life.

A union card is every worker’s ticket to economic security. Union workers make 30 percent more than nonunion workers, and are 63 percent more likely to have health insurance through their employer, and are far more likely to have a pension.

Sixty million workers in the United States say they would join a union today to bargain for a better deal and life for their family if they had a chance.

However many will never get the chance to, the system for forming unions in our country is broken. Employers routinely harass, coerce and even fire workers who try to form unions.

What’s more, the Bush Labor Board has taken every opportunity to roll back workers’ right and make it harder for workers to form unions to bargain for better wages, health care, pension and working conditions.

This is why we need to fix the current system and need Employee Free Choice Act. It will restore the freedoms to form unions and bargain collectively, easing the grip on the middle class squeeze.

- Lindsay C. Brown, Little Rock, AR


SEIU fends off state with future promises

After reaching a cost-saving agreement with union leaders, the state plans to end its efforts to privatize and consolidate forensic services in state hospitals serving people with mental illnesses. In a statement prepared for release today, state Department of Public Welfare Secretary Estelle Richman said the agreement maintains quality care and continued employment for forensic center staff while providing savings to Pennsylvania taxpayers.

Forensic units provide evaluation and treatment for people in the criminal justice system.

The agreement calls for no layoffs, though officials plan to save about $1.5 million the first year by cutting positions through attrition and making salary changes for new hires, said department spokeswoman Stacey Witalec. Savings should increase in later years, she said.

Representatives of union groups praised the agreement while acknowledging that it involves concessions.

"Our members felt this was a major win," said Mike Morrill, state unit coordinator for Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania, which represents nurses in forensic units.

"This agreement saves tax dollars without compromising public safety," said David La Torre, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association, which had been highly critical of the privatization effort.

Other unions that worked to reach the agreement with the state included Pennsylvania Social Services Union Local 668 and the Office and Professional Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania.

The state disclosed the privatization effort last August as part of an announcement that Mayview State Hospital would close by the end of this year.

The agreement to be announced today still means the termination of forensic and other mental health services at Mayview.

Currently, the state provides forensic services at Mayview, Norristown and Warren state hospitals. The state had explored creating privately run forensic facilities at two sites, the Norristown and Torrance hospitals.

Under the new agreement, state-operated forensic services at the Warren and Norristown hospitals will continue. Once Mayview closes, forensic services there will be transferred to Torrance State Hospital.


Union-backed GOP bully in hot water

Like fish to the line, reporters and blogs are circling the latest Pam Roach scandal, including bent backsides and intimidation. But, seriously, here’s two more cents. If you’re wondering why Roach’s recurring problems with her staff hasn’t set her up for a fall in elections, one might remember -- well, first, that the public doesn’t really care that much about the management style of an elected. Consider U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, whose reputation in that area is less than cheery.

But also, and here’s the other cent: Sen. Roach is often mentioned as an example of a socially conservative Republican with a pro-union voting record. The Washington Federation of State Employees endorses her, for example.

Just a few minutes on the Public Disclosure Commission’s Website revealed more than $11,000 in union contributions over the last two cycles, from the Washington State Labor Council, the federation, the Service Employees International Union, the Operating Engineers and others.

The irony there is that Roach has been banned from directly contacting caucus workers because of her many alleged improprieties as a supervisor, outlined in detail in a letter from Republican leadership, posted in its entirety at Eye on Olympia. Notably, she supposedly required staff to vow an oath of loyalty to her.

Union support is not enough, of course, to keep some one in office. Roach’s constituents clearly favor her. But Democrat Yvonne Ward might have come closer than her 53-47 percent split with Roach in 2006 if unions didn't show the incumbent some loyalty.


Privatization an alternative to going broke

Two cash-strapped Massachusetts towns are considering turning over management of their public libraries to a private contractor. That would not necessarily mean that Tewksbury and Dartmouth residents would have to pay to use the library. Dean McCausland, president of Library Systems and Services International LLC, told the Boston Globe that the company depends on taxes and grants at libraries it manages.

The company, based in Maryland, has contracts in California, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas. It saves money by not hiring union workers.

Library privatization could cost both towns state aid.

In Tewksbury, northwest of Boston, local officials have warned voters that they have a choice between a tax increase and deep cuts. In addition to privatizing the library, the town is considering user fees for high school sports and for senior citizens centers.

"They're all lousy ideas, but so is going broke," said Jay Kelley, the head of the town's Financial Planning Task Force.


Solidarity Forever

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