Labor-state Dems buck AFL-CIO

Democrat Ruth Balser of Newton gave the final speech on the Massachusetts House floor before last week's casino vote, warning of the dangers of gambling addiction. She said she was raised never to cross a picket line and considered herself a good friend of labor. "But, I have to say to the president of the AFL-CIO," she said, "Mr. President, on this you are dead wrong."

From his seat in the gallery overlooking the House chamber, Robert Haynes, head of the state's largest labor organization, leaned forward in his seat and pointed toward Balser. "No," he said quietly. "She's dead wrong."

It was a dramatic moment that captured the anger Haynes and other union leaders felt about the House position on casinos - and their inability to affect it. When the House voted a few minutes later, just 46 members supported the bill, a top union priority for the thousands of jobs casinos would bring. Afterward, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi crowed over labor's defeat, praising House members for withstanding "incredible pressure" from unions.

"It was a very disappointing showing for labor," said Jeffrey M. Berry, a political scientist at Tufts University.

It would be a mistake to suggest that labor unions have lost their power in Massachusetts politics - just ask Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who has been fighting for months with firefighters over drug and alcohol testing, or any school committee struggling with its latest teachers contract.

But the casino vote highlights the extent to which the labor community is smaller, more fractured, and less influential in electoral politics than it once was. It also highlights the limits union power has on Beacon Hill.

When faced with the decision of whether to side with unions or the powerful speaker, who controls virtually every word of every bill that comes to the House floor, the contest was not even close.

"I think labor still has clout in general in primaries and in general elections, and I think legislators take organized labor very seriously, but the power of legislative leadership trumps the power of organized labor and virtually everyone else," said Philip Johnston, former chairman of the state Democratic Party.

And many lawmakers viewed the casino vote as a complicated issue that could not be cast as a simple vote on jobs, despite labor's attempts to frame it that way.

"It's one of these issues where there are lots of different considerations - one of them is economic, but there are others as well," said former governor Michael S. Dukakis, pointing to concerns about the impact of gambling addiction.

Undeniably, however, labor unions' political power in Massachusetts has been diminished by declining union membership.

Only about 13 percent of the state's residents were union members in 2007, compared with about 25 percent in the late 1970s - reflecting a national trend created by the loss of manufacturing jobs, the deregulation of unionized industries, and the rise of antiunion companies like Wal-Mart, said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University.

And while union power remains most concentrated in working-class cities, most Massachusetts legislators represent suburban districts, said Johnston.

"I think organized labor generally is not as influential, or their presence isn't felt as strongly, in suburban districts as it is in urban districts," he said.

Teachers unions are an important exception to that rule, but they did not go all out in the casino fight.

Other powerful unions like Service Employees International Union 1199, a large and wealthy organization that represents many healthcare workers, did not take a position. Casinos were simply not a top priority for their members.

The unions pushing for casinos were those whose members need the kind of jobs casinos would provide - the AFL-CIO and its building trade affiliates, the Teamsters; and UNITE HERE, a relatively young union that represents hotel and restaurant workers, who have little experience lobbying legislators.

Haynes and his fellow union leaders made it clear that the vote was a critical issue for them. At a rally on Boston Common last week, Haynes gave an expletive-laden address ordering workers to lobby their legislators.

The day of the vote, he sent hand-delivered letters to lawmakers warning that opposing casinos would have "a drastic impact on your Labor Voting Record upon which endorsements are based." Hotel and restaurant workers crowded the all-day hearing.

"I've never seen labor go to that extent before," said Representative Brian Wallace, a Democrat from South Boston.

Rob Gray, a Republican consultant who advised several GOP governors, sees the casino vote as another example of the AFL-CIO's declining power, pointing to the Democratic Party's weak showing in several recent gubernatorial elections (though not in 2006), its failure to advance a ballot initiative to give workers paid family leave, and its inability to win the legalization of slot machines at racetracks.

"They don't have the oomph they used to have," he said.

But Tim Sullivan, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO, counters that his organization has helped win important victories in recent years, including the highest minimum wage in the nation, some of the best laws protecting construction workers, and subsidies for healthcare for low-wage workers in the state's health reform law.

Representative Martin J. Walsh, a Democrat from Dorchester, argues that members were reluctant to rebel against House leadership during budget season.

"A lot of people have things at stake for their district," he said.

After the vote, Haynes fumed that the speaker had subverted the democratic process by strong-arming members and promised that the AFL-CIO would look more closely at the totality of members' voting records before offering endorsements.


Collectivists serve up another new New Deal

It's no accident that the New Deal followed by four years the presidency of Calvin Coolidge, who once famously declared, "The chief business of the American people is business." The human cost of the Great Depression created a change in climate that became the philosophical underpinning of the New Deal: the business of the American people was the people themselves - all of the people - not just the tycoons who made the "Roaring Twenties" roar and then crash.

Of course, we are as far today from the New Deal as the New Deal was from the Civil War. We cannot expect that work will be valued and rewarded in a global economy by reflexively copying strategies from an industrial economy. Although our values stay the same, our strategies must change. In the 1930s, employers were local, so local unions were strategically aligned with their employers. Today capital has gone global, trade is global, finance is global and, most important, companies are global -- so how can unions assist members by just acting locally? "Workers of the world unite" is no longer an ideological slogan; it is the basis of an effort SEIU embarked on four years ago to create global unions of workers who work for the same employers.

Moreover, almost all labor issues in the 1930s pitted American unions against American businesses. The relationship was almost always adversarial. Today, America needs to act more as a team and create a new plan to compete in a global economy. That plan must start with universal healthcare. We simply cannot compete if we are the only nation on earth that asks our businesses to put the cost of healthcare on our products.

While modern developments -- the Internet, fiber optics, cellphones and a globalized workforce and economy -- have resulted in a profound transformation of the American economy, they have not erased the basic debate about the proper role of government. Coolidge's heirs today are corporatists who have succeeded in rolling back many elements of the New Deal and the subsequent reforms that helped create a great American middle class.

Roosevelt understood that in addition to government programs, a balanced economy requires strong labor unions. Then, as now, increased unionization created higher wages and benefits for both union members and unorganized workers. As unionization increased, the middle class grew. And as the percentage of workers represented by a union has declined in the past three decades, the disparity of wealth has increased.

Corporatists have persistently tried to weaken two of the New Deal pillars of economic fairness and redistribution: government and the law enacted in 1935 to give workers the freedom to form a union under the oversight of a National Labor Relations Board. In recent years, the NLRB has increasingly been dominated by corporate interests issuing rulings hostile to workers' rights and creating new barriers to workers who want to form unions.

Today, more than half of all workers say they would join a union if they had the opportunity, yet less than 8 percent of private workers are in unions. Billion-dollar corporations hire professional "union avoidance consultants," who gang up on workers in unending private interviews, require them to watch hours of antiunion videos in "captive audience" meetings, punish or fire key supporters, threaten wage cutbacks and closings. These corporations face no consequences for their actions or meaningless sanctions under the current weak law.

Where the New Deal once served to rebalance the power between labor and capital, we are now perilously out of balance. In recent years, CEO salaries have gone up more than 600 percent. Had we only tied CEO pay to the minimum wage in 1990, the minimum wage would be more than $23 an hour and the average production worker would make more than $110,000 a year.

This is why Congress needs to enact the Employee Free Choice Act: to permit workers the choice to unite their voices at work. The House of Representatives has already passed it, but Republicans blocked it in the Senate. Both Democratic presidential candidates support it, and its passage is critical to restoring fairness to the workplace. [N.B. The proposal would ban secret-ballot unionization elections.]

As in 1935, America is faced with a choice. Is the role of government to serve the 99 percent of hard-working Americans or only corporations and the super-wealthy? The answer will lead to very different decisions on taxation, education, pensions and healthcare.

We need to take into account the vast changes that have occurred since the New Deal, and we must continually adjust as new changes take place. America still needs strong unions -- as well as a government on the side of working people -- as part of the solution to rebalance power, provide greater fairness, make work pay and ensure that the dreams of all American children can still come true.


Reformer Barack inhales special-interest cash

Sen. Barack Obama, whose campaign has sharply criticized the role of outside political groups in the presidential race, has benefited more than any other candidate from millions of dollars in independent political expenditures, records show. The increasing support for Mr. Obama has given him a boost from the same sort of political activity his campaign has railed against, especially when millions of dollars in union and other special-interest money backed his opponents.

The political arm of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other independent groups have spent more than $7.1 million directly supporting the Illinois Democrat's bid for the presidential nomination, campaign records show. By contrast, similar outside groups have spent about $5.1 million backing Sen. Hillary Clinton, New York Democrat.

Political specialists point out that Mr. Obama doesn't have any control over those expenditures because outside groups raise and spend money independent of the presidential campaigns.

"It's going to happen, regardless of what the candidates say," said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.

The Obama campaign, which had been vocal in criticizing such expenditures earlier in the race, says it asked groups not to mount independent political efforts on Mr. Obama's behalf.

Citing money from "big interests," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe wrote in an e-mail to supporters last year, "Outside groups are in the process of pouring more than $3.2 million into Iowa to support Hillary Clinton and John Edwards.

"Barack has repeatedly spoken out against the work of these outside groups, and this campaign does not accept any money from Washington lobbyists or PACs," he wrote.

Mr. Plouffe also reportedly told reporters in December that Mr. Obama faced a "blizzard of outside money" from groups supporting Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina, who has since dropped out of the race.

In response to questions about the latest SEIU expenditures, the campaign released a letter from Obama campaign attorney Robert Bauer to Andy Stern, president of the 1.9-million-member union. Dated Feb. 26, the letter asks SEIU to devote its "time and energies in full partnership with the official [Obama] campaign, in place of any current or planned independent activities."

The message went unheeded.

Since last week, the SEIU reported spending more than a quarter-million dollars supporting Mr. Obama through door-to-door canvassing and phone banks in Pennsylvania, which holds its primary April 22. Overall, the group has reported $4.9 million in independent expenditures for Mr. Obama, mostly during the past month.

A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton criticized the Obama response regarding outside money being spent on his behalf.

"The reality is, our political system allows for many different types of groups to play a role in the process, including third-party entities," said Clinton spokesman Phil Singer. "It only becomes a problem when one candidate criticizes another candidate, but then benefits from the very same types of expenditures, as is the case with Senator Obama, or if there is illegal coordination."

Last month, The Washington Times reported that while Mr. Obama refuses donations from federal lobbyists and paints his Democratic presidential rival as a Washington insider for accepting their contributions, he took hundreds of thousands of dollars from partners at dozens of firms that lobbied Congress in 2007.

The partners — who often share in a law firm's overall profits — gave at least $214,000 to the Obama campaign from October through December, according to a review of Federal Election Commission records and lobbying-disclosure reports with the Senate.

The SEIU accounts for more than half of the outside political money directly supporting Mr. Obama, while a new California political group called Powerpac.org has spent more than $300,000, according to a review of late independent expenditure reports filed with the Federal Election Commission since last year.

The liberal group MoveOn.org spent more than $60,000 supporting Mr. Obama.

"The work that we do ... is funded by janitors, nurses and school bus drivers, who are giving a few dollars a paycheck," SEIU spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller said. "I don't think that our members have ever thought Barack Obama wasn't grateful for the support they've been giving him."

Three groups, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and the pro-choice Emily's List, have spent more than $1 million each in support of Mrs. Clinton.

The independent political expenditures are just a fraction of what groups such as SEIU and AFSCME are spending in the campaign, said Anthony Corrado, a campaign-finance specialist and professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

"They're spending millions more in terms of communicating with their own members," he said. "I think the candidates are more wary of this type of activity than is generally thought. It can produce a mixed message. Given the fact the candidates have so much money to spend, the candidates would probably rather be in control of their own message."

So far, no groups have reported any expenditures on behalf of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has clinched the Republican nomination, though Mr. Corrado said that will likely change during the general election.


School unions dismiss dues crisis

While most area school districts are either laying teachers off or planning to close schools down, Lynwood (CA) school Superintendent Dhyan Lal recently announced there are “no layoffs planned” here, but schools should anticipate tightening their belts due to the state’s proposed cuts in education.

Lal, who joined school superintendents from across the state at a rally in Sacramento last week to urge Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to reinstate full state funding to public education — which was cut by $4.8 billion this year in the state budget — has publicly said that Lynwood will not be laying off any teachers and will not be shutting down any of its schools.

In fact, according to a school district official, state law requires that certificated school employees — teachers and administrators — be notified in writing by March 15 if there jobs may be eliminated for the next fiscal year. No letters, said the school official, went out to any teachers or administrators.

“We need to hope for the best but plan for the worst,” Lal said. “The average district in the state needs to cut $7 million in expenses. While here in Lynwood we are not yet talking about closing schools or laying off teachers as other districts are doing, we must immediately tighten our belts and start developing a plan for potential cuts.”

The superintendent has announced the creation of a budget action committee of district staff and community members to advise district leaders on how to avoid layoffs, while maintaining vital services in the district.

School board member Rachel Chavez said she hopes Lal is not reaching and “putting the district out on a limb.”

“No one likes layoffs, especially when it comes to laying off good teachers that districts like ours critically need,” she said. “I do hope that us not notifying our teachers now doesn’t put us [the district] in a terrible bind later.”

The school board recently was notified about the district’s deficit spending, Chavez said. “When the cuts come, they are going to be felt terribly by all of us across the state,” she said. “We’re just going to have to hang in there and see what happens.”

The superintendent also assured employees currently in contract negotiations with the district that the three percent wage increase offered will still be honored.

The district has been in negotiation talks with its three unions, the Lynwood Teachers Association, the California School Employees Association and the Service Employees International Union-Local 99, and just recently ratified a three percent raise, retroactive to September for the CSEA employees. It also appears that SEIU-Local 99 has agreed in principle with the district’s offer on the table.

Hector Marquez, the bargaining chair for the LTA, thinks the district could afford more than three percent, especially since the raise will sit for two years, not just one. The LTA is asking for five percent.

In fact, the LTA recently declared an impasse, sending negotiations into arbitration.

“The district has $11 million in reserves,” Marquez said. “The district has the money. The state has given the district funds for salary increases, but they haven’t been used. Plus, the cost of living adjustment for last year was 4.53 percent. The district only offered 3 percent to the unions.

“If we compare our salaries to last year, technically, because of the [cost of living increase] and food, and gas and housing, we are making less than last year,” he said. “Then the district doesn’t even want to renegotiate until next year.

“The district says its freezing hiring, but it is still hiring,” Marquez added. “We already have huge classes. Some teachers have between 37 and 40 students per class. If he doesn’t want to cut his teachers, then he needs to look at cutting programs and he wouldn’t be asking for another raise.”

Another tenured teacher said he heard that new teachers wouldn’t be laid off by Lal because a lot of them came from a program at Cal State Dominguez Hills.

“The LTA filed an impasse because Dr. Lal doesn’t want to give anybody any money but himself and his friends,” Marquez said. “All I can say is that three percent isn’t going to cut it, and teachers aren’t going for it.”

Marquez said he is aware of the budget crisis in the state, and how it may affect the school district, but he said it is hard to believe when the superintendent and school board members are paying millions of dollars in legal fees and what he called sweetheart deals and contracts.

Marquez said the school board recently evaluated the superintendent and is scheduled to place his contract renewal on its April 8 agenda.

“The superintendent was hired at $177,000, then he received a raise to $230,000 within less than a year,” he said. “It’s past practice, but I’m almost certain that he’s going to get another raise. There are always reasons why there’s no money. We believe he’s one of the reasons.”

If the district is finding itself in a deficit, Marquez said, the cuts need to start at the top.

Lal said he is proud that none of the schools in the district face closure due to the cuts or declining enrollment.

The three percent raise, he said, is his way of making sure “to give recognition to the staff whose hard work” has made the district’s success over the last few years possible.

He said he is not blind to the budget uncertainties, though. The loss in state budget will force a hiring freeze for all non-teaching staff, a review of all expenditures and a possible reduction in summer school programs.

“We are in an uncertain position with funding,” Lal said. “But we are better prepared than most school districts because of prudent planning in prior years.”


Left-wing Big Print bleeds red ink

Tribune Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Sam Zell likely enjoyed the “Born To Be Wild” entrance music played at The Sun’s recent all-employee meeting with him. But the motorcycle-riding billionaire can’t be wild about his company’s latest earnings report, released last Thursday.

In fact, the $78 million fourth-quarter 2007 loss from continuing operations — compared to a $233 million fourth-quarter 2006 gain — and 12-fold decline in ’07 income to $55 million may even have him thinking about selling once-sacred “core assets,” including The Sun.

“We have begun a strategic review of certain Tribune assets to determine whether capital can be more effectively redeployed into our core operations or toward reducing our outstanding leverage,” Zell, who took the company private in a $8.2 billion merger last year, said in an otherwise upbeat statement about on the report.

Similar sentiments were conveyed a week earlier at The Sun’s meeting, where, in response to a question about his willingness to sell the paper, Zell reportedly answered, “I don’t know.”

“There were a lot of pointed questions about coverage — about the newspaper as opposed to the business,” said Tanika White, Baltimore-Washington Newspaper Guild unit co-chairwoman and Sun reporter. “His message was, ‘If we make more money, we can talk about [coverage].’ ”

According to White, Zell also said that the paper’s disparate real estate configuration — including its remotely located 20-person Web page operation — doesn’t make “a lot of sense,” and he “very much wants to fix it.”

The company may have good reasons to keep its Web operation at the expensive Village at Cross Keys site, however, said Bill Salganik, president of the Baltimore-Washington Newspaper Guild. Its location figured into a court ruling that its personnel are not covered by Guild-Sun management agreements.

“I think that’s the main reason they keep it that way,” Salganik said, “because it certainly doesn’t make it a better Web site.”

According to the report, Tribune Co. fourth-quarter 2007 operating revenues decreased 7 percent year-over-year to $1.27 billion, while its newspaper operating revenues were down 7 percent for the quarter to $952 million.

Overall advertising revenues declined 9 percent — or $132 million — for the quarter, and circulation revenues fell 5 percent, or $17 million. The company’s 2007 newspaper operating revenues declined 7 percent, to $3.66 billion.


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Union official to retain public office

A Broome County (NY) legislator who represents a part of the City of Binghamton and is also employed as a regional union official, said he will seek a fourth two-year term this fall. John Hutchings, a 45-year-old Democrat, will run again in November in the 5th District, which includes the city's South Side, from Telegraph Street to Binghamton University in the Town of Vestal. The 5th District also includes a portion of the Town of Binghamton.

Hutchings, a construction marketing representative for a labor management group, has chaired the legislature's Public Works Committee since January, when Democrats became the majority on the legislature for the first time in 16 years.

"John has done an excellent job," said Mark Whalen, the Democrat who holds the position of majority chairman of the legislature. "It's good to have someone with knowledge of the construction industry on that committee."

Hutchings ran unopposed for his seat two years ago. Legislators are paid $12,500 a year.

Hutchings said his priorities include shepherding a proposed new bus station on Chenango Street through construction, as well as investment in the county's urban core, including developing what's called the Brandywine Corridor in the area of the former Stowe Manufacturing property on the city's East Side.

"There are things we can do to increase the quality of life," Hutchings said. "It's an opportunity to make it easier for my kids and everyone else's kids to stay here and raise a family."

Hutchings said he was disappointed that a project labor agreement he pushed for on the $16.9 million renovation of the George Harvey Justice Building did not withstand a judge's scrutiny.

That agreement would have restricted employment on the renovation to 10 percent non-union workers. The other 90 percent would have been reserved for union workers. Non-union contractors took the county to court, saying the agreement would unfairly hurt them and their non-union employees.

The judge agreed with the non-union contractors. The project is expected to go out to bid to both union and non-union contractors some time in April, county officials said.


Are Teamsters organizing for nationwide strike?

A trucker's strike may be looming on the horizon. Many independent over the road truck drivers are fed up with rising fuel and insurance costs and are looking into organizing and trying to join together to take rigs off the road and that would mean shortages at supermarkets, convenience stores and if it was carried out to the extreme, eventually at every retail outlet in America. Everything that gets delivered to a retail store in your city or town is eventually delivered by a truck, and if it were highly organized a strike could paralyze the economy.

But is real or a hoax? In 2005 there were rumors all over that there would be a strike then as well and there were several reports that Teamsters would be involved and many received an e-mail that said in part, "Warning: Truckers unions losing patience with the Federal Government and the U.S. Oil Companies…Under pressure, major freight carriers strike early agreements with Teamsters Union. 88,000 unionized truckers are getting the brunt of fuel costs, the major Truckers Unions and drivers has had about enough of getting ripped off. With truckers unions and drivers claiming unreal fuel expenses the unrest and shift is beginning to give birth to a National Truckers Strike."

That was a hoax, and though this one appears to be much smaller it does seem to be legitimate and a report notes that it is being started online and it is total grass roots. So what could they accomplish if truckers took a week off, what about a month? It would be devastating. According to a report from the Quad City Times, there are roughly 1,000 truckers now saying that they will strike on April 1, and it appears not to be an April Fool's Day joke despite the day the strike will reportedly begin.

It seems a bit under organized at this point and many truckers interviewed by the paper had not heard of the looming strike, but some independent drivers seem to suggest they would join in. Dan Little, the organizer says he knows that the strike can't bring down the price of Diesel (over $4.00 per gallon in many states) but he wants help to try and bring attention to the problems truckers are now facing and he hopes to highlight the need to bring down insurance costs and he would like the government to suspend the tax on Diesel fuel to help the truck driver's that are going broke because of rising prices.


Beleaguered union chief's newsprint psychology

Oregon State Hospital workers are sick and tired of being cast in a negative light, says Jim Walker, a longtime employee in the hospital's forensic psychiatric program. Walker, 53, has worked at the state hospital for 21 years. He previously served in the Navy and toiled in Montana oil fields. He now works as a mental-health therapy coordinator on maximum-security Ward 48C. He also is the acting union president of SEIU Local 392, which represents many hospital workers.

Question: How would you describe employee morale?

Answer: It could be better. Everybody is really tired of hearing how negative it is here, how horrible things are here. We're tired of getting beat up by the media, that's for sure.

Q: Do most employees share your view? Do they think they're getting a bum rap?

A: Absolutely. ... It's not fair when you're given a job that is really difficult and dangerous at times, and then you're told that you're not doing a very good job by the papers, and it goes all the way to TV and radio. Most of these things you read about are not really a reflection on the people that work here; it's more of a reflection on the state of Oregon. I feel real strongly about that. We should have had new buildings and more staff years ago, but it all comes down to money. There are no superstars here at the hospital, no champions to get this place what it needs. It depends on what the community wants to support.

Q: How would you describe Ward 48C?

A: You want me to start with the building? It's in the J Building, which is the oldest building here. Each room has bars on it. The foundation is made of river rock and the upper levels are old timber. The building is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. There's no air conditioning. We could use more room, we really could. But this is the playing field we're given, so that's the way it is.

Q: Are you embarrassed to work in such a shabby looking facility?

A: It is a horrible looking building. But you know what really embarrasses me? The public perception of the people that work here. I'm embarrassed by all the negative press. Somebody will ask me where I work and I'll say the state hospital and they say, 'Oh my gosh,' and they'll start talking about how horrible it is here. I hear it all the time now; that gets old after a while. There's a stigma to working here. We're looked at as abusers, and that's far from the truth. There are so many good people who work here.

Q: In January, the federal Department of Justice released a report that was extremely critical of many aspects of patient care and conditions. Did the federal investigators get it right?

A: I would say they did for the most part; it wasn't unexpected. We've tried to change things here, to put things into place, but the reality is that we don't have enough worker bees here and we don't have enough space for people to live, and this is just a really old building. Now, we have this federal report over our heads. Decisions have to be made. Things have to be done differently.

Q: Have working conditions improved at all since federal investigators visited the hospital in late 2006?

A: Well, they've added more staff, so that definitely has helped. You're not overworking people as much. For years, people have worked massive amounts of overtime here, both voluntarily and mandates. It's been severely understaffed. Everybody who works here knows that. It burns you out.

Q: But you say it's getting better?

A: Right. They keep adding positions. As much as the Legislature will allow.

Q: Do you think the feds will take Oregon to court to force improvements at the hospital?

A: I don't think so. I'm the union president here, so I get to meet with management quite often. They're trying hard to get things going in the right direction. And they truly are, but for the next three years, until they get the new hospital built, it's going to be difficult.

Q: What's standing in the way of rapid change?

A: The real bottleneck on all this is placing patients in the community. I don't care what kind of hospital you have or what kind of treatment you have, if the patients don't have a place to go, it's not going to work. There has to be more group homes and treatment areas for them in the community. If you want people to get out of the hospital, services have to be available. There's just not enough.

Q: Patient-caused violence has been a recurring problem in the forensic program. Has any progress been made on that front?

A: Well, I would say it's under control as much as it can be. Do people still get attacked here? Yes. We can't protect against every situation. I have 25 patients here on this ward. Violence is unpredictable. You don't know when one of them is going to decide for whatever reason, whether it's based in reality or not, to attack another person.

The only real way to stop it would be to lock people up in a room, but you can't do that because it's against patient rights. And I agree with that — unless they have a continuous history of attacking people, you can't do that.

Q: Have you been assaulted on the job?

A: Many times. You bet. It's part of the job. Nobody likes it, it's horrible, and it's really stressful. You get to know the patients and you try to avoid situations by communicating with doctors and nurses and letting them know what you're seeing and hearing. But you can't predict when someone is going to get something in their brain that says, 'You're doing this to me, and I'm going to hit you.' It just happens.

Q: What type of patients are housed on your ward?

A: As far as my ward goes, we get the people that are fresh out of county (jails). It's an intake ward for 370s, which means people sent to the hospital from county jails for psychiatric evaluations. A lot of them you read about in the paper. They have allegations against them. We're supposed to help them out. A lot of them are pretty sick. When we get them, they're not too far removed from their alleged crimes. There's some amount of stress to that, but we're able to get people stabilized and back to county again, which is our job.

Q: How would you describe your job duties?

A: I oversee all the mental health technicians and assign duties as needed. I kind of oversee all the details around here.

Q: Why have you chosen to keep working for more than 20 years at a place that is chronically understaffed and overcrowded?

A: Initially, I started doing this kind of work because I was good at talking with people. I started when I was in the Navy, I was a psych tech there. I moved to Oregon later on and took this job. It's a steady job with a paycheck. But I know what keeps me here now — there's a lot of good people and a lot of good friends here. Working here can be really rewarding. We're not police here, we're therapists. So you get to have working relationships. You have a chance to change people for the better. You can do good, even though this is a hard place. Society has kind of pushed these people to the side of life, onto the edges. That's where I work, on the edges.


Private-sector workers suspicious of union

Sentiments among ArcelorMittal Dofasco workers in Hamilton are running almost 2-to-1 against joining the United Steelworkers union, at least among those posting to The Spectator's new blog on the subject. A sampling of the posts shows most of the objections are sparked by suspicion that a union invited into the plant by the company can't be good for workers.

Typical of this group is a post by Mitch who warns: "Mittal only does what is best for Mittal and the almighty Mittal $. Everything to him is man hours per ton, so him allowing the union to organize scares the hell right out of me. Just say no!"

Another issue is the fear that joining the union means they will lose Dofasco's traditionally generous profit-sharing plan.

"Why would we consider joining a union? This would put our profit sharing, VCP (variable compensation pay), benefits, wages, rec park, vacation and retirement on the table for negotiation," says a worker who signed himself only as D. "Why give anyone an opportunity to take this away in a sweetheart deal with the union?"

Under the current profit-sharing plan, half of annual payments go into workers pensions. Tom worries losing that could mean trouble for future retirees.

"If the union gets in you can kiss the fund, MVA (market value adjustments), SRIP (supplemental retirement income plan) and any surplus monies goodbye," he wrote. "That's a big chunk of the workers' retirement money. We'll end up with a crappy pension worse than Stelco."

Robb worries a negotiated contract would mean workers will have to settle for less vacation and other benefits than they currently have.

"If Dofasco starts a bargaining session, it will start at zero and work up. Most ArcelorMittal companies in North America enjoy a maximum of five weeks vacation per year. Dofasco offers as many as eight, plus the 15 bonus weeks at retirement. New contract? Expect five, at the most, and no bonus."

Another theme is the simple belief a union won't help workers who've always been taken care of by the company.

Keith writes, for example: "I can tell you first hand that all I got from union representation was paying union dues (while) the not-so- desirable employees around me were able to keep showing up to get a paycheque each week ... Management have been good to good workers and even been good to some that probably should have been fired.

"All unions do is protect lazy workers, take the employees' money and waste managements time," adds John. "If the company has treated the employees fairly then there's no need for a union!"

For Bob, Dofasco has always offered "a culture based on mutual respect" and having a union won't add to that tradition. "We have always shared our views and concerns in an open and frank manner, which led to a mutually beneficial and rewarding relationship, as well as sustained employment for decades ... ," he wrote.

Union supporters say the benefits Dofasco workers received over the years were won first by bargaining committees at Stelco.

"I have been a union worker all my 29 years working full time. I have seen Dofasco workers get what my union has bargained for. They never got anything that we in the union didn't bargain for or take the lead in getting," writes Glenn. "There is strength in numbers. Don't be left standing alone ... "

Gary argues workers have never gained anything because employers are generous. "When was the last time that the owners of Dofasco gave them a pay raise just because they could afford it?"

Tim believes a Dofasco union is needed because the nature of the steel industry has changed.

"Once this company was sold off to the global empire of ArcelorMittal it is not a family-oriented company that treats its employees with dignity and respect. The workers need a union to give them a voice."

The Spectator's Dofasco Choice blog is at http://thespec.typepad.com/dofascochoice/


Publicly-funded labor-activism in Indiana

After 50 years of leadership in labor studies education, Indiana University continues to stand tall in providing quality education. The Labor Studies Program educates students for the workplace and labor movement. We pride ourselves on being a nationally and locally recognized interdisciplinary program housed in the School of Social Work as of July 1st, 2007.

The School of Social Work has been in existence since 1911 with a mission to educate students to be effective and knowledgeable professional social workers prepared for practice in the twenty-first century. Such practitioners are committed to the alleviation of poverty, oppression, and discrimination. The school is dedicated to the enhancement of the quality of life for all people, particularly the citizens of Indiana, and to the advancement of just social, political, and economic conditions through excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service.

Within the context of a diverse, multicultural, urbanized, global, and technologically oriented society, the school prepares social workers who will shape solutions to a wide range of interpersonal and social problems by developing and using knowledge critically as they uphold the traditions, values, and ethics of the social work profession.

It is within the parameters of this mission that we will devote our energies to continue the excellence of Labor Studies at Indiana University. All of us are committed to make Labor Studies the best it can be. We will continue to offer our online and face-to-face courses for the Certificate, Associate, and Bachelor of Science in Labor Studies degrees. Also, students can earn a Minor in Labor Studies.


State frees counties to be more union-friendly

Longtime South Beloit police clerk Cindy King was initially on the fence when she and fellow clerk Wanda Weston-Johnson began talking about unionizing late last year. King initially liked the idea of joining a union — most city employees were doing so — then later changed her mind. But the retirement of Police Chief Larry Schultz, combined with changes the City Council made to the employee benefits package, persuaded her to file paperwork with the Teamsters union in December.

“I need the job security, and things are kind of uncertain right now,” King said. “I’ve been with the city for 20 years. I’ve got a lot to lose.”

The women make up a two-person department and were able to file for unionization thanks to a 2005 change in state law that lowered the minimum number of employees needed to unionize from 35 to five, or 50 percent of a department, whichever is smaller.

Although the changes have made it easier for people like King and Weston-Johnson to join forces, the growth in unions has some officials — even those who support organized labor — worried that the resulting costs will be too high.

Nearly three years after South Beloit police officers, citing inconsistent wages and benefits, filed their intent to unionize, they and the city — despite hours of negotiation and tens of thousands of dollars spent on attorneys — have made zero headway on a contract. Meanwhile, union contracts for the city’s two police sergeants, two police clerks and six Street Department workers, all of whom have followed the police officers and filed union papers, also are in limbo.

South Beloit Mayor Randy Kirichkow estimates the city has spent close to $120,000 on attorneys to help negotiate the police officers and police sergeant’s contracts, neither of which have been completed. Meanwhile, five unfair labor practice complaints have been filed against the city, alleging that recent changes to employees’ benefits package are retaliation for their attempt to unionize.

“All it is now is money being wasted,” Kirichkow said of the city having to use attorneys to address the complaints.

South Beloit situation atypical
Union negotiations tend to drag on because union reps are typically trained to hold out until the bitter end, while attorneys on the other side of the table are in no hurry to cut short their billable hours, said Norm Frese, president of the Illinois Council of Police. But the situation in South Beloit is atypical, he said.

“The short and long of it is, they shouldn’t still be in negotiation after three years,” said Frese, who counts South Beloit’s police sergeants as two of his newest members. “From the standpoint on the cost to a taxpayer, they should insist that their village managers or mayors defend the purpose for the delay. Sometimes the legal cost can add up to more money spent than it would be to just pay the officers.”

Frese is preparing to start negotiating contracts for the city’s two police sergeants in the next month and doesn’t anticipate a repeat of the ongoing police officers situation.

“Hopefully we’ll have an easier time of it,” he said. “But if it looks like we aren’t getting anywhere, we will proceed with mediation sooner rather than later.”

Small-town unions growing
South Beloit’s municipal workers join the spike of small-town union applicants in the last two years, according to the Illinois Labor Relations Board, which governs relations and handles complaints between public agencies and employees. Their rising numbers are in contrast to national union membership, which is on a consistent decline.

Popular in public sector
In 2007, there were 15.7 million workers belonging to a union, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, up slightly from 15.4 million union workers in 2006. The percentage, 12.1 percent, is virtually unchanged from 12 percent in 2006, but those numbers are drastically lower than the 20 percent of union workers in 1983 and 35 percent in the 1950s.

Public sector employees can be credited for driving union membership; they account for 35.9 percent of unionized workers, compared with 7.5 percent of private industry workers. Of the unionized public employees, local government workers — police officers, firefighters, teachers — have the highest union membership rate at 41.8 percent.

Word-of-mouth adds members
It helps that teachers, police officers and firefighters have long-standing union traditions, said John Brosnan, executive director of the ILRB, and unionization “keeps radiating from organized larger cities and suburbs into smaller communities.”

“We mostly get our members from word-of-mouth. There’s one small union in one town, and word spreads down the highway,” said Frese, who has seen his membership grow to about 500 since the new law took effect. “We’ve seen a great number of new members from smaller departments that couldn’t unionize before joining to protect their rights. Many of them aren’t aware of certain laws and rights, and they’re having problems and need someone to speak for them.”

Roscoe close on one contract
In contrast to South Beloit, it’s been slightly easier in neighboring Roscoe, where both the village’s police officers and public works employees have union contracts pending. Police officers and the village have been trying for more than a year to reach an agreement on the first-ever union contract for officers. Final wording on a contract is almost complete, said village President Dave Krienke, who hopes negotiations can be wrapped up in the next month or two.

Public works employees filed for unionization in spring 2007, just before Krienke took office, and “we have a long way to go on that,” he said.

The village has been able to keep costs down — less than $10,000, Krienke said — by using village attorney David Kurlinkus in negotiations rather than hiring an outside firm. And the yearlong process of negotiating with police officers will pay off in the future, Krienke said.

“This is their first contract in village history,” Krienke said. “In three or four years, when the next contract comes up, it will be very easy.”

Trying to cut losses
South Beloit, meanwhile, is gearing up for arbitration with its police force this month, and city commissioners are expected to revisit the employee benefits package in the upcoming weeks because of the backlash.

“We’re hoping arbitration will happen soon, so we can get past the issue,” Kirichkow said. “There’s no question the city is going to lose on all this. The best thing we can do now is cut our losses.”

Staff writer Sarah Roberts can be reached at 815-987-1354 or smrobert@rrstar.com.

Municipal unions in smaller towns

Loves Park
Police officers, organized with the Fraternal Order of Police since 1989
Streets and Water departments, organized with the Union of Operating Engineers since 1996

Machesney Park
No unions

Police contract pending with the Fraternal Order of Police
Public Works Department contract pending with Teamsters union

No unions

South Beloit
Police officers contract pending
Police Sergeants contract pending with Illinois Council of Police
Dispatchers contract pending

Cherry Valley
No unions


National leaders call local political shots

What a difference a year makes for Bruce Lunsford. In March 2007, amid the Democratic primary for governor, key unions in Kentucky not only wrote off the possibility of backing Lunsford, some openly campaigned against him. Many in organized labor remained steamed over Lunsford's 2003 run for governor, in which he dropped out of the Democratic primary and later backed Republican Ernie Fletcher in the general election.

But all appears to be forgotten, or at least disregarded, now that Lunsford is the best-known Democrat in the U.S. Senate race and has the blessing of the Washington Democratic establishment. After all, at stake in this primary is the chance to take on U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, which automatically makes it a nationally watched race.

So last weekend, the Kentucky AFL-CIO voted to endorse Lunsford in the Democratic primary, which features six other candidates.

And Thursday, the Kentucky branch of the United Mine Workers of America, another group unhappy with Lunsford last year, is expected to announce it also will back him.

"I think everyone's overall objective here is to beat Mitch McConnell," said Steve Earle, legislative field director for the mine workers union. "I think Bruce Lunsford is the man to do that."

So why the about-face?

First, the message from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and its chairman, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, was unmistakable: Lunsford is their guy. Schumer and the national AFL-CIO, therefore, had a keen interest in Kentucky's labor unions getting behind him, and they made sure to say so, said Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO.

"There may have been a phone call or two," he said.

Second, the unions made the same political calculations that Schumer already has. Lunsford's vast personal wealth can help catch up to McConnell's $10 million fund-raising head start, and his millions of dollars' worth of TV ads run in two previous statewide races made his name familiar to voters.

Londrigan said those qualities became more important because Lunsford and his chief Democratic rival, Louisville businessman Greg Fischer, espoused similar views.

"Let's be honest, there's not a whole lot of difference in how they stood on our working-family issues," he said. "But on balance, we measured Bruce to be a candidate that had more capability to challenge Mitch -- money, name recognition, the support he's going to receive from the ... big players in D.C., the DSCC."

Finally, Lunsford has worked to atone for what the unions and many Democratic activists considered his sins, and he gave them the "right" answers on key questions.

Earle, who ended up in a squabble last year with Lunsford's running mate in his gubernatorial bid, Greg Stumbo, said he and several other UMWA officials had a face-to-face chat with Lunsford two weeks ago. Apologies were made and hatchets were buried, Earle said.

"Quite frankly, I was impressed with him -- his commitment, his vision for Kentucky, his sincerity," Earle said. "We didn't spare asking him the tough questions. ... He was right on every issue."

For instance, Lunsford said he has concerns with NAFTA and supports the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure pending in Congress that addresses the formation of unions.

Lunsford said in an interview that labor's opposition to him last year "was really about taking me to the woodshed" for backing Fletcher. And after staying positive in the 2007 governors' race against Steve Beshear, his standing with Democrats improved.

Lunsford also said he doesn't underestimate the boost in campaign foot soldiers he'll get from the thousands of members of the AFL-CIO and another labor coalition that endorsed him, Change to Win.

"I felt as part of building our franchise to win, we really needed them," he said.

Fischer's campaign shrugged off the unions' backing his rival, saying that it reinforces a perception that Lunsford is a candidate of convenience.

"We have to have a sharp contrast, and Bruce Lunsford is not that: someone who's not obligated or indebted to the Washington establishment," said Kim Geveden, Fischer's campaign consultant.

McConnell also has taken notice.

His e-mail to supporters asking them to donate money last week prominently mentioned the latest developments in the Democratic primary.

"Your gift is even more important now that Big Labor and the National Democrats are jumping in to Kentucky's business," McConnell's message said.

Lunsford, meanwhile, won't say when he plans to launch his advertising phase, claiming that his strategists are keeping that a secret.

"They've refused to let me know for fear I'll answer the question," he said with a laugh. He said to expect "much more activity" in April, and he added that his plan won't hinge on what other Democrats do in the meantime.

"I didn't get in this race to just win the primary, I got in this race to win the seat," he said. "I do believe this is the second-biggest race in the country" after the contest for the White House.


Performance enhancement nags union actors

As a union leader in the NFL, Doug Allen was known for the same hit-before-you're-hit mind-set that he displayed on the football field. The former linebacker for the Buffalo Bills has favored a similar style since touching down in Hollywood more than a year ago as the executive director and chief negotiator for the Screen Actors Guild. Allen has butted heads with A-list actors, the guild's own New York branch, its sister union and powerful agents.

The spats have made him a polarizing figure in the 120,000-member SAG, heightening long-standing tensions between hard-liners and moderates within the notoriously fractious union on the eve of key contract negotiations with studios.

Supporters say Allen, 56, brings a welcome toughness in contrast to former leaders who were perceived as overly accommodating to the Hollywood establishment. Detractors say he's a bully who picks needless fights that have only distracted the union.

The question now is whether his bare-knuckle approach will yield gains at the bargaining table or set the stage for more labor strife. Allen debuts as a Hollywood labor negotiator in talks expected to begin early next month. Although an actors strike is unlikely after the recent writers walkout, studios nonetheless have been bracing for the possibility.

Allen and SAG President Alan Rosenberg already have stated that they intend to wring better concessions out of the studios than those won by the writers or directors. Actors, whose contract expires June 30, want to be paid more from the sales of DVDs and have a say when they are forced to shill for products in TV shows and movies.

"We can't simply grab the pen and say, 'Where do we sign the WGA and the DGA deal?' " Allen said. "That's not fair to actors."

But studios will be loath to give actors more than what they granted the other unions, and there is little appetite among working members for another strike.

Just last month, four prominent actors -- George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep -- took out a full-page ad calling on guild leaders to begin talks immediately. Such public discord between the union and top celebrities, who control what movies and TV shows get made, is problematic because it undermines a united front.

So Rosenberg invited some of the stars to his house to assuage their concerns.

Clooney, who was joined at the meeting by Hanks, Sally Field and Rob Lowe, fired off questions to Allen, demanding to know why SAG and the studios weren't talking. Allen assured him that informal discussions were underway. Clooney then asked with whom they were talking. The grilling prompted Allen to complain that it felt as if Clooney was putting him on trial. Allen became impatient, and Clooney snapped, "Don't roll your eyes," said one person familiar with the meeting.

Allen, during an interview in his Mid-Wilshire office, called the gathering a "productive exchange of information."

"Unions are democracies," he said. "There are always going to be differences of opinion. It's important to listen to all points of view, but I don't think the views of the few, regardless of who they are, are represented by the many."

When SAG hired Allen, it was the first time the guild tapped a Hollywood outsider.

Allen, who once played the tragic hero John Proctor in a high school production of "The Crucible," studied industrial relations at Penn State, where he was a star linebacker on the undefeated 1973 team. Signed by the Buffalo Bills a year later, he earned the nickname "Sluggo."

After only two seasons on the gridiron, however, Allen took a job organizing political campaigns for the AFL-CIO before returning to the league to eventually become an assistant executive director at the players association.

He was best known for helping launch and build a successful licensing and merchandising corporation called Players Inc., which generated millions of dollars for the union. "He had to show real creativity in developing a variety of revenue sources in the brave new world of player marketing and branding," said Leigh Steinberg, a veteran sports lawyer and agent.

Allen's experience with star players and facing off against billionaire NFL owners endeared him to a newly assertive leadership at SAG. "For many years we were a go-along-get-along kind of organization," Rosenberg said. "Doug has tried to bring a fresh outlook."

"Rhoda" star and SAG board member Valerie Harper agreed. "He's brought back the mission of the union to focus on the working actor. . . . We have a real unionist at our helm."

But critics say Allen has stifled dissent and aligned with Hollywood hard-liners who control the national board. Much of the criticism has come from the union's New York division, which has clashed with the more powerful Hollywood wing over control and bargaining strategy.

"Almost half the membership that resides in New York and the regional branches has been disenfranchised," said Sam Freed, New York division president.

New York board members have been especially angry over Allen's handling of SAG's relationship with its smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which represents radio and TV announcers and recording artists as well as actors. The two unions, which share about 40,000 members, have jointly bargained their main film and prime-time TV contracts for 27 years.

SAG's New York board members complain that Allen spurned an offer they made last summer to mediate a dispute with AFTRA over turf and how their votes on the joint committee are divvied up. Instead, Allen pushed a plan that New York contended would muzzle their voice and anger AFTRA. Hollywood members have long complained that they must split equal votes with the smaller union even though SAG actors bring in most of the money.

Tensions flared when Allen wrote an article in the Screen Actors Guild magazine accusing AFTRA of selling actors short on cable TV contracts.

Paul Christie, then president of SAG's New York division and a current board member, saw it as inflammatory. "We feel this guy has completely overstepped any authority in his contract. Every time I've had a disagreement with him, his standard response is, 'You guys are wrong, you just don't know what you're talking about.' "

Allen said he acted within his purview. "New York is a very important part of the union, but I'm accountable to the national board."

Former board member Tess Harper, who was nominated for an Oscar in "Crimes of the Heart," said Allen berated her during a phone call last June when she offered advice on negotiating a new agreement with talent agents. "The message was, little girl you don't know what you're talking about," she said. "He was demeaning, condescending and aggressive."

Allen said, "We didn't agree with each other on the subject," but called Harper's account "completely overblown."

While clashing with his own guild members, Allen's battle with AFTRA has dragged on for nearly a year, creating a schism that some fear could be exploited by the studios. AFTRA viewed his campaign to revamp the partnership as an act of war.

In an August letter to members, AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon said Allen spread "fabricated concoctions worthy of Karl Rove at his best."

Instead of backing down, Allen urged that guild members vote to reject the bargaining agreement and replace it with a more equitable one. When AFTRA threatened to bargain with the studios separately, he advised the board to drop the issue for now. The unions have since agreed to bargain jointly, but mistrust remains.

He has also squared off with another powerful group: talent agents.

SAG and agents have been without a so-called franchise agreement, which sets rules of conduct between actors and their representatives, since the last one expired in 2002. Only a few months into his job, Allen vowed to secure a new agreement, saying actors lacked adequate protection of their financial interests.

He threatened that SAG would unilaterally impose regulations on agencies if a new pact couldn't be reached.

Karen Stuart, executive director of the Assn. of Talent Agents, complained in a letter to Allen last spring about his efforts to set "an arbitrary deadline" for a new agreement and threats to void actors contracts if the timetable wasn't met. "SAG seems intent on pursuing an adversarial course toward the ATA at such a critical and delicate time," she wrote.

Allen said he has since had several productive meetings with the ATA but warned, "The issue is not going to go away."


County sets stage for big union payday

Rank-and-file county workers faulted their lawmakers last week for giving a $10,000 raise to legislative aide and Hudson County (NY) spokeswoman Alexis Eggleton. "How can you give her a raise when we're vastly underpaid?" they wondered. But while the county's union workforce focuses on Eggleton and her new salary, there is more to the story.

Since November 2007, the county Legislature has handed out $164,895 in pay raises to 35 of its nonunion workers, also known as managerial and confidential employees.

It all started at the top. The nine county legislators gave themselves a raise of $611, or 3 percent. They now make $20,977 for their part-time duties. The salary of Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis was also hiked by 3 percent, to $29,977.

Lawmakers defended their raises last week when asked if they were prudent financial decisions considering the county is facing costly capital projects and dwindling revenues. Rouis, a Democrat, called the raises a "cost of living adjustment," and said a periodic raise is necessary to attract quality elected officials. Republican lawmaker Leni Binder said the legislators' salaries pale in comparison to what they could make using their time for private employment.

"I don't think the raises were out of line because just my cost of staying in the Government Center, rather than working elsewhere, eats that money up," Binder said.

As for county employees, several got raises comparable to or larger than Eggleton's. The director of veteran services received a $9,765 boost, the county auditor got $10,000, and the position of deputy clerk to the legislature got $13,077. When Josh Potosek was promoted to the new position of commissioner of management and budget, he got a $27,758 raise.

Some lawmakers defended these decisions, too. Potosek took on myriad new responsibilities when he was promoted, such as oversight of the personnel department and all the county's credit cards. New financial laws would have required an outside auditor, or more work for the in-house auditor. In the end, giving the county auditor a raise was cheaper, lawmakers said. The veteran services raise was based on tenure, and money was freed for the deputy clerk when another clerk's position was eliminated.

Still, other lawmakers were unhappy with the staff pay raises. Binder and fellow Republican Jodi Goodman voted against the 2008 budget in part, they said, because they disagreed with the higher salaries. Both went along with their Democratic counterparts in accepting their own raises.

Now the county will have to defend these pay raises when it negotiates new contracts with union leaders this year. With a $100 million jail project, $51 million in landfill debt, and a slumping economy on the horizon, county officials have been warning of a financial dilemma. The new pay hikes send a different message to union brass, who believe there must be money in the coffers for their workers, too.

"We are concerned when confidential employees are afforded large raises but rank-and-file employees are overdue the raises they deserve," said Lou Setren, the business agent for more than 600 county workers who belong to Teamsters Local 445. "What's good for one should be good for all."


SEIU 26 on strike

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