Protecting democracy from Andy Stern

Hundreds of determined members of SEIU United Healthcare Workers - West (UHW) will gather at their union headquarters (560 Thomas L. Berkley Way) Thursday at 4:00 p.m. to express outrage at escalating attempts by SEIU's Washington officials to subvert democracy, centralize power and silence their voices in relationships with employers. The healthcare workers will declare their intention to retain control of their local union and their full support for UHW's elected leaders.

A recent letter from SEIU President Andy Stern, which makes false allegations against UHW's officers and sets the groundwork for a takeover, is the most recent example in a long list of actions designed to chill internal dissent, marginalize political opposition and thwart union democracy by retaliating against vocal critics of his top-down, corporate leadership style and centralization of power far away from the influence of rank-and-file workers.

UHW members are particularly outraged because this politically motivated interference threatens to undo years of hard work in lining up the expiration dates of more than 200 contracts covering 80,000 workers at hospitals and long term care facilities across the state, as well as organizing campaigns to organize tens of thousands of workers throughout California.

"We've sacrificed our blood, sweat and tears building this union. Now we're on the verge of winning unprecedented improvements and SEIU is betraying us by undermining our power," said Ruby Guzman, a certified nursing assistant at Creekside Healthcare Center in San Pablo.

SEIU's actions have included misusing member dues to engage in a disinformation campaign about UHW, breaching member confidentiality, colluding with nursing home operators to sabotage UHW's collective bargaining efforts and falsely claiming that UHW coordinated with the California Nurses Association to derail its organizing efforts in Ohio, according to UHW.

"We've spent years building one of the strongest and most democratic unions in the nation," said Angela Glasper, an optical receptionist at Kaiser Hospital in Martinez. "We've struggled together, celebrated together, organized thousands of healthcare workers and achieved some of the strongest contracts in the country together. Andy Stern can't divide us. We won't let him."

UHW, the fastest growing local union in America over the past decade, has become one of the largest and most effective local unions by prioritizing the role of members in decision-making and insisting that workers have a direct role in all aspects of their union. These values have been instrumental in establishing unprecedented standards for healthcare workers throughout California.


SEIU security-guard strikers arrested

Security guards handcuffed themselves together and encircled a kiosk in the IDS Crystal Court at noon today to call for a contract that includes affordable health care, and to get representatives from five companies providing security services back to the bargaining table.

Nine members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 26, which represents about 800 security guards in the Twin Cities, were arrested for civil disobedience and whisked away on a Metro Transit bus. Union members say they believe that this is the first time in the nation's history that private security officers charged with protecting the community and promoting safety were arrested for violating the law.

Union member Fred Anthony II, who was not arrested, said guards engaged in the unprecedented move after they voted 278-11 earlier this month to reject an offer made by the security companies they work for and talks between the two sides broke off. No new talks have been scheduled.

"You need strong and healthy security guards to protect the buildings," Anthony said while standing outside the IDS Crystal Court. "We want them to come back to the table."

About 75 security guards and members of SEIU Local 26 carried signs, blew whistles and chanted "You Protect the Dream" and "Health Care Now" as police arrested nine union members and nine clergy and community members demonstrating in support.

Wendy Burt, a spokeswoman for the ABM, Allied Barton, American, Securitas and Viking security companies, said the companies are working on a new health care plan to present to the guards and will return to the bargaining table when that is done and they can give a specific plan with a specific premium amount that employees will pay. She could not say when that would happen.

"The companies are still working on narrowing down a health plan that they can offer to the employees of each company," she said. "We are committed to finding a solution to the health care issue, which is the outstanding issue. We are working to resolve it."

A federal mediator involved in the case said she could not comment on the situation.

Security guards have been without a contract since the beginning of the year and are seeking improvements in wages and training standards along with affordable health care. Last month they staged a one-day walkout to draw attention to their desire for a contract that includes those provisions.


Unethical union demands no-vote authorization

A massive pork-processing plant near a tiny North Carolina town is the setting for what could be a landmark battle between business and organized labor, according to the April issue of Business North Carolina magazine. The Washington, D.C.-based United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has been battling Virginia-based Smithfield Foods for 16 years over the right to represent workers at the factory near Tar Heel. [N.B. The union is defending a RICO lawsuit in federal court.]

The union has lost two representation elections during that period. UFCW wants rules guaranteeing company neutrality with “meaningful sanctions.” The company says the union wants to be able to organize workers without an election, simply by signing cards authorizing it to represent them.

Meanwhile, union representation of the U.S. work force continues to fall — from 23% in 1983 to 13% in 2007. Experts say labor needs a big victory, and there would be no sweeter place to get it than North Carolina, the least unionized state in the nation. Stakes are just as high for the company. Because it controls hog production and slaughtering, a strike at the Tar Heel plant — with about 5,000 employees, the world’s largest pork-processing factory — could result in the company being stuck with tens of thousands of pigs. That’s why even a third election might not be decisive: Both sides have too much at risk to give up.


Big Print blames News Union for woes

MediaNews Group apparently acted properly when it withdrew recognition of a Newspaper Guild unit at its Alameda Newspaper Group outside San Francisco last year after consolidating it with another string of newspapers. The San Jose Mercury News reports that the National Labor Relations Board has determined the act did not violate federal law, citing a memo from a NLRB official.

"The employer did not violate the (National Labor Relations) Act because the historical bargaining unit ceased to be an appropriate unit after the employer consolidated unit employees into a larger group of other employees," Barry Kearney, an associate general counsel in the NLRB's advice division, wrote in a March 19 memo to the NLRB's regional director, according to the Mercury News.

"In particular, we agree with the (NLRB Bay Area regional office) that the changes made by the employer were entrepreneurial in nature," Kearney added. "The employer did not violate the (labor) act by withdrawing recognition from the union."

Kearney could not be reached for comment Wednesday. William Baudler, a NLRB attorney in the Region 32 office in Oakland, confirmed the memo and the decision to dismiss the case.

"We investigated it and referred it to the division of advice and they issued a memorandum that we should dismiss the charge," he told E&P. "That has not happened yet, but we are in the process of putting into action that directive."

The Newspaper Guild had filed a complaint with the NLRB last year after MediaNews in August withdrew recognition of the Alameda Newspaper Guild, which represented some 130 staffers at the six-paper ANG, including the Oakland Tribune.

The union recognition change followed MediaNews' consolidation of ANG's editorial functions with its neighboring five-paper Contra Costa Newspapers, led by the Contra Costa Times of Walnut Creek.

The consolidation of editorial operations from the two groups came one year after MediaNews purchased the Contra Costa papers from McClatchy as part of its takeover of 31 daily and community papers in the area, which also included the Mercury News.

Company officials said at the time that the move was proper because the consolidated editorial unit now includes fewer than 50% guild members. Since the ANG unit, which had been under a guild contract since 1998, had only 130 staffers and the Contra Costa staff, which was union-free, included about 170, the guild unit could be removed because it did not represent a majority of the combined workers.

“The union has to represent a majority of a bargaining unit,” MediaNews general counsel Marshall Anstandig said at the time. “The issue that gets presented in a consolidated group is that it impacts representation rights."

ANG had been represented by the guild since signing its first contract in 1998, but had been seeking a contract since workers voted in the guild in 1987.

The Mercury News quoted Carl Hall, a local guild representative, saying: "I don't know what the practical effect of this ruling will be." Hall said language in the NLRB memo may help define the appropriate scope for a bargaining unit.

The NLRB ruling will be helpful for the company, John Armstrong, president and publisher of Bay Area News Group-East Bay, told the Mercury News. "This decision allows us to continue to move forward to produce the best newspapers within our capacity," he said.


Teacher union cash dump queers Dem primary

First Kate Brown beat out fellow state senators for the much coveted endorsement of the public teachers union for secretary of state. Today, she got hard proof of their love. The Oregon Education Association handed Brown a fat $25,000 contribution, further cementing her fundraising lead as well as delivering a slap to Rick Metsger and Vicki Walker, both of whom will be back in the Legislature next year should they lose to Brown in the Democratic primary this May.

"It seems," Metsger said of the amount, "a little over the top."

So why risk the wrath of two midterm senators, including one who has chaired the Senate education committee for the past two sessions?

OEA Executive Director Jerry Caruthers laughed good-naturedly and acknowledged the $25,000 contribution is a "very significant amount of money." But he said he's confident the three Democratic candidates are committed to "public education," regardless of what happens in this particular race.

"Of course, politics is about making difficult choices and in this case, there were many candidates who were longtime friends of the OEA," he said.

The teachers union will make contributions to other endorsed candidates, Caruthers said, but the amounts will vary.

Brown barely edged out state Sen. Brad Avakian, D-Bethany, for the endorsement. Avakian has since dropped out of the race to become Oregon's labor commissioner.

Walker's campaign consultant Michael Grossman said the contribution is further evidence of Brown's appetite for money from special interests. She has raised and spent more money than the other candidates, and has about $190,000 on hand, compared with $120,000 for Metsger and $26,000 for Walker.

"She desperately needs this kind of money; otherwise she's going to end up in a serious deficit situation," Grossman said.

Treasure Mackley, Brown's campaign manager, said they were honored by the endorsement. "These are teachers and educators that come from all across the state, it's a very democratic process."


Mail-in ballots invite election fraud

The move at the Statehouse to go to statewide paper balloting in this November’s election has fizzled. Instead, it appears that many Colorado voters will be using the electronic machines that for awhile were decertified by Secretary of State Mike Coffman in response to a lawsuit by a group of activists.

State lawmakers were ready up until last week to provide $11 million to help counties pay for election expenses associated with paper ballots, but that funding dried up last week when officials said they were giving up on the idea.

Driving this decision was the association of county clerks, most of whom did not want to bother with accommodating voters at polling places with paper ballots. That recalcitrance came even after Gov. Bill Ritter promised to spend the money required to support paper balloting.

So now it appears each county clerk will be able to conduct the election this year as he or she wishes, whether with electronic touch-screen voting machines or with paper ballots read by scanners. What should not be allowed, however, is all-mail balloting. [N.B. Oregon is the only state with 100% mail-in elections.]

That form of election is an invitation to fraud. We’ve seen a case of that right here in Southern Colorado where a Catholic nun “counseled” residents of a nursing home on how to vote.

Similar mischief is possible by overzealous employers or union bosses. Tight elections well could be skewed by such shenanigans.

The only balloting by mail that should be allowed is the absentee variety for members of the armed services who are posted away from their hometowns and for people who have business obligations out of town on Election Day.

If the political observers are correct that there is extraordinary interest in this year’s election, that interest should translate into voters’ willingness to get themselves to their precinct polling places to make their wishes count.


UAW-American Axle strikers harm GM workers

About 1,100 employees of General Motors Corp.’s Toledo Powertrain plant on Alexis Road will work today before being laid off again because of the ongoing strike by the United Auto Workers against American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc.

Powertrain plant employees had returned to work Tuesday to build four-speed transmissions for a truck plant in Shreveport, La., that had enough axles on hand to continue production. The local plant had been shut down for several days because of the American Axle dispute.

The new layoff is expected to last at least two weeks, UAW Local 14 President Ray Wood said yesterday.

Because of the increasingly bitter monthlong strike, GM said it will idle the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant after today, and a union local president in Lordstown, Ohio, said his complex will be shut down April 4. Twenty-eight other GM plants in the United States and Canada are fully or partially shut down.


Socialists report on UAW-AAM strike

UFCW makes strike preparations

Contract negotiations between the Safeway and Giant grocery chains and their local employees’ union will come to a head this weekend as the clock runs out and the union prepares a potential strike. With the contracts officially set to expire on Saturday, it’s unclear whether an agreement can be reached ahead of time. The United Food & Commercial Workers Union, which represents about 23,000 members in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore regions through Locals 400 and 27, is not optimistic.

“Unfortunately little progress has been made,” said UFCW Local 400 President C. James Lowthers, in a statement on the Local 400’s Web site. “The parties remain very far apart. ... Strike preparations are now in place.”

Negotiations, which began Feb. 13, are supposed to continue through Sunday, according to the union. Members will vote April 1 to either ratify a proposal if there is one, or authorize a strike. Safeway, which has about 100 stores in the metro area, has been running newspaper ads announcing temporary hiring in order to prepare for a possible strike. The chain has to make sure it has a “bare-bones staff,” according to someone familiar with the negotiations, who added that this was a typical action taken as the expiration date nears.

Over the last four months, Safeway reached agreements with other UFCW chapters representing a total of 36,500 Safeway employees in Canada and California. The California negotiations lasted until the day the contract expired. Ahold, which owns the roughly 120 Giant Food stores in the Washington metro area, was able to strike a deal earlier this month with UFCW chapters in New England representing 43,000 workers from Stop & Shop, another one of its subsidiary companies. But these previous deals may not be a positive indicator.

“Bargaining is always a tedious process. ... We’ve been a little bit surprised here that the companies haven’t been willing to move forward” on issues such as wages and health care, UFCW International spokeswoman Jill Cashen told The Examiner.

Harry Burton, who is representing Giant and Safeway in the negotiations, did not return repeated calls for comment.


School union negotiators ignore coaches

As the deadline for a teacher strike looms, coaches want an answer: Can they or can't they coach their respective teams? Just four days prior to the strike date of March 31 set by the Nashua (NH) Teachers Union, the topic of sports teams had not even been broached by the negotiating team. As of Wednesday night, coaches had no clue what they were supposed to do. It hadn't been discussed by them or by the negotiating team.

On Thursday, Nashua Teachers Union President Bob Sherman had yet to meet with the negotiating team to figure out the "sticky contract situation" for those who coach in the district."I'm putting things together to meet with the negotiating team today, and this will be discussed," Sherman said. "We will have an answer for them by tomorrow morning. They need to know what will happen with practices for next week."

By Wednesday night, only one coach contacted by phone was certain of his decision. Nashua High School North biology teacher and varsity baseball coach Will Henderson made his intention clear.

"If there is a strike, I will support the group and will not coach," he said. "Do I want the kids to be adversely affected? Of course not. I don't want them to be affected in the classroom or on the field, but I don't personally believe it would be right to strike and coach.

"I'm not speaking for anyone else, just myself. It's what I believe is the right thing for me to do."

Other high school coaches that teach in the district were not as certain. Nashua High School South varsity outdoor track coach Scott Knight, who teaches physical education at South, and varsity baseball coach BJ Neverett, a physical education teacher at Fairgrounds Middle School, are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Their main concern is they have had to wait this long for that answer.

"I have no idea what's going on right now," Knight said. "We just haven't discussed it, and I don't know why. This isn't something we should be wondering about just four or five days before the strike date. If they say we shouldn't (coach), we won't.

"I told my kids I hope to know something more concrete by Friday and I would let them know as soon as I do. Until then, they know as much as I do."

Neverett was even more non-committal. The 24-year teaching veteran is not only concerned about his students and players, but also his family.

With what he says is a different structure for coaching salaries compared to that of his teaching pay, he is up in the air about just walking away from coaching if the strike happens.

"I have not made any decisions," Neverett said.

"This is all about differences of opinion. Right now, I'm just really hoping that cooler heads prevail.

"I have to worry about my family," he added. "I can't be in a position to call their bluff."

Neverett is also concerned about are his players, especially those in their senior seasons. If the strike happens and teams are without coaches, he believes the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association would simply make those teams without a coach forfeit games instead of allowing them a chance to reschedule later in the season.

"I've invested 23 years as a coach at the high school," Neverett said. "We've never gone through anything like this before, but I know they will say the games will be played or forfeited."

NHIAA Executive Director Patrick Corbin, formerly a Nashua High School principal, couldn't be reached for comment Thursday. A call was made just before 4 p.m., and the office is open until 4:30 p.m., according to the NHIAA's Web site.

Coaches who aren't teachers have a different perspective.

Both Lindsay Maynard, the girls varsity lacrosse coach at South, and Mike Holloran, North's varsity softball coach, have jobs outside the district.

Maynard, a teacher in Amherst, offered up her support for what the Nashua teachers are going through but wouldn't elaborate on her plans if a strike takes place, other than saying that as a fellow teacher, she will "definitely give the teachers 100 percent of (her) support."

It's business as usual for Holloran, who, when contacted by another reporter to obtain his team's preview information, stated that he doesn't teach and expects to still be practicing on Monday – even if the teachers go on strike. He added that decision would ultimately depend on whether or not the players decide to stay away in support of the teachers.

That happens to be one of Neverett's questions. Why is it that those who teach might be looked at differently for doing what amounts to a side job? Just because he teaches in the system, should he be told not to coach?

"The only item under the master agreement is salary," Neverett said.

"Just because I teach, am I crossing the picket line to coach? What aside from my teaching in the district as my day job and then doing this as a separate job is any different from coaches who teach elsewhere or don't teach at all?"


AFSCME's attorney-organizers in hot water

The Legislative Audit Commission will consider today whether to review allegations of possible improper conduct within the Minnesota attorney general's office. The office, headed by Attorney General Lori Swanson, has been roiled by discontent for more than a year, with high turnover of lawyers amid complaints of low morale and an atmosphere of intimidation.

Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, a member of the audit commission, said Thursday that complaints that Swanson interfered with union organizing efforts and pressured subordinates into compromising situations prompted the panel to consider an inquiry.

Rest said the union grievances are better resolved by a court order or legislation, but that the ethical complaints might be eligible for evaluation by Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles.

"If someone is alleging there are things that are going on that are ... not ethical ... we'll have to see whether it's appropriate for the Legislative Auditor to act," Rest said. The panel will meet this morning.

Swanson spokesman Brian Bergson said he didn't know what Swanson's position was on an inquiry by the Audit Commission. Bergson said he had been unaware of the possible inquiry.

On Monday, Swanson wrote commission chairman Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, and said she was providing copies of letters about the office dispute that she has written to a state lawyer disciplinary panel, Nobles and others.

"Because there had been a suggestion that the auditor do something, I think she was anticipating that, so provided us with some background materials," Rest said.

The Monday letter, which also went to DFL and Republican legislative leaders, implied that subordinates who have criticized Swanson's administration failed to obey professional rules requiring attorneys to report suspected unethical conduct to the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility.

"The attorney organizers have not done so, but instead have made largely anonymous and conclusory allegations in the press and blogosphere," she wrote.

Assistant Attorney General Amy Lawler, who was active in union organizing, was put on paid leave after saying publicly that Swanson and her aides had pressured subordinates into compromising ethical situations.

Deputy Attorney General Karen Olson has defended the office's handling of cases Lawler mentioned and sought details supporting her complaints.

In response to complaints from union organizers, Swanson recently called the union efforts illegal and accused organizers of resorting to "shrill name-calling" because their efforts were failing.


Mashantucket Nation refuses to surrender

As promised, attorneys representing Foxwoods Resort Casino have appealed a judge's decision issued earlier this month recommending certification of a vote by dealers in favor of union representation. The appeal, in the form of a 33-page document, was filed with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington Tuesday afternoon.

Table-game and poker dealers voted 1,289 to 852 in favor of union representation by the United Autoworkers on Nov. 24, 2007.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns and operates Foxwoods, had filed several objections relating to the election, which questioned why ballots were not translated into traditional and simplified Chinese and also raised concerns about the conduct of union officials.

Administrative Law Judge Raymond Green discounted each of the objections filed by the tribe in his decision, which was issued on March 14.

While those objections are still prominent in this appeal, the tribe is again raising the issue of jurisdiction and whether the NLRB has jurisdiction over a sovereign nation. The tribe also disputes the applicability of the National Labor Relations Act.

In a footnote on the first page of the appeal, attorneys for the Mashantuckets state that the tribe “has participated in these proceedings only to challenge the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board over the (Mashantucket Pequot) Gaming Enterprise.”

The appeal also alleges that the NLRB did not conduct a fair election by not providing translated ballots, despite a request by the tribe.

The appeal states that the election should be overturned because union officials, or members of the employee organizing committee, were polling dealers about how they voted.

The attorneys argue in the brief that according to case law “keeping a list of employees who have voted ... has been found to interfere with an election and is grounds for setting aside the election when it can be shown or inferred from the circumstances that the employees knew that their names were being recorded.”

The attorneys argued that because the union presented no evidence to dispute the actions, the board “should draw an adverse inference against the union and accept the evidence as true.”

The UAW did not comment on the filing of the appeal.

If the labor board in Washington agrees with Green's decision, the election will be certified, and under the National Labor Relations Act, Foxwoods will have an obligation to bargain collectively with the union.

If Foxwoods fails to bargain, the UAW can file an unfair labor practices complaint with the regional NLRB.

The case would then go to a hearing with an administrative law judge, who would most likely send the case to NLRB headquarters, which would most likely issue an order to bargain.

Then at that point, the tribe could file a petition of the court of appeals.

When Green's decision was made public earlier this month, an attorney representing the tribe vowed to fight on, stating that the appeals process could very well lead the tribe into federal court.

It is a “lengthy path,” said Richard Hankins, an attorney representing the tribe. “But it appears to be the path that we're on.”


Iowa union: Worker-choice is a foreign idea

The state chamber of commerce endorsed a right-to-work ballot initiative Thursday, ratcheting up the rhetoric in a looming battle between business and labor in this fall's election. The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, known as CACI, says it's reacting to a half-dozen possible ballot initiatives backed by the state's labor unions. The proposed initiatives restrict employers' ability to fire workers and create new liabilities for corporate executives for criminal action.

The right-to-work initiative would outlaw arrangements requiring all employees to pay fees for union representation, whether they are members or not.

In a statement, CACI Board Chair-elect Peter O'Connor, the general counsel for AngloGold Ashanti North America, said the initiatives, combined with a "proliferation of union-backed bills" in this year's legislative session, have caused the state chamber to conclude "the political balance in the state is in danger of being tipped in favor of unions."

Relations between business and labor have been tense since early 2007, when a Democratic state legislature passed House Bill 1072, a measure making it easier to create an all-union workplace. Gov. Bill Ritter subsequently vetoed that bill, but surprised business later in the year when he issued an executive order expanding union powers for the state's workers.

The right-to-work ballot initiative emerged soon after. Both CACI and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce had been holding off endorsing it.

However, two members of CACI's board have been organizing the right-to-work initiative, spokesman Dan Pilcher said. And the Denver chamber hired an attorney to challenge the union proposals in the title-setting process.

Tamra Ward, the vice president for public affairs for the Denver chamber, said her group's board has not taken a stand on right-to-work and has not put it on its agenda.

Mike Cerbo, director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, said it is "pretty sad" the state chamber is "aligning themselves with out-of-state interests."

Union officials do not say their intitiatives are a retaliation for the right-to-work effort. Some business leaders believe the union measures will go away if backers drop right-to-work.

But, says CACI's Pilcher, "We have not been involved in any discussion or communication with organized labor about the business community dropping its support of right-to-work in exchange for dropping their business proposals. We're just not a part of that conversation."

Proposed initiatives

Right to work

* Who's behind it: Conservatives and business leaders, plus the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry.

* Where it stands: Moved to the petition phase; signatures are being collected and are due in April.

* Details: Would forbid workers from being forced to join unions as a condition of employment, even though federal law already prohibits such agreements. It would outlaw "union shop" agreements that require employees covered by collective bargaining contracts to pay fees for the union representation. Applies to new contracts and renewal of existing ones.

Just cause

* Who's behind it: Coalition of labor groups and individuals.

* Where it stands: Passed the state's title-setting board, subject to appeals.

* Details: Employees could be fired or suspended only if employer can prove incompetence, policy violations, willful misconduct, conviction of a crime involving "moral turpitude"or certain economic circumstances. One version would apply to larger businesses, large nonprofits, but not government.

Corporate fraud

* Who's behind it: The same groups behind the "just cause" initiative.

* Where it stands: Passed the state's title-setting board, subject to appeals.

* Details: Expands liability to executives and directors who fail to stop a crime. Private citizens could sue a business or its executives after a corporate fraud.


News Guild journalism against Right To Work

Whichever way the dispute gets resolved over proposed changes to the public-employee bargaining law, the uproar it's provoking proves one thing: There is a serious power imbalance between labor and management in Iowa. It's been skewed for so long in employers' favor that any effort to balance the scales has the state up in arms.

The bill, House File 2645, may have been rushed. It may need revisions. It probably should have had a public hearing. But those are details. The bigger issue is that Iowa employers (including public-sector ones) aren't used to sharing power. Decades of divided government, or Republican control, have ensured that.

Now that Democratic legislators voted to increase public employees' negotiating power, Republican lawmakers, the state school boards association, taxpayer groups and local governments are crying foul. Even the Democratic governor is threatening a veto.

We are warned that the bill, if signed into law, will "cripple" school districts' ability to improve student achievement, "handcuff" elected representatives and send taxes soaring. Those supporting it are threatened with losing re-election. Oh please.

The tone assumes some sinister motive by greedy unions wanting to sock taxpayers, rather than an earnest attempt to get workers better protections. It shows which side controls the discussion.

Think Iowa workers have it so great? Then consider:

Iowa teachers' salaries finally moved up to an estimated 38th in the nation for 2006-07 - still $20,000 below the average salaries for professions with similar skill levels, according to the Iowa State Education Association. Nurses in Iowa rank 49th in pay. Hardly a gravy train.

Iowa workers work more hours than all but one other state. Both parents are in the work force at a higher rate, and even teenagers here disproportionately hold jobs, according to Carla Oleson, a retired labor professor and attorney.

For nonunion private-sector workers, there are no legal restriction on working hours, and no guarantees of even a bathroom break when needed.

Without a "just cause" standard in the law, an administrator can fire a public employee without having established or followed a certain grievance procedure, says Oleson.

Iowa workers get a "double whammy," as University of Iowa labor historian Colin Gordon puts it - first because, as a right-to-work state, we have lower rates of unionization, and therefore lower wages, and then because of additional restrictions on what public-sector union workers can do.

Opponents of the labor bill say, as if it's a curse, that it would give Iowa public employees the broadest rights in the nation. If so, why not brag about that? Shouldn't we want to see the people we trust to educate our children and care for our sick treated right?

The fact that workers here don't have to join a union or pay dues has made it harder to organize unions. And unions do make a difference in wages. In 2006, the median wage for a union worker in Iowa was $17.11 an hour, while for a nonunion worker it was $13.01.

But in Iowa, says Oleson, the business community - real estate, banking, finance, large corporate interests - have narrowly defined the relationship between workers and owners so that, "If workers get more, we're going to get less." Consequently, Oleson says, collective bargaining laws in this state haven't been touched in 30 years, even as profits have soared.

The proposed expansion would simply allow public-sector workers to negotiate and call for arbitration on a wider range of issues. Why fear that? The actual number of cases going to arbitration is "infinitesimal," Oleson says.

Arbitrators are professionals; they're not subject to re-election pressures so they can afford to do the right thing without fear of voter retaliation. Not so for city council or school board members, lawmakers or the governor. They have interest groups to worry about. And "labor," a key Democratic constituency is too often a bad word here.


AFSCME a major political force

For the first time in nearly a half-century, non-city residents soon may be able to apply for city jobs. The policy change could take effect as soon as next month, following Philadelphia City Council's approval. That approval is widely expected after the bill's unanimous nod yesterday by the Committee on Labor and Civil Service.

The bill would exempt all but 766 of the city's 23,767 civil-service workers from a rule that requires city employees to have lived in the city for a year before they can be hired.

Under the proposal, all new employees would have to move into Philadelphia within six months.

"This will widen the pool of applicants for employment opportunities, enable us to go after the best and brightest on college campuses here and around the country, and also to maybe steal some good talent from other cities," Councilman James F. Kenney said yesterday.

The four-term at-large councilman began pushing for a relaxation of the residency rule more than 10 years ago. He was stymied for the last eight years by opposition from Mayor John F. Street.

Street saw the change as unfair to those who had demonstrated a commitment to the city by living here. He did not reply to an e-mail yesterday.

Since 1953, potential city workers have been barred from taking the civil-service exam unless they have been Philadelphia residents for at least one year.

Strongly backed by Mayor Nutter, Kenney's bill yesterday overcame resistance shown by some Council members last month, thanks to new compromise legislation.

That legislation was in the form of a separate bill also approved yesterday by the Council committee.

Proposed by Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., it would require that in the event of a tie on a civil service exam, the job in question would go to a Philadelphia resident over an out-of-town applicant.

That was enough to quell concerns of the city's blue-collar union and a major political force, AFSCME District Council 33, representing 13,000 city employees. The union's vice president, Bobby Davis, said Goode's bill led the group to drop its opposition to Kenney's legislation.

If approved by the full Council, Goode's proposal would appear on the November ballot; it must go to a citywide vote, since it would amend the City Charter.

Nutter's chief of staff, Clay Armbrister, said: "We're pleased with the two-prong compromise, since it will expand the pool of applicants, which is one of our goals."

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers told Council Wednesday that he was skeptical of the benefits of waiving the one-year residency rule to fill paramedic positions. Ayers said that the last time the department did so, a high percentage of nonresidents left for other jobs after completing training.

Even so, the administration said it was seeing results from last month's waiver of the one-year rule for police recruits.

Since the waiver took effect, 10,000 applications have been downloaded from the Police Department's Web site. Of that, the department received 1,800 applications - including 40 percent from outside Philadelphia.

"It's very encouraging," said Police Sgt. Ray Evers. "We're going to get Philadelphia qualified recruits."


AFSCME unprepared for K.C. dues hit

Get ready for higher downtown parking fees, fewer events at Kemper Arena, fewer bulky item pickups and the first substantial city government layoffs in decades. The Kansas City Council voted 12-1 Thursday on a budget that forces those changes as well as reductions to police, the zoo and other programs. Council members said the plan made difficult cuts while trying to avoid the most draconian proposals.

“We have reached a good compromise, listening to everybody’s concerns,” Councilwoman Jan Marcason said.

This has been one of the most difficult budgets in years because of the slowing economy and the chronic imbalance between the city’s costs and the revenues to meet its needs.

The overall budget, which takes effect May 1, is $1.3 billion. The council increased funding from initial proposals for items such as snow removal, fuel costs, health insurance and workers’ compensation. But it had to pare back other areas, sometimes severely.

In the end, the $442 million general fund, which covers the city’s basic operations, suffered net cuts of almost $13 million.

Budget officials said 245 positions will be frozen, at a savings of $9.8 million. The budget also cuts 187 positions to save about $7 million, which city officials said make layoffs “a virtual certainty.” Budget Officer Troy Schulte said he thought the number of actual employees affected would be fewer than 100, which would still be the largest layoff from the city government since the early 1980s.

City Manager Wayne Cauthen said he would do everything to minimize layoffs by shifting workers to other positions, including to departments not covered by the general fund. He said he would ask the council to approve severance packages and career counseling and hoped area governments and companies would hire some of the affected workers.

He said he wouldn’t know the specifics for probably two or three months.

Robert Patrick, president of Local 500 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said members of Kansas City’s largest municipal union are nervous because they haven’t been given any solid information. He worried about the effect on city services.

“We’re citizens too, and we don’t want to see the services go down,” he said. “How do we keep citizen satisfaction moving forward?”

Councilman John Sharp, the lone dissenter in the budget vote, said he too feared that cuts and resulting layoffs would adversely affect citizens.

“I can’t support it,” Sharp said. “I’m concerned about our ability to deliver services.”

Sharp was upset that the budget provides only $155,000 of the $425,000 needed to start a program to go after bad landlords and problem housing properties. He reminded his colleagues that they recently approved that program after years of urging by neighborhood leaders.

Sharp also said the Police Department was taking a nearly $5 million hit in required consolidations and cuts to hiring and overtime.

“It will directly affect the number of cops on the street,” Sharp said.

Police Chief Jim Corwin said it looked like he wouldn’t be able to hire any additional officers this year, and he’s concerned that the consolidations won’t yield the required amount of savings.

The city budget has generated considerable public discussion ever since Mayor Mark Funkhouser suggested earlier this month that the city should focus on priorities like streets and police and think about ending the $4.6 million subsidy for the zoo.

The budget approved Thursday backed away from that severe cut but did reduce the zoo’s subsidy by $600,000. The zoo had to share in the cuts, especially with some city employees losing their jobs, Councilwoman Deb Hermann said.

Zoo Director Randy Wisthoff had said Wednesday that he thought that might force the zoo to close the African forest section and ship out four gorillas there. On Thursday, he said he hopes to avoid that.

“The last thing I want to do is send any animals out of the zoo,” he said.

Wisthoff said the zoo would have to increase its gate fee and look at other ways to raise revenue and contain costs. He said conversations need to start with city officials to avoid future cuts that could jeopardize the zoo.

The budget also affects Kemper Arena, which will see its subsidy slashed, resulting in fewer events at the aging facility. And parking meter and city garage fees will go up by as much as 35 percent, which will raise an additional $850,000, city officials said.

Thursday’s council vote followed weeks of raucous debate involving council members and the public. The final compromise resulted when council members agreed on how much money to put into the city’s badly depleted “rainy day” reserve fund. The reserve fund should be bolstered from $20 million to about $32.7 million, or 7.4 percent of the general fund, close to the target of 8 percent.

Council members think that will go a long way toward satisfying concerns about the city’s creditworthiness, which affects the amount the city pays on its borrowing for major projects.

The budget debate also featured philosophical differences over how quickly city government needed to rectify the imbalance between revenues and expenses.

Funkhouser and other budget hawks on the council argued they should try to solve the problem this year, while others, including Cauthen, said the program cuts and work force reductions should be spread out over three years. Rainy day reserves would have been 6 percent the first year.

Council members said the final budget reached a middle ground.

Funkhouser, who watched numerous councils craft budgets during his 18 years as city auditor, said he was most impressed by how engaged the council and the public were in this year’s budget negotiations.

“People are talking reality now,” he said. “They’re taking finance seriously.”

But Schulte warned that the tough times aren’t over.

“The work is not done,” he said. “We’ve got a bigger problem in 2009-2010. We’ve got more cuts to make.”

Key budget cuts
• Staff, about $17 million. Would freeze 245 vacant positions and eliminate 187. Layoff numbers not yet known, but likely to be less than 100. Severance packages likely.

• Police, nearly $5 million. The department won’t be able to hire additional officers and will need to make other cuts, such as eliminating mounted police.

• The Kansas City Zoo, $600,000. Zoo officials said they probably would have to raise fees but would try not to get rid of animals. A zoo officials’ convention may pull out.

• Kemper Arena, $369,000. Would mean fewer events. AEG, which manages the Sprint Center, will continue to manage Kemper, but with reduced costs.

Several more cuts in KC’s new budget

• Landlord licensing, $275,000. Reduces funding for monitoring landlords and housing properties by two-thirds. Opponents of the cut say that hurts a fledgling program promised to neighborhoods last year.

• Boulevard maintenance, $600,000. Could lead to more weeds along the boulevards.

• Bulky item collection, $350,000. Would eliminate regular routes, and residents would have to make appointments to have items picked up.

• Municipal Corrections Institution, $300,000. Should not require layoffs, officials there said.

• Two youth initiatives, $200,000. Would end a college prep program that started just last year and a planned after-school program.

• Fleet maintenance, $1.5 million. Would slow fleet upgrades and equipment replacement.

• The mayor’s budget, $80,000. Each council member would see $10,000 cut from his or her budget for a total savings of $120,000.

• The International Office, $550,000. Would lose four positions.

• Travel budget and consultants, $300,000.


UFCW takes dues hit

After working at the Western Grocers warehouse for more than 20 years, Wayne Sansom decided he would spend the rest of his career at the Melville Street facility. But an announcement Wednesday by Loblaw Cos. Ltd., the company that owns and operates the warehouse, has put a serious dent in Sansom's long-term plans.

Now Sansom and more than 300 other Western Grocers staff will have to find new employment by the time the warehouse closes in 18 to 24 months. Sansom says he and his co-workers were caught off-guard by the news.

"There's a few people who are probably not so much disgruntled, but hurt," said Sansom, a forklift operator. "There's kind of a lack of motivation right now, which is understandable I suppose."

While there had been threats to shut down the distribution centre in the past, the announcement that the Saskatoon site would permanently close in favour of a new warehouse has a new tone, Sansom said. Most Western Grocers employees, he added, are still thinking about what the closure of the centre means, and for now the workplace atmosphere is unusually quiet.

"They've said things like that for years, but usually it's just been a negotiation scare tactic -- 'If we don't turn it around we're going to shut it down,' " Sansom said. "I don't think this is a scare tactic, this is pretty much set in stone."

According to the company, the closure of the Saskatoon distribution centre is part of Loblaw's overall business strategy. Elizabeth Margles, vice-president of communications, said the company -- which also operates the Superstore grocery chain -- has a multi-year plan to upgrade Loblaw's supply chain capabilities.

A new warehouse, to be operated by a third party, is set to be built somewhere in the province to replace the Saskatoon facility, she said. Margles could not be more specific on a location for the new distribution centre.

"Our business plan is to make the supply chain as efficient and effective as possible, and to do that we will be transitioning the Saskatoon DC (distribution centre) over the next 18 to 24 months and will open up a new one that will be managed by a third party," she said.

Severance packages, along with one-on-one discussions about the closure, will be offered to employees, said Margles.

"We have a very thorough plan in place to support them through this transition. That's the reason why this is happening over 18 to 24 months; this is not something that's happening imminently," she said. "We want to help them be prepared for it. We want to take care of them and help them the best we can."

Meanwhile, the president of the union that represents the warehouse employees, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1400, wonders why the company decided to close the warehouse so soon after the two groups completed a new collective agreement. Paul Meinema plans to ask Loblaw representatives when they decided to close the facility at a meeting between the union and the company on April 2.

"We're very upset with the way that this has come about because we just concluded a new collective agreement this past June. We believe the company must have known about it then, and we have several questions that we want to ask the company and obviously a lot of other issues that we need to discuss," Meinema said.

The union leader said he has heard from several upset employees since the Ontario-based company made the announcement this week. Meinema said he and the UFCW team will be looking into options, legal and otherwise, through the collective agreement and the labour code to help members.

Saskatoon isn't the only area to see Loblaw cut back on jobs, said Bob Gibson, a retail analyst with Octagon Capital Corp. in Toronto. The company has been streamlining its supply-chain model to compete with Wal-Mart, he said.

"They've been having a lot of problems with their supply chain," he said. "You've got to . . . cut costs wherever you can so you can remain competitive and keep their prices down because you're competing against Wal-Mart. That's what it is, it's rationalize the business -- and as that's happened, of course, there's problems that crop up because nothing ever runs as smoothly as you'd like it to."


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