Labor-state dominated by left-wing agenda

Trenton (NJ)’s legislating machine is running in over-drive. The radicals who are running the engine of big government have opened the throttle of central planning and are bent on ramming through their agenda, regardless of disturbing economic indicators, skyrocketing taxes and the evacuation of job producing taxpayers.

The Swedish-style Paid Family Leave scheme is being railroaded through the legislature, despite its destructive effect on the state’s small business community.

A costly Socialistic Universal Health Insurance plan that has already failed in Massachusetts is on the horizon. Union organizers are using the insidious Card Check bill to unionize anyone they can without a secret ballot, expanding the government workers union bosses' powerful influence even more.

We have seen the state government grow at astronomical rates for five years in a row and are feeling the effect of this growth in every municipality. As if all this is not enough, the jewel in the crown of the Corzine administration liberal agenda is One Hundred Thousand Low Income Housing units being forced down the throats of taxpayers.

During the 2005 Gubernatorial Primary I exposed this scheme, expecting my Republican opponents to help take on this threat and its destructive impact. I predicted this would be a major initiative of Jon Corzine should he become Governor.

My opponents chose to dodge this issue, afraid to challenge this taxpayer funded entitlement rip-off. Now Corzine will have his way, using COAH regulations to override local zoning ordinances and jam high-density, low income housing into every town in the state, especially targeting Republican towns. The scary part is that few politicians are stepping up to stop this wacko socialist scheme, but there are a few bright spots.

One of the heroes in the battle against the Central Planners is Middletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger for his courage in standing up to Trenton’s bureaucracy. His resolution passed by the Middletown Council calling for a moratorium of state mandated Low Income Housing being forced on local municipalities is refreshing and timely. The resolution was voted on along party lines with the mayor breaking the tie, demonstrating local Democrats commitment to Trenton’s big government agenda.

Middletown taxpayers, like all other taxpayers in this state, cannot afford to have local property taxes driven even higher so Trenton’s central planners can continue to manipulate the state’s housing market while simultaneously growing the state’s outrageous debt, which is how much of this government housing will be financed.

New Jersey’s financial situation is at a crisis point. The state’s economic strength is deteriorating, not because of anything out of our control but because of one single factor-- failed State Government policies.

Now this reckless and irresponsible Trenton ruling class wants to force their ridiculous social experiments on every community in the state. They think they can out think the housing market and in doing so will create an artificial over-supply of Low Income Housing. Where will the inhabitants of these units come from?

With New Jersey experiencing the outward migration of our upper income job producing taxpayers and polls revealing the majority of our young people do not believe they have a future here, the Central Planners are making New Jersey a magnet state for those looking for a taxpayer subsidized handout. They believe that those they categorize as “Low Income” have a mortgage on the success and income of others. This entitlement mentality is contrary to all the principles that have made America a great country. Taxpayers simply cannot afford this train wreck.

Most politicians would prefer to avoid tackling this issue, like my primary opponents did. It seems to have become “politically incorrect” to oppose all these new entitlement programs. Mayor Scharfenberger has set a standard for defending the free market and spirit of individual responsibility for the rest of our state’s mayors and political “leaders” to emulate. In America, everyone has the right to the opportunity to prosper under equal protection of the law and equal opportunity. They do not have the right to equal things. Mayor Scharfenberger and the Middletown Council Majority should be commended for their courage in standing up for what is right.

- Steve Lonegan was Mayor of Bogota, NJ, and is Executive Director of Americans for Prosperity - New Jersey. Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP Foundation) are committed to educating citizens about economic policy and mobilizing those citizens as advocates in the public policy process. He is a prolific writer, having been published in newspapers and blogs. He just published a book, Putting Taxpayers First: A Blueprint for Victory in the Garden State, that discusses the impact of the Trenton government on the well being of the taxpayers of the state. He offers solid and workable solutions. Learn more at lonegan.com.


Newspaper ad explains union-only thuggery

It is a topic that can arouse intense public opinion fast: How taxpayers’ dollars are spent. And that debate is at the heart of an argument and ad campaign by the Central Ohio Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. The organization contends the bidding process for the South Point School District’s new elementary buildings excludes non-union workers; a claim one local union official says is simply not true.

On March 11 the school district opened bids for the projects to replace the South Point and Burlington elementary buildings. Nineteen companies submitted bid packages for a variety of jobs at both sites. Five of the nine lowest bids came in over the advertised bid package estimate.

This followed the school board’s rejection in January of all bids that had been submitted during a previous bidding process.

At that time the board passed a resolution tossing those bids and initiating a new bidding process.

“Basically, they wanted to adopt a model responsible bidders criteria,” Bill Palonis of Bovis Lend Lease, the Columbus-based project manager for the building projects. “It states items each contract has to meet — an 18-point criteria. The bids actually came in on price. They were rejected because they wanted to adopt the criteria.”

However, it is the contention of Associated Builders that adopting all 18 points translates into the exclusion of all non-union labor in the construction industry.

“Some of the schools just adopt 15 or 16 of them. When you include all 18, it includes a union-only project labor agreement,” said Mary R. Tebeau, president of the Central Ohio Chapter of Associated Builders.

The 18th point of the model states: “The Bidder shall certify that it and its subcontractors or any other contractor performing work on the project covered under the contract of the Bidder, shall comply with the requirements of a project labor agreement adopted for use on the project.”

Tebeau says construction firms represented by Associated Builders spent time and money bidding at the end of 2007, only to have those bids tossed out because of the adoption of the 18-point model.

According to Tebeau, South Point’s project labor agreement stipulates that labor be union only. That has prevented those firms from re-bidding the South Point jobs.

However, Steve Burton of the Tri-State Building and Trades Council disputes that the PLA is exclusively union.

“There is nothing in the PLA that keeps anyone from bidding the project or being awarded the project as long as they work by the terms and conditions of what the South Point school board determined to be needed,” Burton said. “The terms and conditions of the PLA are perfectly legal and no one is denied the right to bid or be awarded the project.”

Burton said the PLA for the South Point project is identical to the one used on the Ironton schools’ replacement project.

That agreement states that while non-union and union workers may be hired “all employees hired by the employer, as a condition of employment, become and remain members in good standing in the union on the eighth day of employment.”

Burton says this doesn’t exclude anyone and that companies can leave the union as soon as the job is completed.

Associated Builders, an organization that dates back to the 1950s that represents what they call “merit shop construction companies,” sees it a little differently.

“They choose not to be a signatory to a construction union,” Tebeau said. “Everything is based on merit. It is based on the merit of the bid. If they give raises to the employees, it is based on merit, not tenure. When a union tries to shut out the merit shop contractors from bidding on projects, that is when we get involved and try to educate those making the decision.”

The Associated Builders’ ad in the newspaper states, “80 percent of the local construction workforce won’t be able to work on this project because they don’t belong to a union.”

The ad then requests taxpayers contact the South Point school board “to tell them that the excessive building costs of this union-only project labor agreements aren’t fair.”

Burton contends that the local school boards opted to implement the PLA as a way to ensure quality construction projects that come in on time and under budget.

“The South Point and Ironton school board’s chose to use the terms and conditions of the project labor agreement to best spend local and state taxpayer money,” Burton said. “(Those boards) will be held accountable by the voters of those communities not by the Associated Builders and Contractors chapter of Columbus.”

“If this group was so concerned, where were they when the bond was being prepared and voters were going to the polls,” Burton asked. “Is it for their own selfish greed? Where were they when the schools needed to be replaced?”

Despite the Builders’ claims otherwise, Burton says the construction project actually came in more than $35,000 lower after the PLA was implemented.

Ken Cook, South Point schools superintendent, said the district has bid the project three times because those bids came in over budget.

“We entered into a PLA just like Ironton did on building their building. As long as they follow the PLA. They have to follow that project labor agreement. We are partners with the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission,” Cook said. “It is approved by the OSFC. Again, we work in conjunction with all the guidelines they established.”

Cook said it was his understanding that 80 percent of the labor on the replacements projects has to come from the Ashland, Ky.-based Tri-State Building and Construction Trades.


Unions re-inject partisanship into politics

At the UAW Local 95 Hall, yard signs for Janesville (WI) council candidate Kevin Bishop are stacked in the foyer. A sign for candidate Yuri Rashkin is anchored in the grass outside. Before the February primary, many Janesville residents were surprised to pick up the phone and hear an automated call from Rep. Mike Sheridan, a Democrat, endorsing Bishop. Sheridan also is the president of Local 95. Bishop is a former chair of the Democratic Party of Rock County.

By state statute, local offices such as city council and school board are non-partisan. Members of both parties, however, say they have distributed literature and worked the phones for candidates, although those activities were not sponsored by the parties.

Local observers say partisanship is increasing in non-partisan local elections and is especially evident this year.

Democrats point to the non-partisan county board, which voted in 2006 to eliminate the elected coroner’s position beginning in 2011. Even though county supervisors don’t run for office on a party ticket, Democrats say Republicans on the county board maneuvered to eliminate the elected position, which is occupied by a Democrat.

“If the board changes, (we have) great interest to revisit that,” said Tim Rutter, chair for the Democratic party of Rock County. He also is a trustee with Local 95.

Rutter encourages Democrats to run for local office and wrote in a recent party newsletter that the Democrats were looking for a “few good men and women for the Rock County Board of Supervisors, city council and school board.”

But partisanship at the local level doesn’t sit well with Ed James, a Janesville resident who recently wrote a letter to the editor decrying the trend.

Political parties can put more resources behind a candidate than an ordinary resident has available, he said.

But it is ordinary residents who have run Janesville so well in the past, he added.

James said local issues are not Democratic or Republican but citywide and should be addressed as such.

James believes city council candidate Kevin Bishop illustrates the increased political influence in local elections. He pointed to the many Democratic endorsements Bishop received even though Bishop has lived in Janesville less than two years. Bishop came in third of 11 candidates in the primary.

James said newspapers should note the affiliations of the people who write letters of endorsement so voters have the information they need to make qualified decisions.

When called by The Janesville Gazette to comment, Bishop instead wrote about his motivations in a letter to the editor that ran Saturday.

“I moved to Janesville in July 2006, fell in love with the city and chose last winter to try and make an impact by running for city council,” he wrote.

“The local Democratic Party has not endorsed me, rightly; this election is non-partisan.”

But he and his supporters share common values, he said.

“Some are Democrats; the rest, I have no idea.

“I’m a working guy. I go to work and get my hands dirty. It seems natural that other working people share some of my perspectives. I’m proud of my labor supporters, as I’m proud of my supporters who are lawyers, social workers, teachers, retirees, lawmakers, disabled people.

“No endorsement buys me a single vote. My hope is that an endorsement earns us a hard look ... ”

Dan Cunningham, vice president of government relations at Forward Janesville, a pro-business development group, said he has noticed labor’s activities in support of candidates.

“Whether those candidates are Democrat or Republican, I do not know,” he said.

Business interests can’t always be labeled Republic or Democratic, he added.

He hopes political affiliations won’t become part of a council’s or board’s makeup.

“We need to continue to elect candidates who clearly have the best interest of our communities at heart, not the interests of a political party,” he said.

That said, Cunningham said Forward Janesville is looking at how the labor community has been able to recruit people such as Mike Sheridan to take the next step in public service by getting elected to the Legislature. It is a model Forward Janesville might follow in finding business-friendly candidates, he said.

Jan Deters, chairwoman of the Republican Party of Rock County, said her party has “basically stayed out” of local races.

Individual party members help other Republicans by working phone banks, making donations from their own accounts or going door-to-door.

“We feel they are non-partisan positions and the Republicans should not be out there endorsing people,” Deters said.

“These people are running as managers for these positions, they’re not running as lawmakers.”

Rather than relying on the political parties, people should make their voting decisions at the local level by using the candidate’s credentials, she said.

Deters believes Democrats are getting more involved at the local level because “it’s a power thing.”

“They just want to have total control.”

But Rutter of the Democrats said awareness is increasing about the importance of getting more members involved in the political process.

He views local offices as a training ground for future party leaders.

But some of the views expressed on the opinion pages of the newspaper make it sound as if the “Democratic machine is rolling over the competition,” he said.

Rutter has knocked on doors for candidates, but he said he does that as a Democrat helping a Democrat.

Although the Democratic Party and labor are intertwined, Rutter distinguishes between the Democratic Party and the Rock County Labor Coalition, which is made up of numerous unions.

Not all union members are Democrats, he said.

But “obviously, the foundation of the Democratic party is the working men and women.”

In making endorsements, the labor coalition decides which candidates are friends of working people in Rock County, he said. Members then work to get that candidate elected by dropping literature or putting up signs, for instance.

“I don’t believe somebody cares whether you are a Democrat or a Republican when it comes to potholes in the street,” Rutter said.

But Rutter also believes some in the business community “aren’t interested in seeing labor or working men and women having a voice on the city council … Why should working men and women not have a voice?”

Labor unions have been losing membership and clout on a national level, and members feel politicians are losing interest in them, Rutter said.

“There’s been a growing interest in saying, ‘Our voice is not being heard’” he said.

“We really need to make a stand.”


Gov. organizes for public-worker unions

Colorado state troopers on Friday became the first group to officially register themselves as a union under Gov. Bill Ritter's executive order that allows government employees to organize. The group registered with the Colorado Department of Labor after 75 percent of troopers voted to organize this month, according to labor department spokeswoman Cher Roybal Haavind.

She said out of 709 ballots sent out to the troopers, 431 were returned - easily surpassing the 30 percent participation required to organize.

The troopers will now be represented under the Association of Colorado State Patrol Professionals and can take a list of requests straight to the governor's designee that handles the negotiations.

However, the organized group differs from a union in that there is no binding arbitration agreements or right to strike.

Lonnie Westphal, the group's executive director, said one of the top issues that will be taken to the governor's designee is salaries - specifically the raises troopers get after being on the job for six or seven years.

He said currently troopers make a good starting salary but by the time they can train new recruits, the experienced troopers are only "making a few dollars more a month than the recruit they're training."

According to the trooper Web site, the salary structure ranges from $4,051 a month to $5,755 a month.

The executive order Ritter issued in November provided a forum for state employees to raise such concerns. His spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said both sides are feeling their way through the new process.

"The intent is to bring people to the table to discuss issues of mutual concern and reach common ground and to move forward and to serve the people more effectively," Dreyer said. "The intent was never to create a traditional binding arbitration type of system."

Westphal agreed and said Ritter's executive order is filled with caveats.

Westphal also said state troopers have a no-strike clause - something that has been in place since 1935. Ritter's executive order prohibits the organized state employees from striking.

Westphal said he sees a real opportunity for troopers to have direct input into the salary and benefits they'd like to see included in their employment package. He said one of their chief concerns is health care benefits - especially in rural areas where access to health care is not as good and more expensive.

But Westphal said there are limits on what troopers can get the state to do.

"There is no way of forcing them to agree to our list of priorities," he said.


Right to Work state suffers nurses union break-in

In a dramatic breakthrough for the aspirations of Texas registered nurses to have a stronger voice to speak out for patients and themselves, a northwest Houston hospital Friday night became the first hospital in Texas to win union collective bargaining rights.

RNs at Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital voted 119 to 111 to affiliate with NNOC Texas -- Texas affiliate of the National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses Association, the largest and fastest growing organization of RNs in the nation.

The election was supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. NNOC Texas will represent nearly 300 RNs at the hospital.

"Finally our voice will be heard," said Josie Jupio, RN. "This victory of the nurses' unity will bring a change for the better, impacting patient care, improving the benefits and assuring an open door policy that is fair to all."

"This is indeed a victory for all patients, and all the staff providing care for them," said Jeanette Thornhill, RN.

NNOC/CNA Executive Director Rose Ann DeMoro said the "stunning victory changes the face of healthcare in Texas, and will send shockwaves across the country, especially in states where no or only a few RNs are represented."

"It sends a clarion message to those RNs, a hope that they too can overcome the odds and band together to improve the quality of care at the bedside and change forever the standards for themselves and their colleagues," DeMoro said.

Part of that message is the impressive momentous growth of NNOC/CNA. In the past decade, CNA/NNOC has grown by more than 375 percent. Since 2001, CNA/NNOC has gained more than 30,000 new members, including 6,200 in the past 100 days. Nationally NNOC/CNA has 80,000 members in all 50 states, and represents RNs in union hospitals in California, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and now Texas.

While Cypress Fairbanks, part of the Tenet Healthcare system, is the first hospital where the RNs will be covered by a union contract, NNOC Texas has spread its roots far and wide in Texas with members and hospital committees from El Paso to Dallas to Austin to Brownsville to San Antonio.

"Texas RNs have shown courage and determination to fight for their rights and their patients," said David Johnson, Director of Organizing of NNOC/CNA. "Their commitment helped lay the groundwork for tonight's breakthrough victory for safe patient care and RN power in Texas, and for many more such victories to come."

"The intensity to which the nurses were involved on this historic achievement demonstrates that Texas will never be the same," DeMoro said. "There is something about these nurses that should give hope to patients in Texas and nurses across the nation. We plan on working quickly with Tenet Healthcare, as we have in the past to achieve an agreement that works best for the patients of Texas."

"Union means unity for the good of all, especially our patients who are the cause we are here for," said Cypress Fairbanks RN Purita Reyes.

Chris Williams, RN, noted the proximity of the election date with the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Williams called the civil rights movement and the union movement the nation's "two most progressive movements. We nurses at CyFair will try to expand upon (Dr. King's) vision with respect to patient care in Texas."

Statewide, Texas/NNOC has more than 2,000 activists who have also been busy campaigning to pass legislation to establish minimum RN-to-patient staffing ratios, based on a California law where the ratios have improved care and helped reduce the nursing shortage, and establish legal protections for RNs' ability to advocate for patients.

NNOC Texas has held major rallies for the bill on the steps of the Capitol in Austin and outside the Alamo in San Antonio, and hosted workshops across the state.

In Houston, NNOC Texas has been a presence since 2005 when hundreds of NNOC/CNA members arrived from around the country to provide disaster relief in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Following Katrina, NNOC/CNA members formed the largest support group of RNs in the Harris County relief operation at the Astrodome.

"The Cypress Fairbanks story was written in the Astrodome, on the steps of the Capitol, in education workshops, in gatherings of nurses at their homes and in hospital break rooms, in nurses throughout Texas meeting each other and understanding how collectively they could transform the state and themselves," DeMoro said.

"Cypress Fairbanks is all of that and more," she said. "Texas RNs have crossed a historic bridge, and will never look back."


Bitter Big Ent union divorce threatens labor peace

Unions representing film and television actors will negotiate separately with producers in upcoming contract talks after board members of the TV actors union voted Saturday to sever a long-standing agreement between the two guilds. The vote by the board of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists came hours before a meeting with the Screen Actors Guild and just three months before the expiration of the contract covering movies and prime-time shows.

Despite a sometimes rocky 27-year relationship the unions had shown recent signs of peace as they prepared for the upcoming talks.

But instead of discussing strategies the sides swapped accusations Saturday afternoon.

"For the past year SAG leadership in Hollywood has engaged in a relentless campaign of disinformation and disparagement," AFTRA president Roberta Reardon said in a written statement.

SAG President Alan Rosenberg's written response: "AFTRA's refusal now to bargain together with us and their last-second abandonment of the joint process is calculated, cynical and may serve the interests of their institution, but not its members."

The AFTRA board said the vote to terminate the agreement, known as "Phase One," was "overwhelming."

Wary of repeating the damage wrought by the recently ended 100-day Hollywood writers strike, producers and several A-list actors including Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro had been pressing for negotiations to start as early as this week.


Soap-opera union raid termed 'solidarity'

Just as the Screen Actors Guild and its smaller sister union American Federation of Television and Radio Artists are jointly preparing to face off against the studios in upcoming contract negotiations, the two actors groups are embroiled in a behind-the-scenes soap opera -- over a soap opera.

The latest episode in the long-standing turf wars between SAG and AFTRA erupted among the cast of the classic CBS daytime drama "The Bold and the Beautiful."

For more than 50 years, AFTRA has negotiated contracts for daytime soaps. But AFTRA accuses the leadership of SAG of encroaching on its territory in an attempt to gain jurisdiction of the show. They view it as an effort by SAG to increase its power.

"This is an ongoing campaign by the Screen Actors Guild since last year to discredit AFTRA," said Roberta Reardon, president of AFTRA. "It's very clear they've tried to take this union apart."

Doug Allen, national executive director of SAG, rejects AFTRA's claims and says his union has no designs on organizing daytime dramas. "We're not raiding AFTRA, and the suggestion we are is inaccurate," he said.

The flare-up around "Bold and Beautiful" comes at a delicate time for both unions. Today, the joint board of AFTRA and SAG is meeting to approve the bargaining proposals that will be presented to the studios in their upcoming negotiations. The unions are expected to seek, among other things, higher pay for their members in the area of new media. If all goes well, the unions are likely to begin talks with the studios by mid-April.

But SAG and AFTRA, which historically have had an uneasy alliance, have been feuding for the last year over the terms of their 27-year joint bargaining pact and other issues.

SAG has been looking to change the terms of the partnership. The bigger union, which has 120,000 members compared with AFTRA'S 70,000, objects to equal voting rights in the agreement even though SAG actors account for most of the earnings.

The Hatfields and McCoys-like sniping got so out of hand that John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, met with leaders of both guilds and urged them to resolve their differences before starting negotiations with the studios. The AFL-CIO, to which both SAG and AFTRA belong, bars unions from raiding each other.

The latest skirmish is now occurring on the set of "The Bold and the Beautiful," the second-highest-rated daytime drama. AFTRA officials are furious that Allen and SAG President Alan Rosenberg held a private meeting with two actors from the show at which the cast members complained bitterly about AFTRA representation.

After the actors aired their grievances, Allen said, he advised them "to go to AFTRA and have those conversations with them."

AFTRA officials were upset at SAG for not telling them about the meeting until two weeks after the fact, according to Reardon.

Allen dismissed the concern, saying "I don't know why SAG is being held accountable for complaints by AFTRA members about AFTRA."

The early March meeting was requested by the "Bold" actors, including Susan Flannery, who plays the matriarch of the fashion dynasty at the center of the show. Flannery, a regular on "Bold" since its inception in 1987, is leading an effort to decertify AFTRA as the union representing the actors on the series by circulating a petition, AFTRA officials said.

The petition would have to be submitted to the National Labor Relations Board, which would hold a secret ballot if it were signed by at least 30% of the employees.

Flannery and other cast members believe they would earn better pay and benefits under SAG. Flannery, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment.

That doesn't sit well with some high-profile AFTRA members, who say the show would be weakened if it came under another union's jurisdiction.

"If they raided this show and other shows it would be a disaster," said veteran soap star Don Hastings, who plays Dr. Bob Hughes on "As the World Turns." He said SAG has no experience negotiating daytime contracts, which would put the show in jeopardy at a time when audiences for soaps are declining and the networks are cutting budgets.

Both Reardon and Allen say they agree on one thing: Their unions need to be well prepared to jointly negotiate a new contract with the studios. But Reardon says SAG's actions do not always suggest unanimity. "How can we be expected to sit side-by-side in a joint negotiation with a union that is actively raiding us?"

Allen says AFTRA's concerns are unfounded. The two unions, he said, just completed two days of "productive and successful" meetings to finalize their joint proposals.

"It was an example of union solidarity."


UFCW on strike

Pickets remain on the line today at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort as a strike by some 200 cashiers, money counters and video lottery technicians entered its second day. Members of the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 23 walked off the job at 12:01 a.m. Saturday after last-minute contract talks broke down over health care issues.

Meanwhile the president and chief executive officer of Mountaineer encouraged the striking employees to return to work while negotiators bargain a new agreement.

“The employees have the union negotiators and we have trained and professional negotiators. I say let’s get them behind closed doors and keep them there until they reach a fair contract,” Ted Arneault said during a Saturday evening telephone interview.

Mountaineer spokeswoman Tamara Pettit said the walkout at 12:01 a.m. Saturday “was very peaceful and very orderly.”

“We had managers and supervisors who had performed these jobs in the past ready to take over the vacant positions. And we had a number of salary employees who volunteered to help us and were licensed by the state lottery commission and are helping to maintain normal operations. We are fully staffed and operating without any problems,” said Arneault.

Arneault said Saturday said the strike “was not having any effect on our operations. The pickets are at the entrance but they are not impeding anyone from entering Mountaineer and our customers are still coming in. We actually have a pretty good crowd in here tonight and the supervisors and managers are handling everything very well.”

Tony Helfer, secretary-treasurer of Local 23 said he has been told “a number of people who are union members elsewhere have stopped at the picket lines and refused to enter the premises. They have offered their support and help to our union members who are on the picket line.”

“There has also been people driving by and honking their horns to show their support for our union members,” Helfer said.

“I will be on the picket line today, talking to our union members, updating them and getting a sense from them on their feelings,” he said.

Both sides said they are ready to return to the bargaining table when a federal mediator calls for the resumption of contract talks.

But Helfer said the one stipulation the union has made plain is a need for movement by the company on health care.

“Our union members are paying for 37.7 percent of their health care coverage. The management employees at Mountaineer, who make a much higher salary, only pay 18 percent of their health care. We do not believe we should have to pay more for our health care than the management staff,” Helfer said.

Pettit said the Mountaineer negotiators did offer a two-year cap on the employee health care plan.

“Tremendous movement was made during the Friday negotiations and an offer was made on a two year health care plan. We want to get this issue resolved for all of our employees as soon as possible,’’ Pettit said.

Arneault said, “Our negotiators are standing by for the next 48 hours, ready and willing to return to the contract talks as soon as we receive a telephone call. But unfortunately, this is in the hands of the federal mediator and we have to wait for him to call everyone back to the negotiations. But we are ready to start talking again as soon as possible.

“We offered a proposal to freeze health care increase for a two year period. Right now Mountaineer pays for 70 percent of the employees health care benefits. The proposed freeze would save the employees money because the health care costs are expected to increase in the future.

“All businesses are being affected by the cost of health care these days. Our goal is to look at the long range future to insure we will have jobs here at Mountaineer as we move forward,” Arneault said.

It was down to the wire Friday for union workers and their employer, Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort as negotiators met under the guidance of a federal mediator in an attempt to avert a strike deadline set for early Saturday.

Kevin Kilroy, director of public affairs for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23 in Canonsburg has said union members voted earlier in the week by ‘‘a nine-to-one margin to reject the company’s final offer, cancel the contract extension and authorize a strike effective March 29 at 12:01 a.m.”

A Mountaineer news release said the UFCW represents 9 percent of the total number of employees at Mountaineer.

Kilroy said the UFCW organized the video lottery employees and negotiated an initial labor agreement three years ago.

“This is the first strike we have had at Mountaineer since we organized the employees there,” Kilroy said.


Teamsters prep Denver for Dem convention

The Teamsters union is planning to lobby the Denver City Council in an effort to bring collective bargaining to all city employees. The plan follows a union victory this year when labor leaders persuaded the council to give city workers raises larger than what Mayor John Hickenlooper thought was fiscally prudent.

That clash ended up with the council overriding a mayoral veto — one of the rare defeats for Hickenlooper's administration.

It also was a fight that opened up significant divisions on the council and between the business community and labor.

The latest push is another example of how the prospect of the Democratic National Convention bringing thousands of union-friendly Democrats to Denver has emboldened local organizers.

This time around, labor has its eyes on a bigger prize.

Officials hope to gain collective bargaining, including binding arbitration, for the nearly 7,500 workers who don't have that right. Currently, collective bargaining is only extended to about 3,500 workers in the police, fire and sheriff's departments.

Under collective bargaining, unions would negotiate raises for workers, rather than having the city's Career Service Authority recommend raises after reviewing salary surveys. Disputes would be resolved by a neutral arbitrator, with both sides agreeing to accept the arbitrator's decision.

"I think the city employees are fed up with the current pay system, and they are ready for a change," said Ed Bagwell, the director of the public services division for Teamsters Local 17, and a leader of the push.

Bagwell said the Teamsters will conduct a petition drive of the city workforce April 14. The hope is to show the number of workers who would support expanding collective bargaining.

He said he will start briefing council members on the push this week and seeking their support for an ordinance change.

Bagwell said the Teamsters believe they can achieve collective bargaining by obtaining City Council approval and then getting it signed into law. He said he doesn't believe the change would have to go to the public in a referendum.

Bagwell said that when the Hickenlooper administration persuaded city voters in 2003 to approve charter revisions that paved the way for a bonus pay program, those revisions also gave the council more say in how city workers are paid.

"We believe under the charter, the City Council may, by ordinance, now obtain alternative ways for pay and benefits, and our interpretation is that collective bargaining is an alternative way to obtain pay and benefits," Bagwell said.

Symbolic moves

In the wake of the 2003 voter referendum, a restive city workforce turned to the Teamsters, Bagwell said. Since that time, more than 700 city employees have asked to join the union, he said. Those moves are largely symbolic because the union can't negotiate salaries on their behalf.

Karla Pierce, the assistant director of the litigation section of the city attorney's office, who oversees the city's employment lawyers, had a different view of the process required to get collective bargaining for city workers.

She said the city charter specifically allows collective bargaining only for police officers, firefighters and sheriff's deputies. Expanding it to other city workers would require a public referendum, she said.

Her sentiments were shared by Cole Finegan, Hickenlooper's former chief of staff and former city attorney.

"When I was city attorney, Mr. Bagwell and I had several conversations on this subject, and each time I advised him that he would need to go to the vote of the people," he said.

Teamsters Local 17 also represents United Parcel Service and freight companies and has a membership of 3,200.

Bagwell said the Teamsters are confident of their chances before the City Council, which added two members with close ties to labor in the last election.

Councilman Paul Lopez is a former labor organizer with the Service Employees International Union. Councilman Chris Nevitt founded a labor- backed think tank.

"Almost all of the City Council are supportive of employee rights and have demonstrated that through their actions, almost to a person," Bagwell said.

He acknowledged that the political base for Hickenlooper, a former restaurateur and business owner, doesn't come from labor and that persuading the mayor to sign the legislation into law would take some doing. The mayor didn't receive significant support from the city's labor unions when he first won office in 2003.

"Hickenlooper never needed the support of labor," Bagwell said. "But if he wants to work with us, he has our number."

"This is our day in the sun"

Still, Bagwell believes the time is ripe for labor. He said the Democratic National Convention coming to town gives labor more leverage.

"This is our day in the sun," Bagwell said. "What happens is the message becomes a little bit louder because of the fact Denver will be the Democratic center of the world in the next four months."

This past year, Gov. Bill Ritter issued an executive order that grants about 32,000 state workers the right to form bargaining groups. The governor has said such groups will allow the state to better partner with its workers to solve problems, but critics contended the move could create a renewed push for collective bargaining for public employees who don't have it.

Bagwell said that James Hoffa, who leads the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, has been briefed on the local plans and supports them.

He added that informal conversations with council members have been ongoing over the past year, but the push will become more specific and detailed in this coming week.

"We'll turn up the heat," Bagwell said. "We're going to see who is a supporter of the rights of working people and who is not.

"The last time I looked, John Hickenlooper is a Democrat," he said. "So, does he support the right for working men and women to have a labor agreement or not?"


Organized labor militants see red

The Taft-Hartley mandatory Labor Board election is a steel trap. It extinguishes the Constitutional right of free association for most workers most of the time. It has effectively ended self-organization and the formation of new unions. Tinkering with Board election procedures in an effort to revive the labor movement is exactly the wrong course to take. It ignores our own history. It will not succeed in organizing the millions that want to collectively bargain. If pursued, it will land us in a world of employer-sanctioned company unionism.

Every successful social movement -- civil rights, abolition, women's suffrage, and labor -- believed and acted like a genuine rights movement. Each set forth its most fundamental principles and refused to trim them to wheel and deal some temporary advantage. Each acted in accordance with the rights it claimed regardless of the penalties imposed by the dominant power. And each successful movement relied primarily on the activity of its rank and file members. Gompers campaigned for three decades against involuntary servitude that can only be remedied by the rights to organize and strike. Lewis stubbornly insisted that workers denied full freedom of association had no choice but to strike, mass picket, and sit down. Each great breakthrough was powered by acts of countless committed people. As a matter of history, the period leading up to every major workers rights statute was a time of unions' institutional weakness but bold worker protest.

But we appear to be heading in the opposite direction. Two recent developments -- one in Ohio and the other of national import -- should put us on our alert. In late February, Catholic Healthcare Partners (CHP) filed petitions for Board elections to be held in all bargaining units at nine of its Ohio hospitals. Taft Hartley provides for employer petitions (RM petition rather than the union-initiated RC petition) when a union claims majority status but does not file its own election petition.

The employer-initiated RM does not require any proof of union membership or election interest. Although some 8,000 healthcare workers were affected by the RM petition, none were involved in calling for the elections. However, accompanying the employer's petitions was a consent agreement drawn up by CHP and a union -- the SEIU. All the elections, it was agreed, will be held within a few weeks, on two selected days, March 12 and 14, a Wednesday and a Friday. The company and union would jointly mail out an election packet and provide a hot line phone number. No campaigning or discussion would be allowed. The Board, in a remarkable display of speed, accepted the consent agreement, closed the ballot, and found enough Board agents to run some 40 to 50 separate elections, all in the matter of a few days.

While this may seem a clever way for CHP to use the RM petition to pre-select a union to its liking and for the SEIU to pad its dues rolls, it is nothing new. The employer petition was used for a similar purpose, but for much higher stakes, some 60 years ago right after the passage of the Taft Hartley amendments. As a necessary element in the campaign to destroy the United Electrical Workers (UE), General Electric and Westinghouse in 1949, using their new employer Taft Hartley 'rights,' petitioned the Board to hold elections in their plants The rest of the industry followed their lead and soon some 1,300 plants coast to coast withdrew recognition from UE, cancelled the existing UE contracts, and petitioned for Board elections. The Taft Hartley Board was quick to comply. No proof of membership in a rival union or lack of membership in UE or interest in having an election was offered or required.

Some years later the secret deal between the electrical corporations and the government spilled out into the public. In 1952 Senate testimony, GE's top attorney said: "We took Mr. Carey [first president of the IUE-CIO formed as the conservative rival to the UE] off the hook by filing our own petitions for an NLRB election. This, under the NLRB rules, made it unnecessary for the IUE-CIO to show any membership at all."

In Ohio in 2008, it did not take as long for the industry to indicate their support for the CHP-SEIU employer petitions. According to the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun, "The Ohio Hospital Association called the non-interference agreement between CHP and the SEIU refreshing."

The CHP-SEIU agreement, with little indication of worker support and after only a few days of public exposure and agitation by the National Nurses Organizing Committee, (NNOC) quickly collapsed. On March 10 CHP and SEIU called off the elections. During its very brief life the CHP-SEIU deal required significant violations of the vital pro-worker Constitutional rights of association and speech and the Section 7 right of self-organization. Employee discussion about the union and the lection was specifically forbidden by managers, with the agreement of SEIU. CHP was quick to secure a state court temporary restraining order against NNOC limiting all speech and demonstrations to no more than three NNOC nurses. While its collapse was not mourned by employees (the NNOC did receive a protest letter signed by 15 of the 8,000 CHP healthcare workers), the employer made its feelings clear on March 12 to the Associated Press: "We believe in the process we developed, and we hope to use it in the future."

What might the future hold? Clearly there is an intention among some Catholic hospital employers for similar deals. But it appears that there is a play afoot for even larger stakes. By coincidence or not, on February 26, as the CHP-SEIU deal unfolded, the NLRB published notice of a proposed rule that would allow for a new type of Board election, the RJ petition, to be filed jointly by an employer and union. Under the new rule, no showing of interest or proof of union membership would be required. The RJ petition would include the consent terms for an election (unit, voter eligibility, date, and time), and the Board would approve within 3 days. The election would be held within 28 days after at least 3 days posted notice to the employees affected. The proposed RJ petition eliminates the bad odor created by the RM, but is otherwise remarkably similar to the CHP-SEIU deal and subject to the same serious abuses.

Unions suffer to this day from the destruction of the CIO and of the center-left alliance that created the conditions for the CIO upsurge. Union leaders and activists suffer a second time from our own historical amnesia about why and how a militant labor movement was tamed. Worse, we rarely draw lessons about how organization was built during the early years of the AFL, the CIO, and other great social movements. We doom ourselves to continually making the wrong move at the wrong time in the wrong direction. There is nothing new about concessionary bargaining to curry favor, sweetheart deals in exchange for additional dues-payers, public partnerships with major employers to make one or two union leaders acceptable to a boss, and political belly-rubbing to gain some limited special advantage. At one time or another all have been tried and temporarily succeeded in gaining a few advantages for a few unions, but failed in the end to advance the cause of the union movement or the interests of working people.

There are no short-cuts to reclaiming the crusading spirit and bold actions by rank and file people required of all social movements, including our own. Surely the path forward cannot rely on concessionary partnerships with the very employers who stand in opposition to our interests. Or upon the government that as yet remains unconvinced that our rights to organize, collectively bargain, strike and act in solidarity are Constitutionally-protected and deserving of state support.

In light of the Ohio RM deal engineered by CHP and SEIU and the proposed RJ by the Bush-dominated Labor Board, now would be a very good time to relearn and apply the first lesson from our history -- the labor movement, like every successful social movement, must engage in a long-term struggle for fundamental rights and rely primarily on the activity of its rank and file members. Every choice we make as a movement should be based on strengthening rather than detracting from this fundamental principle.


Gov't workers' favorite sick day: Friday

On any given Friday, more Central Florida classrooms are led by substitute teachers than on any other day of the week. That's because teachers are calling in sick most often on Friday, an Orlando Sentinel analysis of school-district data found.

The trend held true for all counties except Osceola, where Monday barely edged out Friday for most popular day to call in. Without exception, Wednesday -- an early-release day for students -- was the least likely day for teachers to be out.

Educators say they're aware of the trend.Osceola County administrators noticed it because they've run out of substitutes during the past year, particularly around holidays and on Fridays and Mondays, Superintendent Blaine Muse said. He wants to find ways to solve the problem by working with the teachers union during upcoming negotiations, he said.

Top administrators say they operate on an honor system when it comes to sick days, so they don't know whether teachers are calling in when they're not ill. Most say they trust their teachers.

"I wish we didn't have as many absences on Friday, but you can't challenge someone's need for a sick day," said Volusia schools Superintendent Margaret Smith, whose district last year had 35 percent more teachers out sick on Fridays than Wednesdays. "It's not an area I want to make an issue of."

'Mental-health days'

Mental-health days disguised as sick days are not unique to Central Florida schools -- or to schools in general. The Friday and Monday flu is common in all workplaces, said Robert Trumble, professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University and director of the school's Virginia Labor Studies Center.

Trumble compared employees claiming they're sick when they aren't to taking pencils home from work or surfing the Internet on the job.

"It is cheating, but it's the type of thing you sort of get used to," he said. "Bigger places recognize this happens, so they have to plan for it."

The difference between teaching and many other professions, however, is that schools must scramble to find substitutes when teachers call in sick, creating an expense for financially strapped districts and a hassle to fill the openings. A substitute's daily pay can range from $60 to $100.

More important, some experts say, student learning suffers when regular teachers aren't in their classrooms.

Raegen T. Miller, while studying at the graduate school of education at Harvard University, co-wrote a paper on the effect of teacher absences on student achievement. His conclusion: Students did worse in math the more days their teachers were out.

"Of course it's completely common sense that if teachers miss a lot of school, students are going to have difficulty getting a grip on the curriculum, especially in math," said Miller, a former high-school math teacher.

Miller said he knows of substitute teachers who specialize in working just Fridays and Mondays because the demand is so great. His August 2007 study found that teacher-absence rates were nearly three times as high as those of managerial and professional employees, perhaps in part because sick kids infect teachers. The study also concluded that some teachers were likely calling in sick to get a long weekend.

Miller's study found that it helps for school districts to offer incentives.

InSeminole County, the school district since 1996 has offered cash to instructors who have perfect attendance. Teachers can earn up to $625 annually for not missing a workday, said Stephen Bouzianis, director of human resources for the district.

Seminole did not provide specific information about the sick days teachers took last year, but district data show that it had a disproportionate number of substitutes on Fridays.

Still, Bouzianis said the program is working, based in part on the rising number of teachers with perfect attendance. Seminole Education Association President Gay Parker agreed.

"The teachers who need the money will do anything they can to get that incentive money," Parker said.

Sandy Leach Rushlow, president of the Osceola Classroom Teachers Association, said she couldn't comment because her district hasn't provided the union with definitive data.

"We're trying to look at new, more accurate tracking of absenteeism," Rushlow said.

Orange County Classroom Teachers Association President Mike Cahill denied that Friday sick days are a problem. Teachers have no financial incentive to call in sick because they are allowed to roll over unused days toward their retirement. "It's not an issue," Cahill said.

Last year inOrange County, though, substitutes were called in because of teacher illness 30 percent more often on Fridays than on Wednesdays.

The need was so great that substitutes who agreed to work right before and after a weekend or a holiday had their names entered in a raffle to receive prizes such as iPods and gift certificates to local restaurants, said substitutes Rudy Darden, 27, and his wife, Jessica, 23.

This past Good Friday inOrange County, for example, 1,308 substitutes were requested -- 540 because teachers called in sick, said Dylan Thomas, a district spokesman. That's about 25 percent more sick teachers than on an average Friday.

Working sick?

Andrew Spar, president of the Volusia Teachers Organization, said teachers don't like being out and often push themselves to come to work sick. By Friday, he said, they may need a long weekend to recuperate.

"People tend to take off more on Fridays and Mondays than they do on other days, and teaching is no exception," Spar said.

District administrators are quick to point out that they do their best to recruit and train qualified substitutes, including retired teachers.

That's no consolation for some parents.

Tammy Owens, chairwoman of theVolusia County District Advisory Committee, said that when her mildly autistic son's eighth-grade teacher is absent, it "upsets the whole system." The kids don't relate to a substitute the same way as to their regular teacher, she said, and lessons are more likely to consist of work sheets or movies.

"All the kids act differently," said Owens, who also has a daughter in middle school. "All the expectations are different. He [her son] knows they don't expect him to follow through and he can do anything he wants."

David Lee Finkle, a language-arts teacher at Southwestern Middle School in DeLand, said it's such a hassle to create lesson plans for a sub that he would rather teach than take off when he's sick.

However, Finkle said, he understands how a teacher might feel the need to play hooky once in a while.

"I think sometimes you do need a mental-health day," said Finkle,Volusia County's 2005 teacher of the year.


Dem Gov. urged to stiff unions

By standing up to some of the labor unions, Iowa Gov. Chet Culver may have reassured his 2010 re-election - and beyond. He's threatening to veto a labor-backed, hurry-up rewrite of the state's public-employee collective-bargaining laws. It takes courage for a Democratic governor to call a halt to something like that, but that's what Culver did.

Some labor folks are furious with him for slowing their Holy Week steamroller, which was trying to shove the measure into law just before Easter, when few people were paying attention.

Most Iowa voters will approve of the governor's move. They respect a politician who doesn't toady and who's willing to stand up to interest groups, especially his own. Culver's been too willing to do the bidding of the teachers' union, so his newly found backbone is refreshing.

For Culver to defy the unions is akin to when Sen. Charles Grassley voted against the first Persian Gulf war. It enraged his normal constituency groups, but it earned him the respect of his adversaries and many voters in the middle.

There are several problems with gutting Iowa's collective-bargaining laws.

First, Democrats have no mandate to do it. When Iowa voters gave them control of both houses of the Legislature and the governorship in 2006, they were voting for better jobs, health care and education, not more power for unions.

This move comes a year after Democrats failed to muster enough votes to change the right-to-work traditions in Iowa law, which would have allowed bargaining on whether workers who don't belong to a union would be forced to pay union dues for services the union supposedly provides them.

This collective-bargaining gambit is merely an attempt to do something else to appease labor. If Democrats truly believe these things are necessary, they should take the matter to the voters, just as the road lobby should have taken a gas-tax increase to voters last year.

By mishandling right to work and now collective bargaining, Democrats have energized Republicans and have assured this will now be an issue in the 2008 legislative elections. Republicans will be asking voters: "Want to do away with right to work? Want to give public-employee unions more pay and benefits? Then vote for Democrats for the Legislature. If not, vote for Republicans."

Second, this is simply a bit of the traditional tension between the two branches of government. Culver, the executive, understands that doing favors for labor hurts the management side of every state, city, county and school bargaining table. State legislators could care less.

Third, it's a tax increase. If the government bargaining table is tilted toward the unions, who already control a lot of the elected officials on the other side, the inevitable result will be higher pay and better benefits for a class of workers that is already doing quite well when compared to most other Iowa workers.

Fourth, it's also a test of wills between the governor and Democratic legislative leaders. Just who is boss? Many of these leaders endorsed Mike Blouin in the primary with Culver. So did the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Culver still won comfortably. He doesn't owe these guys anything. Nor does he have to fear their threats. When it comes to delivering on endorsements, these folks are toothless.

Maybe Democrats are getting cocky. Maybe they are so sure they'll win control again in 2008 that they think they can afford to roll over for the unions. Voters may think otherwise. Don't be surprised if Republicans win the Iowa House because Iowans feel they need to check the abuse of power created by one-party rule.

It's happened before in Iowa, in 1966, when voters decided Statehouse Democrats went too far after their 1964 landslide.


NFL players ponder decertifying union

The NFL has gone 20 years without a player strike -- longer than any other major sports league -- and that has paved the way for unparalleled popularity and riches. But nothing lasts forever.

With labor unrest looming, the league's 32 owners will gather today in Palm Beach, Fla., for the start of their annual meetings. Chief among the concerns is what will happen if, as expected, they decide to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement with the players' union when they get the chance in November.

That could set the stage for a strike or lockout, and the decertification of the NFL Players Assn. At issue, of course, is money -- specifically, how large a slice of the financial pie should go to the players.

"We're in the middle of a great deal of analysis and there will be discussion of the CBA," league spokesman Greg Aiello said.

But the meetings, which run through Wednesday, won't be entirely about how to maintain labor peace. The competition committee will discuss and vote on several proposals, among them whether a designated defensive player should be allowed to wear a speaker in his helmet similar to the coach-to-quarterback communicator; whether players with long hair should keep it tucked under their helmet; and what the league can do to better ensure there isn't a repeat of the so-called Spygate videotaping scandal, when the New England Patriots illegally taped the hand signals of opposing coaches to gain a competitive advantage.

The committee will also mull ways for possibly reseeding postseason games to encourage teams to play hard at the end of the regular season, even after they have secured a playoff berth.

"I think we do support the idea that . . . a potential reworking of playoff seeding can motivate coaches late in the year based on seed and potential home game, or not home game, to have more games that count late in the year," said Rich McKay, Atlanta Falcons president and co-chairman of the competition committee. "So for us, we think that's a better solution that ever getting in the business of trying to legislate who a coach will play."


Firm hires UAW striker-replacements

Nearly five weeks into the UAW strike at American Axle & Manufacturing Inc., the company is hiring workers for four plants in New York and Michigan that are subject to the work stoppage.

The Detroit supplier says the hiring is intended to give the company a group of workers ready to start as workers now on strike leave their jobs. Any deal between the union and the company is expected to include buyout and early retirement packages.

"We are currently preparing a pool of potential new associates in anticipation of those events," American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers said Saturday.

Little progress has been made on key economic issues at the heart of contract negotiations, such as wages, benefits and buyout packages.

Word spread among workers Saturday that the company is seeking replacement workers.

Wendy Thompson, former president of UAW Local 235, said in an e-mail message that the union learned the company expects to have more than 20 replacement workers report to work Monday.

Rogers said that was not true. "We are not bringing in any replacement workers on Monday," she said.

Rogers also said the company has asked workers who were laid off before the strike to report back to work.

UAW Local 235 President Adrian King said he was not aware of replacement workers being asked to report on Monday.

On Feb. 26, 3,650 UAW members at American Axle went on strike after negotiations on a new contract collapsed. The company is seeking to cut wages and benefits in half, saying it needs to cut labor costs to compete with other suppliers that have won concessions from their unions.

The UAW, which has said it needs more data to substantiate those demands, argues the cuts are too steep for a company that is not in bankruptcy and made a profit last year.


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