Voters favor secret-ballot union elections

Related story: "Dems warned about voter-opinion on EFCA"
Related story: "Another survey pans unions' #1 agenda item"

In the wake of recent news reports indicating that labor unions have spent millions on independent expenditures on behalf of the presidential campaigns of Senators Clinton and Obama and millions more on Senate and Congressional races, new survey research findings warn that support for Big Labor's agenda, including their number 1 priority -- the mis-named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) -- could spell trouble for candidates in close races on Election Day.

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW) today released results from a series of surveys in the battleground states of Minnesota, Colorado and Maine conducted by McLaughlin & Associates.

Nearly two-thirds of voters in Colorado (68%), Maine (72%) and Minnesota (65%) oppose the EFCA. Moreover, voters in Minnesota and Colorado would be less likely to support candidates who support the EFCA. Specifically, a plurality of voters would be less likely to vote for Mark Udall (44%) and Al Franken (41%) if they support this legislation. Moreover, at least 80% of voters in all three states believe that secret ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be kept for union elections.

"It's clear that opposing the private ballot for workers is a political liability for candidates, particularly those running in tight races," said Brian Worth, vice president of the Independent Electrical Contractors, Inc. and member of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. "Our polling shows that this issue is a potential millstone for candidates who get on the wrong side of voters' rights to privacy and a workplace free from intimidation," added Worth.

In an effort to fight declining union membership, the labor lobby has aggressively sought passage of the mis-named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Under the EFCA, workers would lose their right to a private ballot when deciding whether to join a union. The private ballot would be replaced with a "card-check" scheme where a union is organized if a majority of workers simply sign a card; the workers' signatures are made public to their employer, the union organizers and their co-workers.

Methodology: McLaughlin & Associates conducted statewide surveys among general election voters in Colorado (n=400), Maine (n=400) and Minnesota (n=500) between March 6th and 9th, 2008. All interviews were conducted by professional interviewers via telephone. Interview selection was at random within predetermined election units. These units were structured to statistically correlate with actual voter distributions in statewide general elections. The accuracy of the samples of 400 likely general election voters is within +/- 4.9% at a 95% confidence interval. The accuracy of the sample of 500 likely general election voters is within +/- 4.5% at a 95% confidence interval.

About the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace is made up of more than 500 associations and organizations from every state across the nation that have joined together to protect a worker's right to a private ballot when deciding whether to join a union. For more information and a complete listing of our membership, please visit http://www.MyPrivateBallot.com.


Union dues deductions for politics challenged

Today the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari and agreed to hear the case of Ysursa v. Pocatello Education Association, thus agreeing to review a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that limited the applicability of an Idaho state law banning payroll deductions for union Political Action Committees.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Sutherland Institute, and Utah Taxpayers Association filed a joint amicus (“friend of the court”) brief urging the Supreme Court to take up the appeal filed by the Attorney General for the State of Idaho.

The lower U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruling argued that the payroll deduction ban should only apply to union payroll deductions at the state government level, and that local government bodies were independent political entities outside of the reach the state law.

But the joint amici brief pointed out that a ruling by the Ninth Circuit wrongly forces Idaho taxpayers to subsidize union political activities by offering valuable payroll deduction services to union officials.

Even more alarmingly, union lawyers could try to use the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning to launch fresh new attacks on state Right to Work laws as applied to local government bodies. The joint amici brief emphasized that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that unions have no constitutional right to collect union dues from non-union members, much less use payroll deduction privileges to do so.

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case, National Right to Work Vice President Stefan Gleason made the following remarks:

“We applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to revisit the activist ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Just like state governments, local governments should not act as bagmen for union political funds.

“Stripping union officials of their payroll deduction privileges is good public policy. In fact, the State of Idaho should have gone much further than it did – by banning outright the use of public facilities to collect any union funds whatsoever.”


Gov't union takes non-members for $3 million

The 2008 election season is upon us, and unions are still getting legal beatdowns for bad behavior in 2005:
A federal judge has ordered California State Employees Association (CSEA) union officials to offer rebates to up to 28,000 state employees who are not union members. Imposing a “special assessment” in addition to mandatory dues, union officials seized an additional 25% of forced union dues to wage their campaign against Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s modest reform measures on the 2005 ballot.
Turns out an “Emergency Temporary Assessment to Build a Political Fight-Back Fund” on every state employee isn't exactly kosher. The union managed to extract $3 million from non-union workers alone.

To extent your five minutes of anti-union hate, go here. Or wait it out for a great upcoming column on the impending horror of card check (the unions ask: what's so great about secret ballots anyway?) by David Weigel.

Full disclosure: I was once a deeply resentful and unwilling member of The New York Times' Guild. Needless to say, reason is not a union shop.


Oops - Barack quaffs a non-union brewski in PA

DRINK THE BEER THAT BARAK DRINKS ... It's guaranteed to get some Teamsters foaming at the mouth ...

Do you think Obama's advance people didn't know when they ordered the rock-star candidate a Pennsylvania born-and-bred Yuengling, they ordered him a beer that's brewed by NON-UNION brewers?

That's right, the rock-star candidate -- who's supported by (according to Machinists' union president Tom Buffenbarger) latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock wearing, trust-fund babies -- just must not have realized when he swigged away at his non-union-made beer that the Teamsters and his fellow Democrats have been trying to boycott Yuengling since their former members kicked the union out of the 179-year old company.


Unions desperate to halt Right To Work petition

A labor-union proposal to place five worker-friendly initiatives on the November ballot received a frosty reaction Tuesday from the Colorado business sector. "If you keep putting more and more on the back of a small-business owner who is just trying to make it, it will break," said Gail Lindley, chief executive of Denver Bookbinding Co.

The proposed ballot initiatives would require employers to give workers annual cost-of-living increases, mandate health-insurance coverage for businesses with 20 or more employees, deny state tax breaks to firms that move Colorado jobs outside the U.S., require businesses to pay more in property taxes, and allow injured workers to sue employers outside the workers'-compensation system.

Lindley said her 79-year-old Denver business already is facing severe competitive pressures and might not survive the higher costs resulting from the ballot measures.

"These (union) guys are not in business," she said. "They have high ideals, but they are not grounded in reality."

Business owners and advocacy groups said it was too early to tell what effect the initiatives, if passed, could have on operating costs, but they estimated it would be significant.

The measures are backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7. Officials of the union said the initiatives are, in part, a reaction to a business-sponsored "right to work" ballot proposal that would prohibit workers from being forced to become union members or pay union dues.

While most business reaction to the UFCW proposals was negative, some was not.

Kristie Lara, finance director of Frederick-based NorthWestern Railroad Construction, said cost-of-living increases and mandated health insurance could help workers without unduly harming business competition if all firms had to offer the same benefits.

"Generally, I believe that the market should dictate wages," Lara said. "But with all of the increases in costs for fuel, food and utilities, I'm feeling it personally, and there's got to be something done to help workers."

However, Lara said she would be opposed to the measure requiring businesses to shoulder a higher share of property taxes.

"I don't see any win-win on this issue," she said. "Businesses already pay disproportionately higher taxes. That's one of the most aggravating costs that we have."


Mohegan Tribe attempts to buy labor-peace

The Mohegan Tribe and union leaders announced Tuesday that they've reached a project labor agreement for the nearly $1 billion expansion of the Mohegan Sun casino. The project labor agreement reached with the New London-Norwich Building and Construction Trades Council ensures that union-only labor will be used on the project.

In exchange, the unions will respect tribal law and sovereignty while working on the reservation.

Union labor has worked on past Mohegan Sun projects, but Tuesday's agreement is the first formal agreement between labor and the tribe.


Stern's SEIU caught in dirty-tricks op

As an internal power struggle wracks the giant Service Employees International Union, emails obtained by the Guardian suggest that SEIU officials may have violated union rules by working to influence an important San Francisco delegate election last month.

Delegates selected by Local 1021, based in SF, will attend the union’s international convention in June and will vote on a series of democratic reforms put forward by dissident labor leader Sal Rosselli. In recent weeks, Rosselli has clashed publicly with SEIU’s international president Andy Stern over Stern’s increasing consolidation of the 1.9 million-member labor organization.

And the emails appear to show a concerted effort by Stern’s senior staff and local loyalists to ensure that the dissidents don’t dominate the convention delegation.

Referring to themselves in the emails as the “Salsa Team,” SEIU staffers discussed strategy and coordinated campaign activity for the delegate election with high-ranking union officials like Damita Davis-Howard, the president of Local 1021, and Josie Mooney, a special assistant to Stern, the emails show.

Critics charge that these activities violated Local 1021’s Election Rules and Procedures – specifically Rule 18, which states, “While in the performance of their duties, union staff shall remain uninvolved and neutral in relation to candidate endorsements and all election activities.”

While Rule 18 does not specifically spell out when union staff can advocate for candidates, other than proscribing such activities “while in performance of their duties,” the emails in our possession are date and time stamped and several of them were sent during business hours.

Furthermore, the Guardian has obtained an internal memo from Local 1021 official Patti Tamura in which she warned union staffers that the phrase “‘performance of their duties’ goes beyond [Monday through Friday] and 9-5p.”

One Local 1021 official who asked not to be identified told us that Tamura’s memo appeared to be a clear message that staff should stay completely out of the election. “They made it perfectly clear to the lower staff that your employment doesn’t stop [after hours], you’re still staff. That means, you don’t get involved. But now it turns out they themselves were doing it. That’s a double standard … it’s certainly not right.”

The messages between Salsa Team members show them actively working to recruit potential delegates sympathetic to Stern’s vision for the SEIU and to aid Davis-Howard in her bid to represent the union at the June convention. One missive, dated February 18, which appears to come from the personal email account of Local 1021 employee Jano Oscherwitz and was sent to what appear to be the personal accounts of Tamura and Mooney, requests that a “message for Damita” be drafted.

According to the time stamp on the message, Oscherwitz sent it at 12:03 PM. Feb. 18 was a Monday.

A forwarded email stamped 3:18 PM on that same day, from Oscherwitz to what appear to be personal email accounts for Tamura, fellow 1021 staffer Gilda Valdez, and “Damita” includes a “Draft Message” with bulleted talking points, apparently for Davis-Howard to use as she “Collect[s] Signatures on Commitment Cards.”

“Commitment cards” refers to pledges from union members to support certain delegates.

At the convention, scheduled for June 1 through 4 in Puerto Rico, delegates will weigh in on a series of reforms backed by Roselli, chief of the United Health Care Workers West. These reforms include eliminating the current delegate system for electing union leaders, giving local unions more authority in bargaining for their own contracts, and granting locals more say in proposed mergers.

Stern opposes Rosselli’s reforms. A March 5 Salsa Team message includes an attached document with several talking points critical of Rosselli. In the body of the email, SEIU staffer Gilda Valdez advises Davis-Howard, Mooney, 1021 chief of staff Marion Steeg, and others to “Memorize the points in talking to folks.” Valdez goes on to say in the email that she “will be calling … about your assignments.”

Reached for comment, Davis-Howard confirmed that the AOL email account listed as “Damita” was hers. But she claimed no knowledge of the Salsa Team or the messages sent to her. “If you’re saying those emails went to my home computer, who knows if I ever even got them?”

Despite her unwillingness to acknowledge whether she had received the messages, Davis-Howard bristled at the suggestion that the Salsa Team’s activities violated union rules. “Are you trying to tell me that I can never campaign? Does it [Rule 18] say that I have to be neutral and uninvolved 24 hours a day?”

Calls to Mooney, Oscherwitz, Valdez, and Tamura were not returned.

But some union members think there’s a serious problem here. In a written statement, Roxanne Sanchez, who was the president of the San Francisco local before it was merged with other Northern California locals to create 1021, accused Davis-Howard and the Salsa Team of “rigging the outcome” of the delegate election.

“This type of breach in ethical conduct – at such a high level – threatens the foundation of trust and confidence in our Union and in President Damita Davis-Howard’s ability to hold fair elections,” she said.

Sanchez informed us by phone that a formal complaint will be filed with the union’s election committee by Friday.


Striking UAW inks no-tell pact

American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. has turned over confidential financial information to the United Auto Workers after a five-week strike by the union. The auto supplier said yesterday it gave the union the information last week in an effort to speed negotiations after the Detroit company and the UAW signed a confidentiality agreement.

About 3,600 UAW-represented employees at five American Axle plants in Michigan and New York are on strike. Thirty General Motors Corp. factories have been fully or partially shut down, affecting more than 39,000 hourly employees, including 1,000 at Toledo Powertrain.


Union-repressed teachers to strike for Pope

Catholic school teachers throughout the state will strike at some time during the week Pope Benedict XVI visits New York. The strike was approved by a vote among members of the Lay Faculty Association today. The vote count was 132 in favor and 20 opposed, said William Dahncke, who works in the social studies department at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie.

He said by striking, faculty hope to achieve a fair contract with the Archdiocese of New York that includes better pay, enhanced pension plan and better health benefits.

The strike will happen at some point during the week of April 14.

“This is not to embarrass Pope Benedict,” Dahncke said. “It’s to bring attention to our cause and people will obviously be paying attention that week, especially the community that cares about Catholic schools.”


Don't forget, union dues are tax-preferenced

Rent-seeking union bigs defend federal subsidy ... Perhaps the only exciting part of filing taxes is finding out whether you are due for a big tax refund from the IRS. Making sure you get every cent coming to you can take a lot of time and effort, and Better Business Bureau wants taxpayers to be aware of some commonly missed tax breaks that could translate into more money in your wallet this spring.

The IRS refunded more than $235 million to individual taxpayers in 2007.

But they should have refunded even more money. Many Americans miss important tax deductions and credits every year, meaning they actually paid too much in taxes. According to the most recent estimates from the General Accounting Office, more than 500,000 taxpayers overpaid their taxes by an average of $610 in one year alone because they failed to itemize deductions.

"Every year taxpayers leave money on the table by not claiming important tax deductions and credits," said Michael Clayton, CEO of the Better Business Bureau in Southeast Texas.

"The goods news is, if taxpayers missed out on a big deduction or credit in the last few years, they can still file an amended tax return and reap the benefits. Unfortunately though, if the deduction is more than three years old, they're out of luck."

The two main ways to reduce the amount of taxes owed are through tax credits and deductions.

A tax credit reduces the amount of income tax owed, while a deduction reduces the amount of income subject to tax. Therefore, tax credits definitely have a bigger impact on most consumers' bottom line.

Following are commonly missed tax credits and deductions that BBB doesn't want people to miss out on this year:

Two major deductions include up to $4,000 per student for tuition and fees, and up to $2,500 per return for interest paid on student loans.

There are many tax credits people can take advantage of if they have made energy-saving improvements on their homes in 2007.

If they have installed energy saving windows, doors, insulation, or other home improvements, consumers could qualify for a credit of up to $500.

Also, if they bought or leased a hybrid car in 2007 consumers might be eligible for a tax credit of $250-$3,400. For more information go to: www.energystar.gov.

Clothes or furniture donated to charity are commonly overlooked good deeds that translate into deductions.

Consumers should make sure donations are to organizations that qualify as tax-exempt with the IRS and keep an itemized list - even photos - of donated items to document their fair market value.

Donors also don't want to forget to get a receipt from the charity in case of a tax return audit.

For consumers who bought mortgage insurance for a home loan in 2007, they might be able to deduct premiums.

If they qualify - depending upon a couple factors, including income level - the value of insurance premiums is treated as deductible mortgage interest.

Floods, fires and tornados took their toll on the U.S. last year, and for taxpayers living in federally-declared disaster areas, they may be able to claim losses on their tax return.

Money spent for investing or tax planning is deductible as a miscellaneous itemized expense if it exceeds 2 percent of adjusted gross income.

This includes broker fees, investment publications, and even long distance calls to brokers.

Low and moderate-income families that made a contribution toward a retirement plan are eligible for a tax credit amounting to as much as 50 percent of the first $2,000 invested.

That means paying as much as $1,000 less in taxes.

Some costs related to jobs that aren't reimbursed by employers can count as tax deductions.

This includes non-commuting travel expenses, uniforms, union dues, and continuing education courses.

For consumers who pay for childcare while working, or for those who pay for someone to take care of a spouse or other dependent who is not able to take care of themselves, consumers are likely eligible for a tax credit.

For more information go to: www.irs.gov/publications/p503/ar 02.html

The Earned Income Tax Credit helps low and moderate-income working families. The amount of the credit is dependent on income and number of children.

Not only is there a federal Earned Income Tax Credit, but many states offer a similar credit as well.


SEIU ready to solve Puerto Rico decert snafu

The strike followed 27 months of frustrating negotiations with the Puerto Rican Department of Education. The department failed to offer a collective bargaining counterproposal, skipped 160 of 300 meetings, and issued a series of agency memos unilaterally changing the terms and conditions of employment.

The strike was the first held in defiance of the Puerto Rico Public Sector Labor Relations Act of 1998, also known as "Law 45," which prohibits public-sector workers from striking. It led to the union's decertification as the exclusive representative of more than 40,000 teachers and other school employees.

FMPR President Rafael Feliciano told the press that the strike contributed to Governor Aníbal Acevedo's promise to increase the teachers' starting salary to $3,000 a month over an eight-year period. Puerto Rican teachers currently earn an annual starting salary of $19,200.

The union, however, remains decertified, while the island's media reported that the U.S.-based Service Employees Union (SEIU) offered support to the governor in preparation for its bid to replace the FMPR as the teachers' representative. Dennis Rivera, an SEIU vice president, denied the charge.

Road to the Strike

The FMPR struck following a unanimous vote by its general assembly in November, ratifying a vote by union delegates to authorize a strike. During the next two months, the union leadership continued to call on the Department of Education to negotiate in good faith. But department negotiators refused to budge on two key issues: teacher representation on school boards and class sizes. Instead, the employer filed a complaint with regulators to decertify the union for declaring merely its intention to strike. The regulators readily complied.

In response, 25,000 teachers and supporters marched February 17 to the governor's mansion chanting, "contract now, or we strike!"

When it became clear that the department intended to keep stalling at the negotiating table, Feliciano announced the union's decision to strike. In the early hours of February 21, teachers and their supporters began to fill picket lines.

Foundation of Support

The teachers found they weren't alone. As strike winds started to blow over a year ago, teachers began to organize local strike committees, composed of teachers, parents, and community members in schools around the island.

A coalition composed of roughly 70 labor, student, and community organizations was formed shortly before the strike. When the teachers walked out, the student councils at three campuses of the University of Puerto Rico each announced 24-hour student stoppages.

At one school located inside a large and well-known public housing project in San Juan, 150 parents organized their own press conference and demonstration in support. At another, students held an impromptu performance lampooning the education secretary and highlighting the terrible conditions in their school. Teachers report they are forced to make do without adequate books, supplies, or toilet paper in bathrooms.

In New York City, a group of activists, including city teachers, organized a support committee and held two demonstrations in front of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Agency offices in Manhattan.

On the first day of the strike, the government declared it to be a failure, claiming more than three-quarters of all teachers had shown up to work.

Union supporters paint a much different picture. Pointing to student attendance estimated by the department itself as low as 21 percent, they claim that mass absences led to the cancellation of classes for the duration of the strike.

The union further said picket lines had been set up at 850 of the 1,500 schools with active participation from one-fifth of the teachers. Total teacher absenteeism was much higher, fluctuating between one-half and two-thirds during the course of the strike.

Not Licked Yet

After shutting down much of the island's school system for two weeks, more than 10,000 teachers voted in a union assembly to "suspend" the strike on condition that strikers not face discipline, a demand to which the department consented. The government also agreed to maintain the $250 salary raise it had unilaterally declared in the weeks leading up to the strike, to lobby the legislature for funds to sustain further raises, and not to alter the points to which it had previously agreed at the negotiating table.

Union leaders have declared that they will regroup for the next round of struggle. Because the FMPR has been decertified as the teachers' representative, the union is reorganizing as what is known in Puerto Rico as a "bona fide association," non-majority unions without exclusive bargaining rights. Association members can voluntarily request that the employer check off their dues. Thousands of teachers have already signed up to have their dues checked off in favor of the FMPR.

The next step may be a union representation election in which the FMPR would face off against SEIU.

Although Law 45 forbids the leadership of a decertified union from running for a union post -- in any labor organization within the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico -- FMPR supporters believe that the strike has thrown up a new crop of leaders ready to keep the fight alive.


AFSCME threatens to strike in labor-state

A 10-day strike notice was filed Monday by a labor union representing Stark Area Regional Transit Authority employees. Lew Maholic, the Akron-based staff representative for AFSCME Ohio Council 8 that represents 146 drivers and mechanics in Local 1880, said two charges of unfair labor practices in connection with the recent discharge of a chief steward and a steward were filed against SARTA with the State Employment Relations Board.

Local 1880 has been working without a contract for 15 months since a three-year deal expired Jan. 1, 2007.

Two contract proposals have been voted down by Local 1880, the first on Jan. 15 and the second on Jan. 29.

"If a contract settlement is not reached, the strike will commence at 5 a.m. April 10," Maholic said. "By SARTA's latest action and attitude, it (the strike vote) was put to the membership Sunday and the membership voted overwhelmingly to endorse an unfair labor practice strike against the employer."

Maholic said the union is hoping the action also will serve to get SARTA's appointing board (Stark County commissioners and mayors of Canton, Massillon and Alliance) involved in the dispute.

There will be a meeting between union reps and SARTA officials at SARTA headquarters Friday morning. Maholic said a mediator will also be present.

SARTA spokesman Gust Callas said the company is committed to providing uninterrupted service to its customers.

"We have a contingency plan in place and we will remain in full operation," said Callas, a Canton attorney. "We are especially committed to keeping service going for customers with medical needs."

Callas said the unfair labor charges were "totally without merit and I'm disappointed the union would take that tact."

Callas said SARTA has always been willing to negotiate and he's interested to see what transpires at Friday's meeting.

"But the union has to understand that the longer this goes on, our operating costs continue to rise and we have less to work with," Callas said.

"Our fuel costs have increased $50,000 to $100,000 since the last meeting," he said. "We have negotiated in good faith, but I don't know how long we can keep our current offer on the table."


Labor-state unions partisan, discriminatory

Oregon's AFL-CIO office has endorsed 37 candidates for their commitments to "working families." Among its highest-profile endorsements, the group backs Rep. Jeff Merkley, D-Portland, for the U.S. Senate race over Steve Novick, and John Kroger over Rep. Greg MacPherson, D-Lake Oswego, in the Oregon Attorney General's race. State Sen. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, earned the group's endorsement for the Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-Ore.

The labor advocate had earlier endorsed former Republican Sen. Ben Westlund, D-Bend, for the state treasurer's post.

The group leaned heavily toward incumbent Democrats in the state Senate and House races, backing Portland area representatives Mitch Greenlick, Mary Nolan, Dave Hunt, Chip Shields, Tina Kotek, Mike Schaufler and Ben Cannon. The group also endorsed State House candidates Jefferson Smith and Michael Dembrow.

In the state Senate primaries, the group backed local Senators Jackie Dingfelder, Mark Hass and Diane Rosenbaum.

"Each of these candidates has a record of advocacy for working families in Oregon," said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain in a statement. "Their commitment to creating a more prosperous Oregon -- from the creation of more living-wage jobs to protecting pensions and making health care more accessible and affordable to everyone -- will have an enduring impact on our state, its workers and our economy."

The union represents members within the American Federation of Teachers, Oregon Education Association, Oregon Nurses Association, Portland Police Association, International Association of Fire Fighters, Laborers' International Union of North America, Communications Workers of America, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, United Food and Commercial Workers, American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, and the AFL-CIO's non-union affiliate Working America.

Oregon AFL-CIO's members represent more than 188,000 families.


Councilman defends back-room union confab

Denver (CO) Councilman Chris Nevitt during Tuesday's City Council meeting defended a closed-door meeting he and two other councilmen held two weeks ago with labor leaders and a contractor poised to take over the parking at Denver International Airport. That meeting sparked criticism from the Cleveland-based contractor Standard Parking. The firm's representative said they feared the council members had become too close to union officials.

The meeting also generated newspaper editorials criticizing it as violating the state's open meetings laws, which would require such meetings to be public if three or more council members were present.

"I don't want to speak to the substance of the allegations other than to say that I believe that promoting communication and dialogue between labor and management and between our workforce and our contractors is, I believe, central to the public's interest and central to my role as a council member," Nevitt said during a moment of personal privilege during Tuesday's council meeting.

He added that the council members were abiding by the city's municipal ordinance, which states a meeting is considered public only if a majority or more of the council members are present.

That ordinance differs from state law, which holds that municipalities should consider a meeting public when a three or more public officials or a quorum, whichever is fewer, are present to discuss the public's business.

The Denver City Attorney's office has instructed the city to ignore the state law and follow municipal code.

The city attorney's office believes home rule provisions allow the city to set its own open meeting regulations even though state law has been amended to specify state law should also apply to home rule municipalities.

Denver Councilman Charlie Brown during Tuesday's council meeting continued to criticize Nevitt and the other council members for meeting with the bidder and four representatives of the Service Employees International Union.

Brown said he was never invited to the closed door meeting and would have advised the other council members against holding it if he had learned of it.

"We can sit here all night and talk about this open meeting ordinance," Brown said. "There is the law, and there is the perception of the law, and I think the perception of what has occurred has raised questions."


Upshaw predicts NFL players will decertify

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is concerned the economics of the league's collective bargaining agreement with its players association, extended just two years ago, aren't working.

"The thing we are starting to realize is that [the CBA] has swung considerably toward the players," Goodell said yesterday at the opening of the NFL's annual spring meeting. "In the economy we have now, that can really [have] a significant impact on clubs. We have rising costs. The economics of operating a team are extremely thin margins. When you shrink the margins, at some point in time the agreement becomes untenable. We have to be very cautious here, and the players need to recognize those risks and the tremendous costs."

NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw wasn't surprised by Goodell's comments.

"The players have already recognized the risk," Upshaw told The Washington Times. "We are the only union in sports that helps the owners finance and build stadiums [through the NFL's G3 program] ... because we were concerned about teams leaving larger markets for smaller markets. We will have to wait and see what 'thin' means. It sure does not sound like 'loses.' The owners cannot live with this CBA. The players will not accept less than we are already getting."

When the CBA was extended in 2006 after several delays and plenty of arm-twisting by Goodell's predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, the salary cap soared from $85 million to $102 million. At $116 million this year for each of the 32 teams, that's a league-wide jump of almost $1 billion in just three years.

Large market teams like the Washington Redskins, who set an all-time NFL attendance record in 2007, the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots, can handle that increase. It's not so easy for the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Cincinnati Bengals or the Buffalo Bills.

"[We want to] keep a strong economic foundation so all teams have the ability to compete," Goodell said.

If enough owners join Buffalo's Ralph Wilson and Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos in expressing so much concern about the renegotiated CBA that they vote to opt out of the deal in November, Upshaw has threatened to decertify the union. Those moves would trigger the termination of the cap in 2010 and the expiration of the CBA for 2011, likely giving the sport its first labor stoppage since 1987."It's difficult for clubs to stay up with what our owners have to pay our players," Goodell said. "The salary cap is so high that some owners aren't concerned [whether there is a cap or not]."

However, Goodell said that he's not worried that some owners, in the absence of a cap, could emulate baseball's George Steinbrenner in signing every free agent because "you can't buy championships."

Notes — The New England Patriots' three Super Bowl championships during the past seven seasons are being questioned because of accusations of stealing opponents' signals. Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft both expressed frustration yesterday over the slowness of the investigation into former videographer Matt Walsh's claims.

"We won 18 games, and a day or two before the Super Bowl the damaging allegations came out," Kraft said in his first public comments since then. "Seven weeks later, there has been no confirmation. We live in a society where people can make any kind of an [accusation]. It has to be substantiated. I know how hard our people worked to accomplish what they did this year."

Goodell, who punished Patriots coach Bill Belichick for stealing the New York Jets' signals in the 2007 opener by taking away New England's first-round pick in this month's draft, remains confident that's as far as "Spygate" goes.

"We're making progress I think," Goodell said. "We have met with over 50 people, and [Walsh] is the only one [with] conditions [to talk]. He has implied through the media that he may have information I have not been aware of. If he does, I would be anxious to see it." ...

The owners approved the sale of 50 percent of the Miami Dolphins from Wayne Huizenga to Steve Ross.


Labor-state teachers picket

Pittsgrove Township (NJ) District teachers say that nearly a year of working without a contract is long enough, and Tuesday morning they showed their displeasure with the situation. Teachers gathered outside of Arthur P. Schalick High School in the dreary, but at least warm, weather before 7 a.m. to stage an informational picket.

They held signs reading "Pittsgrove teachers deserve a fair contract," "Settle now," "Great schools great stuff," "Pittsgrove teachers still working, no contract."

The signs were easily seen by students arriving at school after 7 a.m. The demonstrators received honks from passing motorists.

The approximately 156 teachers in the Pittsgrove Township School District have been without a contact since the last one expired on June 30, 2007, and the teachers union President Renee Jost says progress needs to be made.

"(We) have not made significant progress in negotiations," said Jost, an English teacher at Schalick. "We have worked in good faith, helping with unpaid activities and chaperoning events."

Both sides the district and teachers union have filed with the state that they have reached an impasse. They are currently in state-guided joint mediation.

According to district Superintendent Henry Bermann, the reasons the two sides have not reached an agreement are the traditional problems encountered when negotiating new contracts.

"It is the old cliché salary and benefits," Bermann said. "We have held probably half a dozen negotiation sessions. We have at least three more scheduled for this month.

"Both sides are working hard to find middle ground," Bermann added. "It is not easy though. We are on the brink of a recession, and we are all feeling the economic impacts."

Despite the protest, teachers say they plan to keep working as a sign of good faith.

"We are not on strike," Jost said. "We will all be in on time and will all be working. This is just an information walk."

"I think picketing is way for them to show their frustration with the contract," said Bermann. "As long as they are not disrupting school, there is nothing wrong with that."

As promised, when it was time for school to be in full session, the teachers packed up their signs and went back to what they do best teach.

"They are a very dedicated and hard-working staff, and the board of education appreciates what they do for the district," said Bermann. "Right now we are following dictation from the community in regard to budget-related issues."


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