4/7/08

Union voters reject #1 union 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. The results for Maine are below.

Please tell me whether you agree or disagree with the following statement: "Secret and private ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be kept for union elections."

Maine voters agree, by 80%-10%. "Union households" agree by 86%-7%.

If an election were held to decide whether workers would organize a union, which one of the following types of elections is the best way to protect the individual rights of workers? Having a process where a union is organized if a majority of workers simply sign a card and the workers' signatures are made public to their employer, the union organizers and their co-workers. Or, having a federally supervised secret and private ballot election where workers privately vote yes or no on whether to authorize union representation.

Maine voters support secret-ballot elections over no-vote unionism by 77%-12%.

Should federal laws be changed by Congress to make it much easier for unions to hold elections in non-union work places to organize more workers into unions or should the laws be left the way they are now?

Make easier: 25%, Left the way they are: 57%

(newsblaze.com)

SEIU forces workers to pay for politics

Should government workers be forced to pay for political activities with which they disagree to keep their jobs? That was the fundamental question underlying the case federal court Judge Morrison England decided last week. In a ruling that relied on simple fairness and federal law, Judge England said no.

In the case before the court, the Services Employees International Union Local 1000 had imposed a special assessment on state workers it represented to bankroll its "Political Fight-Back Fund." The fund was established in 2005 to finance the union's campaign against Propositions 75 and 76, two measures on the November ballot that year, pushed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The union deducted $12 million from the paychecks of 92,500 of its state worker members to support SEIU's campaign to defeat the initiatives. Some 28,000 non-union workers, state employees who opt not to join the union but are required to pay fees to finance the union's bargaining activities from which they benefit, were also forced to pay. That's where the union tripped up. The non-union members sued to get their money back, and last week they prevailed.

Good for them. Imagine a committed Democrat being forced to contribute to a Republican candidate for governor in order to keep her state job, or a Republican forced to fork over a portion of his state salary to a Democratic candidate. Such practices are grossly unfair. So is forcing those same government employees to contribute to finance initiative campaigns they do not agree with.

Not only is the principle here clear, but the law is, too. As Judge England noted in his ruling, public employee unions can require non-union members to pay their fair share of the union's cost to negotiate contracts and enforce collective bargaining agreements – activities that benefit all state workers, including nonmembers. However the union can't force nonmembers to pay for the union's political activities. Under the terms of England's decision, the union will have to give refunds to non-union workers who want them – an outcome both reasonable and fair.

(sacbee.com)

Stern-Roselli fight disorganizes SEIU

With our interview winding down, Andy Stern leaps out of his chair to show me something. On the far wall of his Washington, D.C., office, the leader of the 1.9-million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) keeps a little museum. "This stuff's great," he says, pointing to photos, memorabilia--and what he really wants me to see: the head of Gus Bevona.

As the leader of Local 32BJ in New York City during the 1980s and '90s, the 300-pound Bevona was the epitome of union sleaze. His salary of $400,000 per year made him one of the highest-paid labor officials in the country. Like many locals of old, 32BJ never had much interest in organizing new workers or advancing a broader cause. Bevona was content to maintain high salaries for his dwindling flock of janitors and doormen, while reportedly using union funds to build himself a posh lower-Manhattan penthouse. "So he puts this bust in his dedication to the building," Stern says, pointing to the brass head. "Kim Il Sung would've been proud. This building is dedicated to Gus Bevona, for his tireless efforts, blah, blah, blah." After Stern became president of seiu in 1996, Gus had to go. So did all of the old guard. Unions had become too "male, pale, and stale," as Stern likes to put it. And organized labor was dying because of it.

Getting rid of Bevona was just the start. Over the past twelve years, Stern has pulled off a transformation of SEIU that is, by any metric, astounding. Today, SEIU is the most dynamic and powerful union in the country. At a time when organized labor was widely believed to be headed for extinction--in 1954, roughly one-third of the American workforce was unionized; today, that number is 12.1 percent--Stern's union accomplished the seemingly impossible: It grew, and grew a lot. The past decade has seen SEIU add nearly one million workers, including janitors, nurses, and home-care providers--many of them women, minorities, and immigrants. Most of these workers have seen their wages rise. The union now runs one of the largest PACs in the country, with money to rival even Big Pharma's lobbying arm. It's a record of success that would have stunned even the great labor organizers of the New Deal era.

In 2005, frustrated with the pace of reform in the AFL-CIO, Stern led SEIU and six other unions out of the labor federation to form a new coalition called Change to Win. Although clashing egos probably played as big a role in the split as ideological differences, Stern still had a lofty vision: His fellow secessionists would learn to do what SEIU had done--retool, restructure, and figure out how to organize new workers in order to make labor unions relevant again.

As his achievements have added up, Stern, who at 57 is thin and white-haired, has won widespread acclaim. "He's like no union boss you've ever seen," crowed Fortune. The press has thrilled to a labor leader who doesn't believe workers and employers have to be locked in mortal conflict, who thinks like a CEO, who embraces globalization, who tosses out fresh ideas like wedding rice. Stern has also been hailed as a progressive hero for pushing the Democrats left, particularly on health care. And it doesn't hurt that he's charismatic: While most labor leaders shy away from cameras, Stern is at ease joking with reporters and debating the future of unions.

Now Stern has bigger plans. "I do feel like we're coming up on a moment in history, with this primary and hopefully after a successful election, where we can have universal health care, an economy that rewards work and not just wealth," he tells me. "All of these things are in front of us. And we have to be a voice for something much bigger than our own members." Indeed, as Stern sees it, the role of a union is not simply to represent its workers, but to fight for all workers--including those who are not unionized themselves--by pushing for social and political changes that benefit laborers across the country.

But, at the very moment when Stern's plans are at their most expansive and ambitious, he is facing a revolt from within his own union. This time, his opponent is no Gus Bevona. He is a man named Sal Rosselli, a lifelong progressive who heads SEIU's most powerful health care local in California, the 150,000 member United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW). Rosselli has launched a war against Stern that has spilled out into the open in recent months. His complaints--that Stern has made the union too undemocratic, that he has cut secret deals with employers, that he cares more about enlarging the union than serving its existing members--are resonating with at least some of SEIU's rank and file. And they raise difficult questions, not just about Stern's particular ideas but about what a union in twenty-first-century America ought to be. Can a union be too large for its own good? How closely should a union cooperate with employers? Does a union exist primarily for the benefit of its members--or to serve the interests of American labor as a whole? And who, in the end, gets to make these decisions? How much power belongs to a union's members? And how much should rest with leaders like Stern?

It turns out that dislodging bad guys like Gus Bevona was easy. The harder issue of what comes next for American unions is still very much up for debate. And no one knows whether Andy Stern, in the course of trying to find the answer, will end up saving organized labor--or tearing it apart.

The last great labor schism took place at the height of the Depression, when John L. Lewis, the jowly president of the United Mine Workers, socked a rival AFL leader in the jaw and barreled out of the federation. For years, the AFL had ignored unskilled workers in the auto, rubber, and steel factories. Then, in 1935, Congress passed the Wagner Act, which guaranteed collective-bargaining rights. Seizing the moment, Lewis formed the breakaway Congress of Industrial Organizations and sent his best men into the factories. The rivalry between the two federations revitalized labor after a decade of stagnation, and unions organized more than five million members in a few short years.

Stern admires Lewis, and, with Change to Win, he is trying to do what the CIO did in the 1930s: create a new infrastructure for organizing American workers. The similarities between the two end there, however. Lewis entered the backbreaking world of mining as a teen, while Stern was part of a generation of idealistic union leaders who came to organized labor from college, not the factory floor. These men and women, many of whom had been student radicals in the '60s, saw how corrupt, autocratic union heads were crippling labor. In Cleveland, a former Berkeley physics student named Ken Paff helped create Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a group that sought to clean up the infamously corrupt truck drivers' union. Even Ralph Nader had a Teamsters reform group for a brief while.

Although Stern wasn't as ideological as some of these reformers (as a 23-year-old caseworker, he didn't go to his first union meeting with plans to form a Trotskyite cell--he showed up for free pizza), he was very much part of their world. The son of a New Jersey lawyer, he earned a degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971. After bumming around Europe, Stern took a job in a Philadelphia welfare office newly organized by SEIU. Early on, he became convinced that he and his fellow caseworkers were being sold out by their union's lawyer, who had put the finishing touches on their new contract at a poolside fund-raiser for the lieutenant governor. Stern helped lead a wildcat strike in protest, earning the wrath of higher-ups. "I began to suspect," he later recalled, "that the structure of the union provided the staff with disproportionate authority for decision-making, as opposed to the more democratic empowerment of the members that I thought was in the true spirit of the labor movement." Running as a reformer, Stern soon got himself elected president of the local.

Stern was setting out at a difficult time for organized labor. Shortly after taking over the local in 1978, he tried to organize a nursing home in Harrisburg. Most of the workers there had signed cards saying they wanted a union, so Stern filed for an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. The nursing home responded by threatening workers in one-on-one meetings and messing with the shifts of anyone sympathetic to the union. "A veil of terror fell over the workday," Stern later explained. The union lost the election in a rout.

At the time, similar stories were unfolding across the country--employers were hiring consultants and firing union supporters to thwart organizing drives. Most AFL-CIO unions concluded that organizing was simply impossible in this climate. But, in the early '80s, SEIU under John Sweeney decided to hire the sort of bright college grads who could figure a way around this impasse. Although Stern's nursing-home campaign failed, he had a reputation as someone willing to experiment. In 1984, Sweeney made Stern his national organizing director.

As Stern's generation of reformers entered the upper ranks of the labor movement, they began to pioneer creative approaches to organizing. In SEIU's famous Justice for Janitors campaign, which has organized 225,000 janitors since 1985, the union allied with community groups to pressure building owners and cleaning contractors to stay out of the way if their janitors wanted to unionize. When gentle nudges didn't work, SEIU would block traffic, storm private meetings, and file shareholder resolutions. In one campaign against a health care company, SEIU organizers told employees to report as many health and safety problems as they could, bogging the employer down in inspection hell. "We just tried to stay in their faces at all levels," explained one organizer. During Stern's tenure as organizing director, SEIU roughly doubled its membership.

In late 1995, Sweeney decamped to head the AFL-CIO, and SEIU's old guard tried to reassert itself: Stern was fired by Sweeney's successor, his office sealed shut with yellow police tape. But he ran for president and won, after garnering support from SEIU locals around the country--many of which he had helped organize.

As president, Stern continued to focus on organizing new workers above all else. But, along with the confrontational tactics he had helped craft in his earlier days, Stern was now experimenting with more conciliatory approaches.

During the 1980s and '90s, SEIU had waged a scorched-earth battle with Beverly Enterprises, one of the nation's largest nursing-home operators. Stern had once threatened to "use every means at our disposal" to expose Beverly's labor practices and force the company to bargain with SEIU. The union staged a strike ending in a lockout, flooded the air with radio ads, and enlisted local politicians to denounce the company. But SEIU didn't achieve any of its goals. So, in 2003, Stern approached Beverly COO David Devereaux with a deal: SEIU would lobby state legislatures to win funding for the nursing homes in exchange for organizing rights. "These long, drawn-out battles are exhausting," Stern tells me. "With Beverly, we could both appreciate that there were certain things we did better together--lobbying for more staffing and higher wages. That was the basis of our partnership."

This became a new creed for Stern, as he tried to convince companies that allowing employees to unionize could actually be in their interest. "Stern conclude[d] that we tried this them-and-us model, and we were on the losing end," notes Paul Krehbiel, a former SEIU staffer. In New Jersey, for instance, the union hatched a novel scheme in which union contracts for janitors wouldn't take effect until a majority of employers in the area also signed on--a way of organizing the entire market so that no one company had to worry about being made uncompetitive by labor costs. The gambit worked: SEIU now represents 70 percent of northern New Jersey janitors, whose pay has risen considerably. Meanwhile, the union pursued cooperative relationships with Kaiser Permanente, New York hospitals, and Catholic Healthcare West.

Not surprisingly, aspects of this approach were controversial. Some SEIU leaders, like Sal Rosselli, argue that these amicable relationships were only possible after years of confrontation. In his book A Country That Works, Stern recalls how "a series of strikes had poisoned the relationship" with Kaiser--which only healed when Stern called up Kaiser's then-CEO David Lawrence and "experimented with a new approach to collective bargaining that emphasized problem solving." Rosselli says this distorts history: "The labor-management agreement was born out of enormous struggle. A six-week strike with our local, strikes throughout the 1990s in Los Angeles, Portland, Denver. By the mid-'90s, Kaiser was going over a cliff."

One of Stern's other controversial creeds is that, as he wrote on his short-lived SEIU blog, "structure matters." Many labor unions had long let their locals run as autonomous fiefdoms, and SEIU was no exception. Locals would refuse to work together, sometimes even crossing each other's picket lines. After Sweeney became head of the AFL-CIO, his plans for ambitious new organizing drives ran aground when stubborn national and local unions refused to follow suit. Stern didn't want the same thing to happen to him. As SEIU president, he frequently put recalcitrant locals in trusteeship, tossing out their leaders and seizing control of their day-to-day operations. Unions generally trustee locals for financial improprieties or corruption. But Stern was aggressive in rooting out the dinosaurs--as when one longtime baron was ousted for driving drunk in a union car without a license.

Even more contentiously, Stern set about merging locals. The theory was that it's inefficient to have multiple locals representing a single large employer or industry. In California, 600,000 workers were re-organized along industry lines into a few "mega-locals," some with more than 100,000 members. The process wasn't always wholly democratic. "Often the workers involved did not have a choice," says Jerry Brown, a former president of a health care local in New England. "There would be a referendum, but...the people in small locals that would be merged, their votes would be pooled with those of huge locals that would receive them."

While mergers are often a useful tool for reform, some critics worry the power can be abused, not least because, under labor law, Stern is allowed to appoint the president of a newly merged local for up to three years before elections are held. Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University, points out that the process can sometimes "be used to stifle dissent"--if, say, an unruly local is thrown into a much larger one.

The new mega-locals can also be unresponsive. Four years ago, nurses in Local 660 in Los Angeles complained that their hospitals weren't following California's new staffing law--nurses there told me they were often handling many more than the mandated maximum of six patients at a time--and began agitating for change. When support from the local leadership came too slowly, a reform slate mounted a challenge in the next union election, winning a number of seats. But the local was later merged into a larger, 90,000-member local sprawled out around southern California, and the reform movement died. Joel Solis, a nurse who helped lead the fight over staffing ratios, says that members now find themselves disconnected from the union that is supposed to represent their interests. "Our issues aren't being taken care of," he says. Although most locals have adjusted fairly well, sporadic complaints have cropped up in places like Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Oregon, with some locals electing to leave SEIU after complaining about forced mergers and out-of- touch leadership.

Stern argues that, in an age of multinational corporations, it's not always viable to have the workplace as the main site of union power--decisions often need to be made at a statewide or national level. "Stern has said he doesn't want to emphasize individual grievances," says Herman Benson of the Association for Union Democracy. "He's interested in the bigger stuff." Benson, whose group tracks complaints about whether unions are run democratically, says he hears more grumbling from SEIU members nowadays than those in any other organization.

Having followed Stern's lead in bolting from the AFL-CIO, other Change to Win unions are now mimicking his methods. The Teamsters, for instance, have hired a number of SEIU researchers and organizers to help devise an innovative strategy to organize 16,000 port truckers in Los Angeles and Long Beach (one official told me the campaign had essentially been "subcontracted" to SEIU). The 1.4-million-member food-workers union is also hiring former SEIU staffers, while putting more money toward organizing. The upshot is that Stern's ideas now have a wider laboratory than ever before. No wonder his critics are nervous.

When I sat down to interview Sal Rosselli last month at the National Press Club, it was stunning how much he sounded like the young Stern--the Stern who had, many years ago, assailed Pennsylvania union leaders for ignoring the interests of their own workers. "It's top-down versus bottomup," Rosselli told me, laying out his differences with the SEIU leadership. "Stern's continuing to consolidate power in D.C., and we...we don't want to put limits on empowering workers to have a voice against their employer."

Like Stern, Rosselli came up in the tempestuous 1970s. He had been working as a janitor in California, studying to go to medical school, when he was asked by SEIU staffers to help out in a campaign against local movie theaters. "One thing led to another," he said, "and I never got around to medical school." Unlike Bevona and past Stern foes, Rosselli is a longtime activist--a former Catholic Worker who went on to fight for gay rights in the '80s. Indeed, in 1992, as the president of his local, Rosselli had pushed a platform at the SEIU convention to eliminate certain corrupt practices and put more of the union's dues toward organizing. "For a long time," Rosselli said, "Stern and I were leaning in the same general direction."

Although Rosselli had a more militant attitude toward organizing, he was initially receptive to Stern's strategy for allying with employers. In 2003, SEIU struck a secret deal--supported by Rosselli--with a group of California nursing-home chains: Nursing homes would drop their resistance to organizing drives, and, in return, SEIU would use its sway in Sacramento to push for more state money for the facilities as well as a tort-reform measure that would limit patients' ability to sue over neglect or abuse. (The latter was abandoned after a public outcry.)

By 2006, however, Rosselli had soured on these agreements. The ability of workers to expose unsafe conditions in nursing homes had been severely curtailed, and employers were demanding the exclusive right to set pay rates, hire and fire workers, eliminate jobs, and outsource at will. "In the beginning, the opposite commitment was made--to give these workers a voice," Rosselli told me. "But by the end, because of their relationship with SEIU and Stern's drive for growth at all costs, these employers said, if you want growth, this is the exchange we need." Rosselli refused to speak to the press at the time, but an internal memo prepared by UHW was furious: "Is it any wonder that we have often heard from these workers that 'the boss brought us the union'?" Last year, the SF Weekly got its hands on the memo--and the union put the agreements on hold. Stern angrily accused Rosselli's local of leaking the report, a charge Rosselli denies.

Around the same time, the Seattle Times uncovered a similar secret agreement struck by SEIU with nursing homes in Washington. In exchange for organizing rights, SEIU had promised to lobby the state legislature for millions in Medicaid reimbursements for the nursing homes. But the ten-year deal also blocked workers from striking and speaking out publicly, while granting employers final say over which nursing homes could be organized.

Earlier this year, I learned about yet more agreements that the Service Workers Union--a joint venture between SEIU and another union--had been negotiating with subcontractors Sodexho and Compass, which provide food and janitorial services in the health care sector. For years, SEIU had been struggling to deal with hospitals that contract out work and undercut their unionized employees. Under these agreements, the subcontractors would allow a fraction of their workers to unionize, but they would get to decide which employees could join. Labor disputes would be handled by national union headquarters, rather than the members themselves. While SEIU officials say that this was the best way to make inroads, UHW workers complain that the subcontracted employees they work with in California get little in the way of representation. "Truth be told," they wrote in a letter to Stern, "most of them don't even know they have a union."

It isn't just the agreements themselves that rankle; it's the way they are reached. Over the years, for instance, UHW had maneuvered so that some 200 nursing home and hospital contracts covering 100,000 workers were set to expire this year--a move that would give the union enormous leverage. Rosselli, however, accuses Stern of undermining UHW's bargaining strength by trying to block his local from taking the lead in negotiations and sending in SEIU representatives to seek more conciliatory agreements. "The people negotiating those agreements don't work in these places," Eloise Reese-Burns, a UHW official in California, complained to Labor Notes, a trade publication. "They don't know about short staffing. They don't know about the lack of supplies." Stern and other SEIU leaders respond that bargaining tactics are crafted by a national committee of elected local leaders, and Rosselli simply didn't like being outvoted. "Everybody would like democracy to work so that they're in charge," Stern tells me.

These fights get to the heart of the broader dispute between Stern and Rosselli. Stern believes that unions can't be strong in an industry until they have reached sufficient density, so the key is to add as many members as possible, no matter how it's done. When I bring up the nursing-home deals in our interview, Stern notes that the United Auto Workers had a strong presence at Ford, GM, and Chrysler plants but were massacred when Toyota and Honda started setting up plants in the non-union South, driving down wages in the whole industry. In other words, unionized workers are not safe as long as their industry contains large cadres of non-union workers. Hence the need to prioritize organizing--which, Stern argues, often means making strategic decisions at a national level.

Rosselli and others counter that, in the course of trying to expand, Stern is weakening unions past the point where they can be effective advocates--nationalizing the power structure of unions so that workers end up with little say over their own fate, then agreeing to concessions in exchange for growth that the workers themselves would never have accepted. Some of Stern's critics fear that this philosophy is turning his union into an AARP-style organization, where members simply pay their dues and trust that others will look out for their interests. These critics aren't against growth: Rosselli's union, UHW, has been one of the fastest-growing locals within SEIU over the past six years. They simply argue that, when expansion comes at the expense of worker rights, it isn't much of a triumph at all. "In his zeal to grow faster, Andy is taking shortcuts that will have serious effects on the vitality of the institution," says Brown, the former SEIU leader from New England. "The members will look at the union leadership the way they look at the boss: The boss wants this, the union wants that, and I'm in the middle."

The feud between Stern and Rosselli finally boiled over late last year, during the legislative debate over universal health care in California. Stern had strongly supported a compromise bill that would require individuals to buy health insurance, while Rosselli had concerns about affordability. A series of e-mails and letters, beginning in October, show Stern maneuvering to sideline Rosselli from his spot at the head of SEIU's California Executive Council by dissolving the body and creating a new one. Then, in January--in response to an internal SEIU strategy document arguing that the union needed to further centralize resources in order to wage large-scale organizing campaigns--Rosselli fired off a critique charging that Washington headquarters had become unaccountable. In February, Rosselli resigned from the union's executive committee, so that he was no longer bound by its gag rules. In late March, Stern sent a letter to Rosselli raising questions about "unethical conduct" and "financial irregularities"; UHW officials charged that Stern was laying the groundwork to trustee their local. At SEIU's convention this June, Rosselli plans to put forward constitutional changes that would revamp the process for voting on bargaining issues and mergers, and provide for direct election of the president by union members. (Currently, the president is elected by delegates to SEIU's national convention.)

SEIU officials contend that Rosselli's complaints are disingenuous, that he is mostly motivated by self-interest. "The thing that this is really about is Sal Rosselli wants more power for himself and his local," says Andrew McDonald, an SEIU spokesman. Thomas Dewar, a former communications staffer at Local 1021 in California, told me that he attended a strategy meeting with SEIU officials about responding to Rosselli. "I actually asked them straight up, 'Why don't you co-opt [Rosselli's] platform?'" Dewar says. "They balked at that. ... Instead, the strategy was to personalize the attack against Sal."

Rosselli currently has few public allies outside of his local. "Right now, the environment is one of fear," Rosselli tells me. "UHW is the second-largest union in SEIU, with 150,000 members, almost 400 staff. You can imagine other people watching the retaliation against us--'If they can do that to UHW, we'll get killed if we speak out.'" Many SEIU members I talked to were torn between a genuine respect for Stern and a belief that certain problems needed to be addressed.

With Rosselli and Stern slugging it out, the bigger issues--about how unions should be run, when they should collaborate with employers, and who, in the end, they really represent--threaten to become lost in the din. But that would be the worst possible outcome of this fight. Andy Stern's ideas deserve to be taken seriously, but they also deserve to be debated. There are plenty of reasons to applaud what he has done for American unions--and, at the same time, good reasons to wonder whether his vision contains flaws. Even if Sal Rosselli surrendered tomorrow, the questions about where, exactly, Stern is leading American labor wouldn't go away.

(tnr.com)

Union ducks FiCore questions

George Clooney has quietly withdrawn from the Writers Guild of America after the union rejected his request for a writing credit on his new film "Leatherheads," Daily Variety reported in its Friday edition. Clooney opted to become a "financial core status" nonmember last fall, which means that he is still covered by the basic contract, the trade paper said.

But he loses his voting rights, and cannot run for office or attend membership meetings, according to the WGA's constitution. He must continue to pay his dues, but gets a break on "non-germane" WGA activities, such as political and lobbying efforts. His decision is also irrevocable.

Clooney, 46, directed, produced and stars in "Leatherheads," a screwball period football comedy that opens across North America on Friday via General Electric Co's Universal Pictures. Despite mixed reviews, it is expected to be the top draw at the weekend box office.

He had sought to receive a writing credit alongside Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, claiming that he personally gave the duo's languishing 17-year old project a major overhaul.

Clooney, who received an Oscar nomination two years ago for co-writing "Good Night, and Good Luck," told Daily Variety that he felt he had written all but two of the scenes for "Leatherheads." His request for credit was voted down 2-1 at an arbitration hearing.

"When your own union doesn't back what you've done, the only honorable thing to do is not participate," the paper quoted Clooney as saying.

He said he would have resigned from the union altogether -- a revocable move -- but that would have prevented him from working on all WGA-covered productions. He kept quiet about his move, because the union was about to go on strike for the first time in almost two decades, and he did not want to provide an unwelcome distraction. Clooney was a keen supporter of the 100-day strike, which ended almost two months ago.

The WGA did not comment for the Daily Variety story, and a union spokesman did not immediately reply to an e-mail seeking verification of the report.

(washingtonpost.com)

Abolishing secret-ballot unionization elections

Would you want to work for a company that treats all workers exactly the same, no matter how hard they work? What about one that promotes only on the basis of seniority and not merit?

Few Americans want a job with an employer who ignores their individual efforts. Yet that's what labor unions offer employees today. Small wonder membership is steadily declining.

The premise of collective bargaining is that by representing all employees a union can negotiate a better collective contract than each worker could get through individual negotiations. But because the union negotiates collectively, the same contract covers every worker, regardless of his or her productivity or effort.

In the manufacturing economy of the 1930s, this worked reasonably well. An employee's unique talents and skills made little difference on the assembly line.

In today's knowledge economy, however, collective representation makes little sense. Machines perform most of the repetitive manufacturing tasks of yesteryear. Employers now want employees with individual insights and abilities. The fastest-growing occupations over the past quarter-century have been professional, technical, and managerial in nature. The jobs of the future include Web designers, interior decorators, and public-relations specialists, among others.

These jobs depend on the creativity and skills of individual employees. Few workers today want a one-size-fits-all contract that ignores what they individually bring to the bargaining table. Union-negotiated, seniority-based promotions and raises feel like chains to workers who want to get ahead.

Additionally, economic changes mean that unions can no longer deliver large gains to their members. Unions boast that their members earn higher wages than non-union workers. But they don't create money out of thin air. They use their bargaining power to take it from someone else. Contrary to popular impression, that someone is usually not business owners. It is consumers, who pay higher prices when companies pass on the added cost of the union-wage bill.

But companies can pass union costs on only when customers cannot shop elsewhere. Deregulation and free trade have increased competition, and benefit both consumers and the economy. NAFTA alone saves a typical family $2,000 a year. But increased competition also means that unions cannot win above-market wages through collective bargaining. Companies no longer have monopoly profits to afford those inflated wages.

Take General Motors, which used to pay its janitors and security workers the union rate of $75 an hour. When Toyota and Honda started selling better cars for less, they drove GM to the brink of bankruptcy and forced the United Auto Workers to agree to new contracts paying market rates. As this has happened at company after company, the difference between union and non-union wages has steadily shrunk.

The average union member still earns more than the average non-union member, but not because unions are skilled negotiators. It's because unionized companies become very selective about whom they hire.

Since unions make it virtually impossible to lay off under-performing workers, unionized companies take pains to hire more productive workers in the first place. The typical union member naturally earns higher wages - with or without general representation. New workers who vote to join a union, however, do not earn more than they would have if they had stayed non-union.

These modern realities are colliding with problems that have long turned off workers - corruption, unaccountable leadership, and members' dues funding union bosses' lavish salaries. Not to mention excessive political activism.

Unions have announced plans to spend $300 million to defeat John McCain.

That's great news if you're a partisan Democrat - less so if you're a rank-and-file worker whose dues foot the bill.

The one sector where unions remain relevant is the government. Almost half of all union members now work in the public sector. The typical union member today works for the DMV, not on the assembly line.

Unions fit more comfortably into government workplaces than the private sector. Government employees are used to bureaucracy that does little to reward individual initiative. And the government faces no competition.

A state won't go bankrupt, no matter how much public-sector unions ask for in wages. The state can just raise taxes on everyone else. It's no accident that the typical government employee earns substantially more than an equivalently skilled private-sector worker. Whether it is fair that government unions push for higher taxes to pay their inflated salaries is another question.

The upshot is that unions today have little to offer workers outside of government. By a more than 3-to-1 margin, non-union workers tell pollsters they are happy to stay that way, and union membership has fallen steadily over the past generation.

Unions naturally want to reverse their decline. But rather than reform to become relevant, unions want to take away a worker's right to vote on joining a union.

Currently workers join unions through secret-ballot elections. If a majority of employees votes in privacy for a union, their company is organized, but neither their employer nor the union knows how each employee voted. This allows workers to vote their convictions.

Now organized labor has thrown its weight behind the little-known "Employee Free Choice Act." This misnamed bill abolishes secret-ballot organizing elections and allows unions to press workers to publicly sign a union representation contract.

Where no-vote unions are allowed, unions do not take "no" for an answer.

Unions train organizers to give workers a high-pressure sales pitch and push them to immediately sign on. If a worker refuses, organizers return again and again to press him to change his mind. Some organizers threaten workers who will not join.

Not surprisingly, unions can organize most workplaces where workers are denied a vote. But making it difficult for workers to refuse to join will not make unions more attractive. Nor will it change the competitive realities that prevent unions from raising wages by passing on costs to consumers. Unless unions rethink how they represent workers they will remain irrelevant to 21st-century employees.

- James Sherk is the Bradley Fellow in Labor Policy in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation. He wrote this for the Fredericksburg (Va.) Free Lance-Star.

(bnd.com)

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Heston championed worker freedom

When I first started covering the Hollywood labor beat for The Hollywood Reporter in 1981, the Screen Actors Guild was embroiled in a bitter internal political battle between SAG president Ed Asner and former SAG president Charlton Heston. An outspoken critic of the policies of another former SAG president -- then U.S. President Ronald Reagan -- Asner was my kind of guy -- a good liberal and a good union man.

I didn't agree with any of Mr. Heston's conservative politics, but it turned out that he was my kind of guy too.

Mr. Heston, who died Saturday after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease, was a gentleman in the old-fashioned sense of the word. I must have talked to him a hundred times on the telephone and at least a dozen times on the picket line, and I always addressed him as "Mr. Heston." And in all those times, he never once said, "Call me Charlton" or "Call me Chuck," as he was known to his friends. And it was fitting, because to me, he was "Mr. Heston."

Once, while on vacation visiting friends in Valdez, Alaska, Mr. Heston tracked me down and called me up up there to give me his thoughts on one of the hot SAG topics of the day. My friend Rachel answered the phone, and when Mr. Heston told her that it was Charlton Heston calling, she nearly fainted. She was so excited to be getting a phone call -- in Valdez, Alaska -- from a real, big-time movie star, that she told all her friends about it. She even wanted her husband, my friend Joe -- who was the publisher of the town newspaper -- to put something in the paper that Charlton Heston had called Valdez, Alaska.

Mr. Heston had that kind of an effect on people.

Mr. Heston was often accused of being anti-union. I know for a fact, however, that he loved the Screen Actors Guild, and the union could always count on him to show up whenever there was a picket line -- which always drew the press -- and the resulting attention to their cause. He was also criticized for his support of so-called "Right to Work" legislation, which gave workers in right-to-work states the right not to join a union, even if a majority of their co-workers voted the union in. I personally oppose right-to-work laws because they give nonunion workers a free ride -- they get all the benefits of a union contract without having to pay any union dues. However, I respected Mr. Heston's motives, because he was principled -- he believed that no American should be forced to join a union that he or she didn't want to join.

In the 1980s, Mr. Heston also aroused the ire of union leaders in Hollywood when he and a group of conservative SAG actors -- who called themselves Actors Working for an Actors Guild -- led a movement to educate Hollywood union members to the fact that they had the right -- as upheld by the Supreme Court -- to opt out of their unions by declaring "financial core" status. In non-right-to-work states such as California, declaring financial core status gives workers in unionized industries the right to opt out of their union's politics while still requiring them to pay that portion of union dues that go directly towards collective bargaining, contract enforcement and contract administration. This seemed like a good compromise because it addressed what, to me, was Mr. Heston's valid argument against "compulsory unionism," while at the same time eliminating the "free-riders" present in right-to-work states.

Mr. Heston put his principles into action in 1991 when he declared financial core status in Actors Equity to protest the union's refusal to allow a white actor -- Jonathan Pryce -- to play the role of a Eurasian in "Miss Saigon" on Broadway. Mr. Heston, who had marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, called the union's action "obscenely racist." He even flew to London to support an actor's right to play any role without regard to race.

Many years later, during an interview on CNN, the show's lead actress, Lea Salonga, was asked: "What is your favorite memory of 'Miss Saigon'?"

Without hesitating, she replied: "Charlton Heston came backstage after the opening-night performance (in London). He was really rallying for Jonathan Pryce and me to come to Broadway. So when Charlton Heston came backstage, I just had to give him the biggest hug for fighting so hard to get (us) over here. It was Moses in my dressing room! I was so in awe of him."

Mr. Heston had that kind of effect on people.

(hollywoodreporter.com)

AFL-CIO officials oppose union democracy

Let's just put the skunk on the table. America's economy is in real trouble. We didn't get into this economic crisis overnight. We need real long-term solutions to our deep-rooted economic problems -- not the status quo and a $300 BandAid.

How did we get to this point? Before the 1970s, our economy was growing strong, which meant rising wages for the vast majority of America's workers.

More money in our pockets meant more spending capacity -- and so we spent. That spending encouraged companies to invest more, and a cycle of prosperity was born.

It was good while it lasted, but for the last three decades workers' productivity has continued to go up, up and away -- while wages have stagnated. There are many reasons, including the deregulation of the airline, telecommunications and trucking industries, which drove wages down for those workers. Unfair international trade policies (like NAFTA) also played a significant role, providing incentives to send jobs overseas.

But another key reason workers aren't seeing wages that match their productivity is the sustained attack against workers' freedom to form unions to bargain for better deals.

The Employee Free Choice Act is national legislation that would level the playing field -- mitigating corporate greed and repairing the broken labor-law system that has stripped away the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively. [N.B. The proposal would ban secret-ballot unionization elections.]

Employers routinely harass, coerce and fire people who try to form unions. Studies show that union activists stand a one-in-five chance of getting fired during organizing campaigns. More than 30,000 workers were discriminated against by their employer while trying to form a union in 2005.

About 60 million of America's working men and women say they would join a union today if they could. And it's no surprise. A union card is every worker's ticket into the middle class.

Union members earn 30 percent more than workers who don't have a union -- that's $200 a week, or more than $10,000 per year. Union members are also more likely to have health care and pension benefits.

Without the counterbalance of worker power in the economy, the relationship between wages and productivity unravels. Wages stagnate while living expenses rise. When that happens, workers become over-reliant on borrowing in order to make ends meet or get ahead. That's why the average American household owes $8,000 of their future income to a credit card company -- up from $3,000 in 1990. And that's why Americans are so vulnerable to predatory lending in the housing industry.

But now, debt-driven consumer spending has reached its limit. Some of us are losing our homes because we can't afford to pay higher mortgage interest rates. The rest of us are tightening our belts because we no longer have equity in our homes against which we can borrow.

The economy is in real trouble, and we all know it. The question is whether we keep marching to the beat of the same old tired drummer, or whether we decide it's time to change our tune.

- John Sweeney is president of the AFL-CIO, and James Leaman is president of the Virginia AFL-CIO.

(charlotte.com)

Out-of-state CNA blocks SEIU organizers

Right To Work law boosts Beehive State

Some Utah residents may already think the state is a great place to live or work, but now they have official data to back it up. Utah finished second in The CQ Press state livability rankings, up two slots from its fourth-place finish last year. It was also declared one of the top 10 states to support businesses.

New Hampshire has claimed the top spot in the livability rankings for five years in a row, while Mississippi has finished at the bottom for nine years. The rankings are in "State Rankings 2008: A Statistical View of America," published by CQ Press.

"This impressive ranking is a reflection of our state's unparalleled quality of life and exemplary economic success," Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said in a statement. "Utah truly offers 'Life Elevated.'"

CQ Press, a division of Congressional Quarterly, based its rankings on 44 different factors, ranging from education, economic development, public safety, environment and public health to median household income and the crime rate, sunny days and infant mortality rate.

"Utah boasts one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates, while maintaining one of the highest job-growth rates," said Jason Perry, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development. "Our focus on education along with our skillful work force makes Utah a great place for doing business. The affordable cost of living, the beautiful scenic life, and the countless recreational opportunities truly qualify Utah as one of the 'Most Livable States in the Nation.'"

Meanwhile, Utah ranks nine out of 10 in a report issued Wednesday called "Keeping Jobs In America: Pollina Corporate Top 10 Pro-Business States 2008." The annual study evaluates of job creation and retention efforts of the federal government and all 50 state governments.

"For the second year in a row, Utah's political leaders have proven that they truly understand what it takes for a state to provide an environment for business growth and expansion," according to Dr. Brent A. Pollina, vice president of Pollina Corporate and the study's author. "Utah continues to place strongly in the areas of employee quality, good infrastructure, low corporate taxes and high quality of life."

Utah is just above Kansas in the rankings, while North Carolina took first place.

"This report continues the good business news for the state of Utah. To again be recognized in the 'Pollina Corporate Top 10 Pro-Business States' acknowledges the momentum Utah maintains in its job creation and retention efforts," Huntsman said. "While the national economy struggles, Utah companies continue to grow and recruit top-quality professionals with long-term, high paying jobs in Utah."

The Pollina study evaluates and ranks states based on 28 factors, including taxes, human resources, right-to-work legislation, energy costs, infrastructure spending, workers compensation legislation and jobs lost or gained.

Last month, Utah was ranked first in the The Pew Center on States Government Performance Project for 2008. The state got an overall "A minus" for how the government manages information, people, money and infrastructure.

(deseretnews.com)

Labor-state Catholic teachers on strike

Catholic educators will be on strike again today at eight city schools, including three on Staten Island: St. Teresa's School, Castleton Corners; St. Sylvester's School, Concord and Sacred Heart Schools, West Brighton. The Federation of Catholic Teachers is protesting what they characterize as unfair labor practices by the Archdiocese of New York.

More than 50 teachers picketed outside St. Charles School, Oakwood; St. Clare's School, Great Kills, and Our Lady Star of the Sea School, Huguenot, Friday, one day after the union lodged its complaint with the state Employees Relation Board.

Classes were in session for pupils at the three Island parish schools, but many of the teachers stayed home.

A union organizer warned last week that more schools could be affected in the near future.

In the absence of the educators, administrators marshaled substitute teachers, parents and school board members to front classrooms and supervise pupils, though much of the day was spent watching movies, coloring and doing other non-academic activities, according to parents.

Teachers have been without a contract since Sept. 1. In the latest offer from the archdiocese, salaries would increase between 17 and 19 percent but teachers would face increases in the sums they pay for health insurance.

Friday's action and today's expected strike are not sick-outs. They come on the heels of a threatened strike by the Lay Faculty Association to coincide with Pope Benedict XVI's visit to New York April 18-20. That union represents 500 teachers at 10 high schools within the archdiocese, including Moore Catholic in Graniteville and Monsignor Farrell in Oakwood.

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, had described Friday's job-action as "short-sighted" and said the union should have all the information it requested by this week.

Zwilling, who said teachers will be asked to pay what every other archdiocesan employee pays for health insurance (10 percent of the insurance premium) by 2010, called the strike "delaying tactics" in hopes of squeezing out a better contract. He called the current offer "very generous."

(silive.com)

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