Big Dem Business prefers union-only labor

A Democratic business group is pushing to prevent competing business and labor initiatives from appearing on the November ballot. The Colorado Democratic Business Coalition issued a letter Friday saying the right-to-work proposal and a series of labor-backed measures will harm the state's business environment. "We call on all business organizations to present a unified front and say 'no' to all of these measures," the letter said.

The right-to-work initiative, opposed by organized labor, would ask voters to amend the state constitution to say that union membership and the payment of union dues or fees could not be mandatory.

The labor-backed initiatives would require employers to give workers annual cost-of-living increases, mandate health-insurance coverage for businesses with 20 or more employees, require businesses to pay more in property taxes and prevent employers from firing workers without "just cause," among other measures.

Mark Messenbaugh, coalition chairman, described the group as "a membership organization designed to educate Democratic policymakers on business concerns and express Democratic ideals within the business community."

The group said it has more than 300 members from a broad range of business sectors.

Its board of directors includes Bart Alexander of Molson Coors Brewing Co., Pam Feely of Feely & Associates, Ed Shackelford of Cherry Creek GMAC Real Estate and Vic Smith of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The group's effort to keep the competing measures off the ballot reflects similar approaches by the Denver Metro and South Metro Denver chambers of commerce and Gov. Bill Ritter.


Non-union construction jobs disappearing

Two local construction trade groups want to amend the Chula Vista (CA) City Charter to prevent the city or its redevelopment agency from funding projects that require that construction employees belong to a union. The Associated General Contractors of San Diego Inc. and Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of San Diego Inc. have pledged $110,000 each to kick off a voter initiative to gather signatures to place the measure on the ballot for the Nov. 4 election in Chula Vista.

The money will help pay for advertising costs and supplies used by volunteers to collect signatures.

“There’s a lot more to come,” said George Hawkins, president and chief executive officer of the local ABC chapter, who says his association has spent $215,000 on the issue for attorneys’ fees and conducting public opinion polling.

The groups planned to kick off their campaign April 23 to get the measure on the ballot.

Organizers must gather about 9,000 signatures — 10 percent of registered voters — to qualify for the Nov. 4 general election ballot, says Donna Norris, interim city clerk.

They must also take care of several administrative requirements spelled out in the state election code, such as publishing notice before circulating the petition.

“We may still be able to make it, if they want to turn it in now, but nothing has been circulated to be submitted,” said Norris.

It Started With Gaylord

The effort follows a labor union dispute in Chula Vista last year between Nashville, Tenn.-based Gaylord Entertainment and local unions about a proposal to build a 1,500-room hotel and convention center on the Chula Vista waterfront.

Though supported by local officials, the proposed $900 million project is complicated by labor union demands that Gaylord sign a project labor agreement, requiring union participation in the project. The unions, represented by the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council and San Diego Building Trades Council, say the agreement would ensure Gaylord hire local workers.

Gaylord has refused to sign the agreement.

“The Gaylord project started the thinking,” said Hawkins, adding that such union-only agreements shut out competition since 85 percent of the industry does not belong to a union.


SEIU: Get somebody else to pay for it

Related story: "SEIU to rebate dues extorted from non-members"

Public Unions are Public Enemy #1

Late last month, a federal judge ordered the state's largest public employee union, Service Employees International Union Local 1000, to repay as many as 28,000 non-union state workers, who were not given a change to challenge the union's 2005 dues increase to fight the Governor's slate of reform measures (the unions were not excited by the measures which, if they had passed, would have averted the fiscal crisis we find ourselves in today).

It's a bit convoluted, the process by which non-union members can get stiffed with a union fee, but the real issue here is that this decision by Judge Morrisson England, is so after-the-fact so as to be almost laughable if it wasn't tragic. Yeah, it's morally right that the SEIU thug-bosses have to go back (under the Judge's orders) and ask these state employees if they object to the assessment, and if so, refund them each around $135 plus interest.

But the point is that the damage is done.

We caught up with Lew Uhler, President of the National Tax Limitation Committee. We sought him out because he has long been a leader both here in California and nationally on this issue of unions taking money out of employee paychecks for political purposes, without the express consent of the employee.

Uhler told me, "The decision regarding a special assessment of public employee union dues for political purposes, while a big win for free speech is a day late and a dollar short."

About $3 Million was collected from 28,000 public employees and spent to defeat Proposition 75 and other initiatives in 2005, without the consent of the employees.

Uhler went on to say, "A refund now is like closing the barn door after the horse has exited. What California needs is a rule that blocks unions from taking political dues from unwilling employees before the damage is done. Objecting public employees are not the only ones harmed by the abuse of union political dues. Taxpayers must foot the bill for collecting and delivering these dues to the unions by virtue of the administrative costs borne by the State's Controller's Office. Taxpayers are unwitting accomplices in denying freedom of speech to objecting public employees."

There is no doubt that something needs to be done about this outrageous situation. The reality is that California state government is in serious need of reforms -- many of which would be mightily opposes by public employee unions (a prime example would be the need to reform our state public employee pension system to more closely mirror that of the private sector, where the employer puts aside a certain amount of money each year into a retirement fund for the employee, such as 401k plans. The current system of defined benefits is too lavish for taxpayers to afford).

As long as these public employee unions can dip so heavily into the pockets of their members without even asking for permission, they will always have countless millions to use to mislead voters and stop meaningful reforms.


Unions want to ban secret-ballot elections

Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle has rightly vetoed a bill approved by the Legislature that would have had the effect of eliminating secret elections in union organizing in some workplaces. Part of a national movement, the measure would subject employees -- unprotected by the secret ballot -- to undue pressure from both management and labor.

In an op-ed piece last Sunday, Rep. Neil Abercrombie argued that it would not eliminate the secret ballot but would allow employees instead of employers to decide on holding an election. It would allow the signing of union cards by more than half the employees in a workplace to result automatically in union certification.

Employers now are allowed to insist on a secret election on the issue. An employee's open support of a secret election following a majority "card check" would be regarded correctly as anti-union, forestalling certification.

Abercrombie points out that management is known to pressure employees to reject union organization. That can be effective in discouraging them from signing union cards, but anonymity protected by secret ballots in union elections is the best way to thwart pressure from both management and labor.

"Secret ballots are the cornerstone of any truly democratic system," Lingle asserted in her veto message. "There is no compelling justification for replacing an unbiased, democratic process with one that has the potential to erode a worker's existing rights and protections under law."

The state bill would be limited to agricultural workplaces and small businesses that are not subject to the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which grants most employers the right to require secret votes. Abercrombie is co-sponsor of a more sweeping bill in Congress to amend that law by taking away that employer's right, allowing union certification by union card signatures alone.


Blackballing Verrone hauled before NLRB

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which today is continuing its negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild for a new contract, has filed a complaint against the Writers Guild of America with the National Labor Relations Board.

The move comes as Hollywood continues to recover from the 100-day WGA strike that ended in February, coping with a shortened and challenging pilot season. Meanwhile, the business is bracing for another possible work stoppage this summer if SAG and the AMPTP cannot come to terms on a new contract. The current SAG contract expires in June.

Negotiations between the actors guild and the AMPTP have been ongoing since April 15. In an update to members yesterday, SAG focused on the concerns of the “middle-income” actors, who, SAG says, make an average of $52,000 a year. SAG argues that overall compensation is decreasing, and residuals and earnings are dropping when adjusted for inflation. SAG also argues that there are fewer employment opportunities as a result of changes in the broadcast business model, and that fewer reruns and the rise of reality TV have impacted the level of residuals received by actors.

SAG is asking for “reasonable” increases in minimums for all categories of performers and for major roles. The union is also seeking protection and compensation for product integration: “Actors are being forced to incorporate clumsy dialogue and action in television series and motion pictures more and more each season. We are seeking reasonable solutions, which include compensation and pre-approval for performing product integration. This is not the soda can on the table anymore. It’s scripted and is an integral part of the story and plot development.”

The AMPTP is not commenting on the SAG negotiations at this stage. The alliance did, however, issue a statement about its unfair labor practice charge against the WGA. The complaint stems from a letter issued by the WGA about writers—28 in total—who dropped their active union membership during the work stoppage. The letter from Patric M. Verrone, the
president of WGAW, and Michael Winship, the president of WGAE, said these writers “consciously and selfishly decided to place their own narrow interests over the greater good.” The letter goes on to say that these writers “must be held at arm's length by the rest of us and judged accountable for what they are—strikebreakers whose actions placed everything for which we fought so hard at risk. While others forfeited paychecks to stand in unity with their fellow Guild members, many who went financial core continued to collect salaries. Without concern for their colleagues, they turned their backs and tossed the burden of collective action onto the rest of us, taking jobs, reducing our leverage and damaging the Guilds for their own advantage.” The WGA website also lists the names of the writers in question.

The AMPTP maintains that the 28 writers “exercised their legal right to elect financial core status during the recently concluded WGA strike. As such, they are entitled to full coverage under the WGA's collective bargaining agreement, including the same wages, residuals, health and pension benefits and protections afforded to all members. By publicly naming names and encouraging people who have the power to hire writers to keep them "at arm's length," and saying they must be "judged accountable" it is clear the WGA leadership is seeking to deny employment to these writers in the future. That is a direct violation of federal labor law, and as the employers of those writers we have a responsibility to defend them and the rule of law in this case.”

- Mansha Daswani


Hollywood works ahead of actors strike

Feature film production in the Los Angeles area jumped 11 percent in the first three months of the year as studios moved to get ahead of a possible actors strike. FilmL.A. Inc., an agency that tracks on-location filming, said the increase came in comparison to the first quarter of 2007. "The studios are trying to get production wrapped before June 30," the expiration date for the current Screen Actors Guild contract, Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., said Friday.

A film shoot interrupted by a strike would a "very expensive proposition," he said.

SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers held their 10th day of negotiations on Friday as another actors union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, waited in the wings for its contract talks to begin on May 5.

AFTRA delayed the start of its talks for a week to give SAG a better chance to complete a three-year deal covering movies and prime-time television.

Kyser said the reprieve for SAG gave many workers in Hollywood hope that there won’t be a repeat of the 100-day strike by writers that brought the entertainment industry to a standstill.

FilmL.A. said TV production was making a slow recovery from the strike. TV location filming was down 45 percent in the first quarter of 2008, compared to last year, the agency said.

A key issue in the SAG talks is improved compensation for shows and movies distributed online, just as it was for the writers guild.

SAG sent a report to members on Thursday outlining why projects distributed digitally are important to actors. It said 134 million Americans _ three in every four Internet users _ view online videos each month.

In addition, it said that by 2010, the top 100 media companies will collect an estimated $20.7 billion a year in Internet revenue, with advertisers spending $2.9 billion annually on online video ads.

"All this adds up to tremendous opportunities for actors," SAG told members.


Nurses decertify CNA, SEIU lies in wait

Registered nurses at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas voted out the California Nurses Association (CNA) as their union in an election this week. The decision by Scripps nurses to eject the CNA follows contract negotiations that didn't result in real improvements for nurses or patient care.

"Scripps nurses' vote to oust the CNA should be a wake up call to the union," said Lorraine Thiebaud, a registered nurse in San Francisco General Hospital's recovery unit and member of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1021. "CNA is spending millions of dollars in its members' dues money on efforts both inside and outside California that hurt nurses and other healthcare workers while neglecting their own members' needs to win improved pay and benefits, strong staffing ratios and new patient protections."

According to Scripps nurses, the CNA took credit for making improvements in the union contract finally settled last month that had already been in place. (http://allnurses.com/forums/f323/april-23rd-24th-california-nurses-association-decertification-election-297912.html).

This week's vote is the second by Scripps nurses to hold the CNA accountable for improving conditions for nurses at their hospital. In 2005, nurses protested the CNA and launched a website called www.NotInOurHouse.org but ultimately voted not to decertify the union at that time.

For months, the CNA has been mounting campaigns to persuade SEIU nurses to decertify their union in hospitals in states including California, Ohio, and Nevada. In California, the CNA's hostile efforts to raid hospitals represented by SEIU has even resulted in violence, with a CNA organizer arrested in early April for slapping an SEIU organizer and stomping on the foot of another while handing out decertification leaflets at a Los Angeles hospital ("Battle of the Nurses' Unions Turns Physical," Los Angeles Times, April 10, 2008).

In March, the CNA sabotaged a three-year effort to win a fair process for 8,300 nurses and other workers at Catholic Healthcare Partners (CHP) hospitals in Ohio to freely choose whether to form a union with SEIU. Just six days before CHP workers were set to vote, CNA organizers came to Ohio to launch a vicious "vote no" campaign that ended in the cancellation of elections.

This week, the Alameda County Superior Court ordered an illegal temporary restraining order obtained by the CNA as a publicity stunt last week be thrown out after reviewing affidavits and other information contradicting the CNA's accusations that "5 male staffers were harassing CNA Board members." A video shows that a 54 year-old registered nurse and a 61 year-old respiratory therapist, both women, were going door-to-door to try to speak to CNA leadership (available online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGw2QJTgw4I).

Related video: "Ohio SEIU organizers visit CNA Board Member"


Nurses stuck in SEIU-CNA crossfire

A union fight that began at nine Ohio hospitals has moved to venues around the country, leaving local hospital officials and employees unsure if a unionization vote canceled in March will be rescheduled. Last week the California Nurses Association obtained a restraining order against Columbus-based Service Employees International Union after accusing the SEIU of attacking CNA members during a Michigan conference. The SEIU has accused the CNA of union-busting after it interfered in an NLRB election involving 8,000 employees of Catholic Healthcare Partners, including those at both Springfield Regional Medical Centers.

In the meantime, the Ohio Nurses Association is attempting to organize in Springfield along with "everyone else," said ONA spokesman Brett Anderson.

That has left some hospital employees, who worked three years to get a chance to hold a union vote, very frustrated. And it leaves Catholic Healthcare Partners, which worked out an agreement with the SEIU to hold the vote, sitting on the sidelines as unions fight.


Pro-union Denver Post campaigns against RTW

Molson Coors is walking a political tightrope with the right-to-work ballot initiative, a controversial measure driven, at least in part, by a fifth-generation member of the Coors family. Before the 2005 merger with Molson Inc., Golden-based Adolph Coors Co. was long associated with the family's strict conservative views.

But the company has declared that it is firmly against the effort to ban mandatory union membership in Colorado, even though Jonathan Coors, the 28-year-old nephew of Molson Coors vice chairman Pete Coors, is one of the leaders of the movement.

Some say Molson Coors' public stance is part of an effort to distance itself from the family's political agenda and avoid a potential backlash from blue-collar beer drinkers.

"I'm surprised they're not locking Jonathan in the trunk of a car and leaving him at long-term parking out at (Denver International Airport)," said Dan Baum, author of "Citizen Coors: An American Dynasty." "A guy named Coors going around promoting a right-to-work law is bad news for Coors."

A bitter labor battle and allegations of discrimination spurred a strike in 1977 and a years-long boycott of Coors beer among unions, minority groups and the gay and lesbian community, crippling the brand amid the growth of competitors like Budweiser.

Image hurt company

In the mid-1980s, Coors' perceived anti-union and anti-gay views led cities including Detroit and Boston to prohibit public officials from attending company-sponsored events.

Ill feelings toward the brand were revived in the early 1990s because of Coors family support of Amendment 2, which sought to repeal gay-rights laws in Colorado, and in 2004 when Pete Coors backed a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriages during his bid for a U.S. Senate seat.

"That the Coors Brewing Co. does not support right to work shows an enormous evolution of that corporation, and it's more evidence that the family and the family's ethics and politics no longer run the show," Baum said.

The shift to focus more on the bottom line and less on politics began in 1993 when Pete Coors hired Leo Kiely, a former Frito-Lay executive. Kiely succeeded Coors as chief executive of Adolph Coors Co. in 2000 and was named chief executive of Molson Coors when the companies merged. Coors Brewing is the U.S. subsidiary of the combined company.

Kiely wrote a newspaper editorial denouncing the right-to- work effort — even after Coors Brewing's position already had been reported.

Kiely also issued a statement in 2004 to say the company didn't share Pete Coors' views on the same-sex marriage amendment.

"They're more concerned about some of the financial measures, and I think Leo brought that sense of discipline to the company when he came in," said Eric Shepard, executive editor of Beer Marketer's Insight, a trade publication.

Shepard said Coors isn't more focused on blue-collar drinkers than other major domestic breweries, but the company's Banquet and Keystone Light brands are geared toward that demographic.

The right-to-work campaign submitted 133,000 signatures to the Colorado secretary of state's office this month, and if the required 76,000 are certified, the measure will be on November's ballot. It would ask voters to amend the Colorado Constitution to say that workers can't be mandated to join a union and pay dues or fees.

Jonathan Coors is expected to lead the outreach to voters.

CoorsTek, headed by Pete's brother, John, told The Post recently that it supports the campaign. A high-tech ceramics manufacturing spinoff of the beer company, CoorsTek is privately held by John Coors and other undisclosed members of the family. Jonathan, John's son, is CoorsTek's director of government relations.

Working as a consultant for the right-to-work campaign is Alan Philp, former executive director of the now-defunct Trailhead Group. Pete Coors co-founded and put $200,000 into Trailhead, which financed ads slamming Democrats, including Gov. Bill Ritter.

Despite the measure's ties to the Coors family, the brewing company's spokeswoman, Aimee Valdez, said Pete Coors signed off on a statement that says Coors Brewing and parent Molson Coors do "not support the right-to-work initiative."

"He's looked at that (statement) and said that's good to go," Valdez said.

She said Pete Coors, who also serves as executive chairman of Coors Brewing, isn't a financial backer of the initiative.

"I've spoken with Pete Coors. He has not provided any personal funding to the right-to-work initiative," she said.

Coors' stance on the issue, as described by Valdez, contradicts the position he held during his 2004 Senate run.

"Mr. Coors has pledged that if he is elected he will consistently vote for right to work," states an October 2004 newsletter from the National Right to Work Committee.

The committee describes Coors, who lost to Democrat Ken Salazar, as a "pro-right- to-work businessman."

Coors, through Valdez, declined requests to be interviewed for this story.

The right-to-work issue has divided the Colorado business community and spurred several possible competing measures from labor.

The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry is the most prominent business group to support the right-to-work initiative. Jonathan Coors is a CACI board member.

"We agree with and support CACI's position on the right- to-work initiative and their statement that this effort will maintain a healthy business climate," CoorsTek spokesman Dane Bartlett said in a written statement.

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, usually aligned with CACI on business issues, hasn't thrown its weight behind the measure.

The South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce has voted not to support the initiative over concerns about the competing labor measures. Labor has threatened to push measures that would require employers to give workers annual cost-of-living increases and mandate health-insurance coverage for businesses with 20 or more employees, among others.

Ritter has urged both sides to back off.

Critics want action

Critics say if Molson Coors and Coors Brewing are truly against right to work, they should urge proponents — specifically Jonathan Coors — to drop the measure.

"Coors Brewing is trying to play political games with the voters of Colorado," said Jess Knox, leader of a group pushing union initiatives. "Here you have Pete Coors, who when he ran for the Senate pledged to support right to work, and you have a long history of the Coors family supporting very conservative efforts, including right to work."

Marketing experts say Coors Brewing is unlikely to be hurt by Jonathan Coors' public connection to the campaign.

"I don't think that the company itself is really impacted greatly by the opinions of the family members or people who are remotely attached to the company," said Bob Mazerov, a principal at Red Tree Results, an advertising and marketing firm in Denver. "It might be different if he were the president of Coors."

Stan Slater, a professor of marketing at Colorado State University, said the measure isn't being followed closely enough by beer drinkers to have an impact on Coors.


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