Unions win using Rules for Radicals

Why American Business is Losing the War to Big Labor's PR Offensive

For the last several years, labor bosses and their leftist allies have been waging a PR war on American business. Sadly, American business is losing the war. The problem is, as business loses this war, it is the American worker who ultimately suffers. For those businesspeople paying attention to the climate in the country right now, they realize they are losing the war, but very few understand why.

Note: For an excellent, protagonistic definition of what a businessman is, go: here.

As American business is the engine that drives economic prosperity in one way or another for all honest Americans, when the union bosses and their leftist allies win, the results are generally increased regulation, higher tax burdens, or, in the case of the union bosses' ultimate goal (the Orwellian-named Employee Free Choice Act) a broad expansion in unionization--all of these factors result in weighing down and choking the engine that drives prosperity for America.

Why, then, is it that American business is losing the PR war? To answer this question, there are several factors that come into play, as follows:

First, blame Al Gore. For, were it not for his inventing the internet, much of the propaganda spewed by the Left would fall on deaf ears. Now that there is instantaneous communication available to just about anyone with access to a computer, the Left has found innumerable ways in which to spread its message and, in doing so, has formed coalitions among previously disparate groups.

Before St. Gore invented the internet, no one knew (or cared) who Arianna Huffington was, there was no such thing as George Soros' Salon.com, and the proliferation of leftist propaganda was relegated to old mimeographed paper rags. Today, the Left has built an empire almost entirely through cyberspace. Unfortunately, defenders of American business came to the dance late. [To view our post related to this topic, go here.]

Second, though not entirely their fault, blame American business for its complacency. Businesspeople at all levels are generally a positive and productive breed. They see problems as 'opportunities' or 'challenges' to overcome.

Conversely, all-too-often, Leftists have a paranoid, glass-half-empty view of the world. [Think of the saying "it's THEM," then repeat it everytime something remotely bad happens, and you'll understand this phenomonon.] As a result of this frame of mind, Leftists typically blame capitalism (aka businesspeople) for all of the ills that befall society. [Anyone watching the current campaign for president can bear witness to this fact.]

Since the drivers of business generally think in terms of "production" (not "destruction," as many on the Left do), they are generally of the mindset to ignore their detractors on the Left, figuring the detractor is a mere nuisance and that no one of a rationale mindset would give credence to the Left's annoying irrationality.

Note: For a brief description of these two competing worldviews, read Ayn Rand's description of the Malevolent Universe Premise versus the Benevolent Universe Premise. The Left primarily operates in the former, while businesspeople primarily operate in the latter (though not always).

Third, and perhaps most importantly, given the above, it is important to understand that for many on the Left, their full time job is not to build, but to tear down. Not to produce, but to attack. In fact, for most people who are employed full-time in the union movement, their jobs are nothing more than to identify (or invent), complain about and propagandize problems.

Perhaps it is because we came from the union movement and have spent more than a dozen years fighting Big Labor’s propaganda and enlightening workers to the realities of unions that we recognize this for what it is--a war of ideas and a war of propaganda.

You see, whether its the AFL-CIO or the Change to Win union bosses, leaders of these groups (as well as their allies) are either personally trained, or they employ those who are professionally trained in the art of propaganda and very few businesspeople understand this. Businesspeople who fail to grasp the nature of this war are the ones who enable their detractors to win.

Fourth, businesspeople have no idea that by appeasing their detractors, they ultimately lose. It has been said that, "In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit."

Lastly, businesspeople do not understand that there are no Geneva Convention-like rules in this propaganda war. Fair play is non-existent to the Left. Businesspeople do not realize that the Left's malevolent view of the world leads them to deploy a strategy of 'the ends always justify the means.'

In this regard, for businesspeople to have any idea of the type of foe they face, they need to know who Saul Alinsky was. Though dead now for more than 35 years, Alinsky's Rules for Radicals is the foundation of what many on the Left have built their arsenal on.

If businesspeople understand Alinsky's "rules," they can go a long way in countering Big Labor's PR offensive. In this regard, here are Alinsky's "rules," compiled by a friend of ours whom we refer to as Spartacus:

Alinsky emphatically stated that the end justifies the means but cautions that extreme means are only justified in certain situations. Here are Alinsky's rules to test whether the means are ethical.

1. One's concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one's personal interest in the issue.

2. The judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment.

3. In war the end justifies almost any means.

4. Judgment must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point.

5. Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa.
The less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of means.

6. Generally, success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics.

7. The morality of means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory.

8. Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition to be unethical.

9. You do what you can with what you have and clothe it in moral garments.

10. Goals must be phrased in general terms like "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," "Of the Common Welfare," "Pursuit of Happiness," or "Bread and Peace."

Alinsky also had rules for what he called "power tactics" or the means used to "take." He described it as "how the Have Nots can take power away from the Haves."

Here are his rules of power tactics.

1. Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.

2. Never go outside the experience of your people.

3. Whenever possible, go outside of the experience of the enemy.

4. Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.

5. Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.

6. A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.

7. A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.

8. Keep the pressure on with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.

9. The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.

10. The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.

11. If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside.

12. The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.

13. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.

Even a cursory review of these rules for radicals reveals that a Leftist activist schooled in them will have no compunction about using almost any tactic in a conflict with businesspeople. In fact, radicals must often create issues to stir up problems in order to radicalize their potential followers.

As stated above, perhaps it is because we've spent so many years both in the belly of the beast and so many years battling Big Labor's propaganda and educating workers to the realities of unionization that, for us, it is easier to engage in the battle than it is for most. However, even to a lay person, once you recognize the tactics for what they are, the Left can be defeated, but in order to do so, one must sometimes play by the same rules as the radicals.

[The above is an open letter to America's business leaders and, although long in coming, is in response to discussions we've had with several of our readers and clients. For more information, go to EmployerReport.com]


1199/SEIU raids nurses with decert tactic

1199/SEIU has filed a petition to decertify the New York State Nurses Association as the collective bargaining agent for registered nurses at Peninsula Hospital. This is the first attempted “raid” at a NYSNA facility in nearly a decade, and follows New York’s disaffiliation (along with seven other states) from the United American Nurses, in part because of its opposition to a proposed alliance between UAN and SEIU.

“What they were unable to achieve by stealth, they are now trying to get by force,” said Lorraine Seidel, RN, director of the Nurses Association’s collective bargaining program. “There are thousands of nurses in New York who don’t belong to any union. Instead of organizing them, 1199/SEIU is seeking to add to its ranks by poaching members from others in the house of labor.”

The nurses at Peninsula are in the midst of an intense contract negotiation – their most recent agreement expired on April 30. The RNs held an informational picket today to protest the lack of a contract. Raider unions often will use this period to exploit the economic concerns of bargaining unit members.

“We believe most of our members understand that they are better served by an all-RN union,” said Seidel. “Unfortunately, defending against raids consumes valuable resources that could be spent on serving members and organizing new units.”

The Nurses Association represents registered nurses – and only registered nurses – at 77 hospitals and healthcare facilities in the New York metro area. 1199/SEIU has just 15 bargaining units with registered nurses and other types of workers.


Ban on non-union construction questioned

Contractors sue city over project labor agreement

A lawyer for a building contractors' association filed a lawsuit against the city of Juneau, Alaska last week, saying the way it doles out construction contracts is unfair. At issue is the city's project labor agreement, or PLA, for the upcoming renovations of Harborview Elementary School. Bids for the estimated $14 million project are due May 7 and require that contractors agree to certain labor practices, including hiring only union tradesmen, to be eligible to win the job.

Project labor agreements serve "no legitimate public purpose," and favor "union contractors over non-union contractors," according to the court records filed on behalf of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Alaska.

Bill Shattenberg, who owns Anchor Electric, is also listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. He said his company won't take part in any project labor agreements with the city because it would force the electricians employed on those projects to join unions they have no interest in joining and decrease their take-home pay.

He also said a project labor agreement would force him to increase his overall bid by 20 percent. That added cost to non-union shops like his, Shattenberg said, hurts the city because it limits the number of contractors that can make reasonable bids.

"PLAs limit competition, that's the problem," Shattenberg said. "And it excludes local companies ... and their employees from working on city projects."

On Friday, Shattenberg sent an e-mail to members of the Juneau Assembly naming four other local contractors that he said would not bid on the Harborview project or any other city project that had a project labor agreement.

"If your intent was to exclude local businesses and labor from city jobs when there is already a severe labor shortage, then job well done, mission accomplished," Shattenberg wrote.

The city has used project labor agreements on eight construction projects since 1996, including the recent expansion of Bartlett Regional Hospital and the construction of a new $60 million high school in the Mendenhall Valley, according to City Attorney John Hartle.

In March, the Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution supporting project labor agreements on city construction projects. And the city's head engineer, Roger Healy, has made project labor agreements part of five future city construction jobs, which include building a parking garage and renovating the airport's terminal. Bids for the city projects, which add up to $50.5 million, are due over the next eight months.

Healy said project labor agreements were necessary because of the large amount of work required over a small period of time.

"It is imperative to the success of all projects that uniform work rules and wages apply to all projects to avoid piracy of workers between projects," Healy wrote in a memo to the city manager and attorney last month. "PLAs ... will help to assure a steady supply of competent labor for all projects."

But in a February memo explaining why he had removed a project labor agreement from a renovation project at Glacier Valley Elementary School, Healy expressed concern that it could limit the number of potential bidders for city projects and lead to higher-than-planned costs.

Healy wrote that on recent projects there had only been a single bidder.

"This is not a reflection on labor, but rather on bidding climate that PLAs may impose on local conditions," Healy wrote. "The facts are in dispute. Cost savings and efficiencies may be realized by a trained and more regimented workforce during construction, but the PLA requirement may limit the contractor bidding pool, thereby driving owner costs upward without any recourse by the (city)."

Mike Notar, president of the Juneau & Vicinity Building and Construction Trades Council said past city jobs with project labor agreements had come in "on time and under budget."

He also listed the benefits project labor agreements provided for the city. "They get labor harmony, they get a broad diverse workforce of all skilled trades, they get cheaper payroll, (and) they get local residents to work on their projects," Notar said.

Assembly member Bob Doll said he would like to see project labor agreements for one third to one half of the city projects. He said doing so would ensure that benefits and rights enjoyed by union workers would spread to all workers.

"It sets a standard by which everybody comes to be judged," Doll said.

The city has 20 days to respond to Shattenberg and the Associated Builders and Contractors of Alaska's first legal volley - two weeks after the bid for Harborview is due.

The builders' lawyer declined to say whether he would seek an injunction to delay the Harborview project's bid date.

Any delay of Harborview's renovations would be hard on the school district, according to Superintendent Peggy Cowan. She said school construction projects have to keep to a tight schedule because delays would disrupt entire school year calendars.

Hartle said he did not think any delay for the Harborview bid would be granted by the courts. He pointed to a similar case involving contractors and the city in 1996, where Judge H. Russel Holland denied a temporary restraining order for a city construction project that had a project labor agreement.

"This is not a situation where I find any possible irreparable harm to the plaintiffs in this case," Holland said.


UAW strike helps manufacturer cut costs

Local United Auto Workers members at American Axle & Manufacturing could face a difficult decision, if closing the Town of Tonawanda forge becomes part of a strike settlement. The striking workers here and in Michigan will get to vote on whatever deal eventually emerges from talks between the company and the UAW. The Detroit Free Press reported this week that the framework of such an agreement was taking shape, and one component could be a negotiated closing of the Kenmore Avenue plant.

The UAW represents 392 workers at the Tonawanda forge, among about 580 striking American Axle workers in the area, according to the union.

Neither the company nor the union has commented on the report that the Tonawanda forge, along with another one in Detroit, could be at risk of closing. The Free Press said the possible framework would also reduce workers’ wages. Talks were set to continue this weekend.

Observers say the UAW and its members are in a tough spot for a combination of reasons.

“The union is just in a very weak bargaining position right now,” said Patrick Heraty, professor of business administration at Hilbert College, who tracks the auto industry.

Soaring gas prices, a soft national economy and weak sales of General Motors Corp.’s trucks and sport utility vehicles— which American Axle supplies with parts — have created a poor climate for the union in which to bargain, he said.

Nallan Suresh, chairman and professor of operations and strategy at the University at Buffalo’s School of Management, noted that nothing was official yet, but that a shutdown of the forge would be bad news for the local economy.

“In the short run, it will be painful,” Suresh said.

But for American Axle, taking steps like cutting wages are unfortunately a necessity for it to stay competitive, he said.

Suresh said that as tough as the specter of wage reductions is for workers, it was expected that companies like Delphi Corp. and American Axle would overhaul their operations to make them “leaner and more entrepreneurial” after they were separated from GM.

“This was the rationale for the [separation] in the first place,” he said.

Striking workers interviewed outside the Tonawanda plant this week said they were awaiting official word from the union on any deal. But some said they have long thought the Tonawanda plant was at risk, even before the walkout started Feb. 26.

A tentative agreement that includes plant closings would be a hard sell to members, Heraty said, but the alternatives for the union don’t look much brighter.

“If it does not get ratified and the strike continues, it’s very difficult to see how things would get better for the UAW,” Heraty said.

American Axle has previously said that if it can’t get the “market competitive” labor cost structure it wants, it could shut down the plants affected by the strike. The Detroit-based company has steadily grown its international manufacturing presence over the years, and its chairman and chief executive officer, Richard Dauch, has lauded the company’s forging operation in Mexico.

The forging business is a competitive one, and the roster includes an India-based company that has a plant in the United States, Heraty said.

“That’s another form of competition I didn’t think we’d expect in the past,” he said.

The Free Press report said an American Axle-UAW agreement could include buyouts of $140,000 over two years and buydowns of $90,000 over three years. Buydowns are lump-sum payments to ease workers’ transition to lower pay rates.

“I think the buydowns and buyouts would be important” in a contract vote, Heraty said. “That considerably sweetens the offer. That could be the determining factor here.”

Kevin Donovan, assistant director of UAW Region 9, and Renee Rogers, an American Axle spokeswoman, said Friday that talks were continuing.

Reports have not speculated on the possible future of American Axle’s plant in Cheektowaga, which machines parts from the Tonawanda forge. If the forge does close, the Walden Avenue site would become American Axle’s lone active local plant. American Axle idled its Buffalo plant, on East Delavan Avenue, late last year.

Both the Tonawanda and Cheektowaga sites are represented by UAW Local 846, which is holding its monthly membership meeting on Sunday.


Have politicians defanged class warfare?

When Al Gore unveiled a modest appeal to "working families" at the 2000 Democratic National Convention, he drew a sharp response. His Republican opponent, George W. Bush, immediately counterattacked, accusing Gore of unleashing "class war" on the country. The preferred term of address had long been "middle class"; even the AFL-CIO avoided the shoals of class rhetoric to try to co-opt the conservative family-values agenda.

Yet, today, virtually every commentator, from William Kristol to Paul Krugman, unblinkingly invokes the once-dreaded terminology in suggesting that Sen. Barack Obama cannot, as the director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute put it, "penetrate working-class voters."

What gives? Has Marxist class analysis seeped in and insidiously converted our political culture away from its attachment to individualist opportunity-seekers to a society divided by rigid social-economic boundaries?

The answer is, not quite. Today, "working class" has been effectively defanged of any radical, let alone subversive, intent. In fact, today's working class looks less the modernist, rationalizing force that Marx projected than a bastion of tradition—that unmoving "sack of potatoes" he identified with the peasantry.

Whether explicit or not, today's invocation of the working class is proceeded by the word "white." And the resulting construct—white men and women who have not gone to college—are regularly presented as a mostly conservative political bloc. Defensive and narrowly materialistic in their politics, religious and intensely nationalistic in their identities, suspicious and perhaps racist in their instinctive response to an African-American candidate, the working class that Obama can't reach looks to be populated by Archie Bunker and his like-minded descendants.

Yet, surely, the working class is at least as crude as Obama's "bitter workers" caricature of small-town voters. Both generalizations fasten a condescending explanation upon a group economically under pressure but united by no single institution or interest.

A personal example illustrates the point. Working as a park supervisor in a "hillbilly" neighborhood of Indianapolis during the summer of 1968, I watched as the balance of political yard signs switched from Robert Kennedy to George Wallace in the months following the former's assassination. Clearly, the community was being pulled in conflicting directions.

What, then, should be Obama's working-class strategy? The best he can do is to appeal to the better angels of a complex identity that at times links the hopes of many white workers to those of a more inclusive political coalition. In his Pennsylvania concession speech, Obama talked of his commitment to an economically as opposed to entirely race-based affirmative-action strategy. What did he mean and how far would he go? Just as he gained understanding and momentum by addressing the race question following the initial Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. debacle, perhaps it is time for Obama to address social class and opportunity in America.

Such a speech might clear the air for wavering Democrats. Obama could repackage his commitments on jobs, taxes, Social Security, Immigration and trade union rights. On health care, he should make clear that if his initial proposal does not bring about effective universal coverage, he will move quickly to remedy any deficiency. Finally, he needs to tie his consistent opposition to the Iraq war to the inequality of sacrifice in this country, an inequality that stacks the children of workers into graves and hospital beds.

As for guns, faith and other social issues that may distance him from the predilections of working-class voters, Obama should let them go. American workers do not need a president to model their own religious convictions or bowling styles. No chief executive was likely more removed by upbringing or inclination from what might be better called "blue-collar culture" than Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And no other president more assuredly earned workers' undying loyalty.

- Leon Fink is a history professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and editor of the academic journal "Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas."


Right to Work law boosts Sunflower State

Site Selection Magazine named Kansas as the 10th-most competitive state in the nation this week. Forbes magazine ranks it 20th. The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council put it 35th. Who's right? How competitive is Kansas in attracting and keeping business? It depends on what's being measured. And that depends on the agenda of the group doing the measuring.

Kansas generally performs well on broader indexes that include measures such as cost of living, infrastructure and environmental regulation.

"We like to think we're in the top 10 where we need to be," said Kansas Department of Commerce spokesman Joe Monaco.

But Kansas scores drop when the lists focus on business costs, particularly taxes.

In "Rich States, Poor States," the American Legislative Exchange Council ranked Kansas 29th. Study co-author Jonathan Williams said the group focused on factors that state legislatures act on, such as taxes.

"States that keep their fiscal houses in order with limited government and low taxes are the ones that grow the fastest," he said.

But how helpful are those lists?

Irrelevant, said Darin Buelow, a site consultant and principal with Deloitte Consulting in Chicago. Picking a site is different for each facility, not one-size-fits-all, he said.

Dennis Donovan, a national site consultant and principal of Wadley-Donovan-Gutshaw, is more blunt.

"Some of them are just crap," he said.

Kansas' strategy

A state's business strategy is based on its history, culture and geography, experts say.

Sun Belt states for years have pitched themselves as the low-cost alternative to higher-cost Northern states. They have traded on their low-cost labor, low-cost land, low taxes, less restrictive regulations, and, in many cases, the aggressive use of incentives.

They have been spectacularly successful in bringing in large plants, even building whole industrial clusters, such as Alabama's automobile manufacturing cluster.

Most of the lists generally show Southern states scoring among the best.

Some of the Northern states, such as Massachusetts and New York, compete on value, despite their high costs. They emphasize their high-quality education and one-of-a-kind infrastructure. A few also use incentives aggressively, mostly as equalizers with lower-cost states.

In the middle is Kansas. The state has traditionally pitched itself as high-quality, with good highways, an educated work force and moderate costs.

Monaco said Kansas can't compete with the massive pools of cash incentives that Alabama and Texas have, but the state is competitive with most states.

It has moved in recent years to spend more money on economic development and to cut taxes,

The Kansas Legislature approved the $500 million Bioscience Initiative in 2004, lowered business taxes in 2006 and 2007, and came up with $25 million in incentives for Cessna Aircraft this year.

"I hope what (businesses) see is a consistent run of actions, a trend that culminates in the Cessna bill," Monaco said.

Kansas can't count on luxuries such as scenery, large cities or harbors to woo companies, said Tim Witsman, president of Wichita Independent Business Association.

"If you're aren't the prettiest girl on the block, you better have lots of personality," he said.

One expert's opinion

Kansas has done a pretty good job of balancing quality with cost, said Donovan, the national site consultant.

"To me, Kansas is very competitive for a variety of businesses, particularly manufacturing, distribution and back office," he said.

As pluses, he listed a central location, high-quality labor, reasonable wages, established clusters in aerospace and information technology, right-to-work laws, low-cost electricity and the low cost of land.

He expressed surprised at Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' veto of the Holcomb coal plant project this session.

"It raises red flags that the state may be turning anti-business," he said.

And, Donovan said, the fight over creationism in the state's science curriculum really hurt.

"It's still perceived as somewhat agrarian and not the most progressive place, which was somewhat reinforced by the debate over creationism," he said. "It hurts recruitment in some businesses, particularly high tech."

The state, he said, needs to market itself harder as progressive and forward-looking.

'Controllable strengths'

Kansas isn't growing or attracting companies like Texas, or some other fast-growing states.

Companies like states with large populations that are growing rapidly, Buelow said, because the economic activity level is higher and the labor costs tend to be cheaper.

Factors such as population, weather and the lack of ports, are beyond the ability of the state government, he said.

But there are plenty of factors that a state government can control, such as taxes, worker training, regulations, incentives, utility costs, and the highway, rail and airport system.

Kansas can't excel in all of them on a limited budget. It has to figure out what its strengths are and pursue those.

"(State officials) need to figure what are the controllable strengths that are better than their neighbors," he said, "and turn that into an attraction strategy."


Right to Work backers defend property rights

Former U. S. Rep. Ron Marlenee and state Rep. John Sinrud have formed an election-year issue advocacy group to promote the use of Montana's natural resources, protect property rights and stop “radical environmentalists.” The two Bozeman Republicans have launched Western Tradition Partnership and are soliciting money and memberships from industry and business executives.

Although the group seeks to provide good-paying mining, logging and other natural resource jobs for blue-collar workers, it also has a tie to Montana's right-to-work movement. Right-to-work laws ban the so-called “closed shop,” which makes union membership a precondition of employment. Unions have successfully fought efforts to pass these laws in Montana for decades.

The new group is targeting local and state issues, not national ones.

“The fact is, right now, the anti-development/anti-growth crowd controls the governor's mansion, has a razor-thin majority in the state Senate and is only one seat away from taking control of the state House,” they wrote in an April 21 letter. “Not only that, but over the past few elections, the radical environmentalists have been steadily increasing their support on county and city commissions and councils all over Montana as well.”

That letter, sent to 5,000 business and industry executives, said they should join the partnership because “quite simply, you and I cannot afford to ignore what's going on here in Montana.” The letter added:

“When it comes to frivolous environmental lawsuits, business taxes, licensing requirements, industry and labor regulations, energy development and a host of other issues critical to Montana businesses, decisions made at the state and local level can often be more important - and more damaging - than those coming out of Washington, D.C.”

Marlenee, 72, was Montana's eastern district congressman from 1977 to 1993. When Montana lost one of its two congressional seats, the conservative Marlenee lost an epic 1992 battle against U.S. Rep. Pat Williams, the liberal Democrat who represented the western district. After leaving Congress, Marlenee has lobbied for Safari Club International.

Sinrud, 40, a three-term legislator and current chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, chose not to seek re-election in 2008. He's been one of the Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer's toughest critics.

Last fall, the state Board of Architecture ordered Sinrud, who owned an architectural design firm, to quit practicing architecture without a license. Sinrud, who said he never held himself out as an architect, charged that he was the victim of a political witch hunt by the Schweitzer administration because of his criticisms of the governor. Schweitzer dismissed Sinrud's charge as “delusional.”

Sinrud and Marlenee formed what the Internal Revenue Service calls as a 501(c)(4) organization. It can engage in issues advocacy, but not speak out for or against candidates.

These groups typically raise an issue via television or radio ads and urge people to call their senators, representative or governor to urge them to support or oppose an issue or bill.

As a 501(c)(4), Sinrud said, “The income coming in is not taxable. It doesn't have to be disclosed.”

The partnership plans to advocate on such issues as forest management, energy development, water issues and Montana's lack of coal and coal-bed methane development compared to Wyoming, he said.

“It's getting back to our roots in the state of Montana this state was created,” Sinrud said. “It was created by using the treasures we have to make this state prosperous.”

Marlenee said the partnership will not be affiliated with any political party, but added:

“Because we've got to move back to the basics in Montana, we've got to also move back to our conservative roots. I and others in the nation are disenfranchised. We can't allow extremists to run the country.”

Marlenee said the group won't raise its money from political parties.

“Been there, done that,” he said, predicting the partnership will raise money a new way: “Build it, and they will come.”

It seeks to help blue-collar workers get good-paying natural resource industry jobs, Sinrud said, because “not everyone's going to be a Ph.D. or be a doctor or lawyer.”

“That's the concept behind it,” he said. “We've really got to help these people out. If we help these people out, we can help our state.”

However, the partnership also has a link to Montana's right-to-work movement.

When asked in a telephone interview who else was helping with the Western Tradition Partnership, Sinrud mentioned Christian LeFer of Livingston.

Asked if that was the same Christian LeFer of Livingston who is executive director of Montana Citizens for Right to Work, Sinrud said, “That's a totally separate group. He's not part of the group. I'm just working with him for advice.”

Montana is surrounded by right-to-work states. With unions leading the opposition, repeated efforts to enact such a law here have failed, even when Republicans have controlled the governor's office and the Legislature.

In a later interview, Sinrud said LeFer is just working as a consultant to the partnership, helping with graphics and Web design work.

Asked about the connection, LeFer said, “Yeah, I do a little graphic design work for my friends. I volunteer in my community. I do graphics for my church.”

LeFer emphasized his issue is right-to-work, and he vowed to pass it in Montana.

On Jan. 16, Sinrud out sent a right-to-work mass mailing that included a letter of introduction on LeFer's behalf that asked recipients to join them in fighting “forced unionism.”

Montana Democratic Party spokesman Kevin O'Brien isn't buying the partnership's denial of ties to the right-to-work movement.

“This is just another attempt by John Sinrud and Ron Marlenee and their out-of-state big-money backers to push an extreme agenda that is focused on taking rights away from Montana workers,” O'Brien said. “This is a wedge issue. What they're trying to do is split environmentalist and labor.”

Jim Jensen, executive director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, a leading environmental group, hadn't heard of the partnership and questioned its need.

“It certainly looks backward and not forward,” Jensen said. “Montana's environmental laws have resulted in dramatic protection of private property and improved public health for our communities and our families. Montana currently has an environmentally sensitive governor and Legislature, and at the same time, the lowest unemployment it's had, the healthiest economy for many years and a healthy state budget.

“If Sinrud and Marlenee want to take us back to the copper collar and robber barons and the days in Butte where you couldn't see the sun because of smoke and air pollution, they're going to have a tough time convincing Montanans that those days were better than today.”

Don Allen is executive director of the Western Environmental Trade Association, a generally pro-development group that includes both industries and some unions.

Allen hadn't heard of the Western Tradition Partnership either.

“I'm not against there being other groups,” Allen said. “If they want to start another group, that's fine. There's only so much money to go around.”


UFCW slapped with ULP in decert fight

Related Woodman's stories: here

Charges and countercharges continue in the case of more than 900 Woodman’s employees who either do or do not want continued union representation. Woodman’s filed an unfair labor practice charge Tuesday alleging that United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1473 has engaged in objectionable conduct by granting financial benefits to its members at two Woodman’s stores in Madison and one each in Janesville and Beloit.

The union countered Wednesday with a charge that in early April Woodman’s refused to bargain a new contract in good faith and threatened to withdraw recognition of the union in retaliation for employees’ union activities.

The union’s charge also alleges that Woodman’s followed through on the latter and withdrew its official recognition of the union on Wednesday.

Mark Sweet, the attorney representing UFCW Local 1473, has asked the National Labor Relations Board to petition a federal district court for an injunction to temporarily prevent unfair labor practices by Woodman’s and restore union recognition while the board investigates the case.

Fred Grubb, a consultant hired by Woodman’s to represent it before the board, said Woodman’s received a petition asking the grocer to pull its recognition of UFCW as the employees’ bargaining unit. Grubb said that because the petition was signed by more than half of the 950 employees, the National Labor Relations Act requires that the employer drop its recognition of the union.


Lawmakers replace picketing workers

Related ILWU/Pacific Beach Hotel stories: here

A group of state legislators joined picketers at the Pacific Beach Hotel in Waikiki yesterday to speak out on behalf of workers and to protest what they consider labor violations by the hotel owner HTH Corp. "We are here to share with the people of this nation and of the world that Hawaii is a place that will treat its workers fairly," said Rep. Della Belatti (D- Makiki, Tantalus, and portions of McCully and Papakolea). "We will not go away. We will continue to be witness to this injustice until justice is realized."

HTH, the longtime owner of the Pacific Beach Hotel and the Pagoda Hotel and Restaurant, took over management of the Waikiki property in December, laying off 32 workers in the process. HTH subsequently said it believed that Local 142's National Labor Relations Board certification had expired and refused to negotiate with the union.

The union and members of the Justice at the Beach, a coalition of community groups and lawmakers, later called for a consumer boycott against HTH.

The sides have filed numerous NLRB charges against each other, including one last week in which the union alleged the company was trying to solicit workers to sign a decertification petition.

Other state lawmakers who joined Belatti in supporting the boycott included Representatives Tom Brower, Rida Cabanilla, Kirk Caldwell, Mele Carroll, Jon Riki Karamatsu, Marilyn Lee, Angus McKelvey, Hermina Morita, Scott Nishimoto, Marcus Oshiro, Faye Hanohano, Joe Souki, Dwight Takamine, Ryan Yamane and Senators Will Espero, Clayton Hee and Clarence Nishihara.

Notably absent from yesterday's boycott were the hotel workers themselves. State Rep. Roy Takumi (D- Pearl City, Momilani, Pacific Palisades, Manana) said that the workers feared for their jobs.

"We're here because the employees cannot be. Workers at this hotel have been intimidated into silence, watching over 30 of their fellow employees fired simply because employees want what many other Honolulu hotel workers have - a fair union contract," Takumi said. "No one works harder than Hawaii hotel workers. They deserve to make a decent living. We call on the hotel to respect the law, and to resume negotiations for a fair contract."

Arturo Garay, a former cook who worked at Pacific Beach Hotel for 18 years prior to being laid off in December, said workers fear that they will end up like him -- out of work and unable to find another job.

"If the workers showed up here, I think the company would fire them," Garay said.

HTH declined to comment directly on yesterday's picketing, but did issue a news release with quotes from what it said were "one-on-one conversations" with Pacific Beach Hotel employees, urging an end to the boycott.

Included in the release was Lee Kringel, a housekeeper at Pacific Beach Hotel, who has worked there 29 years. "If the boycott is too strong, then we don't have jobs," Kringel said in the statement.

The statement also quoted Douglas Kometani, a Pacific Beach Hotel uniform services employee, as questioning the boycott.

"My opinion, it is not good for Pacific Beach, it is not good for Hawaii in general, it is hurting the whole industry. I'm here to ask people, please stop this."


Will Teamsters get schooled in Florida?

A plan to save millions could cost 250 Collier County School District custodial employees their jobs. Collier County Superintendent Dennis Thompson has confirmed that the district is considering a plan to hire a private custodial service and has sent out a request for proposals for cleaning companies to submit bids.

“We’re going to see what comes back,” he said. “Originally, it seemed like there were very little savings. But there could be potentially a lot of savings, so we are going to see what the companies come back and tell us. If they come back with a significant savings, we would have to make a proposal to the board.”

Randy Pines, chief negotiator for Teamsters Local 79, said the union is concerned about the district’s actions. The union represents custodial employees, bus drivers, food service workers and others.

“Teamsters Local 79 has asked repeatedly about this issue at the bargaining table, and has repeatedly been told that no one has any knowledge of plans to contract out these services,” he wrote in a May 1 letter to Collier County School Board Chairwoman Linda Abbott.

“On April 7, a formal request for information was submitted under the Florida Public Record Act for ‘any and all records associated with any studies regarding potential privatization of services’ currently performed by our members,’’ he wrote. “Instead of addressing the request for information, yesterday the School District released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for custodial services.”

Pines said the decision to privatize services should be made after first hearing from the public and employees.

He asked School Board members to consider a 90-day moratorium against contracting out any services, during which a Blue Ribbon Commission would conduct an independent study.

“Once a Commission’s report is made available for review by the taxpayers and all interested parties have had a fair and open opportunity to provide input, then it would be appropriate to decide whether any services should be contracted out,” he wrote.

“To my knowledge, there have not been studies done about contracting out school services,” he said. “We are asking them to take a step back, get public input before making a decision. It seems like the School District of Collier County is being dismantled totally because several people feel the sky is falling.”

Thompson said moving the custodial services to a contract could save the district $3 million.

“That’s not chump change anymore,” he said, adding the district is facing more cuts as a result of a state general fund shortfall. “This affects a lot of people and I regret that people are worried, but we have to look at things that will save the district money.”

Thompson said the Legislature passed a budget that is $4 billion less than last year.

School district officials plan to present a budget roundup to the Collier County School Board at its May 13 Committee of the Whole meeting.

This isn’t Thompson’s first experience with contracting custodial services. In Rockford, Ill., the district made the decision to contract out its custodial services, which saved the district $3.6 million.

Pines said there are issues with outsourcing services, including hidden costs to privatization and quality of services, which also need to be considered.

Thompson said if the district were to enter into a contract, it would be with a firm that has a good reputation and does quality work.

Thompson said he isn’t looking to outsource any other school services.

He said he doesn’t see much savings in outsourcing transportation and said food service employees operate from a separate food service fund that doesn’t affect the Collier County School District’s operations budget.

He said the possible outsourcing of custodial services will complete district officials’ examination of every district department to look at possible ways to save money.


SEIU janitors serve up county-wide strike threat

Janitors who clean Orange County's high-rise offices, retail shopping centers including Fashion Island, Irvine Spectrum Center and other facilities voted today on whether or not to walk off the job. Today's overwhelming vote authorizing the janitors' bargaining committee to call a strike if necessary means that janitors representing more than 2,000 Orange County janitors could call for a county-wide strike at any time.

"I want to be able to imagine a better life for my daughters, but right now it's hard to think about the future when I'm struggling to pay rent and put food on the table," said Ramona Padilla, a janitor who cleans the Irvine Towers. Ramona has worked as a janitor for 17 years and still earns less than $350 a week.

The Orange County Central Labor Council will announce their decision to extend a strike sanction at a press conference scheduled for 11:00 AM on Monday, May 5. With a strike sanction, the county's 80 local unions and 140,000 union members are pledging to honor janitor picket lines during the upcoming strike.


Irresponsible cleaning contractors have illegally tried to silence janitors who are standing up for justice, according to charges that the janitors' union is preparing to file with the federal labor board against Able, ABM, One Source DMS and others for intimidating, interrogating, harassing, threatening and retaliating against workers.

"We're standing up for good jobs so our children will have a better future," said Ramona Padilla. "We're willing to do whatever it takes so these companies stop breaking the law."


Orange County janitors currently earn wages so low that they do not even account for half of what the Economic Policy Institute says it takes to meet basic needs for a family of four, or $54,000 annually. A janitor would need to work 112 hours a week to support their family on the current wages.

Janitors currently earn $8.65 or $18,000 a year, and must pay up to 89% of their wages on rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Orange County, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (fair market rates 2008).


The strike authorization vote came as Orange County elected leaders held an emergency meeting to resolve the crisis of poverty conditions among the area's janitors.

"Janitors make an important and significant contribution to the success of the commercial real estate industry," stated State Assemblyman Jose Solorio. "I hope the involved real estate companies in Orange County do the right thing and help resolve this situation as soon as possible."

In April, California state legislators called on the state's top corporations who benefit from the janitor's work to take responsibility for good jobs for the sake of entire communities as they released a report, "The High Cost of Low Wage Service Jobs: How Communities Pay the Price for Poverty Conditions Among Janitors."

Historic Opportunity To Raise Standards, Improve Entire Communities

California's corporate real estate giants such as The Irvine Company and others, as well as bio-tech and high-tech corporations who benefit from the janitor's work, have an historic opportunity now during contract negotiations for 20,000 of the state's janitors, to agree to decent wages and family healthcare.


Justice for Janitors launched a new website this week, TheIrvineCompanyWatch.com, aimed to highlight the corporate responsibility of The Irvine Company to ensure good jobs.

For more information about SEIU Justice for Janitors California Contract Campaign 2008 and to download the report sponsored by the California State Legislative Latino Caucus, "The High Cost of Low Wage Service Jobs: How Communities Pay the Price for Poverty Conditions Among Janitors" visit: www.seiu-usww.org.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1877 is part of SEIU United Service Workers West, representing more than 40,000 janitors, security officers, airport service workers, and other property service workers across California. SEIU is the nation's largest and fastest growing union in North America with more than 1.9 million members.


All pay for unions' special interest

Mishandling of pact bodes ill for U.S. trade

It's hard to imagine a free-trade agreement more tailor-made for broad support and quick approval than one with our Latin America neighbor Colombia. After all, Colombia:

- Is a country with a small economy that poses no challenge to any major economic interest in this country.

- Already enjoys tariff preference through the Andean Trade Preference Act. Ninety percent of its exports into the United States are already subject to zero tariffs, which means a free-trade agreement will only give U.S. workers and businesses the same access and advantages now enjoyed by Colombia.

- Has fought narco-terrorism at home for years, helping us in our own struggle against drugs.

- Is finally winning a stubborn, 40-year war against a persistent guerilla movement, drastically reducing the number of kidnappings and murders and opening towns and roads to commerce for the first time in decades, while restoring an independent judiciary and strengthening the rule of law.

- Is doing all this in the face of persistent mischief from its neighbor to the east, Venezuela, whose populist and erratic leader seeks to undermine the United States and its friends in the region.

Agreement gone awry

Given these strong arguments for an agreement, why did the U.S. Congress recently vote to delay indefinitely any consideration of this agreement, which has been pending for more than 500 days?

Why did this happen despite an agreement and handshake between the administration and congressional leaders 11 months ago that the trade agreements negotiated with Peru, Colombia, Panama and Korea would all be submitted and voted on during the current term of Congress? So far, only that part of the agreement as it relates to Peru has been honored.

Most important, what are the long-term implications of rejecting this particular agreement with Colombia?

The answer to the first two questions seems to be politics — pure and simple. Although by virtually every political and economic measure, free trade benefits American workers and consumers — creating jobs, raising wages, lowering costs and giving consumers more choices and lower prices — the message isn't getting through or it isn't believed.

Workers worry that it is their job that might be at risk. Consumers like the choice of electronic equipment and apparel they can purchase at inexpensive prices, but they never connect that to the source of where it comes from.

As a result, small special interests are able to prey on legitimate fears of workers and Americans to sow seeds of doubt and disapproval. In the case of Colombia, the charge is leveled that labor-union leaders are murdered and somehow the government is complicit in these crimes. This despite the hard fact that murders of labor leaders have decreased by more than 80 percent in the last two years, and the ones still being assassinated are, by and large, supporters of the government's trade policies.

But it is the longer-term implications of turning aside consideration of the Colombia free-trade agreement that are most troubling. Trade agreements are negotiated using a process that is sometimes called "fast track," or Trade Promotion Authority. This is a legislative grant of authority to the administration to negotiate a specific trade agreement or multiple agreements in a specific time frame.

Once negotiated, the agreement is submitted to Congress for a simple up or down vote, thus assuring that the work of negotiators won't be undermined by Congress unraveling the agreement's fabric one thread at a time.

Long-term implications

It is disturbing that for the first time in more than 40 years of using Trade Promotion Authority, the Democratic leadership in Congress chose to brush aside the legal requirement for a vote and simply bury the agreement. While that might be technically legal because the House can determine its own rules, it clearly violates the spirit of the authority.

What this says about the credibility of Congress, the trust between executive and legislative branches to follow the law's legal requirements, is breathtaking. Why should the president bother to seek negotiating authority in the future, or why would Congress grant it, knowing that it means nothing, that it can be waived aside by a simple procedural vote?

Why would another country want to negotiate an agreement with the United States, especially one that involves hard political choices for them, knowing the agreement may never be voted on despite the law that says such a vote will take place?

Congress acted in a completely irresponsible manner in using a procedural vote to change the rules and avoid taking a vote on the Colombia free-trade agreement. It didn't just delay the vote on Colombia. It dealt what may be a fatal blow to the established way trade agreements are written and then voted on.

Future historians may well rank this as the worst trade vote cast in Congress since Smoot-Hawley in 1932 raised insurmountable tariff barriers to nearly all imports. That act of Congress led to the collapse of the world trading system and guaranteed the longest and deepest economic depression in American history.

Only time will tell if the consequences of this act by Congress could be as damaging. But Congress should not wait for a disaster to unfold. It should begin to repair the damage by putting a vote on the Colombia free-trade agreement back on its agenda and making it clear it will never again undermine its own established process to consider and vote on trade agreements. American jobs and exports depend on having this assurance.

- Jim Kolbe


Denver Post burnishes pro-union cred

Ida Sheely is a 52-year-old nursing assistant from Baltimore who makes $14.20 an hour. David Rubenstein is a 58-year-old CEO from Washington, D.C., whose private equity firm oversees about $81 billion. Their divergent paths almost crossed at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers' conference last week. Almost. Sheely was among 60 union protesters who stormed the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel in Baltimore during a presentation from Robert Steel, a U.S. Treasury undersecretary.

"Better staffing. Better care. No more money for the billionaire," Sheely chanted with protesters.

Officers of the business writers' group bolted the ballroom doors, leaving the protesters in the foyer where hotel security could shoo them away. They had come to harangue Rubenstein, co-founder of the renowned Carlyle Group. But they arrived too early and interrupted the wrong speech.

Last year, the Service Employees International Union asked regulators to block Carlyle's buyout of the Manor Care nursing-home chain, arguing Carlyle would load the company with debt and cut workers to make debt payments.

The $6.3 billion deal closed in December. And SEIU has been hounding Rubenstein ever since.

In January, the group halted Rubenstein's speech at the Wharton Business School. In February, the group invaded his offices on Pennsylvania Avenue.

"If you book him, we're coming," SEIU's Julie Eisenhardt said.

It's one thing when a private equity group slashes corporate jobs. It's quite another when it happens at nursing homes.

"Grandma has to wait longer for her call bell to be answered," Eisenhardt said. "Grandpa has to wait to go to the toilet. And if they need someone to talk to, there's no one there."

SEIU is also backing legislation that would increase regulations for nursing- home operators such as Manor Care, which runs more than 500 nursing homes in 32 states, including Colorado.

"Many people would say it's the Rolls Royce of nursing-home operators," the bespectacled, silver-haired Rubenstein told business journalists after the SEIU disturbance was quelled.

Of Manor Care's 60,000 employees, only 1,100 are unionized.

SEIU "wasn't successful organizing Manor Care," Rubenstein said. "Now it's trying another tack.

"Anybody can organize the company any time they want," he said, "but they have to do it according to the rules that the National Labor Relations Board sets forth."

Rubenstein said SEIU organizers are instead hoping he'll "get sick of this harassment, embarrassment and humiliation . . . and say to the Manor Care CEO, 'Guess what? I can't take it anymore. Please, do whatever SEIU wants and let them organize.' "

So far, the tactic isn't working.

A woman with a megaphone accosted Rubenstein at Wharton.

"She kept saying, 'What are you going to do for me?' ... It was hard for me to understand a lot of what she was saying, because her English was garbled. And I said, I'll tell you what, maybe I'll get you a course in remedial English."

The woman was a Manor Care employee, and there was her billionaire boss putting her down.

"It was one of those clever things you think, but maybe shouldn't say," Rubenstein confided. "As soon as I said it, I knew I made a mistake."

A colleague urged him to call the woman and apologize.

"The irony of it was that although my speech was interrupted, and they had tried to harass me, I wound up being the person who had to apologize," Rubenstein lamented.

The Carlyle Group, which boasts 30 percent annualized returns since 1987, has rarely felt the need to apologize. Lately, however, the subprime meltdown has dulled its luster. Earlier this year, Carlyle Capital Corp. defaulted on $16.6 billion of debt it had invested in mortgage securities. And the Manor Care deal barely came together.

"It was done at the height of the private-equity bubble," Rubenstein said. "It was one of the last transactions done before the music stopped. We got it financed, but it wasn't that easy to do."

Rubenstein remains unapologetic, though, about cost-cutting.

"The biggest slashing and burning," he said, "is going on at companies that have nothing to do with leveraged buyouts. ... When the economy goes down, you often see cost-cutting occurring."

Sheely, the nursing assistant, says her job has been tougher since Rubenstein took over.

She scrambles in the mornings to get patients out of bed, to the shower and to breakfast.

"Some are obese and it's a lot of work," she said. "Then we have dialysis patients. . . . We have to roll them down the hall in these big chairs that don't even roll. It hurts your back. ... But we do the best we can to take care of them."

As a billionaire rolls his dice.


Newhouse sheet soft-pedals union 'contretemps'

In an "open letter" addressed to Andy Stern, president of the 1.9 million member Service Employees International Union, dozens of U.S. authors, academics and several journalists on Thursday took Stern to task for an ongoing feud with United Healthcare Workers West, an SEIU local based in Oakland.

Download the letter [PDF]

Among the signatories: famed radical and iconoclast Noam Chomsky, emeritus professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; authors Howard Zinn and Mike Davis; and a host of professors from institutions like UC Santa Barbara, Harvard Law School, Yale, City University of New York, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, New York University, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, University of Washington, UCLA, and a number of other universities across the country.

"We are writing to express our deep concerns about SEIU's threatened trusteeship over its third largest local (UHW)," the open letter stated. "We believe that there must always be room within organized labor for legitimate and principled dissent, if our movement is to survive and grown."

The writers went on to say that "(p)utting UHW under trusteeship would send a very troubling message and be viewed by many as a sign that internal democracy is not valued or tolerated within SEIU. In our view, this would have negative consequences for the workers directly affected, the SEIU itself, and the labor movement as a whole. We strongly urge you to avoid such a tragedy."

Escalating an ongoing internal feud, the Washington, D.C.-based SEIU sued UHW, its longtime president Sal Rosselli and other leaders of the local April 29 in federal court in Los Angeles for allegedly diverting "at least $3 million" in UHW funds to an educational fund under their exclusive control. UHW, however, insists the lawsuit is an "act of retaliation" against efforts by Rosselli and 150,000-member UHW to reform the international union. UHW says it created the so-called education fund "in full compliance with the law, and appropriately released all of the details of its actions."

Stern and SEIU reportedly are considering seeking a trusteeship to oust Rosselli and other UHW leaders from their posts. UHW represents approximately 150,000 health-care workers in California, and has long been a leading voice in statewide and local health policy debates -- and a thorn in the side of many hospital and nursing home operators in the Golden State.

The open letter didn't mention the lawsuit, or other details of the internal SEIU contretemps.


WaPo promotes AFL-CIO, 'no-vote' unionism

The relationship between Barack Obama and the white working class is beginning to resemble that between Ahab and the white whale. In state after state (Ohio, Pennsylvania and now Indiana), Obama sets out to reel in his working-class quarry, and, in state after state, it eludes him. As Obama is still the likely nominee, many Democrats fear that come November, working-class whites will pull Obama and their party down to defeat.

Obama's problem, and the Democrats', goes well beyond the malignant nonsense of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Ever since the New Deal coalition was smashed on the reefs of race in the mid-1960s, working-class white support for Democratic presidential candidates has hemorrhaged. Though he won a plurality of the popular vote, Al Gore lost the white working class by 17 points in 2000; John Kerry lost it by 23 points four years later. Even though, as Ruy Teixeira of the Brookings Institution and Alan Abramowitz of Emory University demonstrated in a recent paper, the white working class is becoming an ever smaller share of the overall electorate, it will remain large enough through the middle of the century that the Democrats cannot afford to lose it by Kerrylike margins. But how, Democrats wonder, can they secure the white working-class vote?

Well, they could start by re-unionizing it.

For the past 40 years -- ever since working-class whites began defecting from Democratic ranks -- the voting behaviors of unionized and non-unionized whites have differed radically. In every election during this period, union members have voted for the Democratic presidential candidate at a rate about a dozen points higher than the general public and about 15 points higher than the non-union sector. In 2004, for instance, Kerry won 61 percent of union members while getting just 45 percent support from nonmembers.

That doesn't mean union membership is the crucial determinant in all parts of the electorate. Single young African American women, for example, are likely to back the Democratic nominee at a rate in excess of 90 percent, whether or not they belong to a union. Where membership matters is among white voters, men in particular. White male union members gave Kerry 57 percent of their vote; white male nonmembers, 38 percent -- a 19-point gap. Fifty-seven percent of white male union members who didn't go to college voted for Kerry, while only 34 percent of white male, non-union non-collegians backed him -- a 23-point gap. Equivalently gaping differentials are present in exit polling clear back through 1972.

What do unions do that has such an impact? Chiefly, they remind their members what's at stake. In this primary season, the unions are split -- some for Obama, some for Hillary Clinton, some sitting it out. But come fall, they'll be telling their members that the election is about shoring up the American economy; that the free-trade, pro-corporate, deregulatory proclivities of John McCain will only weaken the nation more; and that the Democratic candidate's support for universal health care, managed trade, green-collar jobs and more affordable college is what the nation needs.

By every available measure, this messaging works. The problem for Democrats is that American employers have waged a hugely successful campaign against unions for the past 35 years, abetted by a dysfunctional labor law that imposes negligible penalties on employers for violating its terms and their employees' rights. For decades, as union membership declined from 35 percent of the workforce in the mid-1950s to 12 percent today (7.5 percent in the private sector), Democrats stood by and failed to strengthen workers' rights to organize. By the late '90s, John Sweeney's AFL-CIO had impressed upon Democrats that their inaction amounted to slow-motion suicide. Today, the party is united behind the Employee Free Choice Act, which, by enabling workers to join unions again without fear of being fired, would also greatly help Democratic prospects at the polls.

Until such time as the EFCA is enacted, however, what can the Democrats do to avoid, or at least mitigate, the kind of working-class white wipeout that could cost them Ohio or Pennsylvania? Since 2004, the AFL-CIO has conducted a door-to-door membership drive in white working-class neighborhoods of key swing states, signing people up not for workplace representation but for certain union benefits -- and to enlist them in the federation's political program. That program, called Working America, has 2 million members in key industrial Midwest states, among others, and has turned out large majorities in recent elections for such Democratic candidates as Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland. While Barack Obama may prove a tough sell to some of these voters come November, Working America will surely be the Democrats' best shot at landing their white whale.

- Harold Myerson is a weekly columnist for The Washington Post


SEIU rallies 3,000 janitors

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