Barack's favorite special-interests exposed

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think you will have someone in the White House you will know and trust and who you have history with. Then you're going to see a change in terms of how we evaluate the agreements.

CLINTON: This union has really done a tremendous job in turning yourselves around, and that is my observation.

I would be very open to looking at that and saying, well, you know, what is it you're trying to accomplish here? And see what the answers were, because some just want to turn the page and go on.


HUME: That, folks, are a couple of excerpts from what Barack Obama and then Hillary Clinton said to a teamsters gathering. We have the audio only from March of a year ago about this consent decree which is meant that federal regulators, basically, are looking over the shoulders of the Teamsters union 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

The Teamsters union would like that lifted. The teamsters believe that they have at least the general intent of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both to do that.

Today, Hillary Clinton, who did not get the teamsters union endorsement, her campaign was criticizing Barack Obama for giving something in return for the endorsement. Is there any difference between what the two of them did, Fred?

BARNES: Yes, I think there is. Look, you read "The Wall Street Journal" story that broke this, and the spokesman for Obama says indeed he thinks the consent decree should be lifted. You couldn't quite hear it in that--it was a little vague in that recording.

HUME: But he's referring to what Obama said, and we just heard what Obama said. Did he say it should be lifted or did he say he would be willing to look at it?

BARNES: It sounded like more than that, and certainly the teamsters seemed to think it was a lot more than that.

For Obama on this issue, he's playing with fire. Look, whenever you're dealing with the teamsters, that is the old politics, because they want this consent decree lifted. It goes back to 1989.

And the problem is the oversight board doesn't want to go away. The Justice Department has shown no indication that it wants the oversight board to go away. And then this lawyer hired by James Hoffa, the head of the teamsters, hired to root out mob ties in the teamsters, he did go away, complaining that he wasn't fully supported by Hoffa.

So I think this is an issue that is not going to help Obama.

KONDRACKE: They did sound roughly similar. Obama is not promising that he either can or would snap his fingers and make the consent decree go away. It's got to go through the Justice Department. He said it would, and she is indicating too that she thinks it ought to go away, but she won't have the power, either.

The teamsters does not seem to be the same union that it was back in papa's day when the pension fund was at the disposal of the mob. It is not that anymore. It has not been in trouble recently.

HUME: I guess not with a federal regulator looking over their shoulder.

KONDRACKE: Well, OK, but is it mobbed up or isn't it mobbed up? There is no indication that it is mobbed up, and maybe it should be revisited. But the Justice Department would have to look at that under any circumstances.

KRAUTHAMMER: I'm not impressed at all by any difference between Hillary and Obama on promises here. And, in fact, John Edwards, who was the other serious candidate, he also said essentially the same to the teamsters. So I don't buy the story that he got their endorsement because he was particularly sympathetic more than the others.

But I think that, tape of Obama that we heard is very damaging.

HUME: How so?

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As Fred said, if you listen again, he says if you have got somebody in the White House, you got a friend in the White House, you're going to get results. Fred indicated that is a definition of the old politics. It's exactly what Obama says he's running to abolish and eliminate.

Is it the old? He says I'm not running to play the game in Washington. I'm running to abolish that.

HUME: The quote again, to repeat, we may be able to put it on the screen again--he says "I think if you have somebody in the White House who you know and you trust and have history with, then you will see a change in the terms of how you evaluate the consent decree."

KONDRACKE: He's not going to have anything to do with corporate lobbyists or corporate special interests, but if it's a union--they are also both in favor of the so-called Employee Free Choice Act, which eliminates the secret ballot for unions.

They have their own vested interest that they're in favor of. So it's not going to be the end of the old politics. It's going to be different politics, liberal politics.

KRAUTHAMMER: In his own voice, he is undermining the exact rationale of his campaign, which he repeats every six minutes, and which you really have to be under 30 to actually buy and believe, which is why his support is so heavily among the youth.

If you have been around the track at least once, you know it's a fraud, and here you can hear it's a fraud.


Gov't union-boss embezzler will be missed

The business manager for a local union is out of a job after an audit showed he was spiking his pension. Local union 353 represents hundreds of Des Moines' municipal workers. Steve Piper was the union's business manager and was fired Thursday morning. A representative for the International Laborers Union says an audit of Local 353 turned up some ethical questions about Piper's salary and severance pay plans.

Department of Public Works director Bill Stowe says about 300 of his employees have been well-represented by Local 353, and it's unfortunate that Mr. Piper was let go. "Steve was exceptional. I wish he were still in that position," Stowe said.

In the meantime, the international union will oversee Local 353.


Barack & Teamsters: Change for the worse

Barack Obama promises "change" in politics. But his promise to end federal oversight of the Teamsters union in exchange for an endorsement sounds like Chicago backroom politics. It's change — for the worse. It's disturbing to learn that the man who may lead the U.S. in the highest office of the land still bends and grovels to union bosses whose record of corruption is so bad that they still require federal supervision to keep the mafia out.

But that's the picture we have with Obama and his relationship with the Teamsters, a historically corrupt union of 1.4 million members whose endorsement and $25 million in campaign donations had Democratic candidates falling all over themselves.

The Teamsters have been under a federal consent decree since 1992. They've reputedly cleaned up, but problems remain.

Their consent decree requires an independent review board to investigate allegations of bribery, embezzlement, extortion, loan-sharking, mafia influence and other violations in the union, the Teamsters' own Web site says.

It costs them $6 million a year, and apparently that's enough for them to seek some politician to lift it, someone who can appoint "the right" officials to the Justice Department to take care of it.

They seem to have found him in Obama. Sounding like a Chicago mobster, Obama told the Teamsters: "I think that if you've got somebody in the White House, who you know, who you trust and who you have got a history with, then you're going to see a change in terms of how we evaluate these consent decrees."

Did it work? Ahhhh, "it certainly wouldn't have hurt to have a president who came out and said that they would support getting the oversight out of our union," Teamsters spokesman Bret Caldwell told the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

Touche. Now Obama denies he made any promise. And Teamsters boss James Hoffa said that Obama's promise to the Teamsters and other union bosses to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement clinched their endorsement. But even that smells fishy, because hating free trade was never something Obama was known for until this election.

But we do know Obama has a pattern of secret deal-making in his camp that is either so politically inept that it always spills out, or is so widespread that it amounts to mere leakage.

Earlier this year, an Obama operative secretly promised the Canadian government that Obama's public condemnations of NAFTA weren't real and that Canada had nothing to worry about, a statement starkly at odds with what he told the voters, the Teamsters and other Big Labor groups.

Meanwhile, another Obama supporter secretly reassured Colombian FARC chieftain Raul Reyes that Obama would cut off military aid to Colombia and vote down its free trade pact.

Thus far, Obama hasn't told voters where he stands on Colombia military aid. On trade, FARC's informant was right on the money, but U.S. voters didn't find out until well after Colombia's top terrorist had.

With a pattern like this, it sounds as though Obama's making a whole host of secret promises, particularly around the issue of unions and free trade.

The question we have is whether Obama will be the pawn of Big Labor after making a big deal about rejecting lobbyist cash?

And do such special interests intend to help the next president make American companies globally competitive, which is in the national interest, or just preserve their union privileges?

We already know Obama's stance on trade to please the unions goes against what should be his natural political direction.

Everything about Obama — his educated urban voter base, his broad international outlook, his abundant rhetoric about "hope" — suggests that he should be a free trader.

But in the rush for endorsements, Obama bowed to the unions and loudly came out against Colombia free trade, blasted NAFTA and offered the unions a sweetheart deal on federal oversight.

Is Obama an independent leader, or a union pawn? Somehow, most Americans like to think that they are electing a leader.

Obama needs to come clean on all his secret promises to special interest groups. As soon as possible.


Striking Steelworkers to face scabs

Union workers from Latrobe Specialty Steel Co. are protesting the company's plan to use temporary workers during a strike. Some 350 union steelworkers are on strike due to a dispute over the company's three-year contract proposal. The strike began May 1.

Early Monday, members of United Steelworkers Local 1537, retirees and community supporters protested the latest move by the company to bring in temporary workers to continue production during the strike.

Union members oppose the company's offer to increase bonuses while freezing hourly wages and cost of living adjustments during the three-year contract. The company has offered a $6,000 bonus this year and $5,000 bonuses over the next two years.


Teamsters accused of desert duplicity

Teamsters leaders in Las Vegas, Nev., have been turning jobs over to non-union workers at the expense of its own members, several members said Tuesday. Members of Teamster Local 631 have been complaining that non-union members, who pay $60 to have their names put on a list, are being given jobs, while they sit at home, the Las Vegas Sun reported. Union members believe that the union's leaders have been working in collusion with convention centers to help them higher cheaper, non-union labor, the report said.

"There's a lot of heads being turned the other direction. The way they manipulate and work with the company, it's not a union," union member Tony Milone told the Sun.

The allegations include a quid pro quo arrangement in which family members of union leaders are provided jobs at the Las Vegas convention centers.

The wife of Local 631 President Tommy Blitsch works at a large convention services business, the Sun reported.

Neither Blitsch nor the company, Freeman Cos., returned calls for comment, the Sun reported.


Pro-union Gov. poses as business-friendly

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter checked off several wins on his business scorecard before members of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. "We were able to bat 1.000 on our business package," Ritter said at the chamber's annual State of the State luncheon, attended by more than 500 people at the Denver Performing Arts Complex.

That package, unveiled last fall, sought to provide tax relief for businesses and more funding for emerging industries such as bioscience and clean energy.

Among the successes Ritter listed were a wider exemption from the business personal-property tax, the elimination of a tax on planes manufactured in the state and sold elsewhere, and changes that qualify more rural businesses for tax breaks tied to job creation.

Ritter said about 30,000 fewer businesses will have to pay the business personal-property tax.

But not everyone was as buoyant as the governor.

"Let's recognize it is only a first step and that alone it won't create any new jobs," Chuck Berry, president of the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, said later in an interview about changes to the tax.

A failed bill to exempt depreciated business assets from taxation would have had far greater impact, Berry said.

ConocoPhillips' decision to locate a training and research facility at the old StorageTek site in Louisville also was a huge win for the state, Ritter said.

Among other topic touched on by Ritter:

• Key education initiatives, including an overhaul of school standards, more funds to improve school buildings and higher-education scholarships.

• A business-backed right-to-work ballot initiative and competing labor-backed ballot measures could end in "mutually assured destruction" for the state unless both sides back down.

• A more comprehensive state health care package may be best tackled after a federal plan is proposed by the next president.

• Failure to secure additional funding for transportation represents a big disappointment in this year's legislative session, especially given that federal road funds face a significant cut.


SEIU organizers quit Memphis

Hospital operator Tenet Health Care Corp. told investors that increased union activity across the country could drive up costs and said an effort to organize nurses and other employees at Saint Francis Hospital-Park Avenue had failed. The Service Employees International Union has been trying to organize the hospital for several months. Representatives Tuesday didn't directly address the hospital's statement that the effort was over.

"The SEIU has challenged certain Tenet conduct during the organizing campaign at St. Francis hospital," Karen Backus, an Atlanta-based SEIU spokeswoman, said in a statement. "A neutral arbitrator will decide the issues involved regarding SEIU's organizing effort at the hospital."

Tenet and the union signed a agreement giving SEIU access to organize at Saint Francis and said the two sides would not disparage one another. The agreement appears close to breaking down.

Attorneys filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in March alleging that SEIU members followed a group of employees to an off-site location, photographed and videotaped them with cell phone cameras, then excluded them from union-recruiting activities.

The complaint doesn't say who the workers were, but typically people who file such complaints are opposed to unionization, said Thomas H. Smith assistant to the regional director of the NLRB.

Union supporters have complained, too. The Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice conducted a prayer vigil in support of St. Francis workers April 23, alleging that the hospital fired employees in retaliation for union activity.

At the time, Saint Francis spokeswoman Marilynn Sasportas Robinson said the union had withdrawn from the hospital.

The SEIU is known for aggressively trying to organize health care workers, janitors and security guards. It represents some maintenance and food service workers in the Memphis City Schools.

Tenet, which owns 56 hospitals and additional facilities nationwide, is dealing with the SEIU and the California Nurses Association in California, Florida and Texas.

Tenet management said about 23 percent of its workers are represented by organized labor and that because union activity is increasing, it could cause salary, wages and benefits to grow faster than revenues.

Employee wage issues caused Tenet to post a loss for the first quarter. The firm recorded a $47 million charge to cover litigation costs, most of them related to lawsuits over wage and hour issues, including alleged violations of overtime.

If not for this charge, Tenet would have beaten analyst expectations for earnings of $4.75 million, or 1 cent per share, on revenue of $2.35 billion.

Instead, it posted a loss of $31 million, or 6 cents per share in the first quarter on higher costs compared with a $75 million profit, or 16 cents per share, a year ago. Revenue rose 6.9 percent to $2.37 billion.

The firm didn't provide revenue figures for its two Memphis hospitals, Saint Francis-Park Avenue and Saint Francis Hospital-Bartlett.


SEIU retaliates against California reformers

The battle over the direction of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) intensified today as the first in a series of hearings was held to determine the fate of more than 60,000 long-term caregivers who are members of United Healthcare Workers -- West (UHW). UHW represents 150,000 caregivers in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home care throughout California.

The hearings are a staged attempt by SEIU leaders in Washington to dismantle UHW -- the fastest growing local union in the country -- by stripping the union of 60,000 plus nursing home and homecare workers without a fair, democratic vote. In March, approximately 97 percent of the long term care workers who participated in an election conducted by an independent third-party voted to remain in UHW and voiced strong support of their statewide union of healthcare workers. That mandate from UHW members is being ignored by SEIU.

"I'm not going anywhere," stated Rosie Byers, a homecare worker for 30 years and member of the UHW Executive Board. "UHW is my union, because we are committed to democracy, member empowerment, and have a proven track record of winning great contracts and organizing the unorganized. We voted to remain in UHW, so all healthcare workers can stand together to raise standards for our patients and working families."

UHW members have faced an unprecedented attack from their own parent union, SEIU, for advocating for reforms designed to make SEIU more democratic and accountable to its members. These proposals have been denounced by Andy Stern, president of SEIU, who favors top-down, big business unionism by making secret, behind-the-scenes deals that exclude rank-and-file involvement.

"It's appalling that SEIU leaders based in Washington have retaliated against rank-and-file members and threatened the future of UHW, because we don't agree with their top-down approach," proclaimed Patrick Forte, a chief steward at Diamond Ridge Healthcare Center. "Members should lead the way and have final say in all collective bargaining, contracts settlements, and union mergers. We are trying to reform SEIU to reclaim our voice and ensure democracy."

This latest attack on UHW comes just weeks before the SEIU Convention in Puerto Rico -- a meeting held every four years to establish the direction of the 1.7 million member organization to make amendments to the SEIU Constitution & Bylaws. UHW and its allies have submitted various convention proposals to reform the direction of SEIU by ensuring rank-and-file workers have a real voice in contract negotiations, mergers, and other decisions that directly affect them. More information is available at www.seiuvoice.org.

The 150,000-member SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West is the largest hospital and fastest growing healthcare union in the western United States and represents every type of healthcare worker, including nurses, professional, technical and service classifications. Our mission is to achieve high-quality healthcare for all.


SEIU's undemocratic jurisdiction process

Today, SEIU will take what could be a first step toward undemocratically transferring up to 65,000 members of United Healthcare Workers West into another SEIU local with lower standards and a less successful organizing record. It’s not a done deal, but if history is any indication, SEIU may try to deny union members a fair vote on this upcoming decision.

What’s happening today and tomorrow is a “fact-finding” hearing on the issue of “long-term care jurisdiction in California.” What this means is: which local union will nursing home and homecare workers be members of? UHW's nursing home and homecare members already know the answer; they voted overwhelmingly in March to stay united with hospital workers in UHW. However, SEIU is forging ahead with what appears to be a plan to dismantle UHW.

It’s an important issue, because combining local unions and coordinating across industry lines has been a key component of SEIU’s strategy in recent years. Locals 250 and 399 voted in 2004 to merge and form UHW—our members knew we were stronger as a single, statewide healthcare workers union, rather than two separate local unions. In other states, combining and realigning jurisdiction has also occurred.

However, the process must be democratic. Under SEIU’s current by-laws, there is no guarantee of a fair vote for members who could be moved from one local to another, or merged. When dozens of small SEIU locals in California were consolidated into four large locals in 2006, the votes of the members were pooled—meaning the members of a small local could have voted 100 percent against the merger and still been forced into a merger.

The process also shouldn't be politically motivated or structured to award political allies. In Illinois, SEIU just merged long term care and hospital locals into one mega local. But here in California, SEIU is insisting that long term care workers need to be in their own union, separate from hospital workers. When California's long term care union has achieved lower standards and not succeeded in organizing more workers, it's difficult to understand how SEIU could think UHW's nursing home and homecare members would be better served by moving into that union.

One of the constitutional amendments that we are bringing to the SEIU Convention in June will guarantee a fair election process for any future mergers, consolidations, or other jurisdictional moves. The amendment would require a majority of all votes together, and a majority in each affected local. That means a 100,000-member local could not simply swallow a 5,000-member local just because the bigger one wanted to.

We’ll be posting more on the jurisdictional issue and the hearing process later this week, including why it’s better for nursing home and homecare workers to be in the same union as hospital workers.


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