Senator monkeywrenches DINO Labor agenda

Today, U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) announced that as part of the debate on the monopoly bargaining bill this week, he will offer two amendments to protect American workers from union abuses. Senator DeMint will seek to protect workers right to work without being forced to pay union dues and to protect workers’ right to a secret ballot union election.

“While American families are facing an uncertain economy, Democrats are shamefully pushing another job-killing bill to help line the pockets of organized labor,” said Senator DeMint. “Let’s be honest: this bill is a political pay-off to big labor bosses, whose political support is needed to keep Democrats in charge of Congress. We should be protecting workers’ rights, not taking them away.”

An analysis of union membership by the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that union membership has been rapidly declining, falling from 20 percent of American workers in 1983 to just 12 percent in 2006. The most recent study by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that unions are becoming reliant on federal, state and local government employees for membership: “The union membership rate for public sector workers (35.9 percent) was substantially higher than for private industry workers (7.5 percent). Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 41.8 percent. This group includes many workers in several heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and fire fighters.”

“Organized labor is rapidly losing membership because the free market is helping workers more than unions. Realizing they can’t compete in a free market, organized labor is desperately trying to force more public workers to unionize.”

“Americans must have the freedom to work without being forced into paying dues to a union and they must have the freedom to vote by secret ballot in union elections. The right to work and the right to a secret ballot election are fundamental American freedoms that must not be trampled on.”

• Right to Work: make it unlawful in any state to force public safety or private sector workers to pay fees to a labor union as a condition of employment. No American should be forced to pay tribute to a union in order to get or keep a job.

• Secret Ballot Protection: make it unlawful to certify a union as the representative for a group of employees without a secret ballot election. No American should be forced to choose their representatives under pressure or coercion from a union or their employer


Clever unions pump Dem registration advantage

Pro-Clinton Unions Continue Full-Steam Ahead

Officials from four labor unions that endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, say they will continue to lobby for her candidacy regardless of the daunting delegate math. One union is even hoping Clinton takes her battle against Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, all the way to the floor of the Democratic National Convention in August.

Rick Sloan, communications director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers says the union is rallying its members to support Clinton in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oregon.

"We're not slackening off at all -- this is full speed ahead for us," he says. "We deal with really high tolerances building jets. Usually when we reach those tolerances we say, 'This is terrific, this is quite a piece of work.'"

Sloan was a member of the platform committee and an at-large delegate for Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., on the floor of the 1980 Democratic convention, the last time there was a convention fight.

"Only 979 delegates separated (then-President Jimmy) Carter and Kennedy," Sloan says. So the smaller number separating Clinton and Obama -- right this second a rough ABC Count has a 180-delegate lead for Obama -- "isn't a big swing. And none of these delegates are legally bound. She has 17 million votes, he has 17 million votes. The proper place to decide this is the convention."

ABC News contacted the four unions today to assess whether they would continue to spend union dues on a campaign many in the punditocracy have pointed towards a statue of St. Jude.

"We continue to support Sen. Clinton," says AFSCME's Gregory King. "We're going to continue to campaign full-steam ahead."

AFSCME had about 100 people each campaigning for Clinton in Pennsylvania and Indiana going door to door. "I presume we're just continuing with that," King says. "As long as she's the candidate our union is committed to supporting her."

Chuck Porcari of the American Federation of Teachers says "we're running our program in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oregon as we speak, member-to-member phone and mail, and door-knocking."

Tim Stricker, political director of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades says his union is quite active in West Virginia and Kentucky, and will be in Oregon. "Of the other three remaining states," he says of Puerto Rico, Montana, and South Dakota, "we have practically no membership there."

Sticker says the IUPAT staffing isn't as big in West Virginia and Kentucky as it was in Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, but that's only because "her numbers in both states make it safe enough we didn't have to go full-bore. If we're asked by the campaign to send some people in, we will, though right now I haven't been asked by the campaign to do that."

"She's our candidate and we're with her until Barack is officially the candidate or if she releases us," he says. "I'm sure there's a lot of our members who think it's a lost cause. I'm sure if you polled it there'd be a number who said you're wasting your time and efforts and money." But between 16,000 and 20,000 members of the IUPAT voted for Clinton by ballot, by a margin of four-to-one, so the union will stay with the date that brung them to the dance.

"Does it look like it's an extreme long shot right now?" Stricker asks. "Yes. But stranger things have happened. One thing I've learned in the short time I've been in Washington, DC, is never count out the Clintons."

- Jake Tapper is ABC News' Senior National Correspondent based in the network's Washington bureau.


Do union dues-payers deserve accountability?

Editorial: Shine more light on union finances

A milestone will be reached Tuesday when Elaine Chao becomes the longest-serving secretary of labor since Francis Perkins was appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Historians will someday look back on the Chao era as a time when transparency and accountability in union finances finally began to be taken seriously by the Labor Department.

Chao’s good work continues today when the Federal Register publishes a proposed rule to extend the Bush administration’s previous accomplishments in applying the Labor-Management and Disclosure Act of 1959.

Among other things, the proposed rule adds a provision covering benefits paid to union officers and employees such as pensions, deferred compensation and life insurance. Currently, only gross salary, allowances, outlays for official business and assorted other disbursements to individual officers and employees exceeding $10,000 annually need to be disclosed.

Closing this loophole will enhance the ability of union members to have timely and accurate information about how union leaders and employees are being compensated. Without such information, it is difficult to assess whether the interests of members are being well-served by those representing them in the union leadership.

Other positive enhancements in the proposed rule include disclosure of payments made directly to vendors for expenses incurred by a union officer or employee; more detailed disclosure of receipts for income exceeding $5,000 from dues and agency fees, fines, interest, rents, dividends and sales of supplies; and disclosure of the identity of the buyer or seller in transactions involving all union assets worth $5,000 or more.

These changes will allow union members to have accurate information on expenses incurred by an officer or employee, as well as more complete data on revenues received by a union and whether asset sales are being made at market prices and at arm’s length.

In response to the proposed rule, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney predictably accused Bush and Chao of preferring “to spend time on a witch hunt aimed at unions than on advancing the interests of workers.”

In fact, hundreds of union officials have been convicted of serious crimes since 2003 when the Bush administration first began requiring fuller disclosure of finances by unions with annual receipts of at least $250,000.

Many of those crimes would have gone undiscovered had Chao simply ignored enforcement of the 1959 law, as did so many of her predecessors. Thanks to her, union members now have effective tools to hold union leaders like Sweeney genuinely accountable.


IUOE routed by Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation

Poker dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino formed a union under federal labor laws last fall; but in the latest unionization effort, employees rejected union representation by a vote of more than 3 to 1. The vote took place May 1 - International Workers' Day - when employees in Foxwoods' engineering, facilities, projects, engineering apprenticeship and interior landscape departments voted 215 to 67 against representation by Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, a Washington-based labor union.

"We are very pleased with the vote of confidence that employees have given Foxwoods management," said Foxwoods Interim President Barry Cregan. "Those team members displayed outstanding professionalism through the entire process and clearly agreed that having an intermediary come between us wasn't necessary. We look forward confidently to an exciting future where we will do everything we can to make Foxwoods better than ever for employees and guests."

The International Union of Operating Engineers did not return a call seeking comment by press time.

Foxwoods' poker dealers voted 1,289 to 852 last November to form a United Auto Workers union. The vote is believed to have been the first successful union vote in an Indian casino under the National Labor Relations Act rather than tribal law.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods, has maintained from the beginning of the unionization process last year that the federal labor law and the National Labor Relations Board that oversees it do not have jurisdiction on sovereign tribal land. Employees may unionize under tribal law, which is modeled on state governmental laws and provide the same rights to organize unions, bargain collectively and seek arbitration - and the same prohibition against striking.

At the end of March, the nation filed an appeal with the NLRB in Washington of an administrative law judge's decision to certify the poker dealers' UAW election. The appeal deals with some procedural issues surrounding the vote, but the nation's main challenge is that sovereign tribal nations with a government-to-government relationship with the federal government are not subject to federal laws, such as the NLRA.

The defeat of the IUOE vote leaves three other labor organizing efforts at Foxwoods pending.

The UAW and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are competing to organize technicians at Foxwoods.

The UAW filed a petition with the regional NLRB office in Hartford April 14 to unionize slot technicians, electronic bench technicians, field service technicians and senior field service technicians. The IBEW filed a petition to organize the same employees a week earlier. Both unions said their organizing efforts are supported by at least 30 percent of employees in the potential bargaining unit.

The UAW petition included employees at MGM Grand at Foxwoods, which is scheduled to open May 17.

It's not clear how the unions will resolve the issue of which union has jurisdiction over organizing the employees.

The UAW filed another petition April 15 to unionize racebook writers and dual-rate racebook writers in the casino's off-track betting area.

On April 24, attorneys for the nation and the UAW appeared at an NLRB hearing to argue their cases for and against a union vote by the racebook writers.

Alston D. Correll, an attorney for the nation, argued again that federal labor laws and the NLRB do not have jurisdiction on sovereign tribal land.

Correll was scheduled to submit a legal brief arguing the jurisdictional issue by May 1.

NLRB Regional Director Peter B. Hoffman will render a decision over the following weeks as to whether an election should be held.

Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Michael Thomas has vowed to challenge the jurisdictional issue through the federal courts.

Jackson King, the nation's general counsel, said in a prepared statement that the nation continues to cooperate on a government-to-government basis with the NLRB while legal challenges are pending.

"It is the longstanding policy of the United States to encourage and support tribal self-government. Mashantucket Pequot laws provide a fair process for employees to select union representation if they so desire. We continue to believe that tribal law should apply in these matters," King said.

The recent union defeat throws a spotlight on how the mainstream media reports on events in Indian country - particularly at Indian casinos. The Hartford Courant, the state's largest newspaper, reported the poker dealers' successful union vote last fall prominently on the front page.


Iowa SEIU rips out-of-state competitor

The California Nurses Association (CNA) violated Iowa state law by improperly mailing promotional materials to 2,000 nurses represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 199 according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of nurses today. The suit charges the CNA broke the Iowa Trade Secrets Act when it sent unsolicited materials to the homes of Iowa nurses after illegally attaining a private mailing list of SEIU members earlier this year.

"It's frankly scary that an out-of-state union like the CNA would have gotten their hands on our confidential, internal list," said Cathy Glasson, a registered nurse and President of SEIU Local 199. "No one in America should ever have to worry that their private information will be taken and used without their consent."

The confidential membership list of SEIU union or local nurses was used by SEIU as part of a December 2007 effort to win support for then-presidential candidate John Edwards. The lawsuit states the CNA violated the Iowa Trade Secrets Act (IA Code SS 550) when it used SEIU Local 199's membership data and mailing lists without permission and by improper means. If found liable, the CNA could owe compensatory and punitive damages to the plaintiffs. The CNA could also be barred from using SEIU's list to initiate any further contact with SEIU nurses in Iowa.

"I could tell immediately something was fishy about the mailing I received because it was sent to my old address instead of the one I have on file with the state nurse registry," said Linda Merfeld, a registered nurse and member of SEIU Local 199 in Coralville, IA. "It's a little more than creepy that the CNA is digging for my personal information to use however they like."

The lawsuit was filed in the Iowa District Court of Johnson County today on behalf of SEIU Local 199 and the Service Employees International Union by the Iowa-based legal firm Sole, McManus, Pearson & Willems PC and Charles R. Both of Washington, DC. The plaintiffs jointly represent more than 900,000 health care workers across the country, including 5,000 nurses and other health care employees in Iowa.

"The way the CNA used our private list is a reminder of why the U.S. government created the Do-Not-Call List to stop telemarketers," said Pauline Taylor, a registered nurse. "SPAM, sales calls, mailers from other unions -- it's all the same when it's unwanted."

The lawsuit filed today is the most recent legal action taken against the CNA in response to the California nurse group's dishonest and anti-union tactics. Despite the majority of its own membership being based in Northern California, the CNA has a track record of using underhanded tactics nationally to prevent nurses from joining SEIU and other unions. In March, the CNA sent a team of more than 30 union organizers to Ohio to sabotage a three-year effort by nurses and other hospital workers in Catholic Healthcare Partners (CHP) hospitals to win a fair process to freely choose whether to form a union with SEIU. Just six days before a union election for 8,300 CHP workers, the CNA's organizers descended on the hospitals with a vicious and misleading "vote no" campaign using tactics such as dressing in nurses' scrubs to gain access to patient-care delivery areas, posing as pizza delivery workers, and sending messages through the hospitals' pneumatic tube system.

The CNA is also continuing to hurt nurses and other hospital workers in its efforts to raid hospitals where workers already have a union voice in states including California, in Nevada, and in Texas. Overall, eighteen states have already reported anti-union campaigns by the CNA.

For more information, visit www.ShameOnCNA.org


Dems warned about voter-opinion on EFCA

Related story: "Voters prefer secret-ballot union elections"
Related story: "Another survey pans unions' #1 agenda item"

Few interest groups have more clout in Washington than organized labor. The eventual Democratic presidential nominee and congressional candidates in top races will depend heavily on Big Labor for money and grass-roots muscle in 2008. To lock in the active support of powerful unions, Democratic candidates across the nation have signed on to support the misnamed Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that could become a major liability in the upcoming elections.

EFCA is designed to stem the decline in union membership by making it much easier for Big Labor to organize nonunion workplaces. But to do so, EFCA opens up workers to the threat of intimidation and coercion by union organizers and management. Under EFCA, workers would lose their right to a private ballot when deciding whether to join a union. The private ballot would be replaced with a card-check scheme, in which a union is organized if a majority of workers simply sign a card. The workers’ signatures would be made public to their employer, their co-workers and the union organizers.

The problem for any candidate who has signed on to Big Labor’s organizing agenda is that EFCA is very unpopular with voters, including rank and file union members. In polling conducted for the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace March 6-9 in three battleground states with Senate races, voters expressed strong reservations with replacing private ballot elections with the union-backed card-check scheme.

At least 80 percent of voters in Colorado, Maine and Minnesota believe that secret ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be used for union elections. More than seven in 10 voters in Colorado (72 percent), Maine (77 percent) and Minnesota (72 percent) say having a federally supervised secret and private ballot election is the best way to protect workers’ rights when organizing a union, with support on this question running equally as strong in union households as in nonunion households.

And roughly two-thirds of voters in Colorado (68 percent), Maine (72 percent) and Minnesota (65 percent) oppose EFCA, which would replace a federally supervised secret and private ballot election with the simple signing of a card that is made public.

These polling data contain several troubling indicators for labor and candidates who support replacing the private ballot system with card check. To date, the battle over EFCA has been waged largely inside the halls of Congress. The House of Representatives passed the card-check legislation in 2007, but the labor lobby and the Democratic majority in the Senate did not have enough votes to overcome a Republican-led filibuster.

Republicans have their own challenges in the upcoming elections. But business coalitions opposed to the card-check system — such as the broad-based Coalition for a Democratic Workplace — and pro-private-ballot candidates have an opportunity to highlight EFCA as a wedge issue in hotly contested races. Our polling shows that support for EFCA is a clear liability for Senate candidates and could make a decisive difference in close elections. Specifically, a plurality of voters would be less likely to vote for Democratic Senate candidates Mark Udall in Colorado (44 percent) and Al Franken in Minnesota (41 percent) if they support this legislation. Only a handful of voters in each state were more likely to vote for a pro-card-check candidate

Labor will spend exorbitant amounts of money to elect a Democratic president and to secure a filibuster-proof Senate, so the threat of EFCA being enacted is real. The irony is that Democratic support for this unpopular legislation could be the reason the party falls short of the magical 60 votes in the Senate.

Voters intrinsically support the concept of private ballot elections. They are worried about the potential of workers being coerced and intimidated under the card-check scheme. And they see little need to change the existing balance in current labor laws to make it easier for unions to organize nonunion workplaces.

More important, they resent and oppose efforts to take away an individual’s right to a private and secret ballot. These inconvenient facts for Big Labor can be exploited to the detriment of the candidates it supports. Smart candidates will not want to be on the wrong side of this issue come Election Day.

They’ll side with voters and oppose union card-check legislation.

- John McLaughlin is president of McLaughlin & Associates, a public opinion polling firm.


Teachers union controls Calif. budget process

A school bus emblazoned with the words "Cuts Hurt" and a picture of a forlorn student pulls up in front of Butte Community College. Union officials scramble off to meet teachers, parents and a handful of students bearing protest signs. The recent rally about 90 minutes north of the state capital was another stop on a show-of-strength tour by the California Teachers Association as it protests Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed budget cuts to education.

The tour may have a quaint feel at times, featuring a band called the "Tired Angry Teachers" at some stops, but the union behind it is one of the state's most influential political interest groups. It wants Schwarzenegger to know it's watching as he prepares to release his revised spending plan for the coming year.

Schwarzenegger already has learned the hard way what it means to cross the vocal and well-funded union.

"It's not personal. It's business," teachers association spokeswoman Sandra Jackson said. "It's not an attack on Arnold—it's about his budget."

On Wednesday, Schwarzenegger will release his revised budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins in July. It is expected to address a budget deficit projected at about $15 billion.

The governor proposed cutting $4.4 billion from public education when he released his initial budget estimate in January. Since then, California's economy and fiscal health has only deteriorated.

That has led education leaders to worry that public schools could see an even greater reduction, especially since Schwarzenegger and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature have vowed not to raise taxes.

So far, the union's campaign has been careful not to push too hard on Schwarzenegger. Instead, officials with the teachers association have been emphasizing the need for the governor and lawmakers to work out a compromise.

"At some point if they needed to (attack him), they would," said Kerry Mazzoni, education secretary under former Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, and currently an education lobbyist in Sacramento.

A spokesman for Schwarzenegger said the governor has tremendous respect for teachers and enjoys working with the teachers association, even if they don't always agree.

"CTA is one of the most effective advocacy organizations in California," spokesman Aaron McLear said. "Sometimes we clash and sometimes we join forces, but it's always a lively debate."

In the current debate over education spending, the union is waging a measured campaign.

It has kept the threat to classrooms visible with its bus tour, rallies and a high-priced team of operatives in Sacramento who organize regular news conferences and advertising. Much of the campaign has focused on the 14,000 pink slips that have been sent to teachers, although the true number of layoffs won't be known until after the Legislature approves a state budget later this summer.

The union declined to say how much it is spending on its six-week bus tour throughout California.

The stakes are high: The governor has proposed suspending Proposition 98, the voter-approved minimum funding guarantee for schools. Doing so would cut into the base funding for education beyond the coming fiscal year because the annual increases are based on the prior year's budget.

"The primary agenda for CTA right now is the budget, the budget, the budget," said president David Sanchez, a former teacher who took over the union's leadership position last June.

Sanchez said the key thing this year is taking the debate outside the Capitol to communities. Schwarzenegger's Wednesday budget release just happens to coincide with California's annual "Day of the Teacher." The union has events planned throughout the state, from postcard-writing campaigns for parents and students to marches around town plazas.

"Remaining in Sacramento, that doesn't work," Sanchez said. "What works is local pressure to your local legislators."

At the tour stop in Oroville, Sanchez urged pressure on the governor and state lawmakers to work out a budget deal that does not "push California backwards."

Because more than half of California's budget is spent on education, the success of negotiations often hangs on funding for schools. Making sure the California Teachers Association is included has become an essential component to those talks.

Some lawmakers and governors, including Schwarzenegger, have learned the hard way about the union's ability to influence legislation and ballot votes.

In 2005, the teachers association and its allies spent $50 million to defeat three of the four ballot initiatives Schwarzenegger was promoting during his special election.

The measures would have curtailed the political power of unions, increased the probationary period for new teachers and imposed a state spending cap, partly by rolling back the state's funding guarantee for education. Ultimately, voters defeated every measure during the 2005 special election, a debacle that eroded Schwarzenegger's popularity and prompted him to revamp his administration.

The union also fought former Republican Gov. George Deukmejian over school funding for most of his two terms. In 1988, it assessed members a special due to pay for its $7 million campaign in favor of Proposition 98, the funding guarantee.

When former Gov. Pete Wilson, also a Republican, threatened to suspend that guarantee in 1991, the union wielded its back-room clout by ensuring he could not get the two-thirds support he needed in both houses of the Legislature to do it.

By the time the budget was done, Wilson's proposal to cut $2.1 billion from schools had evolved into a spending increase of $822 million. His plan to replace teacher tenure with merit pay also hit a dead end.

A 1996 budget stalemate ended only after Wilson agreed to give schools an additional $600 million, even as he cut payments for welfare and other social services.

Davis, Schwarzenegger's predecessor, was one of the few recent governors to successfully challenge the union, although he did so through dealmaking.

The Democrat persuaded the Legislature to boost education spending by $2 billion in a special session, then gave the teachers better pension and retirement plans. In exchange, he got a statewide school accountability system, a mandatory high school exit exam and a new system for teacher performance reviews, which the union had opposed.

The CTA earned its bare-knuckle reputation after decades of spending huge sums on campaigns and arm-twisting lawmakers for more spending on education.

With 340,000 members around the state, the union has a continuous, unrivaled source of funding, most of which flows to Democrats and Democratic causes.

Mandatory collective-bargaining legislation signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in 1976 dramatically boosted the power of all public employee unions. Two years later, voters approved Proposition 13, which shifted debates over education funding to the state capital and limited the ability of local communities to raise property taxes to pay for schools.

A stable executive structure has helped the teachers association become one of the most politically savvy players in the capital and avoid the kind of petty infighting that sometimes undermines other interest groups.

Spending on education as a percentage of the overall budget has increased along with the union's power. It has climbed from about 45 percent in 1976 to roughly 52 percent in the current fiscal year, although the percentage fluctuates yearly.

The union has been unafraid to team up with rivals when doing so suits its longer-term interests. This year, for example, it joined with business leaders to defeat a college funding initiative on the February ballot. The teachers association said the measure would threaten funding for K-12 schools.

"They do not hesitate to go after someone that they feel is not a friend," said Mazzoni, the former education secretary. "They expect a very high standard for the people that they support. They want you to be with them on every vote."


AFL-CIO mercenaries patrol swing states

Organized labor is paying more attention to Republican John McCain as Democrat Barack Obama solidifies his status as the front-runner in the Democratic contest against Hillary Rodham Clinton. The AFL-CIO, which has not endorsed anyone in the Democratic primary, announced Wednesday that it is sending more than 6,000 of its people to more than 22 states during the next two weekends to talk to more than 200,000 union voters about McCain.

"Senator McCain's economic path would lead to disaster for America's working families," said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor organization.

Meanwhile, the nation's largest union, the Service Employees International Union, is increasing its focus on the likely Republican presidential nominee. The union's political action committee is already running commercials critical of McCain's health care plan.

The SEIU, which endorsed Obama, has called the Illinois senator "the presumptive nominee."

"We've had a long process and the outcome is now clear," said Anna Burger, the SEIU's secretary treasurer. "The Democratic Party should come together to focus on winning in November."

But Clinton's union supporters say they're solidly behind her.

If the New York senator can win in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oregon and Puerto Rico _ the next four of the six remaining primaries _ then she can make a case to the Democratic superdelegates that she's the best candidate, said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

"The end of the road is not winning the nomination," McEntee said. "The end of the road is getting the victory in November ... We just believe Obama has a higher mountain to climb than Clinton to beat McCain."

Some of Clinton's most powerful union supporters _ AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers _ have re-declared their allegiance to Clinton and said they would continue to work for her.

"The answer is that the fighting Machinists are still fighting," IAM spokesman Rick Sloan said. "Full speed ahead!"


Worker-protections anger union officials

The U.S. Department of Labor will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on May 12 to enhance union financial transparency. The proposed rule, issued under the authority of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), protects the rights of labor union members to have meaningful information about union finances and expenditures.

The proposed rule would revise certain aspects of the Form LM-2, which is filed by about 4,600 unions with annual receipts of at least $250,000. The proposal also implements a longstanding provision of the LMRDA to require unions that ordinarily file a simplified report to instead file the more detailed LM-2 if they violate their legal obligations. The public comment period will begin with publication of the proposed rule on Monday, May 12, and will last for 45 days.

Changes being proposed include disclosing the amount spent on benefits for individual union officers and certain union employees, reporting indirect disbursements to officers and employees, itemizing certain receipts of $5,000 or more, and disclosing the identity of the purchaser or seller in transactions involving union assets. All the proposed changes will bring further clarity to the Form LM-2 by improving disclosure in these areas. The proposed rule also increases accountability by establishing a fair procedure, including due process rights for the union, for revoking a privilege of filing a simplified annual LM-3 report instead of the more detailed LM-2.

"The proposed rule builds on the administration's continuing commitment to transparency and accountability for corporations, pension funds and labor unions," said Don Todd, deputy assistant secretary for the Labor Department's Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS). "This proposed rule provides union members with more complete information about union finances and will better protect their legal rights to transparency and accountability under the law."

OLMS's public disclosure Web site at www.unionreports.gov contains union annual financial reports and additional reports required to be filed under the LMRDA as well as copies of collective bargaining agreements. Other information, including synopses of OLMS enforcement actions, is available at www.olms.dol.gov.


Labor-state gov't-union resists privatization

Armed with signs and fliers, a local custodian union took its plea to save their jobs to the public Monday. Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2932 spent the day outside City Hall, to the backdrop of honking car horns, to continue what has been a lengthy campaign against the School District's decision to privatize custodian services beginning in the 2008-09 school year.

Ken Hall, president of the AFSCME Local 2932, said the demonstration was more of an attempt to educate residents about privatization than an attempt to influence city officials.

"We are trying to give taxpayers more information about what's been gong on here," Hall said.

He added that the union had received positive a positive public response during the all-day protest, with several people stopping to hear the story and express their support.

The demonstration mostly consisted of a few union members outside City Hall for most of the day, except around 11 a.m. when 15 people, including children of union members, gathered outside.

State Rep. Peter Schmidt, D-Dover, attended the rally Monday afternoon to speak to union members and express his disagreement with the School District's decision to privatize.

"I wanted to express my solidarity and support," Schmidt, who spoke in front of the School Board several times about the issue, said. "I have serious reservations about the idea. I don't think we are going to get the same quality of service."

Hall said the union has attempted to renegotiate their contracts with the district several times since the March 10 School Board vote to award a contract to the Massachusetts-based UNICCO, but the district has not agreed to meet with union representatives.

In April, the Public Employees Labor Relations Board sided with the School District and said a labor complaint the local union filed did not belong before the board, referring the issue to an arbitrator.

"All we asked for was to be heard from the labor board," Hall said. "And all we asked for from the School Board is to talk to us."

The complaint cited several concerns with the process through which the School District decided to privatize services, including a claim that a simultaneous contract negotiation and pursuit for privatization took all bargaining power away from the union.

The union has since filed an appeal with the labor board about the decision, Hall said.

Union members first organized a formal protest last month, but police quickly halted the rally because the group had not secured a permit.


Green-claim masks union-only construction fiat

Plans inched forward Monday for the Akron (OH) school with the longest name — the National Inventors Hall of Fame School . . . Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Learning. Akron city and school officials approved $13.3 million in contracts — 6.5 percent higher than the estimate — for the 83,400-square-foot facility that will be attached to the downtown Inventors Hall of Fame.

The nine awards went for everything from asphalt and skylights to furniture and sprinklers.

The district plans to make the building its first ''green'' facility.

Construction on the building for 500 fifth- through eighth-graders will begin next month and is expected to be completed by late 2009.

With soft costs such as architectural fees and advertising, the total cost will be about $16 million as Akron Public Schools continues to update its facilities over the next seven years.

For the Inventors Hall of Fame School, the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission agreed to pay $7.3 million and the Akron schools $5 million of the basic cost.

Because Akron school leaders wanted $3.8 million in extras for which the state would not pay, the district is digging deeper into its pockets, bringing the total local share of the project to $8.8 million.

The contracts were approved unanimously by the Joint Board of Review composed of both city and school district officials and the Akron Board of Education.

In other business, Akron school board members:

• Formally accepted the resignation of Superintendent Sylvester Small, who announced last year he would retire on July 31, and hired David James, the district's executive director of business affairs, as his replacement. James will receive a base salary of $165,000 a year starting Aug. 1. Board members also agreed to two $5,000 wage increases in the next two years of his three-year contract.

• Agreed to proceed with a project labor agreement for the next school to be bid, the replacement of Leggett Elementary. The agreement will require contractors to hire 50 percent of the workers from the school district, that 20 percent be minorities and 7 percent female, while paying the same prevailing or union scale wages and benefits as local trade unions.

Board President Linda Omobien stressed that this was an experiment on one school.

The district has developed a draft 18-page labor agreement with the Tri-County Building and Construction Trades Council, whose members have been getting less work in the ongoing school improvements.

The PLA was approved last month by the Joint Board of Review.


ICE raid interfered with UFCW organizers

A union trying to organize Postville meatpacking workers had asked federal immigration authorities earlier this month not to raid the Agriprocessors Inc. plant while a government investigation was underway of possible labor law violations. Mark Lauritsen, international vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, wrote a May 2 letter to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, advising officials of an ongoing labor dispute at the Postville plant.

Lauritsen said he was concerned that any potential ICE action could have a "chilling effect" on the existing workforce which has reported some Agriprocessors’ workplace violations in the past. In addition, ICE action could result in employees leaving the plant, interfering with a government investigation that would “ultimately uncover unscrupulous employer acts,” he said.

The union had been trying to organize the plant’s non-union workers for collective bargaining purposes, said Jill Cashen, a UFCW spokeswoman in Washington, D.C. What concerns union officials is that they had alerted state and federal labor officials of allegations that Agriprocessors was exploiting underage workers and was paying them off the books, she said Monday.

Now that hundreds of Agriprocessor employees have been taken into custody, “how can justice ever be served on these exploitation issues?” Cashen asked

Lauritsen said that employers at other workplaces where his union had been organizing have abused ICE’s actions not only to imtimidate employees before a National Labor Relations Board election, but to blame the union for immigration actions.

"With these labor disputes in progress, we urge you to suspend any potentially existing enforcement efforts and refuse to be involved in this labor dispute in accordance with the internal guidance, “Questioning Persons During Labor Disputes,” Lauritsen wrote. He said ICE participation had the potential to deprive the workers of their guaranteed protected rights.

Iowa Labor Commissioner Dave Neil confirmed Monday that a state investigation was underway of possible labor law violations at the Agriprocessors plant in Postville. The probe involved alleged violations of wage and child labor laws, he said.

“It is an ongoing investigation, and I can’t really get into the specifics,” Neil said.

Mike Staebell, assistant district director for the U.S. Department of Labor, said, "Yes, I can confirm that we have an open investigation" at Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville. He declined to provide additional details.

ICE spokesman Tim Counts said he had no immediate comment on the union's statement.

David Strudhoff, superintendent of Postville Community Schools, said Monday that school officials were served with a 21-point subpoena in early April from investigators with the Iowa Division of Labor Services seeking the records of Postville middle and high school students.

The subpoena compelled the school district to turn over names of all current students and students at the school between 2005 and 2007, their ages, addresses, dates of birth, telephone numbers and social security numbers. It also, compelled the school district to turn over proof of age, pictures for yearbook photos, passenger lists for all buses, truancy/nonattendance records for the same group and a list of non-graduates from 2005 to 2008.

The subpoena also compelled the school district to turn over a list of all full or part-time bus drivers from 2005 to 2008 and complete school records for 35 students identified only by last name.

In addition, the subpoena compelled the school district to turn over all current work permits for current students and those enrolled between 2005 and 2007. It also sought the employment contracts of Strudhoff and Guidance Counselor Ron Wahl.

Finally, the subpoena compelled the school district to turn over the names of all children working for Wahl at his two apartment buildings which were sold to Agriprocessor CEO, Sholom Rubashkin and all records on Wahl’s school computer or at Postville Community School District that relate to the students and former students of Postville Community Schools and Mr. Wahl’s work with and for Agriprocessor’s Rubashkin and any other entities associated with Agriprocessor’s and Sholom Rubashkin.


Gettelfinger preps UAW-AAM strikers for bad news

Related American Axle stories: here.
More UAW stories: here.
More GM stories: here.

UAW's wrath sends a signal

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, not normally very talkative with news media, was a virtual chatterbox on Detroit radio airwaves in recent days, huffing and puffing about the injustices being heaped upon brave, striking UAW workers by the greedy bosses at American Axle & Manufacturing.

Take that as a good sign. The strike by 3,600 American Axle workers will end soon, even if a tough ratification fight lies ahead.

Gettelfinger is being frank with his members so the tough terms of the deal ultimately seem more palatable.

The strike, which enters its 12th week today, will end soon because it must. The stakes are simply too high to allow it to fester longer. Too high for American Axle. Too high for its chief customer, General Motors Corp., which has ponied up $200 million to help close a deal. Too high for the workers. Too high for the union.

Say what?

Didn't Gettelfinger tell WWJ-AM's Jeff Gilbert on Saturday that American Axle had derailed talks by threatening to close another plant, one with 116 workers in Cheektowaga, N.Y.? Didn't he accuse Axle's bosses of trying to "crush this membership," and of showing "a more callous disregard for a workforce" than he had ever witnessed?

Didn't he tell WJR-AM talk-show host Paul W. Smith on Monday that the Axle strike is far from being settled? "I would not want to predict how long this thing's going to go," Gettelfinger said, "because it appears to me, at this juncture, it may be a while."

Those words don't sound like harbingers of an imminent settlement.

Perhaps, but let's read between the lines a little.

If Gettelfinger wanted to make a point to American Axle CEO Dick Dauch, he'd make it to his face.

Instead, Gettelfinger made a calculated choice to go public with his comments to reach a wider, different audience. He wants the Axle strikers and every UAW member within earshot of a Detroit radio station to know that these are brutally tough negotiations; that the company can close plants at home and build parts in Mexico or somewhere else, because it has happened before.

He's creating an expectation for the rank-and-file -- if it wasn't there already -- that the next contract will be a bitter pill for American Axle workers to swallow.

And then, hopefully in the next few days, Gettelfinger can surprise them with positive news. Like an end to the strike sooner than expected. Maybe a deal to keep the Cheektowaga plant open. Or a $5,000 signing bonus, plus big checks to ease the transition to retirement or a lower-wage job.

Those kinds of sweeteners could tip sentiment in favor of a deal, even if workers do hold their noses while voting for it.

The most telling comment Gettelfinger made Monday to WJR's Smith was this:

"Look," he said, "let's not kid anybody here. No matter what we do as a result of these negotiations, it's going to be difficult to get ratified."

There, he said it. The "R" word.

The thing that has made this UAW-American Axle dispute so much more difficult to resolve than the landmark labor contracts with GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler last fall is the challenge of getting to R, for ratification.

American Axle doesn't have much room to budge on labor cost structure. For its U.S. plants to be competitive, it must match the lower wages and benefits that the UAW already negotiated with Axle's largest competitor, Dana Corp., which recently emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Axle, therefore, is asking that the hourly wage for production workers be cut from $28 to about $17.

The ratification problem is not so much with the magnitude of concessions as with who is voting on them.

In talks with the Detroit three auto companies, the UAW was largely able to protect the compensation for existing workers -- the ones who were actually voting on the contract -- while approving a lower wage for future hires. At American Axle, however, the existing workforce would be asked to approve big cuts in their own wages, in exchange for lump-sum payments that would soften the blow.

Knowing the difficulty inherent in asking current workers to vote in favor of slashing their own pay, it's critical that Gettelfinger do what he can to manage their expectations.

Indeed, he said one reason for his recent public comments was the false hope that GM's offer of $200 million to help settle the UAW-Axle strike might trigger.

"The expectation was high everywhere that this thing was over, that it was resolved," he said Monday. "It's far from being resolved."

For Gettelfinger to succeed in the tricky business of getting a concessionary contract at American Axle ratified, he must be the one to set the expectations if he hopes to be able to exceed them when he takes a tentative deal to the members.

The hope here, for the future of all parties involved, is that he pulls it off.


Winding-down a failed UAW strike

Related American Axle stories: here.
More UAW stories: here.

Union slams Axle plans

American Axle's demands for deep wage cuts and plans to close all but two of its striking plants are too drastic for the United Auto Workers to accept, according to one union negotiator.

Dana Edwards, a negotiator and shop chairman for Local 235, which represents striking American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. workers in Detroit, said the UAW is willing to give back on wages -- $5 to $8 per hour, depending on job and plant -- but the Detroit-based supplier wants larger rollbacks and is seeking to close a majority of the striking plants.

"We've bent over backwards to give them very decent proposals and they're talking about closing additional plants," Edwards said. "It just blows me away."

Edwards' comments came on the same weekend that UAW president Ron Gettelfinger said negotiations took a negative turn Friday evening after American Axle proposed closing a Cheektowaga, N.Y., plant. The union and company had already agreed to close forge sites in Detroit and New York.

About 3,650 American Axle workers went on strike Feb. 26, resisting demands for reduced wages and benefits.

Late last month, the company proposed a deal that called for workers to accept wage cuts ranging from $5 to $14 per hour, depending on position, and the closure of the forge plants, in exchange for a $140,000 buyout, or a $90,000 buydown bonus to stay at a lower wage.

Under the company's latest proposal, only Detroit Gear and Three Rivers (Mich.) Driveline would remain open among the six striking plants -- American Axle's original factories when it spun off from General Motors Corp. 14 years ago.

Prior to the strike, a Buffalo, N.Y., plant was shuttered.

Company spokeswoman Renee Rogers said she wouldn't discuss any plans to close plants, but said the company has offered higher wages than what its competitors pay.

"We made several proposals that are considerably higher than the agreements the UAW gave to competitors, including Dana (Corp.)," she said.

"That's because we want to get this over and get people back to work."

Edwards said the plan to close Cheektowaga is a company tactic to strong-arm Detroit Gear workers into accepting deeper wage cuts.

American Axle management is "pitting us against each other," Edwards said. "To me, that's flat out foul."

In general, workers in Detroit are paid higher wages than peers at most of American Axle's other factories.

Rogers said the two sides did meet Sunday and expect to continue talking this week.

A strategy where a company seeks to trade gains at one plant for losses at another is not uncommon during a labor dispute, said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

"It breaks up solidarity," he said. "And the union's only real power comes if all the workers stick together."

Adding factory closures on top of wage rollbacks puts UAW leaders in a difficult spot, Chaison said.

"Gettelfinger wants to tell members that if they give on wages, their jobs will be secure," he said. "But that's hard to say when plants are closing."

Friday's breakdown marks at least the third time that talks have gone sour after a deal appeared to be close.

Striker David LeGrone said uncertainty has many workers looking to move on.

"People have gotten tired and have started looking for new jobs and just plan on taking a buyout when an agreement is reached," he said, adding he's among those seeking new employment in a tough job market.

"They want a buyout, in one lump sum, so they can move or go back to school ... there's no telling what will happen to this company."


UPS rewards Teamsters without a vote

An overwhelming majority of about 60 workers at the UPS Freight (formerly Overnite Transportation) terminal in York, Pennsylvania have signed authorization cards to become Teamsters, bringing the total number of drivers and dockworkers who have signed cards to 10,760 since January 16, Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa announced.

The workers will be joining Local 776 based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

"The UPS Freight workers in York were determined to join the Teamsters and we are proud to welcome them," said Teamsters Package Division Director Ken Hall. "Their determination will be rewarded with a strong contract."

"I am extremely happy the York workers have taken the first step toward becoming Teamsters and changing their lives for the better," said Dan Virtue, President of Local 776. "Hopefully soon their brothers and sisters in Harrisburg will join them."

In April, more than 89 percent of UPS Freight workers who are already Teamster members ratified a new contract, which improves wages, benefits and working conditions.

A majority of UPS Freight workers in 39 states have submitted cards: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Victories have come in numerous large cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Memphis, Minneapolis, Nashville, Oakland, Orlando, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Jose, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.


Labor-state nurses call in the Teamsters, Hoffa

Teamsters Local 332 president Nina Bugbee issued a call to arms across all union lines, with the announcement that International Brotherhood of Teamsters president James P. Hoffa will be in town Wednesday for a countywide union rally. "This is a little dot on the map for our union president but he sees the writing on the wall," Bugbee told Genesys Regional Medical Center nurses during a meeting on Monday to discuss the possibility of a strike in the wake of Friday's 30-day extension on contract negotiations. "We want this to be a meeting with every union in this county. ...We're gonna send a message. ... The Teamsters nurses are going to take the lead."

The rally is tentatively planned for 11 a.m. Wednesday in the parking lot of the Trillium Theatre in Grand Blanc Township.

Nurses were urged to wear Teamsters T-shirts and union buttons and to make protest signs to show solidarity at the Wednesday rally. Bugbee said the Teamsters will also be calling on fellow local unions to lock arms and join them on the pavement.

"It's time to keep the voice loud and strong of unionism in Flint and Genesee County," Bugbee said. "This is about corporate greed. ... This is an attack on unions and on middle-class America."

Contract negotiations began Feb. 21 with the hospital's approximately 1,000 registered nurses. Health care, nurse-to-patient ratios and wages are just some of the items still on the table, Bugbee said.

"Retiree and health care benefits are big issues but nurse-to-patient ratios are really one of the most important things to us," said RN Denise Whaley. "We now mostly have four patients on the cancer floor and if we have five or six who are very critical. That's going to affect their care.

"I know we have more nurses than a lot of other hospitals do and it's great. That's one of the reasons why people come to us."

Hospital officials said they are maintaining their public silence on negotiations and declined comment on the issues raised by the union.

However, they did refute rumors that Ascension Health System is planning to sell Genesys and is pushing for a strike to bust the union to try to make the hospital more palatable to a buyer.

"There is no truth at all to the rumor that Genesys Regional Medical Center is being sold or is for sale," said Genesys media representative Cindy Ficorelli. "We don't have any other comments to make publicly right now. But that rumor has been going on and on, and we decided we had to nip that one in the bud."

Both sides agreed Friday to a 30-day contract extension. The contract now is set to expire June 8.

"We're far apart and far from done. That's it on the bottom line," said Bugbee. "We took the 30-day extension in hopes someplace we'd find a meeting of the minds ... but if they're serious about not compromising and in busting this union, we can't take it sitting down."

The nurses could take a strike vote at any time within the next 30 days, but an actual walkout date can't occur until after June 8. A minimum 10-day notice is also required before a walk-out.

"These 30 days will allow us to ... decide at what point we're going say enough is enough. Based on what I'm seeing now, I will probably be recommending (a strike vote) very soon," said Bugbee. "We really don't want to go on strike. A strike is never a good thing and you only do it when your back is up against the wall. But they're trying to push us against that wall and out (of) the building.

"...There's no sense jumping the gun on this. But I think we're up for the walk and when we do. I think we'll be out for the summer."

Ongoing negotiations scheduled to continue later this week.

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