District stops collecting dues for Teachers Union

Powerful union to ride out discontent

Saying they're fed up with the actions of their teachers union, Grand Rapids (MI) Public Schools board members turned the tables Friday and declared they have no confidence in the union leaders' ability to resolve stalemated contract talks. Members also hope to hit the union in the pocketbook, announcing the district no longer will deduct and transmit union dues from teachers' paychecks.

Other districts embroiled in labor disputes have taken similar steps, but they are rare, said Justin King, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards.

"It's certainly not a move that will foster a good relationship but, at this point, I guess they don't care," King said.

Grand Rapids Education Association President Paul Helder said he is not deterred by the board's vote and said he thinks it will strengthen his members' resolve.

"The board seems confused, because it's not the board's confidence I need to maintain," Helder said. "They say they support the teachers, and I guess that's reflected in how they treat the teachers' elected representation and undermine the bargaining process."

School board President Kenneth Hoskins said he acted against the advice of Superintendent Bernard Taylor and was spurred by what he called an unproductive meeting Thursday with the union negotiators and a state mediator.

Hoskins said the union refuses to recognize what he called the district's "deteriorating" financial situation. Administrators expect to lose about 900 students -- and the state aid that goes with them -- by next year.

"The GREA leadership is blind if they cannot see the fiscal realities facing this district and the state," Hoskins said, reading from a prepared statement on the steps of the district's administration building, surrounded by six other board members and the district's lawyer.

He called the union's leadership "dysfunctional" and said Helder rejected multiple opportunities to discuss the district's books before the mediation session.

"Enough is enough," Hoskins said. "It was a waste of taxpayer dollars and time to spend that session talking about the numbers."

Hoskins said finances were a factor in the decision to stop transmitting the dues, saying the district no longer could afford to provide the free service.

"We're at the point where we have to watch every nickel we spend," he said.

But no board member knew how much it cost to deduct and transmit the dues, though staff later determined it cost $2.50 a year for each of the 1,700 GREA members.

The district transmits about $57,000 in dues every two weeks, and Barb Ruga, the board's lawyer, said the union can negotiate the matter as part of current talks.

Ruga said the move does not mean the union won't get the dues, but it will have to collect them from members directly.

Board member David Allen, who suggested a no-confidence vote at a May 5 meeting, said the decision on the dues is intended to be symbolic and stressed the moves are aimed at union leaders and not rank and file.

The district will continue to honor grievance and binding arbitration procedures, even though it has not been obligated to do so after the contract expired Aug. 20, 2007.

Thursday's session with the mediator was the first time the sides sat down to bargain since late March, when district staff walked out of a session because teachers were picketing outside.

The sides are about $4 million apart, based on recent contract proposals. The board is offering no raise for this year outside of annual longevity payments and a 1.5 percent salary increase for next year, with a 1.5 percent stipend for teachers at the top of the scale.

The union wants a 2 percent raise this year on top of the longevity payments, and 3 percent for next year, plus any money saved from reduced insurance costs.

The district wants teachers to pay $90 a month toward their health insurance; the union proposes paying $50 a month.

The GREA's Representative Assembly in February announced it had lost confidence in Taylor.


Vallejo, CA municipal bankruptcy explained

Blame public employee unions

Those of us who live here in Northern California know that the plight of the city of Vallejo is only the beginning of the financial problems that face our state and country unless we stand up to the employee unions that are driving our communities into bankruptcy.

These unions have a choke hold on our state and are bleeding our city, county and state coffers with no regard for our future well-being. Police, firefighters, prison correctional officers and teachers unions have become so powerful that they command the allegiance of our elected officials at all levels of government.

When the governor tried to reign them in, he was crushed by a million-dollar commercial campaign that made him out to be a cruel and uncaring man who had no feelings for our brave firefighters or as someone trying to take programs away from our schoolchildren. In fact, he was trying to give the school boards power to ensure that qualified teachers were promoted and that police and firefighters had an option to determine if their union dues should be used to attack particular politicians.

Californians employee union members are highly paid, have retirement packages that are the envy of most in the private sector. Most earn this money, yet many abuse the system by not performing their jobs, calling in sick weekly and becoming a liability to others. Most union members earn the money they get, but they also look the other way when some abuse the system. After all, it's tax money being stolen, and taxpayers never question where their money is spent.

Rod Ferroggiaro, Fairfield


Labor Department enforces 50-year old law

New Form and Regulations Improve Labor Union Financial Transparency

On May 12, 2008 the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management (OLMS) released for public comment new regulations for labor union financial disclosure reports Form LM-2. The public comment period closes on June 26, 2008.

The proposed new LM-2 Form and Regulations were published in the Federal Register on May 12, 2008. Those wishing to view them may visit http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/pdf/E8-10151.pdf (A word of warning, this is a 103 page pdf document and is written in governmentese.)

These new regulations are part of an ongoing effort by OLMS to fulfill its obligations under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA). The new Form LM-2 and regulations close several of the loopholes from the previous round of reforms.

They require that unions specify the costs of benefits being provided to officers and employees.

Under the present system the cost of benefits is only reported as one big lump sum. The new regulations will allow union members to see how much they are paying in benefits for each officer and employee. This will discourage union officials from attempting to hide the cost of excessively generous benefits.

They also require that unions provide the identity of those to whom they sell assets.

This will allow union members to spot transactions where union officials are buying union assets at big discounts.

And, they require unions to report travel and entertainment expenses for union officers and employees that are paid "indirectly" by the union.

This will allow union members to get a much more accurate idea of how much the union is spending on this sort of thing and discourage union officers and employees from attempting to hide the cost of "business" meetings in luxurious resorts.

There is little doubt that union officers and employees will oppose these reforms every step of the way, as they have with previous reforms. It is important that union members, public officials and members of the general public who understand the importance of labor union financial transparency as a deterrent to corruption provide comments supporting the reforms.

There are several methods of commenting on the reforms. Comments can be posted by going to http://www.regulations.gov and entering "Labor Organization Annual Financial Reports" in the search box for "Comment or Submission."

Comments may also be mailed to:

Kay H. Oshel
Director of the office of Policy, Reports and Disclosure
Office of Labor-Management Standards
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, NW., Room N-5609
Washington, DC 20210

You don't need to be an expert on this issue to provide comments supporting these new regulations.

The Public Service Research Foundation, as part of its public interest outreach, would be pleased to provide you with some preformatted comments supporting the regulations. You may request this as either as an MSWord document attachment to e-mail or by having us mail them to you. You may requested either of them by clicking here to send an e-mail. If you request that the comments be mailed to you, please be sure to provide a complete name and mailing address in your e-mail.


SEIU caught up in dirty-money campaign

That depends on the meaning of the word 'dirty'

Former Assemblyman Joe Nation, locked in a three-way dogfight for the Democratic nomination for the state Senate's 3rd District seat, slammed Assemblyman Mark Leno Friday for taking campaign contributions from "strip clubs and producers of pornographic movies."

After reviewing campaign finance reports filed late Thursday, Nation estimated that Leno had received more than $14,000 from purveyors of adult entertainment, plus an additional $31,000 from various gambling casinos, such as Artichoke Joe's Casino in San Bruno and Lucky Buck Card Club in Livermore.

"That's a little bit surprising," Nation said.

Leno's campaign manager, Tom Higgins, said, "I really think the larger issue here is $650,000 of independent expenditure committee money coming in on behalf of Joe Nation. Clearly, Joe Nation's candidacy has touched a nerve with very powerful and well-funded folks."

An independent expenditure committee can spend any amount in support of a candidate as long as it does not coordinate its activities with candidates or their campaign staffs.

Nation is quick to note that numerous mailers attacking him have been sent out by other independent expenditure committees, such as the Opportunity PAC, a group whose contributors include the Service Employees International Union Local 1000, and the California School Employees Association.

The finance reports indicate that incumbent state Sen. Carole Migden has nearly twice as much money as her two opponents, Leno and Nation, heading into the final two weeks of the race.

Migden could not be reached for comment.

Migden has $737,525 in cash, compared with $194,857 for Nation and $159,514 for Leno. Migden is sitting on the bigger campaign war chest even though both her challengers raised more money than she did between March 18 and May 17.

Leno raised the most during the two-month period: $372,506. Of that amount, however, $100,000 came from a loan Leno made to his campaign. Nation raised $264,664. Migden raised $192,648.

Eric Jaye, a San Francisco-based political consultant, doubts that Migden's larger cash reserves will secure victory for her.

"She could have $700,000 or $7 million, and I don't think it would save her, at least not among the voters I know here in San Francisco," Jaye said.

"This race has very much come down to a two-person race between Nation and Leno. Migden's role at this point is as a spoiler." Migden has been embroiled in a campaign finance controversy, drawing a record $350,000 fine from the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Migden owes her cash advantage to a federal judge who in April temporarily overruled a decision by the state's political watchdog commission that prohibited her from using $645,000 it said she illegally transferred to her current campaign account. The Leno campaign has maintained that Migden shouldn't be allowed to use the money because it was raised when she was a member of the Assembly.

Migden also received more than $17,000 in contributions during the period from fellow Democrats in the state Senate.

During the period reported Thursday, Migden spent $631,340, almost as much as her two opponents combined. Nation spent $371,392, and Leno spent $347,785.

All three candidates are spending faster than they're taking in money. Migden has $180,591 in unpaid bills. Nation has a debt of $130,683. Leno has $45,908 in unpaid bills.

Nation said that Migden's campaign manager, Richie Ross, is known for spending lots of money in the final days of campaigns.

But Brian Sobel, a Petaluma-based political analyst, questioned the wisdom of such a strategy given that so many voters cast their ballots early due to the popularity of voting absentee.

"If Migden hasn't spent it by now, then I don't know what their campaign was doing," Sobel said.


Feds bust Steelworker bosses for embezzlement

Local law enforcement unable to protect labor-state workers

Four union officials have been indicted in federal court on charges of embezzling from steelworkers in Kaukauna (WI). Court documents say the four current or former officers billed Local 20 of the United Steelworkers Union for time they were away from work and doing union business. The union pays its officers for lost time from work.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Johnson says the amounts of money involved in the embezzlement run up to a few thousand dollars. Johnson says the four were actually at work or weren't scheduled for work during the time in question.

Tim Giles, Randy Sanders, Mary Schaeuble and Eugene Huss are under indictment.


CNA rejected on home turf

Nurses Say ‘No’ to Unionization

Registered nurse Inge Schlegel is one of hundreds who grew concerned about a year ago when the California Nurses Association union came to Fresno (CA) knocking on St. Agnes' door. "A union representation is a third party and it just disrupts how things can go," Schlegel said. Schlegel says that's exactly why St. Agnes nurses felt compelled to start a grassroots campaign. "Some of the views of CNA just didn't gel with the views and philosophy St. Agnes has and that was a huge concern for many of the voters," Schlegel said.

"We were concerned about maintaining teamwork for our patients, absolutely, often the best patient care we do here at St. Agnes. We do not want that disrupted," Registered nurse, Joni Johnson, said.

This week's vote ended with 327 nurses saying 'yes to unionization, while 452 voted 'no'.

"We certainly recognize that we had issues if our nurses wanted to explore a potential relationship with CNA, but they decided we can best work together without the interference of a union," Nancy Hollingsworth with St. Agnes, said.

For the nurses behind this grassroots effort, the triumph goes far beyond a simple vote.

"The lesson here is if you believe very strongly in a cause, you get together with other people who believe in what you believe in, you can make things happen," Schlegel said.

If no objections to this week's election are filed, the national labor relations board will certify the vote next week.

The California Nurses Association has more than 80,000 members in 50 states, including registered nurses from more than 50 hospitals.


Transit Workers Union on strike in labor-state

Bus company forced to close temporarily

The men and women on the picket line outside Coach USA/Short Line's offices in Mahwah (NJ) Friday portrayed themselves like employees do everywhere: overworked and underpaid. But the 235 bus drivers, mechanics and ticket agents represented by Local 225 of the Transport Workers Union of America think their grievances are substantial enough to reject a proposed contract twice and, now, to strike the company for the first time in 21 years and bring Short Line service to a standstill.

"I think this has been building for years," said Louis Ortiz, a member of the union negotiating committee. "The last contract, which only passed by 19 or 22 votes in 2005, should have been a red flag to the company and the union."

This one, in contrast, was originally defeated by 15 votes May 16 and then by 12 Thursday. The strike began at midnight Thursday.

Carlos Padilla, president of Local 225, said the union will picket throughout Short Line's territory in the coming week, as well as stage a series of rallies.

"But we're also ready and able to meet with the company at any time," said Padilla.

Before the day was out, George Grieve, president of Coach USA's Northern District, had hired a federal mediator and called the union and suggested a meeting Tuesday. Padilla agreed.

"We intend to be pro-active," said Grieve. "We want to settle this, too, and we think the participation of an impartial and independent mediator will be an asset to our talks."

Union members, as they walked back and forth in front of the company's offices and primary bus garage, talked about what it would take to get a "yes" vote out of them.

Money was on everybody's mind, although there didn't seem to be a consensus on what mattered the most: sick pay, vacation pay or the "minimum guarantee," as the daily pay for a run is called.

Short Line offered more on all counts, but employees said it was not enough, not with the cost of living being as high as it is in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

"If this were Tennessee, it would be an OK contract," said one driver.

The company offered raises of 4.5 percent, 4 percent and 4 percent over three years versus 3 percent, 2 percent and 2 percent in the previous contract. Some drivers said yesterday that they wanted at least 5 percent; others, 7 percent.

New drivers complained about the two-tier pay scale that depresses wages for the first two years and contributes to a high turnover among their ranks — a system the company says the union doesn't want to change. Others talked about the impact of long days on personal lives and about the pressure of dealing with the traveling public.

Throughout the morning, supervisors and non-union employees drove the company's buses into Mahwah for temporary storage amid jeers from the picket line. But the demonstration, watched by the Mahwah police, ner spiraled out of control.


Worker-choice protected in Iowa

Hawkeyes almost became a labor-state

Despite dire reports, Iowa's economy and businesses are positioned to weather a national economic storm, thanks, in part, to sound decisions by the 2008 Iowa General Assembly to safeguard Iowa businesses' continued prosperity.

In particular, lawmakers' bipartisan diligence in protecting Iowa's 60-year-old right-to-work law, while thwarting unnecessary changes to workers' compensation, are notable triumphs for Iowans. Additionally, the legislators' nod to increased transportation funding will bring more than $160 million annually to help Iowa's road systems.

The American Legislative Exchange Council credits Iowa's right-to-work law, which guarantees the freedom to work without being forced to pay dues or fees to a union, as a notable factor in the state's economic strength.

Legislators also wisely chose not to adopt several radical worker-compensation bills this session. The bills had the potential to cause serious delays in proper medical treatment for injured workers, as well as delays in compensation. Currently, more than 96 percent of all claims for workers' compensation are paid without formal adjudication.

- Kirk Tyler, board chair, president, Assoc. of Business and Industry
- Mike Ralston, president, Iowa Assoc. of Business and Industry, Des Moines


Unions forced to fan out statewide

Anti-tax crusaders seek spending limits

A group of anti-tax crusaders is launching a campaign to block Queen City officials from driving up the city's tax rate. The conservative New Hampshire Advantage Coalition is leading the drive to put a cap on taxes and spending, tying both to the rate of inflation. Voters would have a chance to approve the proposal when they go to the polls in November.

"This really will help the taxpayers. It will force the government to look at how they're doing business every day," said Mike Biundo, the coalition's president.

The effort got under way in Manchester yesterday afternoon, when coalition leaders filed a petition with the City Clerk's Office. They estimate they'll need to collect about 4,000 signatures to get their question on the November ballot.

Similar petitions will be filed today in Concord, Merrimack and Rochester, Biundo said. All told, the group hopes to put the question to voters in 11 New Hampshire communities.

"The New Hampshire Advantage Coalition is looking to send a message to lawmakers on all levels that the only way to keep our low-tax advantage is to hold the line on spending," Biundo said.

Proponents of a spending cap tried and failed to get a referendum on the ballot in 2005 and 2007. A 2005 petition drive garnered 5,100 signatures, but state agencies struck the proposal off the ballot, saying it was legally flawed.

Mayor Frank Guinta, who was then an aldermen, rewrote the proposal as a non-binding referendum. The other aldermen refused to put the question on the ballot.

The New Hampshire Advantage Coalition's proposal would tie city spending to the consumer price index, as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor. The tax rate would be tied to the same index.

The proposal comes with an escape clause. In any given year, the city could override the cap by a two-thirds vote of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

The proposal also gives the aldermen some flexibility in the event of a citywide property revaluation, or when the city issues bonds to pay for capital projects.

Aldermen Ed Osborne, a Democrat, said an escape clause would be crucial if the question were approved.

"As long as you can get out of it, I have no problem with it," he said.

The coalition's drive in Manchester will be led by businessman Karl Beisel, who pushed for spending caps in 2005 and 2007. Members of the committee that will assist him include Tammy Simmons, Barbara Hagan, Keith Murphy and Roger Wilkins.

Beisel predicted the committee would collect more than 5,000 signatures. He said he is confident the group will succeed in putting the question on the ballot, noting the language is similar to spending caps adopted in Dover.

Laconia and Franklin also have caps.

"As far as I know, every city that's put a measure like this to the voters has passed (it)," he said. "I certainly think Manchester would be no exception."


AFSCME authorizes big strike

Thousands of University of California employees have voted overwhelmingly to strike over wages, union leaders said Friday. About 20,000 custodians, patient-care workers and other service employees will walk off the job unless UC agrees to contract demands, said Lakesha Harrison, a UCLA nurse and president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299. The strike could start in nine days and would last "a few days," she said.

The union, which represents some hospital workers and the lowest-paid campus employees, has asked UC for a 20 percent pay raise, noting that some of its members must rely on food stamps. The lowest-paid workers earn about $10 an hour, Harrison said.

About 97 percent of voting members approved the strike, Harrison said, although she declined to say exactly how many voted. The UC system has 10 campuses and five hospitals.

In a written statement, UC administrators said they have told the union they are willing to provide pay increases and other benefits to thousands of employees. If a strike does happen, replacement workers will be in place to provide patient care, UC said.

"AFSCME's strike threat is very unfortunate as it does not help move us closer to an agreement, but we will not be deterred from our goal of getting good contracts for our dedicated employees," said Howard Pripas, the university's labor-relations chief.


SEIU high-tech janitors strike, day 4

Hundreds of janitors who want better wages and health care protested Friday in front of Cisco Systems Inc. in San Jose, according to the Service Employees International Union. Holding signs that read "Health Care For Working Families," "A Better Future is Worth Fighting For" and "Justice For Janitors," the approximately 400 janitors who participated in the rally today made up day four of the strike, union spokeswoman Gina Bowers said.

The Silicon Valley/Bay Area janitors, who clean for companies including Oracle, Cisco Systems Inc., Bishop Ranch, Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo and City Center, are asking for increase to their annual wage from the current $23,000 and to shorten the two-and-a-half year wait to gain health care coverage for their family members, according to Bowers.

The janitors were crammed in the intersection of Zanker Road at East Tasman Drive, marching through the crosswalks amid a sea of police cars, Bowers said.

Contract talks for more than 6,000 janitors ended May 15 after the Bay Area's largest cleaning companies and the janitors could not reach an agreement on wages and benefits, according to Bowers.

The janitors began their strike Tuesday.

Presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, issued a statement Friday which offered his support to the janitors and their families.

"This week, when janitors traded their brooms for picket signs, they also sent a message about the urgent need for good paying jobs with health care and dignity to ensure that families aren't just surviving, but thriving. By speaking out against the injustice of having to share a home with other families just to stay alive, these hardworking janitors are demonstrating their abiding faith in the power of hope - and paving the way for others around this country to follow in their footsteps," Obama said in his statement.


Pro-union Gov. created worker-choice backlash

I’ve been missing in action, or missing by inaction, over the last two weeks, so forgive me if I play a little catch up. Starting with Saturday’s mark of 100 days until the opening gavel of the convention, it seems the news media is intent on turning out a headline a day devoted to whatever is happening or not happening regarding the Democratic love fest in August.

Like the Associated Press story that moved two days before the 100-days mark that urgently reported there “doesn’t look like much is happening” outside the Pepsi Center, where the convention will be held Aug. 25-28.

That absence of activity was perhaps more a function of the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche being bounced early from their respective league playoffs than evidence of a lack of developments related to the convention.

The AP story noted that major construction to convert the center to a red-white-and-blue political convention hall won’t start until July 7 when the Democratic National Convention Committee will take over the building to prep it for the Monday through Thursday meeting.

You would expect the carpenters, electricians, stage hands and laborers who will do that work will be card-carrying union members, because the stage hands have already raised the issue of non-union labor being the regular hired-hands at the center. In raising the issue, they won a commitment that will give hundreds of jobs at the center to fellow union members.

By that time, too, we should know whether union officials across the state have been able to obtain enough signatures on petitions to place a handful of union-backed proposals as initiatives on the November ballot, primarily to balance a right-wing supported right-to-work initiative that conservatives long have dreamed might deliver a mortal blow to union power and influence in Colorado.

The union-supported initiatives among other things would hold a CEO responsible for the criminal behavior of his or her employees on behalf of the company, and also require companies to publicly provide a reason for an employee’s dismissal.

The right-to-work initiative is being promoted by conservative business interests largely in response to Gov. Bill Ritter’s sympathetic Democratic ear to labor, which, coming from the rollicking Governor’s Mansion nowadays, is a distinct change of perspective from the empty house of former Republican Gov. Bill Owens for eight long years.

But the business interests who supported Owens’ push for Referendum C to keep Colorado from falling into bankruptcy, and those who supported FastTracks, which is the largest public construction project in the metro area since Denver International Airport, and those who backed Ritter’s election over Republican Bob Beauprez, who didn’t promise much more than Owens delivered, are perplexed over the competing labor and right-to-work initiatives.

They know that positioning both sides of the labor/management argument on a presidential election ballot is going to draw out many voters who will only listen to the loudest knee-jerk arguments made in negative campaign ads funded by whoever can raise the most dollars to endlessly repeat the ads on local television.

None of those business people particularly want to strengthen labor’s hand in the state, but they also realize that Colorado labor is no figurative John Henry pile driver working on the railroad. Current state law renders Colorado labor to an always-struggling position and even the kind ear of a Democratic governor isn’t going to change that.

Business really has nothing to fear but an uneducated voter. The impacts of passage of any of the initiatives will be evident only after a time equivalent to the decade it took to realize that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights initiative (TABOR) was in reality a government busting saber-toothed tiger that lunched on spending that could improve the state and make it a better place to live, not on a surfeit of taxes.

Bellowing has always been part of any national political convention, and now that the Denver shout-outs are less than 100 days away, I suspect Colorado’s dueling labor/management issues will claim a share of attention from the delegates.

Will Colorado emerge with a union-busting or union-friendly reputation? That, too, probably depends on who can bellow louder: the pot-bellied blue collar worker or the pot-bellied office manager.

That’s one sideshow of the circus that should be fun to watch.


Hoffa: The Teamsters are in the house

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