6/3/08

Stern's SEIU: Force politicians to kneel

Plan revealed to mete out rough justice for the non-compliant

The presidential primary wasn't the only thing going on in Puerto Rico this weekend. The Service Employees International Union was generous enough to fly me down here to cover their 2008 convention, which began on Saturday but gets into full swing here tomorrow.

The theme of the convention is "Justice For All," a slogan that acknowledges that the impact of organizing workers goes beyond improving the lives of just those workers. It's also about building longterm infrastructure, it's about establishing on the ground foot soldiers to advance good legislation and support our leaders, and it's about building a political funding mechanism to go after politicians who undermine workers' rights among other progressive priorities.

The bottom line is that the ultimate goal of the improvement of workers' wages and benefits is actually to improve the lives of everyone, union members or not. That's what the SEIU's accountability project is about.

After first hearing about the project at Take Back in March, I was pleased to be able to learn more about it from Jon Youngdahl and Stephanie Mueller of SEIU's political division on Sunday. In a nutshell, after November, the SEIU intends to hold our Democratic representatives to their promises and let them know that there is the money, the organization and the will not only to fund primary challenges but to recruit and even train qualified candidates around the country if they don't do what they said they'd do.

What makes this threat real, of course, is that SEIU was instrumental in the defeat of Al Wynn by Donna Edwards in Maryland's February 12th primary. The SEIU spent $1 million on that race alone. Next year and all during the ensuing cycle, they're prepared to spend $10 million to target Democrats who don't follow through on their promises. Think about what the SEIU got for their money in MD-04: Congresswoman Donna Edwards who will champion progressive legislation on issue after issue affecting not only those in her district but impacting people's lives for the better all over the country, as every new and better Democrat added to congress by definition does.

The details of the program are as follows:
* $10 million fund to take on elected officials who fail to live up to their promises.
* Calls for SEIU members to make at least 10 million phone calls to members of Congress after the election to hold them accountable.
* At least 50 percent of the union's organizing budget and 50 percent of its non-organizing staff at the national and local levels will be devoted to the effort
* A commitment to jump start a much broader, permanent grassroots movement of working people by actively involving at least one million SEIU members in the "justice for all" effort by 2012, and creating leadership roles for at least 200,000 (or about 10 percent of the union's membership).
The issues the SEIU is particularly interested in pursuing accountability on are
* Affordable, quality health care for all.
* The freedom for all workers to form a union without employer interference.
* Quality services in our communities with fair, reliable funding.
* An economy that rewards all workers, not just a few at the top.
* Citizenship for hard-working, taxpaying immigrants.
Races will be targeted using several criteria, perhaps most important of which will be what their members on the ground in certain districts are saying. Part of the reason the SEIU got into the MD-04 race was because there was wide-spread dis-satisfaction with Al Wynn from their members in his district. Luckily for our representatives, avoiding a primary challenge isn't terribly difficult: just follow through on your promises and reflect the values and the needs of your voters with your votes in Washington. Now, that's not so hard, is it?

What makes this project especially apt for a 2009 launch is that beginning on January 20th, we're likely to be in a position, with a Democratic president and expanded Democratic majorities, to actually accomplish some real and meaningful progress on issue after issue important to progressives. As Chris and Matt have noted repeatedly at Open Left, Democrats may have majorities in congress, but a conservative governing majority remains. That is likely to change after November. With that change, we as a movement are all going to have to shift into accountability mode, since the people we put in power will finally be able to wield it. Glad to see the SEIU is already preparing to make that shift.

(mydd.com)

Privatizing the Fire Department?

Council embarrassed by Mayor's naïveté about firefighter union's political power

Muncie (IN) Mayor Sharon McShurley said she is considering privatizing fire protection or utilizing volunteer firefighters to compensate for expected shortfalls in property tax revenues. "Why wouldn't we if we can provide public safety to the city for less?" she asked.

McShurley's announcement came in an interview with The Star Press after a Monday night meeting of Muncie (IN) City Council. She had planned to make the announcement while addressing the council at the end of its meeting, but was denied the opportunity to speak.

McShurley had already spoken earlier in the meeting. Council President Sam Marshall said permitting the mayor to speak twice would have been unfair to the general audience, which is only allowed to speak once for three minutes.

At previous council meetings, McShurley has said she was considering closing down fire stations and laying off firefighters in response to a looming budget crisis.

The city, McShurley said, is expected to lose $7 million in revenue over 2009 and 2010 in connection with property tax reform recently passed by state legislators.

The idea of privatizing fire protection or using volunteers to supplement paid firefighters was a hot topic at a conference of 100 Indiana mayors in French Lick last week, McShurley said.

"All the mayors are facing the same issues in Indiana," she said.

During her campaign last year, McShurley questioned why the city could not use volunteer firefighters in a fashion similar to reserve police officers.

Her Monday interview, however, was the first time she publicly promoted the idea of volunteers or privatization since taking office.

McShurley did not offer many details about how privatized fire protection worked or how many other cities contract out fire services.

It was unclear late Monday what steps the city would have to take to initiate such a measure.

Marshall said he was opposed to the idea of privatizing a fire department.

"You already have well-trained fireman," he said. "Why would you want to take that risk when you don't know what you're getting?"

Before McShurley's remarks, a debate between fire department supporters and taxpayers consumed much of Monday night's meeting.

A crowd of between 250 and 300 people attended.

About two-thirds wore yellow shirts supporting the fire department. The shirts -- printed by the local fire union -- read, "It takes firefighters to fight fires."

The supporters told city council stories about how firefighters, often acting as first responders to an emergency, saved them in a time of need.

"What chaos it would be without them," Marilyn Smith said.

A handful in the crowd, mostly members of Citizens of Delaware County for Property Tax Repeal, wore shirts criticizing spending for the fire department.

"Small cuts are not going to do it," Jeff Taylor said.

(thestarpress.com)

Labor unions call for federal bailout

Card-check recognition would reverse worker rejection of unions

Union membership has taken a hit over the past decade. Its role has changed since its inception more than 140 years ago. And so have its challenges. Since 2000, membership rates in Fort Smith and Van Buren (AR) declined 17 percent. Some in the organization attribute the decline to layoffs, outsourced jobs and difficulty spurring interest for new unions.

During the labor movement of the early 20th century, unions took part in bolstering public awareness about reforms needed in the workplace. Today, the organizations continue to play a role for workers facing a different set of challenges than their predecessors.

Membership Rates

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there were 5,661 members of 17 different unions in Fort Smith and Van Buren last year. Those numbers are down from the 6,661 reported in 2006 and down from 7,398 in 2002.

Local union representatives said they’ve all experienced a halt in membership rates, with some even declining over the years.

Stacy Fox, principal officer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 373, said his membership rates are holding steady around 900, representing workers from nine local companies. His union covers mostly transportation employees, which last year represented the highest number of union members in the United States with 23.2 percent in the transportation and utility industry.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 15.7 million union members in the United States last year, an increase of 311,000 from 2006. Union representation accounted for 12.1 percent of total wage and salary workers last year, up from 12 percent the previous year.

While an increase is positive, it’s still below the numbers once experienced by unions in the United States. In 1983, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent of all workers in the nation, according to the most historic comparable data.

In Arkansas, the union membership rate is less than half of the national rate. In 2007, there were 62,000 union members, according to the BLS, which represented 5.4 percent of the work force. That is just below the seven-year high of 63,000 and 5.8 percent of the work force in 2000, but it’s well above the 50,000 and 4.8 percent posted in 2003.

Economic Challenges

The economy is considered to be a factor affecting membership rates. The second-highest industry with a union membership rate at 13 percent of its work force in the nation is construction, which can be easily impacted by the housing crisis. And the fourth-highest industry with a rate of 11.7 percent is one industry hit hard in recent years, especially in Arkansas — manufacturing.

At Rheem Manufacturing in Fort Smith, the housing crisis has caused a slowdown in product demand of residential heating and cooling systems. Several layoffs there have been blamed on the declining sales, according to the company.

“When things were going really well, we were running high percentages in the local union,” said Ronnie Teague, president of the United Steel Workers-Local 7893, representing about 1,000 Rheem workers. But, he added, layoffs do take a toll on membership rates.

Economic woes aren’t the only issues. One that has many unions pushing Congress is the North American Free Trade Agreement, which eased restrictions on trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico, Fox said.

“I think if you look at the loss of the good manufacturing jobs in the U.S. — union jobs — that decline has actually been increased by some bad deals that exacerbate the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States,” said Fred Azcarate, director of The Voice of Work program of the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C.

Whirlpool Corp.’s Fort Smith plant also has taken job hits in the past five years. The manufacturing facility, once the cream of the crop job in the region, has seen more than half its work force lost through layoffs, most of which came with production shifting to Mexico.

In January 2006, Whirlpool reported 4,600 employees. Through layoffs, that number of active workers at the plant was 1,840 at the end of 2007.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do (about the outsourcing of jobs) outside of making the best quality inside the United States. The main thing is trying to talk people into buying products made inside the United States, if you can find any,” said Larry Ryan, president of the United Steel Workers-Local 370 representing Whirlpool employees.

And it’s Whirlpool that has taken the largest hit in membership rates over the past two years. At the end of 2005, there were 2,519 members of the union. By the end of 2007, that number was cut in half to 1,270.

Even when workers are laid off, they remain part of the union in an inactive role, still able to vote. For now, all that can be done at Whirlpool is to restructure the union, Ryan said, which has been affected by last year’s severance packages, which allowed the company to buy out employees’ contracts, terminating their employment.

As president of the Sebastian-Crawford Counties Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, John Rogers speaks frequently with a coalition of unions in the area regarding challenges unions face.

“We discuss issues that concern us so we can confront them on a political front,” Rogers said. “We feel threatened by trade agreements of jobs going to Mexico or China.”

Rogers, an employee at Rheem, said they’ve already seen a loss of production because of the company’s Mexico plants. And in July last year, the announcement that the company purchased land in Mexico to build a new production facility rattled workers and community leaders.

Fort Smith is home to Rheem’s Heating & Cooling Division, employing about 1,620 area residents, making it one of Sebastian County’s top manufacturing employers. And although the company hasn’t mentioned any jobs being moved to Mexico, the company didn’t shy away when asked about it.

Ed Raniszeski, director of market development and communications for the Fort Smith division, told the Times Record after the news release that it was just to give everyone a heads-up. “You have to look at every plant through a global microscope,” he said when asked about the competitive global marketplace.

Battle

While memberships have declined through attrition and lost jobs, union representatives continue to educate new workers on the benefits of unions.

To union representatives, getting new employees to join a union isn’t difficult once they learn about it. But it can get overwhelming, especially to the younger generation not familiar with the union history, Rogers said.

Union dues can also keep potential members away. Rogers said the international unions set the dues, which is put into the contract with the company. At Rheem, union members pay 1.3 percent of their wages plus 2 cents per hour every week. It’s also negotiated in the contract to have those automatically deducted in paychecks.

“There’s a lot of people in this part of the country that just don’t know what unions are about,” said Ronnie Teague, president of the USW-Local 7893. “And the fear of the unknown is worse than the unknown itself.”

But for some workers, there’s a fear of punishment if they join unions, Azcarate said.

It could be obvious why some companies would be opposed to unions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union members made an average weekly wage of $863 in the United States last year compared to the non-union member average of $663 — a 30.2 percent difference.

It’s something Azcarate doesn’t understand.

“It’s part of what made the middle class,” he said. “We think it should be celebrated and not opposed.”

With union membership waning, the future seems uncertain as having a company form a union has become a rarity.

That stems from fear that companies could scare employees who try to organize a union, Azcarate said.

But according to the National Labor Relations Act, that’s not legal. The National Labor Relations Board was formed by Congress in 1935 to administer the laws governing relations between unions and employers.

“Anything to do with fear or danger or anything like that, I’m not sure I understand the question, because we do investigate unfair labor practices if the employee has been threatened,” said Bruce Hill, resident officer of the NLRB Resident Office 26 in Little Rock, when asked about the board’s input on perceived dangers or threats of union organization in the workplace.

But according to a recent survey by the AFL-CIO, 25 percent of those involved in organizing campaigns are fired, 50 percent are threatened with plant closure, 70 percent experience company meetings to talk them out of it, and 92 percent conduct mandatory meetings to talk them out of it, Azcarate said.

Fox said at any given day, he’ll have two or three groups contact him about organizing a union but won’t give their name because they’re afraid of being demoted or even fired.

The NLRB is a neutral policing agency that investigates unfair labor practices. And when a company is found to have violated the act, the board gets the issue back to the way it was before the unfair practice, Hill said. If that means a terminated employee is reinstated, then they are and made “whole” by receiving back-payments. The company’s punishment is then to post a notice regarding the violation.

But to Fox, the punishment isn’t enough. That’s where support for the Employee Free Choice Act proposed in Congress comes in. The act would strengthen penalties against employers who violate employee rights when trying to form a union and also make it mandatory for companies to recognize a union if 50 percent or more employees sign cards requesting to organize it. As of now, companies don’t have to recognize it. If employees want a union, they have to go through the National Labor Relations Board.

New Role

Unions play a partially different role than what they were first organized to do in its early days. Issues such as work week hours and minimum wages were so bad that everyone knew there were problems that needed to be fixed.

“It almost seems like when unions started up in this country, there was a real, certain need for them, and there still is today. It’s just not as visible,” Fox said.

Unions represent workers when it comes to bargaining agreements on wages, benefits and pension plans. But they’re also there to protect the employee’s job.

“That’s the kind of America we want. Yeah, you got to work hard but you’re rewarded for it,” Azcarate said. “You never see a CEO work without a contract, yet with so many of these companies, you see workers go to work without a contract.”

(swtimes.com)

Like a gov't-union scorned

Public safety unions play rough

No one in Hollywood (FL) thinks the investigations launched against Beam Furr have much to do with his real transgression. Commissioner Furr crossed the fire and police unions. Foolish fellow. And now he's gotta pay.

The unions filed a couple of petty complaints, one with the state ethics commission, another with the state attorney's office. They claimed Furr, a Flanagan High School media specialist, misused a couple of sick days in January when he took time off work to campaign for his commission seat.

Unions aren't usually sticklers about malingering but Furr had them riled.

It wasn't so much when Furr was campaigning. Or even who he was campaigning against -- although he knocked out the union's candidate in the Jan. 29 election.

It was how Furr campaigned.

He broke the taboo. He maligned the sacred. He dissed fire and police pensions.

A FISCAL TIME BOMB

It was an audacious violation of the unspoken pact between politicians and public safety unions. Cities and counties grant lush retirement deals that allow a police officer or firefighter to retire after 20 or 25 years, with a pension that pays around 80 percent of annual pay. Elected officials, in return, wallow in union support.

They know that the fiscal time bombs tucked into bulging pension packages won't explode until well after term limits have kicked in. Escalating costs, destined to eventually devour a city budget, will be someone else's problem.

GOOD PAY NOW

But Furr broke the rule. His campaign website carried disconcerting stats that show how, as pension fund investments faltered over the last seven years, Hollywood taxpayers have been forced to ante up ever greater portions of the total pension contributions -- from 15.12 percent in 2001 to 68.72 percent last year.

The city now pays $8 for every $1 contributed by an individual firefighter or police officer into his own pension fund.

It's only going to get worse, Furr warned. "I believe the men and women who work for Hollywood deserve good pay, a fair pension and decent benefits, but it has to be within our means. It has to be sustainable. We are digging ourselves a hole that our children's children won't be able to crawl out of."

THE TRUTH HURTS

True, maybe. But such truths amount to blaspheme in a town where the public safety unions play rough.

Of course, it's not just Hollywood. Miami's police and fire pension costs have ballooned from $7 million in 2001 to $58 million in 2007. It's a pattern repeated across Florida (and across the nation). Pensions undreamed of in the private sector are doled out as showy appreciation for tough, dangerous jobs.

But instead of honestly paying firefighters and police officers commensurate salaries up front, politicians prefer to approve 20-year retirement packages that shunt most of the costs onto someone else, someone down the road.

An elected official in another major Broward town (''Please leave me out of your story. My car is well known and I don't want to get pulled over!'') complained that no one city can fix the problem without throwing itself out of whack with the labor market. But he warned, ``Public safety pensions are not sustainable. They need to be dealt with in the future or they'll bankrupt government.''

True maybe. But telling the truth about public safety pensions makes for dangerous politics in Florida. Just ask Beam Furr.

(miamiherald.com)

Casino War: UAW withdraws from Foxwoods

Related story: "Foxwoods workers reject UAW"

Organizers raise white flag of surrender

The United Auto Workers union on Monday withdrew its petition to organize workers at Foxwoods Resort Casino. The action came just hours before a hearing was scheduled before the National Labor Relations Board to discuss the matter. The UAW submitted a one-sentence letter to the NLRB Monday stating its desire to withdraw the petition to organize slot technicians, said John Cotter, assistant regional director for the NLRB in Hartford.

A spokeswoman for the UAW said Monday that no one from the union would be commenting on the decision to withdraw the petition to organize between 80 and 120 workers at both Foxwoods and MGM Grand at Foxwoods.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns and operates the casino, also did not comment on the UAW's decision.

The withdrawal signals a slowing in the momentum that labor unions appeared to have been gaining at Foxwoods ever since the UAW won the right to represent nearly 3,000 poker and table-game dealers in November.

While four petitions have been filed this year by unions seeking to organize workers, two union elections were held in May. In both, workers voted against union representation, marking a tough month for organized labor.

The latest election, which was held on Friday, involved the UAW. Out of 40 workers in the off-track betting section of the casino, 23 voted against union representation and 13 voted in favor.

And while the UAW offered no explanation as to why it dropped the petition, Friday's election may have had some impact on its decision, said Daniel Schwartz, a labor and employment lawyer in Hartford.

”It's difficult to draw a pattern yet for what's happening, but the fact is you've got two defeats in the last month, and that's probably a bit disconcerting to them,” said Schwartz, a partner with the firm Pullman & Comley, LLP.

Because the UAW pulled its petition before the hearing Monday, it can file another petition at a later date, Cotter said.

”I wouldn't expect them to file shortly,” he said. “That's it for now.”

The UAW has a two-year window of exclusivity among American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations affiliated unions, thanks to the ruling of an AFL-CIO arbiter which was issued at the beginning of May.

The UAW and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers both filed petitions in April seeking to unionize slot technicians at Foxwoods, but because both are AFL-CIO affiliated unions, the matter went to the arbiter, who decided that the UAW should be given the sole right to try to organize workers for a two-year period.

In his decision, the arbiter also acknowledged that the UAW may face difficulties in organizing this particular unit because workers thought they would be included in the UAW's petition when it sought to organize the dealers. They were not. Workers then sought out the IBEW for representation.

In his decision, the arbiter stated: “The UAW has work to do in restoring support among the slot technicians.”

It is unclear whether the union withdrew the petition so that it could repair its relationship with workers, but Schwartz said the UAW would not have pulled back if a win was a possibility.

”Unions don't file petitions unless they can win, “ Schwartz said. “It's that simple.”

(theday.com)

Andy Stern consolidates power

Union democracy sacrificed on Stern's altar

Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union, is moving to further consolidate bargaining and organizing efforts across industry lines, a move that could limit the power of local unions but give the union greater leverage with big employers.

The direction taken by the SEIU -- one of the nation's biggest and most innovative unions -- could influence other unions and the direction of the U.S. labor movement by shifting some control further away from union locals. The SEIU has 1.7 million members, according to the Labor Department.

Mr. Stern's proposals were overwhelmingly adopted at the union's convention after being challenged by a small but vocal group of members and officers. The group said the union's top-down approach excludes input from rank-and-file members. The opponents didn't have enough support to bring their own proposed overhauls to the floor of the convention, which is held every four years.

Mr. Stern and his slate of candidates running to fill the SEIU's 73-member executive board were also set to win re-election. All but one seat will be uncontested.

Mr. Stern has set a goal of adding 500,000 members to the SEIU in the next four years, with a focus on workers in health care and property services, such as janitors and security guards, and on public-sector employees.

In a major shift, each of the SEIU's locals will send a set percentage of their budgets, previously used to fund local organizing drives, to the international headquarters to fund industry-specific organizing campaigns.

Strategy for national organizing and bargaining decisions would be set largely by executive board members on three committees, chaired by appointees of Mr. Stern. He said the proposal guarantees participation by local union leaders and members in bargaining and organizing decisions.

Employer consultants expect more-aggressive campaigns against big service-sector employers as a result. "Corporate campaigns are going to increase" because SEIU leadership has greater authority to make the deals with employers, said Michael Lotito, a labor-law attorney with Jackson Lewis LLP. He called the SEIU "the most aggressive organizing union in the country" and added, "you have to admire their tactical brilliance."

Mr. Stern is presiding over the first SEIU convention since leading his union and others out of the AFL-CIO in a historic break three years ago. Since he became president of the SEIU in 1996, the union has added nearly 100,000 members a year. His approach has been to combine dozens of previously autonomous locals through a program adopted at the union's convention four years ago. Some changes have alienated some leaders who have lost their positions, as well as members who felt forced to merge.

On Monday, Mr. Stern justified his call for coordinating organizing nationally, as opposed to locally, saying it would result in more SEIU members and more members in organized labor in general, which in turn would raise standards for all workers.

"We must build a union that wins justice for us, but secures it by winning justice for all!" he said in a speech that drew the more than 3,000 SEIU members to their feet cheering several times.

Mr. Stern acknowledged the debate within the SEIU as part of a broader one within the labor movement, which now represents less than 8% of private-sector workers, a 50% drop from 25 years ago. He described union leaders who haven't focused on organizing new members as elitist and exclusionary. "History has shown no mercy for union leaders who tell members, 'We can survive forever as islands of strength in a nonunion sea.'"

Opponents say his approach minimizes input from local leaders and their members. They also contend SEIU leadership, under Mr. Stern, has been more willing to broker deals with employers and agree to trade-offs -- such as allowing subcontracting -- without consulting with members.

"The International wants to control all the deal-making authority with these employers to make secret deals to get access to organize more workers," said Sal Rosselli, Mr. Stern's chief critic. Mr. Rosselli heads a California local representing 150,000 health-care workers that spent $15,000 on billboards near the convention site and $10,000 on online ads and distributed 15,000 leaflets to convention-goers. He said he agreed with the goals outlined in Mr. Stern's speech, but said that "it can't be done top-down."

Another Stern proposal will replace the old system of shop stewards with "member resource centers," which members can contact through a 1-800 number, freeing up staff and funds for organizing. Mr. Stern compared the current model of representation at most unions to "a 1930s Teletype in a 21st-century Internet world."

Bruce Raynor, president of Unite Here, backed Mr. Stern's leadership in a speech at the convention. Mr. Raynor said deals reached by Unite Here and the SEIU with three big food and maintenance companies resulted in 15,000 new union members who won wage increases and health-care benefits. "It made a difference in their lives," he said.

(online.wsj.com)

UAW calls strike at Henry Ford Museum

It's just collective bargaining as-usual

About 180 UAW-represented workers at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn approved a strike-authorization vote Monday, as negotiations for a labor deal continue before a June 9 contract expiration. Workers gave the bargaining committee strike authorization by an overall approval vote of 97%. Voting concluded at 6 p.m., and results were made available at 8:45 p.m.

With the authorization, workers gave their union leaders permission to call a strike that could pull 181 full- and part-time employees -- including maintenance workers, cooks and rail yard workers -- off the job during the museum's peak season.

"It's a normal part of the negotiating process. Talks are continuing, and they are friendly," said museum spokeswoman Wendy Metros.

But in the event of a strike, the museum would not close, Metros said. The Henry Ford museum employs 1,531 people and attracts 1.5 million visitors a year.

UAW Local 245 President Keith Brown declined to comment, citing the ongoing negotiations.

(freep.com)

Nurses decertify CNA

Four-year union experiment over

Citing stronger bargaining power without union representation, registered nurses at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas have voted to end a four-year relationship with the California Nurses Association. Jeanne Leonard, a registered nurse in the hospital's rehabilitation unit and a 15-year employee, says she voted to decertify the union because she no longer saw it as necessary. "I think the union didn't have that much to offer us," she said. Given the shortage of nurses today, Leonard said: "I don't need a union to speak for me. I can bargain on my own."

A secret ballot vote, which took place April 23 and 24, was held in response to a petition signed by the hospital's nurses in December stating that they no longer wanted union representation. Of the 312 nurses eligible to vote, 286 nurses voted, with 123 in support of the union's representation and 163 against it, according to hospital spokeswoman Julie Lee.

Accusations Are Flying

Chuck Idelson, a representative for the Oakland-based association, says the union planned to petition the National Labor Relations Board for what he called illegal behavior in the days leading up to the election.

"There was a constant amount of threats and intimidation and harassment of the RNs by the employer and other acts that we believe are a violation of federal labor law that clearly infringed on the ability of the RNs to make a decision in an environment free of coercion," he said.

Idelson, whose association represents about 65,000 registered nurses in the state, says the hospital administration pressured nurses to disassociate with the union, threatening some with job loss.

Lee denied the accusations, saying that the 140-bed hospital was "very cognizant" of the strong rules and regulations that oversee how the organization can act and what it can say during an election.

The move to decertify the union followed a series of contract negotiations regarding compensation, retirement benefits and other issues leading back to 2004.

Nurses' Strikes

Negotiations between the union and the hospital reached an impasse at various times, which led to two nurses' strikes about disagreements regarding pay systems, union membership requirements and nurse involvement in a patient care committee.

A previous attempt to decertify the union in 2005 failed to secure enough votes.

A new two-year collective bargaining agreement was ratified March 27, giving nurses a wage increase, but rejecting some of the union's previous requests, such as the elimination of merit-based pay and the requirement that all nurses join the union.

The union says it successfully bargained to add designated employees to assist with the lifting and handling of patients, and ensured that new technologies would not replace professional clinical judgment made by registered nurses.

Lee says the hospital, which is one of five operated by San Diego- based Scripps Health, had already designated staff for those purposes and involved nurses on committees designated to deal with technological advances.

The health care union represents nurses in the Palomar Pomerado Health system and Tri-City Medical Center, which serve North County.

Idelson says he doesn't think the most recent vote to decertify the union would have an effect on the other hospitals

(redorbit.com)

Congress: Climate Security means 'union-only'

Skids greased for collectivist agenda

Environmental and labor lobbies, two key Democratic Party constituencies, have not always seen eye to eye. “We are strong supporters of domestic oil and natural gas exploration,” said Joe McCartin, who lobbies for the United Association of Journeymen of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry. “Not many environmental groups are in favor of that.”

But the union has made common cause with groups like the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense Fund on an issue that could fundamentally shift the nation’s energy mix: climate change legislation.

The Senate is set this week to debate the complicated legislation, which could affect a wide swath of the economy. Labor groups are more open to the 490-plus-page bill based on the promise of a prevailing wage for new jobs created by the legislation and more money for training programs.

The consensus on K Street is that the Senate is unlikely to pass the measure, given its complexity and fears that the bill could be a further drag on the economy.

But supporters want to demonstrate as much backing as they possibly can to build momentum for next year. Although President Bush has opposed mandatory greenhouse gas emissions cuts, all three presidential candidates are on record supporting a federal cap-and-trade system.

With Democrats expected to expand their majorities next Congress, labor’s support could prove crucial, especially with big business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers opposing steep emissions reductions and warning of “carbon leakage,” the specific term for outsourcing due to emissions caps.

“Both labor and environmental groups are key constituencies for Democrats, and it happens to be a Democratic majority in the Senate,” said David Hamilton, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club.

Several members being targeted by both sides hail from states with a large manufacturing presence. So it wasn’t surprising that last week environmental groups trumpeted union support, as well as the backing of other newcomers like the U.S. Conference of Mayors and farming groups that have not been major players on the environmental policy previously.

McCartin’s plumbing and pipefitting union wrote the Senate that the bill “will provide the right economic incentives” and create “thousands of jobs in the plumbing and pipefitting industry each year.”

The 13 national and international unions that make up the Building and Construction Trades Department also endorsed the bill.

“We are significantly more organized heading into the fight,” said Jeremy Symons, who directs the climate change program for the National Wildlife Federation. “The coalition has been growing.”

Environmental groups and Democratic leaders have striven in particular to win labor’s backing.

“We’ve had a whole series of discussions with a variety of unions,” Hamilton said. “We’re trying to figure out where we have common ground.”

To draw in more labor support, Democratic leaders sweetened the pot. As revised by Senate Environment and Public Works panel Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the bill now includes language that applies Davis-Bacon, which requires workers be paid a prevailing local wage, to certain projects funded by the bill.

It also would direct millions of dollars to “green-collar” training programs run by unions.

The campaign, as Hamilton acknowledges, hasn’t been a total success. Some unions remain opposed to a measure sponsored by Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.) that will be debated this week on the Senate floor.

The Lieberman-Warner bill calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by as much as 65 percent over the next four decades. Industries would be given allowances that would cover one ton of carbon emissions and an overall limit on how much carbon they could emit. Some of the allowances would be distributed for free, but companies would have to buy additional allowances in an auction.

Phil Smith of the United Mine Workers of America, which counts 105,000 members, said the union opposes the bill. It favors instead a much less aggressive climate bill crafted by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

Smith said the Lieberman-Warner bill, revised by Boxer, would force utilities to abandon coal in favor of natural gas and nuclear power.

“This impacts our members’ jobs,” he said.

The union, along with coal producers and users, wants to allow more time for the technology that would capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from coal and other fossil fuel plants underground to be developed. Only when it has been, critics suggest, should hard emissions cuts kick in.

Scott Segal, a coal industry lobbyist, said the bill would encourage “fuel switching” from coal to natural gas and nuclear power and won’t stimulate the type of innovation needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions without causing a sharp spike in energy prices.

(thehill.com)

Rep. Charlie Wilson, Ohio DINO

Related story: "Public opinion survey on card-check"

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

The Employee Free Choice Act (H.R.800) was co-sponsored by 233 members of congress including Ohio Representatives Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, Steve LaTourette, Tim Ryan, Zack Space, Betty Sutton, Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, and Charlie Wilson. Now, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), along with 46 co-sponsors, introduced the Employee Free Choice Act, S. 1041, in the U.S. Senate.

Read text Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800) | Read summary of the bill

(ohaflcio.org)

Philly nurses calls a strike - for the patients

You may have seen the billboards on I-95. The timing is no coincidence. Nurses at Crozer-Chester Medical Center are trying to win support for a move that could be tough on them and their patients. They're preparing to walk the picket line. "Our patients will end up benefiting in the long run," said Amy Cullinan, a nurse for 22 years.

But the short run could mean a three-day strike at Crozer-Chester. Union negotiators are in the final hours of what they say has been a difficult process.

"I think that in the past, we certainly have been further along at this point in the game than we are right now..." said Nurse Teri Evans, who is on the negotiating team.

And with practically no time left to reach a deal. At issue--a hefty increase in the nurses' health insurance premiums. Crozer Keystone Health System, which runs Crozer-Chester Medical Center, wants to double their rates. The other sticking point--the union wants Crozer Keystone to commit to a minimum number of nurses per shift.

"If you don't have an adequate nurse-patient ratio, it's not safe for the patient, it's not safe for the nurse, it's not safe for anyone," said Nurse Mary Trzeciak, VP of the Crozer-Chester Nurses Association.

"When you put that call bell on, if you need a pain medicine or if there's a problem, you want that nurse there. You want that nurse there quickly. And how can you be when you have seven or eight other patients," said Cullinan.

Crozer Keystone wouldn't comment. But veteran negotiator Teri Evans explains the impasse this way: "We're really negotiating with, you know, finance people, and I think that's really reflected in what's going on right now."

So what does that mean for patients at Crozer-Chester?

The hospital has several options. It can transfer patients to three other hospitals within its health care system. It can pull nurses from those other hospitals. It can also hire replacement nurses who are willing to cross the picket lines.

No doubt Crozer-Chester will be looking at all those options.

By Claudia Gomez

STATEMENT FROM HOSPITAL (June 2, 2008):

"Negotiations with PASNAP (PA Assoc. of Staff Nurses & Allied Professionals) resumed today and are expected to continue throughout the evening. Both sides are addressing economic issues today and the union has scheduled a ratification vote for tomorrow.

The hospital has notified the union and all members of the bargaining unit that if a strike occurs the nurses will not be able to return to work until we have reached an acceptable ratified agreement.

In the union's materials they describe Crozer nurses as the highest paid Registered Nurses in Pennsylvania as well as enjoying the best benefit package. We are proud to offer our nurses these excellent wages and benefits but we need to balance the needs of the hospital and nurses while ensuring the future viability of the Medical Center.

Our current benefits are excellent but, like all employers, the cost has risen substantially. Our current plan has no physician office or Emergency Department co-pays. Our health insurance costs have increased dramatically over the last several years. Benefit costs rose 83% since 2003 to $52 million by FY 2007.

We have refrained from increasing our employee contributions and co-pays for many years, while other healthcare and non-healthcare employers around us have made increasing adjustments to employee contributions, co-pays and to their plan designs.

Crozer is proposing changes in premium contributions and the addition of co-pays that are consistent with other employers and that address the rising cost of benefits. These increases are reasonable and place Crozer in the middle range of other employers who offer similar benefits. Employees are not restricted to seeking care at Crozer. Employees have access to the extensive Independence Blue Cross AmeriHealth network of physicians and hospitals with a modest deductible.

We remain hopeful that we can reach an agreement in time to avoid a work stoppage but in the event of a work stoppage, all hospital services will be open and available to patients and their families including the Emergency Department, the operating rooms, critical care and medical surgical units, pediatrics, psychiatry and outpatient testing."

(myfoxphilly.com)

Dem Mayor plays unions in budget stunt

False bargaining choice: Layoffs or givebacks

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom will unveil a record $6.5 billion budget today that includes threatened layoffs of 250 to 350 city workers to help erase a projected $338 million deficit, City Hall sources say. The layoffs, along with the elimination of hundreds of unfilled positions, would be among the most extensive that City Hall has seen in years - affecting everything from the Public Health Department and Human Services to the Recreation and Park Department.

Whether workers actually lose their jobs, however, may depend in part on whether Newsom gets what he wants from city employee unions - namely, $29 million worth of givebacks.

"The unions that have contributed thus far have definitely helped to save jobs and preserve vital services," Phil Ginsburg, the mayor's chief of staff, said Friday. "Obviously, if additional unions also decide to contribute, it will minimize the impact of a very difficult budget year on all of us."

Without union concessions, the cost to the city of pay raises and improved benefits for the existing workforce - coupled with the expense of new hires - is predicted to hit $143 million next year.

New hires? That's right. The city may be staring at hard times, but it's also taking on a surge of new police officers, nurses and Municipal Railway workers - with Muni alone looking to add 169 positions in fiscal 2008-09.

So far, however, clerks and trade unions have said "no way" to pay cuts.

Firefighters have tentatively agreed to give up some extra pay now, in exchange for sweetened pensions down the road.

Still, firefighters union President John Hanley says getting the rank and file to sign on will be "a tough sale ... with gas at $4 a gallon and younger firefighters worrying about buying diapers."

Then there are the cops. They were asked by the mayor's office to give up $4.5 million in holiday pay, but they aren't budging.

"We feel strongly that it's the city's responsibility to know their financial situation when they negotiate a contract," Gary Delagnes, president of the Police Officers Association, told us after talks between his union and the city broke off late last week.

The city has gotten a couple of unions to go along with the program - including a $1 million giveback from city laborers for job training and apprenticeship programs, and a $2.8 million annual concession from city managers.

And if Newsom can't get deals from the bigger unions?

"Then we'll have to plan accordingly," said mayoral spokeswoman Giselle Barry.

Cat and mouse: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is being unusually cagey about his big budget presentation today, and the reason may have a lot to do with Tuesday's election.

Chronicle reporter Heather Knight tells us that as of Friday afternoon, none of the members of the Board of Supervisors had gotten their invites to the ceremony where Newsom will announce his spending plan for fiscal 2008-09.

Newsom has never followed the mayoral tradition of presenting the budget in the board's chambers, opting to go out into the community instead. But board members have typically received formal invitations with several days to spare.

Newsom spokeswoman Giselle Barry said Friday that the presentation will take place at 10:30 a.m. today somewhere in the southeast part of the city, but she wouldn't divulge where.

Folks at the artists colony at the old Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, however, say they know just where it will be - in the auditorium of Building 101, the hub of the colony. Artist David Trachtenberg said the mayor's press staff already has toured the building and reserved the space.

The shipyard, of course, is at the center of Propositions G and F, the competing plans for developing Hunters Point and Candlestick Point on Tuesday's ballot. Newsom supports Prop. G and opposes Prop. F, and some e-mails circulating among the artists, most of whom are voting the same way as Newsom, have said to keep the location of his presentation secret so Prop. F protesters won't know where to show up.

"I would be shocked if the discussion of the propositions were not involved somehow," Trachtenberg said. "I'm sure it's going to be brought up. ... Voters tend to get last-minute information before they go to the polls, and this is a last-minute event."

Trachtenberg also pointed out that there's a guard gate at the shipyard, making it a "controlled environment."

Supervisor Chris Daly, who supports Prop. F, said the mayor was clearly presenting his budget there for "opportunistic purposes."

Return to sender: There was a time when no East Bay election was complete without a barrage of mail bearing the photo of Ron Dellums and touting his endorsement.

No more.

After Dellums' rocky first year as Oakland mayor, the value of his once-coveted endorsement has dropped faster than the price of an Antioch tract home.

Not only did Dellums decline to get involved in his own city's council races, but his presence in the state races also has barely amounted to a peep.

Dellums endorsed Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, in the contest for termed-out state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata's seat. But her mailers merely list the mayor's name along with those of other supporters.

It's no accident. Poll after poll taken by the various campaigns shows that the onetime political icon's approval ratings have dropped from the stratosphere to as low as the mid-30s.

Not exactly gold.

These days, the hot ticket is Dellums' former protege Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland - and that's why it's her face that appears with Hancock's on campaign billboards.

Cross-eyed: San Francisco Police Chief Heather Fong called in all of her command staff, plus all the captains and civilian managers, for a big meeting the other day to go over the department's new "vision statement."

About 30 minutes into the session, the facilitator turned to Capt. Tim Hettrich of Mission Station and asked for his thoughts.

"It's like the man who walked in the desert for seven days," the 40-year veteran of the force replied. "No food, no water - just a giant mirage."

(sfgate.com)

Union political front-group: Nix tax cap

Proposal would harm income redistribution

The Working Families Party calls a property tax cap proposal "merely a gimmick," while the Business Council says it offers a real chance to make New York's economy competitive again. New York's local property taxes are the highest in the nation, 79% above the national average.

Yesterday, a special commission recommended that New Yorkers' property taxes be capped at 4% a year, among other reforms.

The Commission on Property Tax Relief's recommendations are subject to approval by Governor Paterson and the Legislature.

Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party said the tax cap neither cuts taxes for those who can't afford them, nor promises state aid to make tax hikes unnecessary.

(wcax.com)

Big Print News Union takes dues hit in Portland

Pro-union news must shift to the internet

Up to 35 full- and part-time positions are being cut at the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday.com in the latest response to the weakening economy. An internal communication obtained by WGME-TV indicates efforts to cut operating costs have failed to make up for a steep decline in advertising. The cuts go into effect July 1.

The Portland Press Herald announced in March it was eliminating 27 jobs, resulting in 15 layoffs. Unlike those, the latest cuts all involve members of the Portland Newspaper Guild and will include newsroom jobs.

The Press Herald and its sister papers in Augusta and Waterville are all up for sale by The Seattle Times Co., which has owned the newspaper group for the past decade.

(seattletimes.nwsource.com)

Union demands bonus for dues-deduction snafu

Collectivists: Never again

The faculty union at Youngstown State University wants the university to pay a financial penalty to every union member who received an incorrect paycheck Friday. The union presented a grievance to the university Friday, arguing that YSU should pay each affected party 5 percent of the gross amount of their individual check for the snafu as a deterrent to it happening again, said Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, chairman of the faculty grievance committee.

Palmer-Fernandez said some faculty received checks with just zeros on them while others received checks for the proper salary amount, but without the required federal tax deductions. Still others received both, he said.

Eugene P. Grilli, YSU vice president for finance and administration, said the problem was caused by “a glitch” in the new system handling payroll, but no one missed a payday.

The payroll department ran supplemental checks as soon as the problem was realized, though the checks did lack the normal federal withholding deductions, Grilli said.

Some employees take all of their pay in 18 twice-monthly pay periods during the course of the school year, while some spread their pay over 24 periods covering the entire calendar year, he said.

The glitch occurred when the new system encountered the switch from the 18 to the 24 pay periods for the first time with the end of the current school year, Grilli said.

The system was tested earlier but failed in the actual production phase, he said.

The next payroll will be in mid-June, and it is hoped the problem has been resolved, he said, adding, “We’re asking everyone to have patience with the system.”

Palmer-Fernandez said Friday’s problems were just the latest in a series of payroll difficulties that have also affected YSU employees besides faculty. The union believes the problems go beyond just a glitch, he said, adding that it appears to be more systemic because problems pre-date the new system.

“It’s a total, absolute mess,” he said.

In addition to the 5 percent penalty it wants for each affected faculty member, the union grievance asks for a 5 percent penalty for delays in the transfer of union dues deducted from faculty checks to be sent to their union, the Ohio Education Association.

That money goes into an OEA interest-bearing account and the delays in transferring those funds have resulted in lost interest, said Dr. Nancy White, faculty union president. The 5 percent penalty on the amount of those dues is to cover the loss, she said, adding that there have been delays twice so far this calendar year.

The grievance further asks for an audit of all affected OEA paychecks, deductions and deduction transmittals to other agencies as well as a report of all that went wrong with Friday’s payroll, Palmer-Fernandez said.

Grilli said the university has not yet responded to the grievance.

Palmer-Fernandez said the union argued a grievance two months ago claiming the university failed to make timely transfers of tax-deferred employee contributions to their investment accounts, money that was deducted from their paychecks.

“We’re working on a resolution,” Grilli said, noting that an outside auditor is looking into the issue.

Palmer-Fernandez said the university paid a $175,000 penalty last year to the state Public Employees Retirement System for failing to transfer retirement funds on time.

Grilli said that case stemmed from two employees who moved from the State Teachers Retirement System to the Public Employees Retirement System in 1980, but the retirement funds kept going to STRS. The error wasn’t discovered until one of those two people retired, he said.

The $175,000 was the bulk of the interest that PERS lost over that period, Grilli said.

(vindy.com)

Nurses caught in Big Labor proxy war

Feuding in the House of Labor

The biggest union feud since the AFL-CIO split three years ago, some would say, began in Ohio. The way Dave Regan tells it, the Service Employees union (SEIU) first began its effort to organize Catholic hospitals there in the small city of Lorain, just west of Cleveland, in 1999. Regan is president of a union that spans Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, one of SEIU's newly merged megalocals at the heart of the international union's ambitious plans for turning around labor's decline.

The 500 or so nurses at the facility faced, he recalls, a "classic, textbook, very intense, very nasty election environment." The hospital hired antiunion consultants and campaigned aggressively against unionization, pulling in nurses for mandatory staff meetings, as well as for intimidating one-on-ones with their supervisors. According to one organizer, nuns serving as hospital administrators even hinted to the nurses that voting union was a sin.

It was a typical kind of hardball, really -- the mix of inside arm-twisting and outside unionbusting expertise that marks four out of every five union votes in this country. Though such campaigns always begin with majority interest, only half result in a union victory, as Regan knows from trying to win traditional labor board elections, shop by shop, for eighteen years in places like eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. "It's incredibly difficult work," he says.

In Lorain, the nurses did vote in the union, by a slim, sixteen-vote margin -- and then, also typically, faced a thirteen-month battle to win their first contract. Along the way, the nurses called two daylong strikes to block the hospital's demand for an open shop; each time, management punished the strikers with four-day suspensions. Through contract fights in subsequent years, Regan says, "we struggled and fought and built an organization that our members there are very proud of"; one nurse, galvanized by the experience, went on to become a state senator.

The hospital in Lorain is part of a Catholic chain that is the largest hospital system in the state. In many places, in the wake of steel mill closures, these hospitals have become the biggest employer in town. "So we started to think about the system as a whole," says Regan, "and we decided to create a campaign the object of which was to secure the right for Catholic Healthcare Partners (CHP) workers, across the system, to be able to vote on whether to join the union without going through the intense, negative conditions that existed in 1999." What they sought was "employer neutrality," the brass ring of today's large-scale union organizing campaigns, which use corporate campaigns to pressure employers not to fight unionization drives.

By 2004, CHP workers in Springfield, west of Columbus, anxious over a recent merger, were eager to unionize. But the Lorain experience was a bruiser, and another union had run an election at one of the merged facilities and lost badly. Joyce Moscato, who would soon head the statewide campaign for SEIU, urged caution. She met with the workers and talked about what it would take to win fair organizing rules across the state. "They got it," Moscato recalls. "They understood that they could be the leaders in this fight, and they likened it to the civil rights movement." By spring 2005, workers from Catholic hospitals in Youngstown, Toledo, Cincinnati and Lorain sat down with the Springfield workers to craft a statewide campaign for employer neutrality. A hundred of them, from sixteen hospitals, showed up at CHP headquarters to present their demand. They weren't even allowed inside.

What followed was a three-year corporate campaign. SEIU activists mailed out literature about fair unionization rules to elected officials, clergy and advocacy groups. They had hearings before the state legislature. They got community members and hospital workers to sign open letters, held protests over layoffs and wage-and-hour violations, and met with priests and bishops. They issued reports criticizing the chain for inadequate charity care and bloated CEO pay. One former organizer on the campaign, Jim Straub, who recalls living for months in a charmless hotel in Youngstown in 2005, says, "What made this corporate campaign really cool was, we actually organized committees in every damn hospital in the system."

The culmination of this effort was an election slated to take place in mid-March at nine of the system's twenty-one Ohio hospitals, with the possibility that up to 8,300 workers would unionize in the span of a week. The union's public pressure had produced an agreement with CHP for a vote "free from coercion." The employees were informed of the election two weeks in advance by means of a civilized letter, cosigned by CHP and SEIU, a jointly written fact sheet and a broadside from each party arguing, in language so dull as to scarcely be persuasive, for

(SEIU) and against (CHP) the union. Each side set up a toll-free number for questions, and that was that. Neither side would say a word to the workers until after election day. SEIU had taken the concept of neutrality to a whole new level, applying it to the union as well. And the stakes were high. As CHP spokesman Orest Holubec says, if the election had gone smoothly, "it stands to reason that we'd continue the process in other regions."

Enter the California Nurses, dozens of whom arrived in Ohio clad in scrubs and armed with anti-SEIU propaganda. What was to Regan an "enormous breakthrough" was, to the famously militant nurses union, a disturbing development in what they've come to see as SEIU's corporate-friendly unionism, whose apotheosis was SEIU president Andy Stern's joint press conference last year with Wal-Mart on healthcare reform. The fliers the nurses spent three days handing out in front of the Ohio hospitals asked, Democracy or Dictatorship? and called the upcoming vote a "back room deal" by the hospital to force nurses into a "'sweetheart' union."

"In this environment, it was like setting off a bomb," says Regan. "In a traditional campaign, where both sides are attacking each other, we prepare workers for months for what they'll hear so they can put it in context. But in this case, we never prepared anyone." And because of the neutrality deal, SEIU couldn't say a word in response. Within days, the vote was called off, suspended indefinitely. Talk with anyone at SEIU who was involved, and the rage is palpable. Ohio will go down in labor history as the place where two of the nation's most ambitious, visionary, fastest-growing unions declared war.

What does that war feel like, two months later? When tens of thousands of California Nurses Association (CNA) members opened their mailboxes in recent weeks, they received a glossy black-and-orange mailer, featuring somber-looking women in scrubs, that accused their union of "burning through members' hard-earned dues money" carpetbagging across America doing "questionable" deeds. Its slogan: "Hurting nurses. Wasting money. That's the shame of CNA." Another compares CNA director Rose Ann DeMoro to a "union-busting executive." Soon thereafter, CNA's newsletter arrived, in riposte. Its cover story, The New Danger, featured an image of a purple vial of poison with a skull and crossbones on it, labeled SEIU.

Each side has launched a propaganda website -- SEIU Watch, with its slogan "Serving Employers Instead of Us," and the straightforwardly named Shame on CNA -- and each side is ratcheting up the attacks. In recent months, CNA filed a petition to replace SEIU in representing nurses at three Catholic hospitals in Las Vegas; SEIU then sought to decertify a nurses' union at a hospital in New York. SEIU activists -- including rank-and-filers bused in from Ohio, spoiling for a fight -- stormed a Labor Notes conference in Detroit to disrupt CNA speakers, sparking a melee and a wave of negative press. And SEIU staffers have followed CNA leaders to their workplaces and homes, peeking through windows, knocking on doors and shouting epithets.

SEIU's battle cry is revenge for Ohio, where, leaders believe, the nurses robbed thousands of their right to representation. But it's impossible to understand why CNA would risk such venom without going much further back, to the legislative battles in California that gave the union a national profile -- battles in which SEIU seemed always to be on the other side of the barricades, becoming, in CNA's estimation, "the single greatest barrier" to healthcare reform.

California Clashes

Rose Ann DeMoro, the feisty head of the California Nurses who was dubbed by one advocate "Mother Teresa in brass knuckles," was once on the outs with her own union. The association, dominated in the early '90s by management-friendly nurse executives who imagined CNA as a professional society, experienced a revolt by direct-care nurses. They took over the leadership, disaffiliated with the American Nurses Association, installed DeMoro as director, barred nurse administrators from top leadership positions and decided to act like a labor union. The new CNA, with its council of four presidents, all of whom still spend half their workweek at patients' bedsides, began a grassroots campaign to address the crisis facing their members as managed care took hold across the country: a reckless escalation in the number of patients under each nurse's care to the point, says president Geri Jenkins, "where you'd have to walk home every day asking, Did I kill somebody today?" They'd solve this first by trying to mandate safe caps on patient-to-nurse ratios; then by mobilizing nurses to win national healthcare.

Using their foot soldiers in scrubs, the union gathered enough signatures for a state ballot initiative, which went down in defeat in 1996. They pushed a bill through the State Legislature, only to see it vetoed by Governor Pete Wilson, a Republican, in 1998. Then, after working to defeat any candidate who wouldn't support the ratio and staging one of the biggest demonstrations Sacramento had seen since the 1970s, the nurses got their bill signed by Democratic Governor Gray Davis. The new patient-to-nurse caps were set to phase in just as Arnold Schwarzenegger took office; he issued an emergency order to block them. The latex gloves came off: the union hired airplanes to fly messages over his parties and fundraisers; they dogged him at every public appearance; and when he bragged that he was "kicking their butts," they turned it into a media event. The army of nurses had punctured the movie icon's aura of invincibility, and as their campaign wore on, his approval rating dropped thirty points. In the end they won implementation of the first patient-to-nurse ratio cap in the country, and California hospitals were transformed. "That law really struck a chord," says Jenkins, who recalls nurses calling in from all over the country. "That's what sparked our decision to go national."

But the whole time this battle was unfolding, CNA's public policy director, Michael Lighty, recalls, SEIU was putting on the brakes. As the nurses pushed their legislation, SEIU introduced a weaker measure on "safe staffing" and fought to allow less-trained staff to count in CNA's ratios. As CNA was leading RN strikes at Kaiser Permanente, the state's healthcare behemoth, over plans to replace nurses with unskilled workers, SEIU reached a labor-management partnership that allowed for unskilled "service partners" and "care partners" to replace RNs at the bedside -- which led, by CNA's count, to some 1,800 nurse layoffs -- and SEIU members crossed CNA's picket line. When, in the fall of 2006, CNA and a statewide coalition of consumer advocates were organizing tens of thousands of letters to Sacramento, leafleting at Sicko

screenings and holding demonstrations in 300 cities to support a single-payer bill, Schwarzenegger sought to commandeer the issue, convening a summit declaring 2007 the Year of Healthcare Reform. CNA and other unions set up a picket line outside the event; Andy Stern crossed the picket line to join the governor inside.

As the Year of Healthcare Reform unfolded, CNA's coalition pushed a single-payer bill through both houses in Sacramento; SEIU, heading up a separate coalition that included the California State Labor Federation, argued that single-payer wasn't politically viable and supported a Massachusetts-style mandate plan instead. Schwarzenegger vetoed both bills anyway. As the Year of Healthcare Reform hit its final month with no resolution in sight, Stern jetted in to work with Schwarzenegger to mold a third, even more compromised bill, which required Californians to buy care but set no caps on rates and no floor for minimum coverage; tucked inside were perks for SEIU, such as money for a trust fund for homecare workers' health benefits, to be administered by the union. "SEIU played the leading advocacy role and ultimately the lead compromise role on that bill," says Lighty. "Stern went behind the back of the California State Fed to cut the deal. But it didn't even pass in the Senate. It lost the backing of labor. It could not withstand the scrutiny. So how is it they can make a political viability argument?"

Stern, looking back, considers it a "tragedy" that the bill didn't pass, leaving the healthcare system unchanged. "The Schwarzenegger deal was inadequate, but this is politics at its most real. Let the Senate Democrats tell our member at InterCon whose wife died it's good that we didn't pass that 'bad' bill."

These days SEIU doesn't just attack the California Nurses for unionbusting in Ohio; its leaders attack CNA for being an elite craft union, unwilling to leverage the relative privilege of RNs for the good of the entire hospital staff. DeMoro disagrees. "We are a genuine social union. We believe the interests of our members and the public interest are identical. Nurses have a legal obligation to advocate for their patients; they have an intimate relationship to their patients; they function outside of the profit motive." SEIU's Joe Hill-style talk of One Big Healthcare Union is appealing, she says -- if that vision were in other hands. "If we had the luxury to create the perfect union, there'd be one big healthcare union intent on protecting and upscaling each job," she says. "But the healthcare system is collapsing. Nurses have to fight to save their own occupation, which healthcare corporations would deskill in a minute. And Stern advocates a model of letting the employer define the work and organizing the workers as the employer defines them. That's deadly for RNs, and deadly for patient care."

Tom Woodruff, an SEIU vice president who once ran the Ohio Local targeted by CNA, isn't remotely persuaded. "What are we going to do, let CNA come after us with this elitist rap about how there needs to be a nurses-only union? Giving us two choices: give us all your nurses or have this fight? We won't. We're not going to unilaterally disarm."

This battle is at least partly about carving out turf: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than half a million nursing jobs will be created over the next ten years, more than any other single job category, and each union has ambitions to organize all of them. But the divide also reflects real differences in each union's philosophy of unionism.

At the heart of Stern's vision is a drive toward growth, to organize the "90 percent of workers without a union." Without growth, he argues, any union gains are built on sand -- "a higher compensation island in a growing nonunion sea." This singular focus is rooted in a realization that, given the long slide in union ranks since the 1950s, the labor movement must build a critical mass of members ("density") in key industries in order to wield power against ever larger and bolder multinational employers. Three years ago, he proposed a radical restructuring of organized labor to accomplish this, and when the AFL-CIO didn't bite, he bolted to form a rival federation, Change to Win.

Though often painted as an autocrat, Stern has surrounded himself with an impressive brain trust, featuring such heavyweights as Dennis Rivera and Gerald Hudson, who built 1199, the powerful healthcare union in New York, and Stephen Lerner, the architect of Justice for Janitors. Under their leadership, SEIU has organized more than a million new workers, bringing their tally to 1.9 million, and has earned a reputation as a formidable social and political force. The conservative National Journal named SEIU's political operation the most influential in the country, and antiunion law firms now run trainings on how to combat its corporate campaigns.

At the same time, Stern has shocked other labor leaders -- and thrilled the mainstream press -- with his aggressive corporate partnerships, designed to gain new members and find political common ground. By employing such "radically experimental" tactics (Hudson's phrase), SEIU's leaders believe they can build enough power to win everything from national healthcare to immigration reform.

But SEIU isn't the only innovator. CNA is piloting its own experimental model, training nurses as activists -- whether or not they can win a union at their job site -- and deploying them to fight for nurse/patient ratio bills and single-payer healthcare even in labor-hostile climes like Texas. This model trades heavily on the social clout enjoyed by nurses, and their willingness to do battle with corporations on the public's behalf.

Dissension in the Ranks

While SEIU pours resources into its showdown with the California Nurses, the nation's largest union is also fighting a civil war within its own ranks. This conflict, too, springs from compromises the union has had to make in its monomaniacal focus on growth. It has pitted Stern and his allies against the leader of one of SEIU's largest Locals, the Oakland-based United Healthcare Workers West. UHW president Sal Rosselli, who once supported Stern's reform agenda, is now in open rebellion against what he sees as Stern's growth-at-any-cost strategy, which he believes has produced a "false democracy in SEIU" that leaves real worker power in the dust. Since Rosselli's resignation from SEIU's executive board in February, the 140,000 members of his union have received a barrage of more than half a dozen glossy mailers and long argumentative letters accusing UHW leaders of everything from hypocrisy to illegality.

In April SEIU filed suit against Rosselli's board, accusing it of financial misdeeds, a gesture widely understood as the latest salvo in a plan to put UHW under trusteeship and oust its leaders. UHW and SEIU have traded barbs over alleged fixing of delegate slates to SEIU's quadrennial convention, which opens June 1 in Puerto Rico. In March, SEIU hired a firm to call Rosselli's members with a push poll, implying that UHW had lied on delegate ballots and disrupted contract negotiations. SEIU has deployed dozens of staffers to fight this war, which has gotten so nasty that the union representing them passed a resolution in May opposing any further work to undermine the Local.

The dispute with Rosselli has its origins in a disagreement over one of SEIU's innovative employer-neutrality agreements, which offer concessions in exchange for the ability to organize without interference. The one in question was with Tenet, a national hospital chain, whose facilities SEIU had organized based on a deal that gave up the right to strike or picket for any newly organized workers. When it came time to negotiate a second contract, Tony Aidukas, a rehab specialist at a Tenet facility in Palm Springs, was elected to the bargaining committee. He said the members had high hopes: they wanted to get back the right to picket and strike, to win a say over patient care and an end to subcontracting. But negotiations soon went national, and Aidukas and his team were left to cool their heels outside while staffers from the national union sat down with Tenet. At the time, 22 percent of Tenet was union; SEIU wanted closer to 100 percent. Toward this end, SEIU signed a tentative deal giving Tenet the right to subcontract up to 12 percent of the workforce. When SEIU agreed to wage givebacks and a seven-year extension of the no-strike clause, UHW walked out. "Frankly, I don't think there's much concern for the members' lives in this rush to enlarge SEIU," says Aidukas. "Why join a union that's going to agree to subcontract your job? Why join a union if you can't strike for ten years? Where's the benefit then?"

Mary Kay Henry, an SEIU vice president who was active in the negotiations, admits that it was probably a mistake to bargain without any workers present. But she still believes a united front would have produced more; in the end the union won the right to organize only one out of five additional Tenet facilities. "That's what's at stake," she says. "Is Sal willing to function as a national union, to use the power of his stronghold to expand workers' power nationally?"

Stephen Lerner, the architect of SEIU's most celebrated campaign, Justice for Janitors, points out that his first janitors' contract in LA was a bitter disappointment. But 200,000 unionized janitors later, the contract inked May 17 includes full family healthcare and $10.75 an hour. That could never have happened if SEIU Locals "were still these little fiefdoms," he says. "We had ferocious public battles, but we were finally able to get the cities that were already union to use their leverage to win." That, he says, is what the SEIU expects from Sal Rosselli.

In what Stern sees as a classic example of "Just Us" unionism, Rosselli worked out a deal with better terms for his members that only covered Tenet's California facilities. But Rosselli is vehement that he was serving national goals: his members accepted healthcare givebacks in order to win the right to criticize Tenet publicly and throw up solidarity pickets -- exactly the tools needed to aid SEIU's organizing drives in Florida and beyond. Good contracts now, Rosselli wrote in a letter to Stern, "are the best examples we can use to organize the unorganized." SEIU, he says, has lost sight of that.

Rosselli has raised other issues, too -- including one that marks the spot where his story and DeMoro's intersect. During Schwarzenegger's Year of Healthcare Reform, UHW supported a compromise measure. But, Rosselli says, there was a bottom line: it had to be affordable, and it had to clearly define what insurers had to cover. "Then Stern started meeting with the governor without telling anybody," says Rosselli, and worked out a bill that didn't take care of either. "We started pushing back, and he didn't like it." SEIU's state council, which Rosselli headed, was promptly disbanded and replaced by a new executive board that backed the bill. UHW and CNA did not. With Tenet and with healthcare reform, Rosselli says, Stern underestimated what was winnable.

Many leaders in SEIU question the timing of Rosselli's resignation, occurring as it did just weeks after the union's healthcare division issued a report examining whether all long-term-care workers in California should be consolidated under one roof, a move that would likely shrink Rosselli's Local. He is, they say, less concerned with democracy than with preserving his own power. "In a nutshell, it is a turf war," says Tyrone Freeman, president of the Los Angeles-based Local 6434 and a likely candidate to head up a merged nursing home Local. "What Brother Rosselli advocates for is a philosophy of taking care of himself and his members at the expense of all the healthcare workers in California who don't yet have a union."

Whether or not Rosselli's motives are pure, he has given voice to widely shared concerns about eroding local autonomy within SEIU. These concerns are linked to the way SEIU has implemented its merge-to-win strategy, which seeks to enhance the union's bargaining power by herding smaller Locals into larger institutions. Roxanne Sanchez was, until the 2006 mergers, president of Local 790, which represented public sector workers in the Bay Area. Now she and several other Local presidents are merely rank-and-file members of Local 1021. "Philosophically, politically, I think the merger was a good decision," she says. Her union was a fifteen-minute drive from two other public sector Locals that each maintained separate buildings; they were duplicating efforts and never collaborated. "But the way they handled the mergers was atrocious." Combined, the unions had some fifty officers and 300 board members; SEIU appointed only twenty-five total to a provisional governing board. Then SEIU reassigned the staff and put them all on probation; dozens quit their jobs. "We have to go through the pain of changing how we think," Sanchez says. "But the international was so unreceptive to anything we as rank-and-file people brought to the table. It was the tone and tenor of someone who doesn't have to look back."

Zev Kvitky, president of another merged Local, which represents workers at Stanford and Santa Clara universities, helped, in January, to found a dissident SEIU caucus, SMART, to draw attention to these issues. He says SEIU held formal hearings but failed to communicate with members about the reorganization, as evidenced by the 10 percent voter turnout for the 2006 merger deal. "There was no discussion," he says, "no debate." His other major beef concerns those Tenet-style template contracts. "If you give up the right to free speech," he says, "the right to strike, in return for the right to organize, how do you ever win a contract for those people?"

The Paper Trail

Like mergers, these employer agreements have become a critical part of what Hudson calls the union's "obsessive" drive toward growth. Other unions fight for employer neutrality with a stick; SEIU has taken to using carrots as well, larding deals with corporate enticements. The Nation was able to review some of the most controversial of these agreements. Consider a 2002 California nursing home agreement, in which SEIU committed to lobby for tort reform and to restrict union members from reporting suspected abuse or neglect except as required by law. Or that deal with Kaiser from the '90s that so infuriated CNA, which allowed "service partners" to replace RNs at patients' bedsides. Or the 2006 Oregon nursing home deal, which gave the union the right to organize four to six new facilities (operators got the "final unilateral decision" as to which ones) in return for pulling an initiative on safe staffing.

On May 3, student labor activists from four campuses wrote to Stern to express their "deep concern" that these deals may have "actually hurt workers' ability to improve their lives or even join a union at all." At the University of North Carolina, for example, SEIU, in collaboration with another union, spearheaded an organizing drive of food service workers on the payroll of Aramark. A campaign of intimidation ensued, one pro-union worker was fired and the campus was roiled by protests. But after summer break, the union organizers mysteriously disappeared. "Workers were asking us what was going on," recalls one student activist. "We kept calling SEIU. We sent them letters, but we didn't hear anything." They were eventually told, without explanation, that the organizers wouldn't come back. "We learned later about a secret deal they'd cut with Aramark that didn't include UNC," she says. "That was such a spectacular failure. We see these workers all the time, and it was really painful."

UHW members, too, hit an organizing wall thrown up by one of these agreements. After winning the Tenet contract last November, Tony Aidukas's shop met with housekeepers at his hospital, on the payroll of a Compass subsidiary, about bringing them into the union -- only to be told by a UHW staffer that SEIU had cut a national deal agreeing not to organize the Compass workers at his site, at least not for now. "I've been unable to find out whether they are on the schedule to get organized," Aidukas says. "We had to go back and say, Sorry, we can't help you."

Andy Stern listens to these stories and concedes, "It sounds like we didn't do a great job of explaining how we did this." But as for criticism of the deals themselves, he says simply, "I don't get it. When it comes to low-wage women and people of color in job sites scattered all over the country, where's the competition? No other union wants to do it. We have a deal. That's life. But we've organized 15,000 workers, we're about to organize even more, and people are complaining?"

The truth is, according to SEIU's own analysis, only a small portion of its explosive growth springs from the controversial employer agreements. More than half of the new workers organized by SEIU between 2002 and 2006 were government workers or government contractors, such as state-funded childcare providers, who came into the union as a result of pressure campaigns on governors and state legislatures. Of the remainder, 16 percent came in through old-style Labor Board elections, 13 percent through corporate campaigns (the stick) and 13 percent through agreements that include various quid pro quos (the carrot).

"It's legitimate to have disagreements about what is or isn't in the agreements," says Woodruff, now organizing director for Change to Win. "We're constantly second-guessing ourselves. But it's not productive to really being able to analyze and correct mistakes to have a big public brouhaha."

Cornell University's Kate Bronfenbrenner, who has done extensive research into these kinds of agreements, says, "Neutrality agreements are necessary in a climate where employers wage war when workers try to organize. But on the other hand, unions that do top-down organizing, who don't involve the members, are not going to build lasting unions. Research shows it again and again. They won't be able to survive; they're not going to be able to withstand employer attacks. These are big questions many unions need to wrestle with."

SEIU leaders may debate the merits of their opposition, but the sheer explosion of dissent -- from one of the country's most progressive unions, CNA; from the leadership of one of its largest, and most rapidly growing, Locals, UHW; from its own staff; from the students and community allies SEIU depends on to run its successful corporate campaigns -- indicates, at least, a crisis of confidence in the union's leadership. Stern has been astonishingly successful at communicating his vision to the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and winning the trust of hostile corporate leaders. But the evidence is accumulating that he's not been nearly as adept at bringing along his own labor movement -- and his own membership.

If he places UHW in trusteeship and removes Sal Rosselli and his executive board, he'll confirm the worst images of SEIU painted by Rose Ann DeMoro, of a gang of purple-clad street thugs, whose first principle is omertà. But if he can guide delegates through a process of meaningful compromise at the convention, with a friendly eye toward some of the dissident proposals on local autonomy; if he can sit down and negotiate a truce with CNA (and indeed, in late May, Stern told The Nation that the two parties had just agreed to hire a mediator and try to come to terms), then his claim to be reinvigorating the labor movement as a whole will gain new credibility.

The truth is that the pressure on SEIU is coming from labor progressives -- not complacent labor chiefs signing off on givebacks until they reach retirement. The voices raised against Stern are deeply invested in reversing labor's decline, in positioning unions to shape national policy, in building -- as Stern puts it in his most recent white paper -- "a more just and humane society for all working people."

CNA is as committed to building labor as Stern is; it's even faster growing, and equally driven to solve the nation's healthcare crisis -- hardly one of the "I got mine" unions that Stern rails against. Sal Rosselli is an SEIU lifer; if he gets trusteed, he says, he'll just get a job in a nursing home and run for president of his Local again as a member.

As for Roxanne Sanchez, the union-president-turned-rank-and-filer, when she spoke with me in late May, she said this was the first time in ten years she'd publicly criticized Andy Stern. "The international, through Andy Stern, has done a lot of good things, visionary things," she says. But she hopes that at the convention in Puerto Rico workers will be able to recover some local autonomy and a sense of empowerment. "The critical comments are an attempt to make him take heed that workers have a place at his table, to speak to him directly, about direction, strategy, policy and politics. I know he sits down with world leaders, with his executive leaders, but at this table, there's got to be a place for a regular old worker who has worked for thirty years to grow this union. I hope at the convention he'll respond as the leader that I think he is."

(alternet.org)
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