Whole Foods cancels non-union beef

Oregon's anti-democratic, pro-union News Organ reports

Five years ago, the United Farm Workers of America moved in next door to Beef Northwest's Boardman feedlot. In its first foray into Oregon, the well-known California union organized workers at Threemile Canyon Farms, the state's largest dairy and a Beef Northwest neighbor.

But with no unionized feedlots in the country, Beef Northwest's owners didn't think the labor movement would ever cross over to cattle pens.

Now, the United Farm Workers' efforts to organize the state's largest cattle feedlot has turned ugly, as the two sides clash over one central question: whether or not the company's 80 employees even want union representation.

Union organizers say Beef Northwest workers don't get regular salary raises, affordable health insurance or respect. They want a card check process, in which workers sign union cards and a third party oversees the vote. In the card check process, at least 50 percent of workers need to agree to union representation.

Beef Northwest owners say their workers are among the highest paid in the industry and that the majority of their workers appear happy. They want the vote taken by secret ballot, in which workers vote anonymously without union involvement.

The ongoing conflict could pose harm to such promising Oregon brands as Country Natural Beef, which supplies all-natural meat to retailers such as Portland-based New Seasons and Whole Foods, based in Austin, Tex. Whole Foods recently announced it would stop buying meat that comes from the Beef Northwest feedlot.

In a meeting held today, representatives of Gov. Ted Kulongoski encouraged the two sides to continue to work toward a resolution. But without any laws in Oregon governing agricultural workers and collective bargaining, even the state's role is limited, says Anna Richter Taylor, the governor's spokeswoman.

"We can't mediate anything," Taylor says. "It's outside of what our role is legally."

Look for more in tomorrow's editions of The Oregoninan.


Union organizers retreat from Foxwoods

Setbacks lead to pullout

The motivation behind Monday’s decision to pull a union election request from Foxwoods Resort Casino slot technicians remains unclear, and whether another request will be made is up for debate as well. “In real life, in actual life, they rarely come back,” John Cotter, a spokesman for the Hartford offices of the National Labor Relations Board, said of withdrawn election petitions. “The fact is very few are refiled.”

But Mark E. Sullivan, who runs the University of Connecticut’s Labor Education Center, said the yanked request to organize through the United Auto Workers doesn’t mean the group has given up.

“Lots of times it’s just the idea that they’ve got to get their ducks in a row,” he said.

Neither the UAW nor the Mashantucket Pequots, owners of Foxwoods, would comment Tuesday about the move.

The initial request to represent the casino’s 80 to 120 slot technicians came in early April from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 99, out of Cranston, R.I. The UAW then filed a petition to organize the same group about a week later.

The issue was resolved and the UAW was granted the right to represent the slot technicians for the next two years. The UAW had shepherded last year’s organizing efforts by Foxwoods’ table game dealers, which led to a late November vote at which dealers voted 1,289-852 in favor of joining the union.

That vote is still tied up in appeals.

Union setbacks

May was a rough month for union votes at Foxwoods. At the beginning of the month, the casino’s physical plant workers voted against organizing. Last week, about 40 race book workers turned down the chance to organize under the UAW. Cotter said many factors, including employee turnover, could lead to the slot technicians petition being pulled.

“It’s a rational thing for them to do,” he said. “If they don’t think they’re likely to win, they withdraw.”


Muncie, IN tests IAFF political power

Related story: "Privatizing the Fire Department?"

Collective bargaining under-appreciated

Safety is at the center of a debate on whether Muncie (IN) should privatize its fire department. There's no doubt a private fire department would cost less than the current public fire department, according to Ball State University economist Michael Hicks.

"The question is: Do you get the same service?" Hicks said.

Mayor Sharon McShurley announced Monday she was considering -- among other things -- privatizing the Muncie Fire Department to help compensate for an expected shortfall of $7 million in tax revenue between 2009 and 2010 combined. The city is expected to spend about $9.5 million on the fire department in 2008, or a little more than one-third of the general fund.

Hicks and Muncie Fire Sgt. Mike Whited represent opposite ends of the fire privatization debate. Hicks supports privatization, whereas Whited does not.

Whited is vice president of Local 1348 firefighters union.

A private fire department, Whited said, would put profits before public safety. Whited doubted that privatization would find support among the general public, pointing to the fact that hundreds of fire department supporters attended Monday's council meeting.

"Muncie firefighters have a vested interest in this community," Whited said. "Not every firefighter lives in the city but a lot of us own property in the city limits or have businesses in the city limits. It's our friends and family and people we know that we are making runs to."

Hicks disagreed, saying opponents of fire privatization try to frame the debate on emotions rather than on evidence. The savings related to operating an efficient business model simply outweigh any risks, Hicks said.

"You'd be hard pressed to find any good evidence that privatizing a fire department dampened public safety," Hicks said.

Efforts by The Star Press on Tuesday to track down current information on communities served by private fire departments were unsuccessful.

A 1992 study made available through the libertarian Reason Foundation's Web site lists at least 17 communities across the United States covered by the type of private fire protection model under consideration in Muncie.

The communities ranged from Elk Grove Township, a Chicago suburb, to Scottsdale, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb of almost 250,000 people.

Scottsdale abandoned its contract with Rural/Metro Corp. in 2005 and began utilizing a public fire department.

A phone call to the Scottsdale Fire Department went unreturned Tuesday.

Whited said it was because the city had problems with the private provider.

A city could protect its citizens and protect its own interests under a private fire arrangement by drafting a tight contract, Hicks said.

A private fire contract should include incentives for promoting fire prevention and meeting certain performance measures, such as response time, Hicks said. Conversely, the contract should penalize the company for failing to meet those performance measures.

Privatization is one of three options McShurley is considering to reduce fire expenses.

The remaining options are:

- Restructuring the fire department to use volunteers who would supplement paid firefighters.

- Continuing with an all-paid force of public employees, but lay off a substantial amount of firefighters and close fire stations.

In an interview with The Star Press on Tuesday, McShurley spoke favorably about restructuring the fire department or contracting fire protection. She spoke unfavorably about continuing with the current model of fire protection.

"We will lose jobs and not be able to provide the fire protection we are accustomed to," McShurley said.

McShurley provided few details on how a volunteer restructuring or privatization would work, saying that the city was still in a research phase.

Any changes, however, would have to be completed by the end of 2008, when the city's current contract with firefighters expires, McShurley said.


UAW strike v. General Dynamics, week 9

Related General Dynamics stories: here

Strike boss opposes scabs but supports Virginia's Right To Work law

His open-collar pullover shirt and sunglasses perched on his head said much about Delegate Bill Carrico’s (R-5) visit late Monday to striking members of United Auto Workers/United Defense Workers of America Local 2850 at General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products.

He was not there chatting among perhaps 75 strikers to promise his or the legislature’s intervention in the two-month-long stalemate he could not provide.

Instead, he was there to support the people as a group of his constituents. Speaking to some of the strikers, Carrico said, “I’m here because I represent you. I came because you asked me and I’m here.”

Carrico explained to the workers he and the state were unable to intervene on their behalf because GDATP operates on contracts with the federal government.

“That’s a step above me,” he said.

Later, Carrico said, “I’m not a union man and I told them that when they called.”

Still, a number of strikers individually told Carrico they appreciated his presence.

The eight-week old strike began April 11 after the union turned down a contract following four weeks of talks with GDATP administrators. The strikers said the contract weakened seniority provisions, cuts pensions, raised insurance premiums and employees’ costs for prescriptions drugs.

The unions on May 10 voted down a proposed contract “by the same percentage as before, 87 percent,” union president Gary Blevins said.

Strikers asked Carrico if he supports the company’s apparent move to bring in outside workers to replace the strikers and employees who were laid off before the strike began.

“I’d rather see them hire people in Smyth County,” Carrico said.

Almost 200 employees were furloughed before the strike, according to Carrico.

Company officials have declined to confirm the layoffs or the hiring of what have been called “professional scabs,” laborers Blevins said were brought in through a “company that specializes in replacing workers.”

But before 6 p.m. Monday, a number of people could be seen inside the Plant 1 compound boarding four 15-seat vans that later lined up and drove past the shouting and cat-calling strikers. Several strikers identified the people as replacement workers from several states, as evidenced by the vans’ license plates.

Employees leaving Plant 1 periodically in private vehicles likewise ran the gauntlet of sign-carrying strikers shouting “Scab!” and blowing whistles and other noise makers.

GDATP is locally advertising “immediate temporary openings for the following positions: Production, Finishers/Painters and QC Inspection.” A striker asked Carrico how the company could hire with the union members on strike.

“The old contract is how,” he said.

The new hirings are permitted as well because Virginia is a right-to-work state,” Carrico said. “If you’re not willing to work on the contract they offered, you can’t shut them down.”

Carrico said later that he supports Virginia’s right-to-work legislation. Without it, he said, the state’s economy could be jeopardized by work stoppages like the one entering its ninth week at General Dynamics.


DP: Out-of-state union cash floods Colorado

Forced-labor unionists loaded for bear

The labor-backed group fighting the Colorado right-to-work ballot initiative raised $462,000 during the latest financial reporting period, including a $25,000 contribution from Colorado billionaire Pat Stryker. Protect Colorado's Future has raised more than $2 million since January, according to records filed with the secretary of state's office. The group had nearly $1.1 million on hand as of May 26.

A Better Colorado, the group behind the Amendment 47 right-to-work initiative, raised $236 during the most recent period from April 26 to May 26. It has raised a total of about $200,500, with $200,000 coming from Golden-based CoorsTek.

The right-to-work measure would ask voters to amend the state constitution to say that workers can't be forced to join a union and pay dues or fees as a condition of employment.

Contributions to Protect Colorado's Future during the latest period include $100,000 from the California State Council of Service Employees, about $100,000 from various chapters of the Service Employees International Union, $71,000 from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and $47,000 from the Colorado Federation of Teachers.

SEIU is the largest financial backer of Protect Colorado's Future, contributing $678,000 during the previous reporting period from January to April 25.

The group has also received small contributions from hundreds of individuals donors.


DP: No demonstrated need for worker-choice

Forced-unionism has served the state well

The right-to-work initiative on Colorado's November ballot, a.k.a. Amendment 47, is supposed to give workers a choice. Supporters say tens of thousands of Colorado workers are being forced to pay union dues against their wills. This results in their hard-earned money flowing directly to political causes they do not support.

In my last column on Amendment 47 (click here to see column), I argued that the entire issue was specious.

Unions are hardly a runaway problem since only 8 percent of Colorado’s workers are unionized. Amendment 47 is primarily an ignorant and destructive political battle between fringe elements of the left and the right.

“Didn’t realize you hated freedom so much, Al,” one reader posted on my column’s online comments section. “Amendment 47 … merely gives workers a choice of whether or not they are forced to join a union and pay dues in order to get or keep a job. Pretty simple.”

Yep. That’s me. Freedom hater. This guy’s got me pegged. Truly, I wish there was no such thing as freedom. Now, will somebody please lock this guy up?

Surely even an alleged freedom hater like myself can understand the grossly unfair nature of a worker being forced to pay union dues when that worker is ideologically opposed to unions and their often misguided political causes.

Unfortunately, I have yet to meet anyone in this position.

I’m not saying there aren’t workers paying union dues against their wills in Colorado.

I’m just saying I don't know any.

In fact, in 18 years of covering business in Colorado, I’ve never heard anyone complain of being in this situation, except for the zealous supporters of this initiative.

I would bet the readers who took issue with my last take on Amendment 47 don’t know any of these people either.

Several people who I have challenged to produce such individuals have failed to deliver. They just argue about their existence without any data or facts or direct knowledge.

Now I agree that there’s got to be at least two or three people in this situation who would talk to me. You would think the backers of Amendent 47 would be bringing them straight up to my office, but they are not.

So here’s the deal. It’s time for all you ranters to put up or shut up. Bring me workers who will tell me their stories of being forced to pay union dues. As many as you can find.

I want to write about this, but I need more than abstractions to do it right.

If you are in this position, or were once in this position, please contact me. I will tell your story. It will be a great column.

Also, this blog post is where you can find a sympathetic ear. I would love to see a post from you.

If you have to post anonymously, please e-mail me at alewis@denverpost.com, so that I can verify your story.

Being forced to pay union dues against your will is a terrible, terrible thing.

There ought to be a law.


DP: Worker-choice falls behind in Colorado

Forced-unionism leads money race, $462,000 to $236

The union-backed group fighting the Colorado right-to-work ballot initiative raised $462,000 during the latest financial reporting period, including a $25,000 contribution from Colorado billionaire Pat Stryker. After detailing its finances, Protect Colorado's Future called Tuesday for more disclosure from proponents of the business-backed measure.

A Better Colorado, the group pushing the Amendment 47 right-to-work initiative, reported raising $236 during the most recent period from April 26 to May 26. It has collected a total of about $200,500, with $200,000 coming from a nonprofit called Colorado Citizens for Change.

The right-to-work measure would ask voters to amend the state constitution to say that workers can't be forced to join a union and pay dues or fees as a condition of employment.

Jonathan Coors, director of government relations for Golden-based ceramics maker CoorsTek, has said his company provided the funding to Colorado Citizens for Change.

The Colorado Right-to-Work Committee, a separate committee that financed the collection of signatures to put the measure on November's ballot, raised $289,000 from a nonprofit called Protect Colorado Jobs.

Right-to-work opponents plan to file a complaint with the Colorado secretary of state alleging that Protect Colorado Jobs is violating state law by acting as an unregistered issues committee.

"(Coors) needs to tell Coloradans once and for all who is funding this divisive ballot initiative," said Jess Knox, executive director of Protect Colorado's Future.

The Post has reported that backers of Protect Colorado Jobs include Health One and American Furniture Warehouse.

Kelley Harp, spokesman for A Better Colorado, called the allegation that his group isn't transparent a "desperate political PR tactic."

"To imply that there wasn't full disclosure is a flat-out lie," Harp said.

Protect Colorado's Future has raised more than $2 million since January. Contributions during the latest period include about $200,000 from several Service Employees International Union chapters and $100,000 from the Unite Here union, a group representing hotel, restaurant and textile workers.

Stryker is an heiress to the founder of the Stryker Corp., a medical technology company.


Extortionate 'Labor Peace Act' threatened

Worker-choice would interfere with labor union cash-flow

The board of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce will consider opposing a right-to-work ballot issue as well as a host of labor-backed initiatives. The board's Legislative Policy Committee voted Tuesday to recommend opposing all the ballot initiatives, according to a source familiar with the matter. The full board, which has the power to make a different decision, meets on the issue next week.

Brewery heir Jonathan Coors and other conservatives are backing the right-to-work measure, which would change the state's constitution by doing away with the current process allowing employees to vote on whether they want to set up an all-union shop. Such arrangements require all workers covered by collective-bargaining contracts to contribute financially in return for being represented by a union.

The Denver chamber has advocated for Colorado's Labor Peace Act, which requires a special worker vote to establish an all-union shop. The chamber has felt that moving away from the Labor Peace Act in either direction could be harmful to the state's economy.


Hoffa to set U.S. trade policy

Change to Win leader and International Brotherhood of Teamsters general president James P. Hoffa will join Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Sen. Bryon Dorgan, D-N.D., Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, and Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., along with other labor and advocacy leaders for a news conference tomorrow, Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 11:45 a.m. to introduce the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act.

The legislation would trigger a review of all existing trade agreements, and provide a process to renegotiate them. The bill also outlines principles of what should be included in future trade agreements, and expresses the sense of the Congress that the role of Congress in trade policymaking should be strengthened. On Wednesday, the leaders will discuss specifics of the legislation.


DATE: Wednesday, June 4, 2008
TIME: 11:45 a.m. ET
LOCATION: Upper Senate Park (next to Russell Office Building), Washington, D.C.
(Rain Location:Russell Senate Building, Room 485)

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio
Sen. Bryon Dorgan, D-N.D.
Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine
Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif.
James P. Hoffa, Pres., International Brotherhood of Teamsters
Larry Cohen, Pres., Comm. Workers of America


AFSCME fights for solid-waste dues flow

Collective bargaining keeps on giving

Heavy-equipment operator Mike Impagliazzo spends his days shoveling human waste-turned-fertilizer at the city sludge plant, steeped in the odors of his trade, loving his job "like a second wife." "But this one doesn't take the money," the 33-year Water Department veteran shouts over the rumble of his front-end loader. "It gives money."

Surrounded by 6,000 tons of dark-brown "cake" - the usable, organic product of what 2.1 million people in Philadelphia and surrounding areas flush down their toilets - Impagliazzo is the kind of character who inhabits the 70-acre Philadelphia Biosolids Recycling Center.

And this troop, 60 strong, many of them committed and highly trained, is battling the Water Department's efforts to privatize its sludge operation because the workers don't believe anyone can do their jobs better.

That opposition killed the proposal while John F. Street was mayor, but Mayor Nutter is now behind it and lobbying Council to approve the idea.

Yesterday, over cascading boos from at least 100 union members, City Council's Finance Committee recommended approval of a 23-year contract with a partnership led by waste-processor Synagro Technologies Inc. of Houston.

The legislation could go before Council for a final vote as early as next week, though committee chairwoman Marian B. Tasco said the administration had questions to answer first.

City officials say they can save at least $100 million over the life of the contract, eliminate what remains of the odors that once wafted over Eastwick and Southwest Philadelphia, and create a system that doesn't depend on landfills or the uncertain prospect of other states' accepting Philadelphia's waste.

"The way we're doing things right now is not sustainable," Water Commissioner Bernard Brunwasser said in an interview. "Who knows who's going to be accepting it in five, 10, 20 years?"

Under the plan, Impagliazzo and his 59 coworkers would be transferred elsewhere in the Water Department, with the same seniority, salary and responsibilities.

Even so, for District Council 33 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, opposition to the plan is instinctive - some see it as a slippery slope to privatizing other areas of the Water Department.

"Of course, we're union; we're always going to be concerned about jobs and always opposed to privatization," said Jeff Gilliam, business agent for AFSCME Local 394, which represents 1,200 Water Department employees.

But, Gilliam said, the union has worked with management to reduce the number of employees at the plant by 75 percent since the early 1990s. The workers tasked with turning the region's excrement into a useful and safe product, who average $50,000 to $60,000 a year with overtime, say Water Department officials are trying to rid themselves of a critical public responsibility.

"They want to wipe their hands of it," said Michael Keough, an operations crew chief and shop steward at the plant.

Situated in a heavily industrial tract under the Platt Bridge, sandwiched by the Schuylkill and Interstate 95, the Biosolids Recycling Center was the environmentally friendly answer to handling the city's sludge, which was dumped in the ocean until 1980.

When the center opened in 1988, the plan was to turn 30 percent of the sludge into compost, mixing it with wood chips and leaving it in piles over the 72-acre site to let bacteria break it down into a product not even considered waste. (Residents can go to the center and collect buckets of the stuff free.)

At the time, it was the largest composting biosolids plant in the country, Deputy Water Commissioner Debra McCarty said.

But that process created a stench that could radiate for more than a mile - one neighbor described the odor as "the 'Welcome to Philadelphia sign' " for visitors coming from the airport.

Last year the center stopped composting entirely, and the smell was drastically reduced, though Water Department officials say they are still in violation of air-management regulations because an odor does extend to the fence line.

Now all the center produces is the sludge "cake," which still smells and contains pathogens, though officials say it is completely safe for landfill and fertilizer use.

It is also subject to government regulation and is not always popular, and finding places to send it is a constant challenge, city officials say. Right now, the city pays to send it to landfills, farms (as fertilizer), and old strip mines (as filler and fertilizer). Under the proposed contract with the city, Synagro alone would be responsible for disposal.

In 2003 the Water Department decided it needed a stench-free method of creating the unregulated biosolids that were easier to dispose of, and in 2004 it sent out a request for proposals. It got only one response, leading union officials to say it was tailored to Synagro, which uses a thermal-drying process that takes most of the water out of the product and turns it into tiny pellets that form a coarse, gray sand.

Plant manager James Golembeski describes a model workplace where employees and management cooperate to work more efficiently and have fun doing it.

McCarty, who rose through the ranks as a wastewater engineer, said she didn't believe it was just about jobs for the employees. The union has offered a number of alternative technologies that, it says, the department has ignored.

"The employees here don't see that it makes sense for the Water Department, the ratepayers, and the city of Philadelphia," said McCarty, who was also showered with boos at yesterday's hearing. "And that's the hardest part for me."


Rep. Paul Hodes, New Hampshire DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

IBEW Local 1837 is working with the national AFL-CIO to help pass the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) as it moves to the United States Senate. In Maine, Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are being asked by union members to sign on as co-sponsors of the bill. In New Hampshire, we are asking Sen. John E. Sununu to do the same.

As it stands now, the cards are stacked against unions in favor of the employers during any campaign to organize workers into a bargaining unit so that they may enjoy the benefits of union representation. Workers who try to exercise their legal right to organize in the workplace are often threatened, harassed, intimidated—even fired!

The Employee Free Choice Act would help to restore workers’ rights by doing the following:

· Establish stronger penalties for violation of employee rights.
· Provide mediation and arbitration to help ensure a first contract and thwart employer refusal to bargain in good faith.
· Allow employees to form unions by signing authorization cards with "majority sign-up" to help avoid anti-democratic employer coercion.

The Employee Free Choice Act (H.R. 800) passed in the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 241-185. Reps. Thomas Allen and Michael Michaud of Maine, Reps. Paul Hodes and Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire have all signed on as sponsors and voted in favor of the measure.

In response, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other anti-union organizations have sought to portray the legislation as a violation of workers’ rights. Their claims that unions are determined to end secret ballot elections are a smokescreen for their true goal: To continue the current unfair and anti-democratic election process which gives highly-paid union-buster consultants an opportunity to do their dirty work! (Remember, the former Soviet Union used to have secret ballot elections, too.)

The Employee Free Choice Act faces an uphill battle in the Senate. It is vital that we contact our U.S. Senators today to let them know that the survival of the middle class depends in no small part on America’s labor unions.


The Andy Stern Plan

More union power, money

One of the nation’s largest unions revamped its constitution at a convention in Puerto Rico yesterday. Among the changes at SEIU is system that will send more money from locals to union headquarters in D.C. SEIU Leaders say will use that to launch an unprecedented campaign to help elect Barack Obama president and send pro-union lawmakers to Congress.

In Washington state, the Service Employees International Union is the largest active unions. But the new union rules will see more dues money from members here going to finance campaign activities in states more likely to decide the presidential election. David Rolf, president of SEIU Healthcare 775NW, said: "I think there’ll be an exporting of resources and talents to some of the swing states to mobilize union members."

Rolf says SEIU will still be active in campaigns here. But, he said, “We aren’t seeing competitive races emerging all over the state.” That means money and resources can be sent elsewhere.

Rolf is a strong backer of SEIU International President Andy Stern. Stern pushed through an agenda at the quadrennial convention, called Justice for All. The Wall Street Journal reports that "will 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."

There was an organized, but small, group opposing Stern’s plan. That opposition grows out of what The Nation calls “ The biggest union feud since the AFL-CIO split three years ago.”

As the Washington Post wrote last week: "According to his critics, Stern has made deals behind closed doors with corporations, keeping members in the dark about the trade-offs he has agreed to."

One of the first news stories that revealed details of those deals was done by the Times’ Ralph Thomas last year. Stern said yesterday in a speech that his plan will decentralize union power. That was challenged by SEIU member Anita Wiltz, writing at SEIUVOICE.org, where opponents are tracking the convention.

That's ridiculous! This plan might possibly be the biggest centralization of power in a labor union in recent history. It moves millions of dollars in dues money from local unions to SEIU headquarters in Washington, D.C. It removes local presidents from key leadership positions in the International's leadership infrastructure, replacing them with the SEIU president's inner circle.

But Rolf says that moving money to D.C. or to election battleground states is not about consolidating power.

It’s more of an understanding that we have to be a national union, to really reaffirm that justice for all doesn’t mean justice just for workers on the bright blue cities on the coasts or just justice for workers in a union job.

It will mean, though, an unprecedented shift in the union’s finances. Half of all SEIU budgets will go to the new national effort, which Stern is calling the “Accountability Project.”

The union will work to elect pro-labor members of Congress, but then spend an additional $10 million “to take on elected officials who fail to live up to their promises.” And that payback will happen in the first 100 days of Congress next year.

At least 50 percent of the union’s organizing budget and at least half its staff - at the national and local levels - will be used for the “Accountability Project.”

Here, Rolf says half his staff will be assigned to the task. That could mean going to D.C. to lobby Congress or elsewhere in the country to organize members. He acknowledges there are union members opposed to Stern’s grand plan.

There are those who think that these resources all ought to stay at home; that even in a global economy, decisions have to be made locally.

But as a strong Stern backer, Rolf is convinced the shift of money and power is the right move.

This is a chance to actually do something transformative for American workers and create a new middle class for the 21st Century. And if someone campaigns on a promise to help us do that then they have to be held accountable.


SEIU evolved into a D.C. special interest group

David Postman covers the ongoing evolution of SEIU from collective bargaining unit to national political interest group. That reminded me of Matt Lewis' recent post on the topic:
Surprisingly, though, Stern is facing strong rank-and-file opposition. Essentially, many SEIU members are angry that decisions are made by the powerful few in DC, and that they should have more of a say in making decisions. It seems he has managed to offend people on both sides of the political spectrum. Even this socialist rag takes shots at him for siding with companies over employees.
Needless to say, SEIU is getting bigger using tactics that aren't exactly warm and fuzzy...or necessarily democratic. Where bargaining with employers on behalf of employees fits into all this isn't exactly clear.


NYT: Carpenters Union rat fears for life

Emotion-Tinged Testimony Against Mobbed-up Union Officials

The tears flowing from Sean J. Richard’s eyes in a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday seemed hardly indicative of the man he once was. After growing up a juvenile delinquent in the Bronx, not finishing high school and getting into business ventures that included painting and wall covering, Mr. Richard married Sara M. Riggi, the daughter of the mob boss John Riggi, in 1997.

Although Mr. Riggi, the boss of the New Jersey-based DeCavalcantes, was in prison when his daughter and Mr. Richard were married, he met Mr. Richard during a prison visit.

And before he knew it, Mr. Richard, an unlikely mobster, was making a living from organized crime. Through S&S Contractors, the carpentry company he started with his wife, Mr. Richard was bribing labor officials and rigging bids for construction contracts. He lived the high life, he said, going through cars as if they were disposable contact lenses, giving strippers $1,000 tips and buying $2,000 suits.

But law enforcement authorities caught on in 1999, and by the end of the year, Mr. Richard agreed to cooperate with them. He was turning against the mob.

And so he found himself testifying in State Supreme Court in Manhattan on Tuesday. And the session included some very unmoblike moments: he broke down several times when asked about his separation from his family, providing a view into the tattered life of a man whose fall was as rapid as his rise.

Mr. Richard, 43, provided crucial testimony in the trial of Michael Forde and Martin Devereaux, officials with Local 608 of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. The two are accused of taking a bribe from Mr. Richard in 1998 to allow him to use nonunion workers for a job his company was doing at the Park Central Hotel in Midtown. If convicted, Mr. Forde and Mr. Devereaux would face up to seven years in prison.

Mr. Richard testified on Tuesday that Mr. Forde and Mr. Devereaux agreed to take $50,000 from him in exchange for labor peace. He said he gave them their first installment of $10,000 over beers at a Hooters in Midtown.

Mr. Forde and Mr. Devereaux were convicted in 2004 of receiving bribes, but a judge threw out the verdict because of jury tampering.

The two were among 38 people named in a sweeping racketeering indictment in 2000. Theirs are the only cases to make it to trial — six cases were dismissed and the rest of the defendants arranged plea deals.

In December 1999, Mr. Richard agreed to work with the Manhattan district attorney in exchange for leniency. When he first met with Assistant District Attorney Michael A. Scotto, Mr. Richard testified on Tuesday, he promised to “give the names on a silver platter.”

“I wanted to redeem myself,” Mr. Richard said.

“Was part of the reason you came into Mr. Scotto to keep yourself from being killed by your mob confederates?” Michael Dowd, the lawyer for Mr. Devereaux, asked.

“Yes,” Mr. Richard responded.

Mr. Richard, a bald, lean man with thick glasses, showed a palette of emotions in court.

During most of his testimony, Mr. Richard seemed the antithesis of the gloating, sarcastic man who lashed out against many of his former crime associates in an interview with The New York Times in 2000.

He rarely raised his voice on the witness stand, even when defense lawyers fired confrontational questions.

When questioned about his family, Mr. Richard mixed melancholy and anger.

“I’ve tried to change my life, sir,” he told Mr. Dowd.

“Was that after you left your children and your wife?” Mr. Dowd fired back.

Mr. Richard’s voice began to crack, his cadence picked up and his face turned red. He explained, “I’m not proud of everything I did,” but Mr. Dowd did not relent.

“And you chose a stripper over your children?”

Mr. Dowd was referring to Mr. Richard’s decision to take an exotic dancer who was his girlfriend into witness protection in 2000, and not his wife and two sons. Mr. Richard testified that he later took Ms. Riggi, whom he divorced roughly five years ago, and his children into protective custody with him.

Mr. Richard was most emotional when Mr. Dowd questioned whether he had been punished for his poor decisions.

“I’m missing out on my children’s lives for eight years now because of what I’ve done,” Mr. Richard said.

The authorities raided Mr. Richard’s home office in the summer of 1999, he testified. In October, they notified him that he had been wiretapped, he said. Two months later he turned himself in to the authorities.

His high life was over and the results were devastating, he said.

Mr. Richard said he became addicted to cocaine and other drugs. He was an alcoholic, he said. “I was a terrible man,” he said. “I don’t deny that before this court.”

Mr. Richard seemed depressed about his current situation. He is in witness protection on his own. Asked by Mr. Scotto when he last saw his 9- and 10-year-old sons, Mr. Richard’s voice cracked and he said: “I don’t remember. A long time ago.”

He said, however, that he was turning a corner. He said that he was in Alcoholics Anonymous and that he had been sober since 2003. He works as a furniture mover under an assumed name in an unidentified location. Yet Mr. Richard might have seen this coming. When he first got into the business, he said, he spoke with Ms. Riggi about the fact that police raids were an inevitable part of organized crime.

After roughly five hours of testimony on Tuesday, Mr. Richard was whisked out of the courthouse in a van with windows tinted pitch black, hiding him from the outside world.


Leave No Labor Union Behind

For years, many liberals have claimed that the problem in American public education is that No Child Left Behind has been “under-funded.” Of course, federal spending on K-12 education programs is on pace to grow by 36 percent during the Bush presidency. But hey, who cares about actual budget numbers when it comes to scoring points with soccer moms in the political race to “fix” our public schools?

Tomorrow, Congressional Democrats plan to teach parents and taxpayers a lesson about the Left’s real priorities for public education. The House of Representatives will consider H.R. 3021, the “21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act,” a new $6 billion federal school construction program—a big-government handout to environmental groups and labor unions.

The legislation would create a new federal grant program to provide states and local education agencies with federal tax dollars to construct and modernize public school facilities. Among the reasons for supporting the legislation offered by the Democrats’ House Education and Labor Committee are to “create jobs in the construction industry” and “create schools that are more energy efficient and reliant on renewable resources of energy” thereby reducing “emissions that contribute to global warming.”

Under the plan, the federal government would provide grants to states and local school districts for modernizing and constructing new schools. Federal dollars would be required to be used on school buildings that meet environmental-standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council. The legislation also creates specific guidelines for how dollars can be used (outlining a laundry list of allowable, such as fixing a school’s plumbing or adding air condition). States would receive funding to establish a database to track schools’ carbon footprints and energy efficiency.

Of course, environmental groups aren’t the only special interests rewarded by the package. Labor unions win too. The legislation also includes the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage regulations, requiring projects funded by the program to pay workers equal or more than similar projects in the locality. The likely effect: driving up the cost of government projects.

This legislation is a good lesson for parents and taxpayers about the dangers of looking to Washington to fix problems in public education. Building new schools and modernizing existing ones is a priority for many states and localities. But this federal program will impose new regulations on how states and localities proceed. Moreover, it will give the federal government a new responsibility moving forward, leading to more bureaucracy, spending, and government waste.

If the real objective was to improve education, Congress would transfer power in education back to the state and local level. That way, states and localities could decide how best to use funds to improve schools, such as by driving more resources into the classroom or by improving facilities. Of course, HB 3021 teaches us what Congress’s real objective is—leaving no liberal interest group behind.


AFSCME sets anti-privatization trap

Accuses Pawtucket of bad-faith bargaining

A four-year labor agreement that gave Pawtucket (RI) employees modest financial gains in return for major concessions on health benefits should have been ratified in its entirety, a union official representing the workers said yesterday. Instead, the City Council ratified only part of the agreement, in effect accepting the concessions while denying the unionized workers several of the gains they had won at the bargaining table, Joseph R. Peckham, deputy director of Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, testified. That amounted to bargaining in bad faith, Peckham said.

“Speaking on behalf of the union, we were furious the city had backed out of an agreement that we had spent almost a year negotiating,” Peckham said.

Peckham, whose union, AFSCME Council 94, includes Local 1012, made the statements at a hearing before the state Labor Relations Board.

The board, meeting in Cranston, is considering whether to find Pawtucket guilty of unfair labor practices for implementing just part of the agreement negotiated with Local 1012 last year.

No decision was made on the matter yesterday, and a preliminary determination isn’t expected until late summer or early fall, according to Robyn H. Golden, the board administrator.

But the outcome of the hearing wasn’t as important as the residue of bitterness it revealed.

That bitterness could get in the way as city officials seek to overcome the current financial crisis by extracting concessions from city employees.

To balance the 2009 budget without a big tax increase, the city administration is seeking 60 layoffs, a two-year wage freeze, a 20-percent employee health-plan contribution and 12 unpaid furlough days per worker from Local 1012 members, according to Augie Venice, Local 1012 president.

The 300-member union has said it might be willing to consider making some concessions, but only if the council ratifies the full, four-year labor agreement.

So far, the council has refused.

“They asked me. I said no,” John J. Barry III, chairman of the City Council Finance Committee, said, acknowledging he was approached by representatives of Mayor James E. Doyle’s administration.

The council didn’t approve the agreement with Local 1012 members, Barry said, because it felt “there were things in there that weren’t fair to the taxpayers,” among them, a one-percent increase in longevity payments for long-term employees.

According to Peckham, the one-percent increase was in return for contract language requiring all Local 1012 members to contribute a portion of their health-care premiums, and increasing the size of the contribution.

Under the old contract, fewer than half of the union members eligible for health insurance — 102 city employees — were paying part of the premiums, making employee health insurance increasingly expensive for taxpayers as medical costs rose.

The concession on health benefits came in the first year of the agreement, which, to comply with state law, was drafted as two contracts: the first, a one-year pact retroactive to July 1, 2006; the second, a three-year pact that was to have run from July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2010.

The gain in longevity payments was to have taken effect during the three-year pact, so when the council ratified the one-year contract and rejected the three-year contact, it in effect accepted some of the concessions Local 1012 made at the bargaining table, while withholding several of the gains..

Peckham didn’t deny that the city’s chief negotiator, Robert P. Brooks, warned during negotiations that several council members had a problem with longevity.

“I had remarked on more than one occasion that there was a possibility that the City Council would not approve the contract because of the provision regarding longevity,” Brooks said during the hearing.

Peckham admitted that he and the union were concerned about getting caught in the crossfire between the council and Mayor Doyle’s administration.

But he said that, in 30 years of negotiating contracts in Pawtucket, collective-bargaining agreements had always been hammered out in talks between representatives of the mayor and union members.

Peckham said he had never seen a council member at the bargaining table. “They don’t participate in negotiations,” he said. Although required by the City Charter, council approval of a collective bargaining agreement is just a “ministerial function,” he said.

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