Dems set Organized Labor power grab

Related story: "Obama: Patriotism means union-only"

Change union officials can believe in

Presidential candidates are talking big on foreign policy and the Middle East; budget deficits, taxation, government spending, healthcare, global warming and free trade, but saying little about pending legislation that would upend labor laws and greatly ease union organizing efforts.

The proposed laws should interest commercial laundries, uniform suppliers and drycleaners, who had 23 representation elections last year under the current system, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

The AFL-CIO has OK’d $53 million to pay for 200,000 union workers to campaign for whichever Democratic candidate wins the nomination. Its affiliated unions have approved another $200 million for the same purpose. The National Education Association — the teachers’ union — will likewise spend $40-50 million, and the Service Workers Union will pony up $100 million for similar use.

Unions have already given more than $24 million over the past 18 months to candidates fighting for the presidential nomination. Of this, almost $22 million has gone to the Democrats — first to John Edwards of North Carolina, then Clinton and more lately Obama — according to a Federal Election Commission report in early March.

Perhaps because of that support, all three Democrats have strongly supported the “Employee Free Choice Act,” introduced in spring 2007, and the “Patriot Corporations of America Act,” introduced later the same year. Both laws would change the rules by which unions can organize private employers, including commercial laundries and uniform supply houses.


This new law would require the NLRB, an independent federal agency, to “certify” a union as the workers’ collective bargaining agent if it obtains “union authorization” cards from at least 50% of a company’s employees in an “appropriate” bargaining unit, or if it requests an election. Companies must honor the choice, which would be made by the union. The law would eliminate the current secret-ballot elections in which employees now vote whether or not they want a union.

Once the union is certified, the union and company must bargain in good faith in an effort to reach an agreement. Nothing new there. But the law would require first-contract bargaining to start within 10 days of a union’s request, no matter what. If a first contract weren’t reached within 90 days, either side — the company or the union — could ask the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) to intervene. This would almost surely occur.

Today, first-contract negotiations are often lengthy. Depending upon the situation — the sophistication of the company, the number of employees, the complexity of the issues, and union and company demands — reaching a first agreement frequently takes months, because negotiations involve two-way “trade-offs” over items each side feels important.

Under the new law, if the FMCS couldn’t facilitate an agreement within 30 days, it would be required to appoint a mediator. While the rules the mediator must follow “will be determined later,” his findings would be mandatory and binding on all parties for a period of at least two years. In short, he would dictate the contract!

This proposed legislation upsets nearly 75 years of industrial democracy based on secret-ballot elections under the 1935 Wagner Act, which created the NLRB and our system of give-and-take collective bargaining aimed at compromise.


Under current law, if more than 30% of the workers in a bargaining unit file union authorization cards with the NLRB, it orders an election. NLRB rules require the election to be held within 42 days of the filing, unless there are questions of voter eligibility — usually quickly settled.

For example, in fiscal year 2003, more than 92% of all initial representation petitions went to election within 56 days of a petition being filed. Employees vote whether they want union representation in elections strictly supervised by the NLRB. They cast their votes secretly in private voting booths.

Between the filing and election, unions and employers now campaign, using their free-speech rights to persuade workers how to vote. In reality, unions don’t ask for an election unless they have between 60% and 70% of the cards of a company’s employees; organizers know many workers change their minds during a campaign, after hearing both sides of the story.

The NLRB has lengthy rules governing union and company campaign conduct to balance the competing interests of employees, unions and employers. Labor and management have both often criticized this balance.

The NLRB then conducts the secret-ballot election. The winner is the side for which a majority of the votes has been cast. Either side can appeal an election to the NLRB, and then to the federal courts. In a few rare cases, this has taken years, due to the NLRB’s often-dilatory practices and overburdened judges.

Labor leaders denigrate secret-ballot elections, saying employees’ rights have been badly compromised by companies’ anti-union campaigns. Unions are opposed to the few, highly successful consultants many companies use, because the really good ones have won more than 95% of the many elections they manage for companies.

Private employers, on the other hand, support the existing law requiring secret-ballot elections. They oppose card checks, saying workers are often pressured by union organizers and pro-union fellow employees into signing cards during quick, surreptitious “signing blitzes” that prevent employers from explaining to workers the disadvantages of unions, or why unions are not in their best interests.

Since unionization has a great impact on the future of a uniform supplier or commercial laundry, both employers and unions try hard to win. But they try hard within the complex, ever-changing NLRB election rules governing elections. If one side feels the other has overstepped its bounds, it files objections, which the NLRB quickly investigates. The NLRB prosecutes employers or unions for conduct that interferes with employees’ free choice. It may order penalties, a new election or, in extreme cases, order an employer to recognize a union with no election.


Unions have long been attempting to organize the “big guys” in the uniform supply business.

Since they have been unable in most cases to talk employees into signing authorization cards, the Teamsters and UNITE HERE started a nationwide campaign in 2003 to organize industry giant Cintas (sales exceeding $10 billion). The unions call their effort “Uniform Justice” and persuaded Forbes Magazine to write a lengthy cat-scratch (Dirty Laundry, Dec. 11, 2006) deprecating the company.

The National Labor Committee has targeted ARAMARK, the second largest in uniform supply business ($12.4 billion in sales, much from its food service division). UNITE HERE and the Service Workers International Union (SEIU) sponsor that committee.

To make trouble for G&K Services, unions also blew the whistle on this much smaller company (sales of $736 million) to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), resulting in formal complaints in California and Connecticut.


In view of the threat of this proposed law, many uniform suppliers, commercial laundries and drycleaners who want to avoid unions are taking preventive action to remove the reasons why their workers might want a union.

Experts know the real reasons behind employee desires for unions aren’t money-based, but worker perceptions of favoritism (often ethnic and/or racial), unfair treatment, and management indifference to their feelings and emotions. Union leaders quickly capitalize upon these discontents, and often seek out ethnic leaders to support their drives.

The only way to deal with the realities of employee discontents is to identify and remedy them. This can best be done by an attitude assessment conducted by an independent expert — not a dinky paper-and-pencil employee survey questionnaire off the Internet. Since employees speak more openly to an outsider with no coercive power than to a member of management, independent employee relations specialists with the experience to understand what employees mean by what they say conduct the most effective assessments.

This is easier said than done, because many workers in commercial laundries and uniform suppliers are Hispanic and fluent only in Spanish. More importantly, they come from foreign backgrounds and societies where customs and attitudes differ greatly from ours. Knowledge of these is critical for understanding these workers’ attitudes. Lawyers often fail when trying to do this, because their specialty is legal grips and grapples, not the subtleties of understanding employee attitudes.

Most workers are afraid of retribution if they say anything critical face to face to management about supervisors and supervisory treatment, working conditions, alleged discriminatory treatment, inequitable pay differentials, incomprehensible benefits or frustrations with equipment that prevent them from doing their jobs efficiently. Any combination of these irritants often makes employees believe a union is needed for protection.

Employers wishing to stay union-free use these assessments regularly, because they know monitoring employee attitudes is critical. Assessments give employers an opportunity to identify and rectify the problems that cause workers to seek out unions in the first place.


Some question the need for changing our current system of industrial democracy.

During the last decade, unions have won an ever-greater percent of elections, being victorious in 59.2% of all 2007 representation elections, up from 48.9% in 1998, according to the NRLB. Most of these elections were in smaller companies. During this period, the number of representation elections has declined from 3,795 in Fiscal Year 1998 to 1,514 in FY 2007. What explains the decline in the number of elections, and the rising percent of union victories?

Unions blame astute consultants and management fear tactics on the drop in the number of elections. Employers point to a different set of circumstances to explain this decline:

* Government laws and regulations — These include pro-safety, anti-discrimination (age, gender, race, etc.), unemployment insurance, Social Security for retirees, etc. They protect employees from the past abuses and insecurity that led to the rise of unionization in the 1930s, rendering the current need for union protection less pressing.

* Better labor relations practices, especially in larger corporations — Most companies now respect seniority and make great efforts to treat employees fairly, rendering the need for unions moot, despite the efforts of labor to tar their targets with bad publicity in their national “corporate campaigns.” Many smaller companies and “package shop” drycleaners are easy targets, because they lack the expertise and resources of the industry’s giants, despite the fact knowledgeable consultants can provide it for a modest investment.

* Modern compensation practices tying employee pay to performance in a way that boosts productivity and strengthens the labor/management bond within a company.

* A growing awareness amongst the more perceptive commercial laundry and uniform service employees that union power has greatly been reduced. Employees — and their employers — live in a global economy. Little explanation is needed when uniform supply house workers see the uniforms have labels saying made in Malaysia, Mauritania or the Maldives, or drycleaning employees discover their customers’ garments come from the same far-off places.


Both Democratic candidates have also supported additional legislation called the Patriot Employer Act.

Less publicized than the former law, this one calls for “Patriot” employers to be neutral in any union organizing effort, which means there is no company campaigning should a union file a petition for an election, even under current laws!

Other provisions call for limiting executive pay while hiking employee pay levels, boosting company contributions to employee medical insurance, and making a minimum contribution of 5% of the total payroll to a portable pension fund for workers.

Yet another requirement is to have not been in violation of any federal regulations, including “those relating to … labor relations … or any other regulations to be specified by the Secretary of Commerce” — a rather open-ended mandate!

Patriot employers would receive a 5% tax rate reduction and preferential treatment for government contracts. “Non-patriot” companies would pay U.S. tax on profits earned at foreign subsidiaries, rather than the taxes of the host country where they were earned. Since the U.S. corporate tax rate is 35% — higher than most other countries’ — this would result in a large tax increase for what might be termed “unpatriotic” companies.


Unions have a long wish list. Although little has been said publicly, union leaders are hoping to repeal section 14(b), the right-to-work provision of the 1948 Taft-Hartley Act (which amended the original Wagner Act of 1935). Perennial candidate Ralph Nader has already advocated this.

The Taft-Hartley Act allows states to outlaw the “union shop” in which employees at unionized workplaces are required to be members of the union as a condition of employment.

Over the years, 22 states have used this provision to pass right-to-work laws. An employee cannot be compelled to join or pay the equivalent of dues to a union, nor can a worker be fired if he or she chooses not to join a union.

Right-to-work laws create the so-called “free riders” — nonunion employees who benefit from collective bargaining without paying union dues. This distinction reduces the amount of dues a union collects, making it less attractive for them to organize in these 22 states.

In right-to-work states as a whole, the only nonpartisan estimate of free riders — determined by professor Russell Sobel of West Virginia University by analyzing population surveys for the years 1989 and 1991 in the then 21 right-to-work states — ranges from 11% to 20%.


Unions are necessary in a free society. In the 20th century, only totalitarian regimes have outlawed them, locking labor in a yoke of oppression. In America, unions began their rise during the Depression, in response to the antediluvian labor practices of the time. Unions reached their zenith in the early 1950s, when about 35% of employees in private industry were unionized.

Yet times change. Competition has changed with globalization of trade. American employers have changed, as have their practices. Many feel these changes have rendered unions unnecessary — witness the fact that unions now represent only about 7% of all employees in private industry.

Have unions similarly changed with the times?

Voters appear to have a clear-cut choice between the candidates this fall, at least insofar as their positions on labor. For executives of commercial laundries and uniform rental firms who wish to remain union-free, prudence dictates taking preventive action now to uncover and deal with their employees’ attitudes and possible discontents. For those not caring or who are overconfident, it’s business as usual.

It’s up to you.


Attack dogs exposed

Anti-GOP groups loaded for bear

Remember the swift boat commercials against John Kerry? Or the anti-Obama "Willie Horton" ad that ran in North Carolina during April? They were all been funded by 527s. The name refers to the section of the tax code that governs certain types of political advocacy organizations that have "the primary purpose of influencing federal, state, or local elections." While PACs (political action committees) are subject to the contribution limits set by the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill, which regulates organizations that directly advocate for candidates, 527s colloquially refer to a subset of groups that avoid limits by not explicitly telling voters to vote for one candidate or another.

In addition, many Republican donors (and an increasing number of Democrats) favor another tax subset, the lesser known 501(c)4, because, although they also cannot engage in express advocacy, they are not required to disclose their contributors.

These two types of groups have raised more than $76.9 million in 2007--nearly $13 million more than they raised in the year leading up to the 2004 elections--and are sure to have a strong impact on the upcoming election. Here, a guide to some of the groups you're sure to hear more from in the coming months.

The Fund For America (Democrats)

Who they are: Headed by John Podesta, former chief of staff for Bill Clinton and head of the Center for American Progress. Other major players are Taco Bell heir Rob McKay and SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger. "If [Podesta] is involved in a 527," says Democratic pollster Peter Hart, "they'll make a difference."

What they do: The group mostly funds other 527s that support Democratic candidates at all levels. The group recently gave $2.5 million to Campaign to Defend America, the previous incarnation of Progressive Media USA (see below), and has distributed $5.1 million in funds to liberal groups so far in 2008.

What they want: The group is a catch-all for Democratic fundraising, and is viewed as the main vehicle for distributing funds to groups across the spectrum. Seeking to create a "progressive majority voice in public affairs," they have been accused of being essentially an unregulated extension of the Democratic Party.

Major donors: Among the group's more prominent donors are billionaire George Soros (who gave $3.5 million), real estate heir Steve Bing ($2.5 million), Bonanza Oil president Lee Fikes ($600,000), and Slim-Fast founder S. Daniel Abraham ($300,000).

Why you'll hear about them: By funding other groups rather than pursuing their own advertising and advocacy, the Fund could dodge many of the "express advocacy" legal battles that have plagued 527s in the past. The group's already strong fundraising and high-profile donors could make it a clearinghouse for Democratic money, especially considering its goal of raising $100 million for the 2008 election alone.

Bonus sleaze: McKay's last political beneficiary, America Coming Together, was fined $775,000 by the FEC for violating campaign finance rules. Bing generated attention in 2001 after Elizabeth Hurley declared him the father of her unborn baby-later proven by a paternity test, earning him the nickname of "Bing Laden" in England.

Progressive Media USA (Democrats)

Who they are: Led by David Brock, former right-wing journalist turned Media Matters founder. Paul Begala, a political strategist who worked on Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign, has been described as a consultant for the group.

What they want: The group is trying to compensate for perceived shortcomings in the fundraising of Democratic 527 Fund for America. Ben Smith at Politico has reported that Brock, recently the author of Free Ride: John McCain and the Media, wants to make up for what he sees as a lack of media criticism of John McCain.

What they do: The group has said it will spend $40 million on a media campaign against McCain. In its previous incarnation, Campaign to Defend America, the group ran an ad in Pennsylvania and Ohio called "McSame." It has already started buying ads on CNN and MSNBC in the Washington, D.C. area. Major Donors: Soros has had meetings with Brock and is said to have pledged his support. "Brock runs on his kneepads wherever Soros tells him to go," says Republican political consultant Rick Wilson.

Why you'll hear about them: This group seems to be leading the Democratic offensive in the general election, already having raised nearly twice as much as Fund for America in 2008.

Bonus sleaze: Brock was the author of the "troopergate" article in The American Spectator, which alleged that Arkansas state troopers had arranged sexual liaisons for Bill Clinton when he was governor of the state, leading to Paula Jones' lawsuit against President Clinton. In 1998, after a Republican fundraiser admitted to paying the state troopers, Brock issued a public apology to Clinton, saying that he wrote the article as part of an "anti-Clinton crusade."

MoveOn.org Voter Fund (Democrats)

Who they are: Originally founded in 1998 in response to President Clinton's impeachment trial, the organization started as an e-mail group created by married couple Joan Blades and Wes Boyd.

What they do: As their website makes clear, the "MoveOn Family" includes a PAC, a 501(c)4, and a 527 (the Voter Fund), which "primarily runs ads exposing Bush's failed policies in key 'battleground' states."

What they want: The MoveOn Family endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president in February, the first time the group has endorsed a presidential candidate during the primary. They also jumped into the nomination battle by sending out e-mails to their vast list-serv criticizing the strong-arm tactics of Clinton donors.

Major Donors: Soros was an early and ardent supporter of MoveOn, as is Hyatt Hotel heiress Linda Pritzker.

Why you'll hear about them: MoveOn's long lifespan makes them a favorite target for Republican groups, who cite their 2007 "General Betray-Us" New York Times ad as a sign of the group's radicalism. Republican group Freedom's Watch (see below) has specifically said they formed as a response to MoveOn.org Voter Fund. "The biggest challenge for MoveOn is that love to have notoriety and impact," says Dem pollster Hart, "but sometimes notoriety runs counter to impact." Despite these controversies, the group's high profile has given them a huge base, with their list-serv reaching 3.2 million members of the MoveOn "family," according to the group. While the 527 wing receives large donations, the PAC and 501(c)4 groups are committed to grassroots initiatives that mobilize a large network of voters.

Bonus sleaze: The group was fined $150,000 in 2006 for its fundraising practices in the 2004 election, including running ads in battleground states that expressly advocated the defeat of Bush. Also, they were criticized for an advertisement comparing George W. Bush to Hitler.

Progress for America (Republicans)

Who they are: Originally founded in 2003 by Tony Feather, a political director for Bush-Cheney 2000 and an associate of Karl Rove, the group is closely connected with the consulting firm DCI Group, which was also a participant in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth Campaign; Chris LaCivita, the media advisor for Swift Boat, also worked for PFA. Tom Synhorst, chairman of DCI, is rumored to be assuming leadership of the group for the 2008 election. While the group has carefully avoided media attention thus far, it is expected to begin rolling out ads once the general election begins in earnest.

What they want: The group supports Republican causes of all stripes, focusing on the general election as well as promoting the party's pro-Iraq war, anti-immigration agenda more broadly.

What they do: The group spent $38 million in 2004 on ads supporting Bush, and has since run ads for his Supreme Court nominees and in support of the war in Iraq. In 2004, one of its most effective ads was "Ashley's Story," which showed Bush with a young girl whose mother was killed on September 11.

Major donors: In 2004, Dawn Arnall (wife of late billionaire Roland Arnall) gave $5 million to PFA. Other past donors rumored to be ponying up in 2008 include Univision owner A Jerrold Perenchio and Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens (no relation to Slim).

Why you'll hear about them: The group has amazing staying power and will almost definitely play a major fundraising role in 2008. Even after paying a $750,000 settlement in 2007 for its role in the 2004 elections, which included blatant advocacy, the group remains politically powerful.

American Future Fund (Republicans)

Who they are: Founded by long-time Republican operatives Alex N. Vogel and his wife, Jill Holtzman Vogel, who together run the consulting agency Holtzman Vogel. The couple is joined by Republican pollster Jan Van Lohuizen, who previously worked for George W. Bush. The president of the group, Nicole Schlinger, is the former executive director of the Iowa Republican Party.

What they want: Their website claims that this 501(c)4 "was formed to provide Americans with a conservative and free market viewpoint to have a mechanism to communicate and advocate on the issues that most interest and concern them."

What they do: This group is geared toward helping Republicans in congressional races, allowing others to focus on the presidential election. So far, their activities have included an extensive campaign ad against the Democratic contender in a Minnesota senatorial election, as well as some suspiciously timed polling in Louisiana that appears to have been coordinated with Freedom's Watch (see below). Additionally, the group's affiliate, Iowa Future Fund, has been operating in Iowa and it is widely speculated that their operations will expand during the general election.

Major donors: Its difficult to track major donors, as their anonymity is a major bonus of 501(c)4 status.

Why you'll hear about them: Minnesota Democrats have already filed an FEC complaint against the group, claiming that its ads for Senator Norm Coleman are blatant advocacy. The group's connection to well-known and powerful Republicans, including pollster Lohuizen and Progress for America co-founder Brian Kennedy, has led to speculation that the group is going to be a major player in the general election.

Freedom's Watch (Republicans)

Who they are: Until recently, the group was headed by Bradley Blakeman, a former Bush White House official. His resignation in March led to speculation that the group is experiencing internal difficulties. Up-and-coming Republican operative Joe Eule is the current executive director and occasional blogger for the group's site. Former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, who serves as the group's spokesman, remains with the group, as does Republican operative Carl Forti. "Freedom's Watch is definitely going to be a major player in this campaign," says Wilson, the GOP consultant.

What they want: The group's "core issues" include: "The dangers of radical Islam and the emerging Iranian threat; advancing a conservative agenda and market-based solutions to pressing domestic problems; standing up to Big Labor's radical agenda; and preventing the degeneration of our society by stopping the legalization of controlled substances."

What they do: The group financed a major media blitz in support of the Iraq war last summer that cost $15 million. In January, it launched a six-figure campaign against a Democratic candidate for a House special election in northern Ohio. The group has pledged to continue a wide variety of advocacy projects instead of focusing entirely on the general election.

Major Donors: Much of its support so far has come from Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, recently ranked the third richest person in America, as well as Mel Sembler, a leader in the group and millionaire-cum-ambassador to Italy under the current Bush administration.

Why you'll hear about them: This GOP fundraising giant has bragged about financial commitments of up to $200 million. The group has set their fundraising goal at $250 million for the general election. The financial backers involved, combined with the high profile stance the group is taking, make it seem that Freedom's Watch will be a major player on the Republican side. Described as the "conservative answer to MoveOn," Freedom's Watch has struggled with internal conflicts but still seems poised to be a major player in the general election.

Bonus sleaze: Before becoming ambassador and a GOP operative, Mel Sembler was the founder of Straight, Inc., a group of drug rehabilitation programs that were accused of child abuse. One particularly enraged former client dug through Sembler's trash for years before finding Sembler's discarded penis pump, which he promptly put on eBay.


Union dues bonanza in Colorado

Stroke of the pen: Gov. hikes union-dues take from gov't workers by 3,165%

At least 22,500 secretaries, prison guards and other state employees will soon fall under a union contract following a vote tallied Wednesday, though the majority of eligible workers didn't cast a ballot. The number represents about a third of state employees. They will join the 711 employees of the Colorado State Patrol who have already unionized.

ColoradoWINS, the coalition of three unions behind the election, continues to pursue another 11,000 state workers who are eligible to unionize under Gov. Bill Ritter's controversial executive order that allowed state employees to unionize and collectively bargain for wages and work conditions.

The results of the mail balloting, to be announced today, left Republican critics howling since labor groups are traditionally Democratic campaign contributors. But union organizers toasted the results, which they said will show that between 64 percent and 85 percent of those who voted among different groups of state workers supported union representation.

"It's fabulous," said Karen Esau, an administrative assistant at the University of Colorado's medical campus and union activist who was en route to a party hosted by ColoradoWINS. "People are not happy with not having a voice in how our health care is chosen, how we're trained, how we're advanced."

About 6,900 state workers from a pool of 22,500 who were eligible participated in the election, which gave them a choice between Colorado WINS or no union representation. Of those, 5,481 supported the union.

The results were based only on the number of votes cast, but even those who did not vote will now be represented by the union — regardless of whether they pay the voluntary union dues.

Republicans have criticized Ritter, saying he allowed unions to represent state workers to fatten the ranks and bank accounts of the unions who almost exclusively support Democrats.

And even if only the workers who already supported the union become dues-paying members, it will nearly double the rolls of the groups that make up ColoradoWINS.

Republicans also raised concerns that collective bargaining will make it harder to balance the state's budget.

But Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer pointed out that state workers do not have the right to strike for higher wages and said there are legislative checks to keep salary and benefits balanced.

"This is a partnership. This is not old-school union strong-arm tactics that the Republicans would have us believe," he said.

Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers joined forces to lobby state workers a few weeks after Ritter issued the November executive order.

While Ritter counted labor among his top campaign contributors in 2006, Dreyer said the governor makes independent decisions and has vetoed a number of union proposals.

But alleged payback isn't the only gripe the GOP has. Sen. Shawn Mitchell, a Broomfield Republican, foresees dire consequences as the state faces tight fiscal times, he said.

"One of the state's biggest expenses is employee payroll," Mitchell said. "From now on, the delicate process of analyzing, setting and appropriating fair salaries and job conditions will be affected by organized labor at the table."

Wednesday's election will affect five categories of state workers. Two other categories have not yet decided whether to hold a union election.

Esau said that ColoradoWINS will wait for those additional 11,000 workers to vote before she and her colleagues set their agenda.


Solidarity sapped

Related story: "Teamsters strike expands"

Strikes no longer worth it

Just when we thought strikes in the auto industry were over, along come the Teamsters. On Monday, 1,250 car haulers went on strike against Performance Transportation Services because they didn't want to accept a federal bankruptcy judge's ruling that the company could impose an immediate 15 percent pay cut. The Allen Park-based company, which is the nation's second-largest car hauler and is in bankruptcy for the second time since 2006, asked the courts to force the drivers back to work and find the union in contempt, but surprisingly hadn't had their requests answered as of Wednesday.

In one request, a judge ordered the company and union into arbitration. So much for the "protection" aspect in bankruptcy.

As the lawyers and judges mull it over, workers wonder if they'll have a job to go back to tomorrow, or ever. Even some union members The News talked to acknowledge those prospects are grim.

"We just have to do it on principle," one worker who requested anonymity told The News. "Most of us don't expect to go back."

That's fine if the Teamsters want to send themselves into oblivion in this instance, but bringing down the rest of the company and the couple hundred other non-Teamster workers -- the secretaries, executives and others -- and putting them on the unemployment line isn't fair.

Solidarity losing strength

Don't take that as anti-union; take it as a reminder of Michigan's economic reality. Solidarity isn't as strong these days, as evidenced by the fact that other non-union car haulers and reportedly, even some union operations, have picked up PTS' business.

But it's symptomatic of the problem that persists here: Do it our way or we'll bring down the house.

Jeff Cornish knows this. The PTS chief executive said the strike likely would shut down the company.
Mich. can't afford image

Anyone doubting that notion need only think back to the end of May.

That's when United Auto Workers members ended their 87-day strike against American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. that culminated with lower wages and fewer workers. Lots fewer.

The company, like Detroit's Big Three and plenty of other auto suppliers in Michigan, offered buyouts galore. More than half of the employees will be gone and those who remain will make substantially less.

In the end, was it worth three months on the picket line? Not likely.

PTS won't wait that long. And Michigan can't afford to have images of workers on the picket lines broadcast across the nation -- again.

Of course, strikes have long been orchestrated to get specific benefits, but when you look at what they've been generating lately, it's hard to argue they've been worth it.


Editorial: Repeal Davis-Bacon

Subsidized discrimination has run its course

The nonsense we detail above is a symptom of a cancer known as the federal Davis-Bacon Act of 1931. And it's time to excise this massive sop to organized labor that so obscenely inflates the cost of public works projects. Davis-Bacon mandates a super minimum wage that perverts true market wages. As The Wall Street Journal noted on Tuesday, data show Davis-Bacon has led to wages twice as high as market wages in many cities. It has increase public works costs by up to 39 percent.

Here's just one eye-popping example -- the market wage for brick masons in the Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y., area is $25.50 an hour. But Davis-Bacon requires a minimum of $49.67 an hour.

"So while Democrats insist that one of their top priorities is to solve America's 'infrastructure crisis,' what they aren't saying is that we could be building about 25 percent more bridges and roads by repealing Davis-Bacon," The Journal notes.

As organized labor has steadily lost its grip in the private sector, it only grows stronger in the government sector. Politicians are more than happy to pander to the rank and file for votes and, of course, money.

But Davis-Bacon is nothing more than a money-laundering scheme, operated by the Congress with taxpayer money for the benefit of those who can't compete in the real market. It should be considered a criminal enterprise. It's time we treated it as such.


Collective bargaining is no excuse

Related Jon Corzine stories: here

Let public see Katz e-mails

NJ Gov. Jon Corzine says he expects the dispute over the release of his e-mail correspondence with former girlfriend and union leader Carla Katz eventually will be decided by the state Supreme Court. That may be his best chance of gaining a favorable court ruling. Thanks to Corzine, the justices received 11 percent pay hikes in the last year and are headed by a man Corzine made chief justice.

If the event the case does end up in the lap of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner should recuse himself. He was Corzine's chief counsel before the governor named him the state's attorney general. Last year, Corzine appointed him to replace James Zazzali as chief justice.

The lawsuit was filed by Republican state Chairman Tom Wilson, who asked for the release of the e-mails and questioned whether they tainted state union contract talks in 2006 and 2007. Corzine maintains the e-mails are covered under executive privilege. A Superior Court judge recently ordered Corzine to release them, saying the privilege was not absolute and the relationship between Corzine and Katz "created a clear potential for conflict."

Corzine vowed to appeal. He said Tuesday, less than convincingly, that he wants the dispute resolved before the 2009 election "so that people have full knowledge." If that were his concern, he would have avoided a court fight and released the e-mails long ago.

Wilson also questioned exactly what materials Corzine provided his own ethics advisory panel last year when it determined "no actual conflict of interest arising from the Democratic governor's personal relationship with Ms. Katz infected the bargaining process." Corzine last year said he provided them with a "significant number" of e-mails to review. He said he didn't know exactly how many, but it was more than 10. That's not significant enough. Corzine recently said there were 72 e-mails in all, 50 from Katz to Corzine, 11 from Corzine to Katz and 11 from Katz to Corzine's then chief of staff, Tom Shea, that also were sent to Corzine.

Taxpayers have good reason to be concerned about the content of the e-mails. Corzine claimed no bargaining was done in the exchanges. But Katz has argued the e-mails are protected communication because collective bargaining is exempt from open public records laws.

If Corzine has nothing to hide — as he has insisted — he should put an end to the costly court fight and release the e-mails in the spirit of his promises to provide full transparency in government.


Non-union nurses a vanishing breed

Health care sector leads union resurgence

Employers in health care have seen a significant increase in union efforts to organize nurses during the past few years. The national rate of unionization among nurses now exceeds 23 percent, whereas in 1998 it was less than 17 percent. Nationwide, unionization in health care fields is 14 percent.

Nurses are a desirable source of new members for unions. On average, nurses make more money than many other non-exempt employees. In addition, they work in a growth industry, and their jobs cannot be easily outsourced.

Message Shift

Traditionally, nurses have had little interest in joining unions. They typically view themselves as professionals, in sharp contrast to the blue-collar workers usually organized by unions.

In order to make the necessary inroads with nursing professionals, unions have refined their messages and agenda. The shift in message and tactics has resulted in more union campaigns, more union campaign victories, and higher union dues across the board.

The retooled message focuses on an issue of the utmost importance to nurses: Patient care. Health care unions are now playing on fears the recent changes in the health care industry (including privatization of hospitals) have led to a general decline in patient care.

Unions are promising nurses a louder voice in patient care, as in the recent move by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to launch SEIU Healthcare, a new national health care union with more than 1 million members.

Retooled Health Care Union Agendas

Health care unions, including SEIU Healthcare, have retooled their agendas to include four major demands:

1. establishment of "minimum staffing standards limiting how many patients employees must care for in a particular area on a particular shift";

2. creation of "labor-management committees through which employees make joint decisions with administrators about staffing guidelines";

3. restricting "mandatory overtime to protect employees and ensure the highest quality patient care"; and

4. creation of "guidelines for floating and other practices to ensure that employees are able to provide the best possible care to their patients, and to do so under conditions for which they were properly trained."

This is in addition to the more traditional issues negotiated during collective bargaining, such as wages and benefits.

Unions are also distributing at least one study suggesting patient care is better in union settings. The study, by Jean Ann Seago, Ph.D, RN, and Michael Ash, Ph.D, focuses on hospitals in California, where 35 percent of nurses are now unionized. They found California hospitals with nursing unions have a lower risk-adjusted mortality rate for patients with heart attacks. The authors claim "there is a positive relationship between patient outcomes and RN unions" -- a dangerously broad conclusion.

Valid Concerns

The message and agenda of health care unions such as SEIU Healthcare appear to be resonating with nurse professionals, who are now considering unions and collective bargaining in record numbers. In October 2007, SEIU Healthcare alone had organizing victories in Nevada, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

As the nurse unionization movement continues to gain momentum, health care employers of all sizes should recognize nurses are organizing not only to protect themselves but also to gain a broader voice in patient care decisions.

Health care providers whose nurses believe they are unable to participate effectively in caring for their patients must recognize there is a host of unions seeking to organize nurses by promising to give them this very opportunity--and they must change their way of doing business accordingly.


UAW locked out in Michigan

Union officials miscalculate, members suffer while scabs gain

Auto workers who walked out on strike in Branch County (MI) are now fighting to get their jobs back. Back in the beginning of May, more than 100 workers went on strike when Douglas Autotech proposed cuts to wages and benefits. A few days later, those workers decided they would go back to work while negotiations continued. But the UAW says the company locked them out, and temporary workers are now on the job.

Union members rallied Wednesday, hoping their bosses would reconsider.

"Our contract has existed for 41 years, and they basically want to rewrite our contract to suit the company," said Mary Ellis, President of UAW Local 822.

The union says both sides will negotiate again on Friday. Until then, union members plan to continue picketing around the clock.


Rep. Mark Udall, Colorado DINO

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

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

There has been nothing coy about Democratic candidates’ courtship of big labor this election year. Colorado’s own senatorial candidate, Congressman Mark Udall, has been one of the leading suitors. And why wouldn’t Udall and other Democrats support union leaders when they are estimated to spend millions of dollars on political campaigns this election cycle? Of course, union chiefs are making sure their political puppets give them something in return and this year they’re after support for the deceptively named federal Employee Free Choice Act.

Currently, our laws allow employees a private-ballot election when deciding whether to unionize. But EFCA would ban elections and replace them with an easily corruptible and public method called “card check.” If card check becomes law, workers will lose their right to privacy while crooked union bosses will get more dues dollars from hard-working Americans.

That’s a bad deal, and Mark Udall should be ashamed for supporting it.


UFCW pulls plug on Colorado ballot measures

Anti-business scheme never gained traction

The battle between business and labor that escalated for much of this spring may now be decelerating, thanks to a union's decision to yank two of its four ballot initiatives. The United Food & Commercial Workers Local 7 says it's heartened by the possibility the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce might vote today to oppose Amendment 47, a right-to- work measure that would erode union power by ending legally-mandated union membership.

Backers of that measure, however, including brewery heir Jonathan Coors, aren't backing down, spokesman Kelley Harp said.

"Amendment 47 will be on the ballot in November," Harp said. "Not only that, we're comfortable it will pass, and if any of the union measures made it, we're confident the people of Colorado will vote those down."

Wednesday's developments are the latest in a back-and- forth battle that many business and civic leaders liken to "mutually assured destruction" for the state's business climate.

The proponents of the right- to-work issue, who call themselves A Better Colorado, were riled by union-friendly public policy coming out of the General Assembly and the governor's office over the past two years.

Their solution was to seek to make Colorado a right-to-work state where "union shop" arrangements are banned. Union shops require all workers covered by collective-bargaining contracts to contribute financially in return for being represented by a union.

After the right-to-work measure was filed, it was followed by a wave of labor-backed initiatives widely believed to be retaliation.

The UFCW offered four proposals on business taxes, automatic wages and mandatory health care. A coalition called Protect Colorado's Future, which includes the AFL-CIO, has backed a measure to place restrictions on employers' ability to fire workers as well as a corporate fraud initiative that expanded legal liability.

Faced with the labor measures, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry decided to back right-to-work.

The Denver chamber's legislative policy committee, by contrast, has recommended to the full board that it oppose all of the ballot measures. The Denver chamber board votes today.

UFCW President Ernest L. Duran Jr. said Wednesday in a statement: "I am heartened by the recent vote from the chamber committee to oppose 47, and in the spirit of negotiation, I have told Governor (Bill) Ritter and Congressman (Ed) Perlmutter that we are removing two of our ballot measures immediately. It is my hope the full chamber board will appreciate our willingness to act and will follow the recommendation of the ... committee."

The UFCW is pulling an initiative that would have increased commercial property taxes by tweaking the Gallagher Amendment, the measure that keeps homeowners' property taxes low. The union also is yanking an initiative that called for an annual cost-of-living increase for employees of companies with more than 10 employees.

But the union is continuing on with two health-related ballot proposals, including one that would require employers with more than 20 workers to provide a plan for major medical coverage.

In a statement, Denver chamber President Joe Blake said, "I am delighted that the UFCW Local 7 has taken the first step away from mutually assured destruction and toward a return to the strong relationship that business and organized labor have enjoyed for decades.

"Together, labor and business passed FasTracks and Referendum C, and by working together we can continue to change Colorado's business climate for the better."

Dan Pilcher, a spokesman for the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, was less conciliatory, saying "the image that comes to mind is a six-shooter. Prior to this announcement, (labor) had six live rounds. They're taking out two, but the business community is still facing four, and that's not an attractive position."


A positive alternative to teachers union

Related AFT/Oklahoma stories: here

McElroy loses ground to Professional Educators

Many teachers in Oklahoma are frustrated and fed-up with traditional confrontational tactics in negotiations about salaries and benefits, and sickened by systems that disregard the needs of students and hurt the process of education. June 1 news stories in the state’s largest newspaper documented that many educators are looking for positive alternatives to serve children and their teachers. A June 5 editorial lamented the minority of teachers who are “bad apples” in state classrooms who are hurting our state, but being protected by monopoly union power.

Hundreds of thousands of educators nationwide have left traditional unions in search of independent and non-union alternatives. In Oklahoma, those teachers turn to Professional Oklahoma Educators.

A professional association with nearly 3,500 members, POE serves children first. Professional Oklahoma Educators is respected by teachers and administrators alike for mentoring struggling members to improve instruction.

Our organization promotes the Collaborative Communication Model as a replacement for antiquated bargaining methods. This model is a more open and inclusive process allowing all teachers to have a voice in negotiations that affect their employment, regardless of membership or affiliation, while keeping students’ needs in the forefront. It publicizes to teachers all offers made by the school board and administration during negotiations — information unavailable within the union system.

Teachers in four school districts have decertified union representation. Professional educators in Strother, Macomb, Dibble and Bridge Creek have chosen collaboration over confrontation.

We frequently receive feedback from teachers across the state saying that they feel left out of negotiations regarding their own employment. Our model brings the communication process into the light so that teachers can be sure their best interests are being represented.

Our association is all about teacher empowerment, and good schooling for children. We need systems that allow teachers to stay informed and involved so that they can work together to make the best choices. I have been uplifted and affirmed to see colleagues in teaching choose independence, collaboration and professionalism over the divisive models of the past.

The affiliated POE Foundation promotes excellence in education through quality teacher training and educational activities. We promote reform and better teaching methods by bringing education experts to our state to share proven innovations in education.

We are fostering a student-centered team approach to education. We are here to help Oklahoma schools become the best in the nation, because our children deserve nothing less than excellence in the classroom.

- Ginger Tinney is executive director of Professional Oklahoma Educators, a teachers association, and the affiliated POE Foundation, which annually honors outstanding classroom teachers with cash awards and other recognition.


SEIU eyes North Carolina dues bonanza

Overcoming traditional hostility to union organizers in the south

Two SEANC members have joined the SEIU board. Executive Director Dana Cope and President Linda Rouse Sutton of the State Employees Association of North Carolina were elected to the Service Employees International Union's executive board during the latter group's 2008 convention. SEANC, which represents more than 55,000 state workers, joined with SEIU in May to strengthen labor laws in North Carolina.

"North Carolina state employees finally have a voice at the national level to protect and improve the valuable services they provide," Cope said in a statement.

The board has 23 vice presidents and 37 board members who will lead the organization for its 2008 to 2012 term.


USW slapped with ULP over anti-merger drive

Can curbing capitalism preserve union dues?

Esmark Incorporated , announced today that its subsidiary Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation has filed a charge under the National Labor Relations Act against the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Services Workers International Union alleging multiple violations of federal labor law in connection with the USW's repeated claims that they can, and their attempts to, block the proposed acquisition of the Company by Essar Steel Holdings Limited.

The charge, filed with the National Labor Relations Board, details the alleged violations. The charge identifies specific public and private statements made on behalf of the USW by high ranking USW officials stating that: (1) the USW will not deal with Essar or enter into an agreement with Essar; (2) the USW has the right to veto any proposed transaction between the Company and Essar under the successorship provision of its collective bargaining agreement; and (3) that the Company must cease any proposed transaction with Essar because the USW supports the purchase of the Company by OAO Severstal, a Russian steelmaker. The Company believes that these and other actions violate the NLRA which governs issues between unions and employers.

The NLRA charge comes after Essar stated in a letter to the USW that it was prepared to recognize the USW as the employees' bargaining representative and assume the collective bargaining agreement the USW has in place as well as negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement on an expedited basis if the USW so desired.

Esmark President Craig Bouchard stated: "The collective bargaining agreement with the USW has provisions designed to protect employees by requiring a purchaser to recognize the USW and assume their labor agreement under certain circumstances. We have always supported that protection for our employees. The USW seeks to turn what was intended as a shield of employee protection into a sword to veto business transactions that lie within the proper province of the board of directors and shareholders of the Company. The USW's unlawful conduct is particularly troubling given Essar's commitment to protect employees by assuming the existing contract, and their commitment to invest over $500 million dollars in the Ohio Valley.

The Company does not believe that the successorship provisions of the collective bargaining agreement apply to the proposed Essar transaction, and specifically the provisions do not apply to Essar's proposed purchase of shares through a tender offer. The USW's actions constitute labor law violations that stand in the way of maximizing shareholder value. The Company looks forward to a prompt resolution of this matter."


NJ's full-throated pro-union Governor

Related Jon Corzine stories: here

Whips AFL-CIO convention

Gov. Jon S. Corzine was Hillary Clinton's most prominent and important backer in New Jersey, helping deliver the state for Clinton when it mattered on Super Tuesday despite a late push by Sen. Barack Obama. But today, Corzine gave an enthusiastic and full-throated endorsement of Obama before a key labor audience, and later, in an interview, he predicted Obama would easily carry the Garden State despite a Republican push to take it.

Speaking to the New Jersey AFL-CIO convention here, Corzine urged union members to get out the vote for Obama and help grow Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. While this is generally considered a Democratic "blue" state, Corzine warned the union audience New Jersey was trending purple. "New Jersey can be very, very competitive," he said.

He also ripped the Bush administration for "fiscal profligacy" and the continuing war in Iraq that he said was draining the U.S. economy.

"The idea that we are spending $3 billion a week in Iraq when we cannot rebuild schools in Newark that are a hundred years old is absolutely unacceptable," he said.

Corzine had already switched his support to Obama, announcing the change in an interview on MSNBC, but this was the first major public speech advocating Obama's election, he said.

New Jersey, which Clinton won handily because of support from working class Democrats, is being targeted by Sen. John McCain's campaign as one the Republicans have a possibility to win. Corzine's advice: bring it on.

"I suspect it will be a double digit win," for Obama, he said in a later interview. Corzine said he suspected the McCain camp was trying to feign an effort here just to force Obama to expend resources protecting it.

While Corzine backed Clinton, the senator from neighboring New York, mostly due to her experience, Corzine said he knows Obama well from his 2004 senate campaign, when Corzine was serving in the senate and in charge of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

"I happen to think Barack is a terrific guy," Corzine said in the interview. "I think the world of him."


Buffaloed: Gov't union lines up 17% pay hike

AFSCME zigs while taxpayers zag

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown hopes that the latest contract with the city of Buffalo's white-collar workforce will serve as a template for other labor unions in the cash-strapped city with a financial control board. Brown has proposed a 17 percent increase for approximately 500 workers in AFSCME Local 650 , the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. Workers approved the contract Tuesday , embracing changes in work rules and various measures to control health insurance costs.

Brown says the lesson is that big raises can be provided, with a little givebacks.

"This contract meets all of the tests of sound fiscal management It's affpordable . it reduces the city's long term benfit costs, it restores the city's management rights, it restructures our workforce and it is fair to our employees," Brown tells WBEN's Steve Cichon.

The contract must still be approved by the City Council and the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority.


Washington teachers union update

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