Teamsters boycott Miller, Coors

Labor-state protest spreads

Bars and restaurants throughout Charleston (WV) will soon be getting visits from members of the Teamsters union. The union members will be passing out leaflets that protest contract demands made by Capitol Beverage Company, the state distributor for beer brands Miller and Coors.

About 30 Teamsters will start handing out the literature at downtown bars and restaurants Monday. The union says Capitol’s demands regarding increased contributions to the company health plan are unreasonable. It also criticized the company’s proposals on wages.

A call to the company was not immediately returned Monday. The Teamsters say the dispute could lead to a strike against the company. Contract negotiations broke off in May.


Card-check TV ads coming to Minnesota

Related video: "Maine ad exposes card-check"
Related story: "Al Franken, Minnesota DINO"

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW) today announced that it was extending its public awareness campaign to reach Minnesota voters. The effort begins with airing a television spot designed to inform voters that the Big Labor-backed Employee Free Choice Act, or "card check" legislation, threatens worker privacy.

In an effort to fight declining union membership, the labor lobby has aggressively sought congressional passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). Under the EFCA, workers would lose their right to a private ballot when deciding whether to join a union. The private ballot would be replaced with a "card-check" scheme where a union is organized if a majority of workers simply sign a card; the workers' signatures are made public to their employer, the union organizers and their co-workers. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives but was blocked in the Senate in June 2007. Big Labor has promised to reintroduce the legislation next year.

"The voters and workers of Minnesota need to know that the mis-named Employee Free Choice Act is not about free choice at all. In fact, the card check legislation actually takes away the fundamental right to cast a vote in private when deciding whether or not to join a union," said Brian Worth with the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. "The more Minnesotans know about this anti-worker legislation, the less likely they are to vote for candidates who support it."

Recent polling in Minnesota conducted by CDW found that voters in Minnesota would be less likely to vote for a candidate for U.S. Senate who supports legislation to replace a federally supervised secret and private ballot system with a card check system. A plurality of voters would be less likely to vote for Al Franken (41%) if he supports this legislation. Clearly, supporting legislation to replace secret ballots with a card check system will have negative consequences for potential Senate candidates.

The findings also indicate widespread voter opposition to Big Labor's card-check scheme. Nearly two thirds of voters in Minnesota (65%) oppose the EFCA. Conversely, 82% of Minnesota voters believe that secret ballot elections are the cornerstone of democracy and should be kept for union elections.

The ad will begin airing today in the Minneapolis, Duluth and Rochester markets.

As the leading, broad-based coalition fighting the anti-worker "card check" scheme, CDW has been actively working this issue since early 2007. The coalition began its voter education campaign in the Spring with a series of national cable TV buys, and ran TV and radio ads in states and congressional districts last year urging members of Congress to support private ballots for workers and oppose the Employee Free Choice Act.

About the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace is made up of more than 500 associations and organizations from every state across the nation that have joined together to protect a worker's right to a private ballot when deciding whether to join a union. For more information and a listing of our membership, please visit http://www.MyPrivateBallot.com.


UPS welcomes Machinists with card-check

Related UPS stories: here

Workers denied vote on union recognition, will pay dues anyway

The Teamsters are in the midst of organizing the drivers and dock workers of UPS Freight Inc., but about 40 mechanics at the company’s local terminal are also in the unionizing process. Machinists Local 778 is seeking to represent mechanics and related shop employees at the UPS Freight facility in Kansas City, Kan., said Dan Hubbel, regional director of the National Labor Relations Board office in Overland Park.

Like with the Teamsters’ drive, UPS Freight is voluntarily recognizing the Machinists union if a majority of mechanics signs cards seeking representation.

The Machinists’ campaign is also companywide, and national bargaining could begin later this month, said Joe Capra, Local 778 business representative.

There will be a 45-day period during which employees or a rival union can file a decertification petition with the NLRB, Hubbel said.

That period begins with the posting of such a notice on company property. Hubbel said an NLRB notice was posted earlier at UPS Freight regarding the Machinists’ campaign, but a technical error in the list of employees to be represented caused it to be taken down.

“New notices are being sent to the employer, and once they are posted, we believe that would restart the 45-day period,” he said.

The 45-day wait is the result of a case last fall in which the labor agency’s board in Washington ruled that dissenters had that time to try and block union representation. Previously, a majority of employees signing union cards and receiving certification allowed the union to immediately begin first-contract negotiations.

Meanwhile, the Teamsters’ card-check campaign has resulted in more than 11,000 UPS Freight employees joining the union, but the Kansas City, Kan., work force isn’t among them. The local terminal’s drivers and dock workers will be voting for a third time on whether they want to join the Association of Parcel Workers of America, a fledgling labor group trying to become an alternative to the Teamsters.

The parcel workers group has lost the first two elections but has succeeded in getting the results voided based on company violations in the voting process. The next election for the approximately 300 UPS Freight employees will begin June 30 and conclude July 2.


U.S. Communists aid Dem-Labor agenda

Class Warfare 101 defines 2008 election year

The struggle for the votes from the working class has never been more openly discussed. In the mainstream media, we've heard the phrase “working class” far more than the classless phrase “middle class” in recent weeks. This is new feature for national elections.

Defining "working class" is a problem, however. Commercial pundits on CNN, MSNBC and other major corporate media are making the definition but in a way that shows their clearly anti-working class agenda. They have dissected the working class into its various parts. Why not? They have no interest in unifying workers with a peoples’ agenda.

In its rawest form the parceling process, as expressed on television went something like this:

“White working class voters” were crudely characterized as the "lunch bucket" crowd, and they, we were told, supported Hillary Clinton. After her primary wins in West Virginia, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, the pundits focused on that voting cluster as explaining the results. “White working class males" were similarly lumped into Hillary Clinton's column.

“Women” were for Clinton. The term was used sometimes to describe working-class woman, but neither their class relationships nor their ethnic backgrounds were ever mentioned. They were portrayed strictly as a gender vote. A significant percent of these voters either belong to labor unions or would if it were possible.

Overall, the not so indirect connotation about many of these voters was that they were motivated by race or racism in their choice of whom to support.

When the phrase "Black voters" is used, the phrase working class is never applied. These voters live a non-class bubble, the media experts told us. Yet, far and away, the largest percent of Black voters fit the traditional working-class definition. Pundits also never talked about the fact that millions of African American voters are women. The media assigned African American voters to Barack Obama without hesitation. Ironically, however, Obama was typically characterized as having difficulty appealing to working-class people and women.

Similarly, the media declassed college-educated voters and never referred to them as working class, even though millions of professionals, professors, and other white collar workers are working class, are members of unions, or want to belong. By the way, many intellectual workers bring their lunch to work, too. The media put this group of workers into Obama's camp, but, in so doing, some people derisively referred to them as elitist voters.

Then through mass media exit polling and others means the pundits laid out the voting patterns of various religious, racial, and age groupings. Some reported a trade union vote but it was always unclear what that designation meant.

Who is left? Well it’s the corporate executives and many middle level managers and sales people. There a number of corporate executives who identify with the Democratic Party. They are not among the working class. While they are a much smaller percent of the voters, they certainly have extraordinary power by virtue of their monetary contributions to the Democratic Party.

Obviously a much larger percentage of these corporate voters give money to the Republican Party. These Republicans vote their economic and financial self-interest without hesitation.

Many corporations give to both political parties. They keep their fingers in both pots. Why not? The parties belong to them.

White male corporate executives maintain their positions with family connections and on going structural race and gender discrimination.

We, as Communists, understand that both the Republican and Democratic parties are parties of and for capital. Efforts over the past decades to establish a political party of labor have failed. We know the reasons: legal barriers, state-by-state restrictions, financial requirements and other obstacles have frustrated these attempts. And, oh yes, red-baiting attacks are often used especially when these efforts are close to becoming successful.

Yet there are differences between these two major parties, and, at times, the differences can be wide. But while the parties may differ on tactics and strategies, their ultimate goal is still capital control. That preverbal dimes' worth of difference between the two parties, sometimes, is far wider as in 2008.

The struggle over working-class votes – all of them

What about the working class voters who identify as and vote Republican?

Well, it is no secret that Reagan [2 terms], Bush 1 [one term] and Bush 2 [two terms] were supported by working-class voters more than many of us would like to admit. That, of course, does not include African American working class voters.

The struggle to gain voting support from as many working-class voters as possible is and always has been a goal of the Republican Party. Republican Party leaders see the registration figures, and Democrats far out number them. And, working-class people especially are registered Democrats.

All Republicans, not just Karl Rove, plot ways to siphon off working-class voters. The Republican’s cynical appeal to workers, their class enemies, has been, historically, militaristic and pro-war slogans and conservative, religious appeals, especially in the Bush period. They promote fears of immigrant job seekers, and typically use a straight up anti-woman, anti-Black appeal.

They will use any opportunist device. For example, Reagan actually used Bruce Springsteen’s wildly popular “Born In The USA” song during his anti-worker, racist campaign for the presidency in 1984.

Communists are Working Class

The historical role of the Communist Party is to clarify the definition and role of working-class people. We understand that a working-class person is defined by his or her relationship to their employer. This usually includes: wages/salaries/job level; their gender; their race; their national origin...and any combination there of. While we have focused on industrial workers, all workers must be part of the overall strategic aim of defeating the Republicans and winning greater victories for the working class.

We know by “mixing it up” with workers that frustration and misplaced anger can get workers to vote against their own interests. And, given the woeful state of the Democratic Party, e.g. support for NAFTA, and the inability of unions to always deliver economic needs to their members, it is no wonder that we don’t have a much more massive and unified progressive labor vote.

Corporate Definition of the Working Class

Warning: That is why corporate America engages intensely in defining who is and who isn’t part of the working class. They label some workers as working class, others as middle class, others are African American, others as women, others as immigrant workers; etc. “Captains for Industry” gleefully talk about, in their private clubs and Boards of Directors meetings, about setting workers against workers and workers against unions. Carrying over this to the political arena is a natural.

Why is this Important?

Well, during their primary process, the Republicans generally didn’t engage in winning working-class votes. This will change dramatically in the general election. The Republicans can and will be able to present their own working-class leaders; leaders of woman organizations; and carefully selected African American and other minority leaders. They may even attract some union leaders. The Republicans have plenty of money and the frustrations are running high.

While John McCain on many levels is a very weak candidate, when the campaign gets heated up, he won’t be by himself. He will be bolstered by support from Colin Powell and other Black Republican leaders who are not pro-Bush; they will selectively utilize Condolezza Rice. Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor, of Indian decent will be an effective campaigner, nullifying, to some extent the use of Katrina against the Republicans. You get the picture.

But, then the Republicans can roll in their big monopoly corporate hitters from the oil industry, real estate interests; Wall Street financiers and the rest to support their own self-interest. These will not be displayed in the CNN and MSNBC circles, but behind the scenes with money and influence.

Mass Media is a Corporate Media

The corporate ownership and editorial control over almost every media market is well documented. As we see on TV and radio talk shows their idea of a fair debate is moderate/friendly corporate and corporate right wing and neoliberal think tankers on one side and weak liberal ideologues on the other. Left wing and progressive labor leaders are almost always left out.

The Working Class and Labor

The finest expression of working class solidarity is through their own labor unions. This year major unions, more so than every before, were very active in the primary process. Clinton and Edwards received the lion share of union endorsement, financial support and on-the-ground workers. After Edwards bowed out, many supported Obama. In our country there are never any candidates for president directly from the working class and labor. None of them. Some candidates and even some presidents had working-class members of their families, even union involvement. How many times was Reagan’s presidency of SAG thrown in our face?

This is nothing new. It is always up to workers and their unions to get the best candidate they can get....truly the lesser of the evils.

Now that a candidate in the Democratic Party has been finalized, the unity of the AFL-CIO and CTW federations to defeat the Republicans is crucial.

This Won't Be Enough

The Communist Party understands that through the activities and activism of rank-and-file workers, shop stewards, and local unions can our country get a new president and a pro-worker Congress – one that will fight for them more than the other side. Top union leaders and officials must do the right thing; after all, they have the purse strings to the treasuries. But, getting them to mobilize their members is the key. Local labor councils are also essential to the process. But, relying on the top leaders of labor by itself won't do it.

“Everyone In No One Out” must be our view. As Communists we know that every worker is worth struggling for. Slinging epithets at workers who may have voted Republican in the past or may exhibit anti-woman and racist ideas is not the answer. Demonizing voters from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio won’t work. The mass media will divide and highlight outrageous behavior on the part of a few to provoke news worth activity. Workers and their unions who chose sides in the Obama/Clinton primaries must be brought together.

That is our role.

The unintended or intended outcome of this kind of union solidarity can be a re-igniting of a labor lead working class party that can engage and win local and state elections and up to the congressional and White House levels.

With our Party engaging in the political process, on all levels, including running our own candidates, this year 2008 election period can bear fruits none of us imagined.

Let’s get to work.


Flippin' Eliot Spitzer

Related Eliot Spitzer stories: here

You can't keep a good union man down

Eliot Spitzer, in his first big business venture since he was shamed out of office by a prostitution scandal, is shopping around a plan to start a vulture fund that would scoop up distressed real estate assets around the country, revamp them, and flip the properties for a profit.

Late last month, the former governor of New York gathered a group of high-level Washington, D.C.-based labor union officials in a conference room at the headquarters of his father’s real estate business in Manhattan and pitched them his idea for starting such a fund, a source said.


The Kiss of Death to Small Employers

Pro-union legislation critiqued

Employer defense attorney, Clifton Smith, SPHR, of CE Smith Law Firm, offers these thoughts and commentary on the Democrats' latest piece of pro-union legislation, The Employee Free Choice Act:

"If the Democrats retake the White House, small employers should brace themselves for a union organizing onslaught arising from a law euphemistically entitled The Employee Free Choice Act, or 'EFCA' (former Senate BIll 1041). If some version of this Act is passed by Congress and signed into law by the President, it will provide employees with no real choice at all. And, small employers will immediately experience a dramatic increase in union organizing drives that target their employees."

The EFCA eliminates the employees' right to determine the question of union representation by way of secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. Instead, the question of union representation is determined by union card check recognition. Under the EFCA, the National Labor Relations Board would certify the union as the employees' bargaining representative without an election, in each and every instance where the NLRB determines that a majority of a Company's employees, in an appropriate unit, have signed union authorization cards.

Historically, unions have used pressure tactics and deception to obtain employee signatures on union authorization cards.
This same Act would require an employer to reach agreement with the union on a first union contract, via mandated mediation and arbitration if necessary, with stiff civil penalties proposed (up to $20,000.00 per violation) for employers who violate employees' rights during an organizing campaign or during first contract negotiations.

"The Act's proposed use of union authorization cards as the exclusive means to determine the question of union representation sanctions a process that is inherently unreliable," states Attorney Smith. "Historically, unions have used pressure tactics and deception to obtain employee signatures on union authorization cards." As Mr. Smith observes, "Obtaining a signed, union authorization card by way of pressure, deceit or misinformation, does not represent a "free choice" by a well-informed employee. Instead, the process turns employees and their employers into victims. The EFCA would bless this approach as the only method by which the question of union representation would be determined. The effects of this Act would be felt immediately by small business."

Mr. Smith believes that small employers would be overwhelmed by union organizing activity. "Under the EFCA, a small employer would be an easy and tempting target for union organizers. For a small employer with 20 eligible employees, a union would need signed authorization cards from only 11 employees (a simple majority) before asking the NLRB for recognition under the EFCA as the employees' bargaining representative. The union could easily obtain these signatures in a matter of days. For an employer who has 50-100 employees, the union could complete this same recognition process within a few weeks. Small employers will have virtually no opportunity to respond."

"In my opinion, this Act has the potential to be the kiss of death to small employers who cannot afford the added cost of unionization," concludes Mr. Smith. "Only immediate preparation, education and training of the management team will prepare the small employer to respond to this very real threat."

- CE Smith Law Firm is the small employers' resource in California, supporting a union-free environment, educating and empowering its clients to effectively manage their employees, insuring that its clients remain labor law compliant and serving as its clients' advocate, to advance and protect their interests.


Union rejected by workers in Las Vegas

Related story: "Ugly underbelly of union organizing exposed"

With a good dose of election drama — including a ballot box being taken into a bathroom — a union seeking to organize Las Vegas security guards has lost its flagship campaign at Mandalay Bay. By a 123-110 vote, guards Friday rejected the International Union of Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America.

The union’s lead organizer, Steve Maritas, said he will file objections with the federal labor board alleging the ballot box was not properly sealed. He also complained that when the lone labor board agent conducting the election needed a bathroom break, he suspended voting for five minutes and took the ballot box and blank ballots with him to the bathroom.

“We were robbed, man,” Maritas said.

The union says it is not accusing MGM Mirage, owner of Mandalay Bay, nor the National Labor Relations Board of tampering with the results. Maritas is seeking a rerun of the election though, claiming the atmosphere did not meet the “free and fair” standards established by the board.

A labor board official declined comment because the union has not filed charges.

MGM Mirage called the election fair and square.

“We are gratified that our employees agree with us that direct communication is the best way to foster our relationship,” Mandalay Bay President Bill Hornbuckle said in a statement. “We appreciate the vote of confidence and will work hard to build and maintain a spirit of trust and responsiveness with our employees.”

The loss represents a significant setback for the union, which hoped to send a message to casinos up and down the Strip by organizing the property with the largest security force. Its first attempt, at the Luxor, stalled in April because the union, unsure it had enough support, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the federal labor board, alleging management had threatened to withhold scheduled pay raises and other benefits if workers voted for the union.

The claims were in part a ploy to delay the election, Maritas admits.

Maritas was more confident he had the support of guards at Mandalay Bay.

“When you have been doing this as long as I have, you know your numbers,” said Maritas, an organizer with 30 years in the labor movement. “We were solid.”

Or so he thought.

After the voting, Maritas complained that the ballot box hadn’t been properly sealed, allowing deposited ballots to fall out. More egregious, he said, was that the labor board agent in charge of administering the election took the ballot box and blank ballots with him into the bathroom. The agent should have sealed the box and secured it in a locked room, Maritas said.

“This was not run properly,” he said. “Let’s have a new election, seal the box properly, and I’ll accept the results.”

Maritas’ organizing effort has been among the stranger ones on the Strip.

Last month he designed a Web page that featured a photo of Osama bin Laden next to Hornbuckle. He also highlighted MGM Mirage’s partnership with Dubai World, the Persian Gulf holding company — and linked it to the war in Iraq, complete with a counter of American war dead. At the request of guards, he apologized and took the page down.

Then he threatened to bring homeless people and prostitutes to the picket line to draw attention to what he called unfair labor practices at Mandalay Bay. He never followed through. “That was just a ploy,” Maritas said Monday. “That was meant to get them all riled up.”

He also sought solidarity with other unions, particularly the buildings trades, creating a Web site devoted to worker safety at CityCenter and other Strip construction sites — and including, inexplicably, a video of the 9/11 attacks.

The loss has put a considerable snag in Maritas’ plans to organize Las Vegas.

“Did they hurt the momentum? No question,” Maritas said. “If we took this one down, this town would have fallen like dominoes.”

Before the election, MGM Mirage awarded raises to guards at New York-New York, Excalibur and Treasure Island. A company spokesman said the action was the result of salary surveys “performed occasionally by our HR departments to help properties remain competitive and retain the best possible employees.” Last week the union filed for an election at the Mirage. A date has not been set.


Big Print News Journalists Unionize

Most reporters already pay union-dues to The News Guild

With corporate media conglomerates slashing jobs and shrinking the size of the news pages, the bloodletting has been so extensive that Advertising Age reports U.S. media employment has fallen to a 15-year low, “slammed by the slumping newspaper industry.” Newspapers, by the trade magazine’s calculations, account for half of all media jobs lost—82,800, of 167,600 total—in just the past seven years. In fact, one in four newspaper jobs has disappeared since 1990.

But workers at the largest newspaper chain in the Bay Area are taking action. Some 230 newsroom workers at seven newspapers in California’s East Bay Area now have a union after they voted last Friday for The Newspaper Guild-CWA (TNG-CWA), capping one of the most-watched media union efforts in recent years.

For the past nine months, employees at the Bay Area News Group-East Bay (BANG-EB) fought a strong anti-union campaign by Denver-based MediaNews, the papers’ owners.

Says Sara Steffens, a reporter at the Contra Costa Times and a co-chair of the workers’ campaign:
This vote represents a powerful investment in the future of journalism in the Bay Area, one that’s going to move us all forward, both staff and managers. It will be good for our news coverage and good for our communities.
MediaNews made headlines in August when it withdrew recognition from the Guild unit at several newspapers, including The Oakland Tribune and four other East Bay dailies. The company announced it was canceling contract talks and consolidating the formerly union editorial operations with the newly acquired nonunion Contra Costa Times and several weeklies.

Journalists from across the East Bay came together last fall to try and form a union, dubbing the campaign “One Big BANG: One Guild Universe.” Learn more about the campaign here.

Robert Salonga, a reporter for the Contra Costa Times, says joining a union is like having an insurance policy:
It goes without saying that you should have insurance to cover your family, your home, even your car—essentially whatever you hold dear. It only makes sense, then, to ensure we’re covered when it comes to our livelihoods.
Being part of a strong union is an insurance policy that protects an essential component of our lives: our jobs, and by extension, our mission as journalists.

TNG-CWA President-elect Bernie Lunzer welcomed the East Bay workers, saying:

Our congratulations for the dedication and perseverance that went into this, to all the group. The family that is the CWA and the Guild welcome you and will help you in any way as you go forward, now that you’ve achieved a real voice in the future of your workplaces.


100% of unions back Barack

Not all dues- and fee-paying members agree, however

Unions that were either neutral or backing Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries are rapidly endorsing Barack Obama. Among those announcing this week that they will back Obama are the United Auto Workers, the United Transportation Union, and the Sheet Metal Workers. Also signaling that their unions will endorse Obama are Eddie McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers and Gerald McAntee, president of AFSCME.

The UAW endorsement of Obama, by a unanimous vote of its executive board on June 10, means that three large unions that have high percentages of male blue collar workers among their memberships are now backing the Illinois senator. The other two such unions are the Steel Workers and the Mine Workers.

The UAW was neutral during the primary contests. The Steel Workers and Mine Workers originally backed former Sen. John Edwards. After Edwards, who dropped out, endorsed Obama the two unions followed suit.

These latest endorsements bring the AFL-CIO closer to a federation-wide endorsement of Obama. To endorse the federation must have the votes of General Board members representing two-thirds of the 9 million members. Official backing for Obama must come first from several pro-Clinton unions including AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers and the International Association of Machinists.

Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the Machinists and a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention, is now “undecided.” He had been a strong Clinton backer.

McElroy has indicated that the AFT will engage in talks with its members. He did not indicate, however, that the AFT would move to endorse Obama before its July 11 -14 convention in Chicago.
McEntee said, “For our union, this election is about rebuilding America’s middle class. We look forward to talking with Obama and his staff about many of the issues our members care most about, such as ending privatization, providing state and local fiscal relief, fully finding and supporting public services and the workers who provide them, and guaranteeing everyone has quality, affordable health care they can count on.

“From the beginning of this campaign, our number one priority has been to take back the White House for America’s working families. During the primary season we showed that when this union makes an endorsement, we back it up with everything we’ve got, and that’s exactly what we are going to do in November,” McEntee declared.


Union official guilty of embezzlement

Pro-union handouts in labor-states are ripe for the picking

The former business agent for the union representing Atlantic City and Trenton insulation workers pleaded guilty Monday to embezzling $829,000 intended for worker training.

John DaBronzo, 57, of Hamilton Square in Mercer County, resigned in May 2007 from Local 89 of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers over misspent funds.

DaBronzo pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement - taking $396,000 from the union's training fund while he administered it, and taking $433,000 in checks submitted by employers for training under union contracts, according to the U.S. Attorney's office in Newark.

For each count, DaBronzo faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He is free on $50,000 bond with sentencing before U.S. District Judge Joel A. Pisano scheduled for Sept. 16.

DaBronzo was succeeded as business agent for Local 89 by Edward Fedorko. Calls to Fedorko on Monday to inquire about a promised full audit of worker training accounts were not returned.

DaBronzo was earning $87,797 a year as business agent for the union, which had about 140 members then.


Rank-and-file abandoned by union officials

Worker-choice fixes dues-option

Jay Hesterman, a technician at Qwest, resigned from a union 14 years ago, but he still pays about $500 a year in dues and gets the union's newsletter anyway. "I'm not necessarily anti-union," said Hesterman, 47. "My dad was very strong into the union. . . . What the unions did, historically, proved a great balance against large corporations. . . . But I don't like the direction they are headed in now."

Hesterman, who has worked at the telephone company for 28 years, is a conservative Republican. And unions generally give their money to Democrats.

He could apply to have the portion of his dues given to political causes refunded, but that requires paperwork. And why should he have to give any money to a group that supports causes he doesn't?

"They've drifted from . . . protecting the main interest of the working man into the outskirts of politics," Hesterman said.

But it's not just about politics.

"I don't know how to say this without sounding harsh," said Hesterman. "They represent some people who shouldn't be represented. . . . They represent some people who are looking to be nonworkers."

Give us your tired, your lazy, your entitled-to-every-sick-day.

Scores write back

Hesterman would no longer have to pay his union dues if Amendment 47, the right-to-work initiative on Colorado's November ballot, passes.

I have heard from scores of people in Hesterman's situation since my Sunday column solicited responses from people forced to pay union dues.

Now they're on my phone, in my e-mail and on my blogs.

Many of them say they will vote for Amendment 47 because they just don't like paying dues. Others seem to wish unions didn't exist.

"Unions use the same methods as street thugs," wrote one reader. "They steal the money of hard working people through lies and intimidation."

Wrote another: "Every now and then, I complain to a manager about a worker who shows up late and is sometimes lazy. They give him a warning. He still shows up late and gets fired. He goes to the union tells them he was tired . . . and gets his job back."

"I unwillingly have $44.75 taken out of my pay check every month," wrote another. "My opinion of the . . . union is . . . we are nothing more than a 'cash cow.' "

Clearly, these sentiments will shape November's election. So will more pro-union sentiments.

One caller said it best: "People who don't want to pay union dues . . . let them go work at Wal-Mart and get paid nothing."

Just 8 percent of Colorado's employees are in unions, but all of the state's voters will have to decide how they feel about unions.

"Unions do good," Hesterman said. "They hit the nail on the head sometimes. But sometimes they are very anti-company. . . . They give us the feeling that somehow we should hate (the company). That it's us against them."

Whether Amendment 47 passes or not, taking money from unwilling dues-payers is bad business.

It loads union ranks with dissenters. Instead, unions should do more to actually appeal to people.

"If the union had to earn its money," said Hesterman, "it would really make them a better union."

- Al Lewis


School votes on lunch privatization

AFSCME's plan guarantees labor peace but no cost savings

The fate of the school food program will be known tonight, when the School Committee votes on whether to hire a private company to feed Salem (MA) students. School board members will hear from Chartwells, the private vendor, and also from a group of local parents and members of the union representing school lunch workers, who have countered with a plan to keep the program in-house.

The two sides will present their cases to the School Committee at 6 p.m. at Collins Middle School.

"It's the most difficult decision," School Committee member Kerry Martin said. "Chartwells gives us the opportunity to start from scratch and guarantee we won't lose money, but AFSCME's (American Federation of State, County and Muncipal Employees, the union that represents cafeteria workers) proposal shows an incredible commitment from employees, parents and taxpayers."

The district is considering privatization because the food program has a five-year deficit that is nearing $650,000, according to the superintendent. In response, cafeteria workers and parents have spent months crafting their own plan to overhaul the school food program with broader menus and healthier choices, and to boost participation.

"I am inherently opposed to privatization in the public school system," School Committee member Janet Crane said. "I've read through the local proposal, and I think it's another effort from the community, which is in keeping with the way the community has come forth during the financial crisis we've had this year."

Superintendent William Cameron recommended that the School Committee vote to privatize, rather than adopt the AFSCME plan.

"AFSCME's well-thought out and well-presented proposals are commendable," Cameron wrote to the School Committee. "But ... those recommendations offer no guarantee that the deficit will end. Chartwells' proposal does."

Chartwells guarantees the company will return $66,000 in profits to the schools next year — whether or not the program actually makes money. If the program ends up losing money, it would be Chartwells — not the city — that faces a deficit.

How much risk?

Cameron, who was hired last summer, said Salem has faced too many deficits and job cuts to risk keeping a program that is losing money.

"AFSCME's point about cost increases and poor quality ignore that it has been while food services was under local control that an alleged loss in food quality occurred," Cameron wrote in his 19-page recommendation, "and a sizable increase in school lunch deficits has occurred."

The union and parent group say the lunch program has suffered because of poor management. Their plan assumes new management, allowing them to improve meal options and increase advertising, which they say will boost the number of students buying school lunch, particularly at Salem High.

Salem food service director Maria Barker did not return a call from The Salem News.

"It's a pretty easy fix, actually, if you just tweak a few things," said Deborah Jeffers, vice president of the AFSCME local, who is the cook at Horace Mann Laboratory School. "Our proposal is very down-to-earth, and it's doable."

Apples to apples

So how do the two plans differ?

Both proposals rely on more students purchasing school meals. Chartwells' proposal says the company guarantees a $66,000 profit to Salem next year; the local group estimates it will make close to $80,000 in revenue, although it does not guarantee that.

The local plan includes money for equipment maintenance; the private proposal doesn't.

The local plan calls for an increase in school lunch prices; Chartwells does not.

"We've totally changed the menus," said Cindy Theriault, a member of the parent group working with the cafeteria employees on their plan. She said the group surveyed children and families last year, and more recently put a box at the high school and polled students on what foods they would like to have served.

School Committee member Nate Bryant said he wants an assurance from Chartwells that current food service employees' jobs will be secure under privatization.

"That's most important," Bryant said. "The second most important thing is that the health care benefits are on par, and third would be how they handle part-time employees. That's what I'll be looking to find out on Monday night."

The superintendent said the pay rates will remain the same with Chartwells.

Monday night will be the first time the School Committee hears from Chartwells, beyond the typed proposal submitted to the city purchasing agent in March.

"I'm very eager to meet with the representative from Chartwells," Martin said, "because I'm just so impressed with the Salem community's plan, and I've got no positive feeling from Chartwells except what's written in the proposal."

Chartwells is the vendor in more than 3,500 schools across the country, according to Cameron.

The local group doesn't view that as an asset.

"We are saying, 'Why don't you try to keep it local?'" said Theriault. "It's about helping each other out, really."

Chartwells submitted a one-year proposal that includes a $90,000 investment in the facilities, giving Salem the option to renew after the next school year.

"I've gone back and forth on it," School Committee member Kevin Carr said. "I value what our cafeteria workers bring to the table, but it's tough to look away (from Chartwells) because we have a fiduciary responsibility to keep costs in line.

"I'm really looking forward to the meeting to get an overall picture and compare them side by side."

Want to go?

The School Committee will hear from Chartwells and AFSCME during a public meeting at 6 tonight at the Collins Middle School. The committee will vote on privatization during its regular meeting, which starts at 7:30 p.m.

North School school lunches

Town Privatized?

Beverly no
Boxford elementary no
Danvers no
Hamilton-Wenham no
Ipswich no
Masconomet Regional yes
Middleton elementary no
Peabody no
Swampscott yes
Topsfield elementary no


Teachers union staff on strike against union

Union refuses to sit down with union

A teaching union threatening strike action are now facing a walkout by their own staff. More than 30 admin workers employed by the Educational Institute of Scotland have begun an overtime ban and plan a one day strike on Friday, the union Unite said yesterday.

The row is over a five-year pay offer which, say the union, falls short of inflation.

Union official Tony Trench said: "Unite has tried everything to get EIS to sit down and discuss this situation."

Teachers at the EIS conference earlier this month unanimously backed a motion supporting ballots for industrial action over budget cuts by councils.


Union subsidy well-intentioned but ill-timed

Local conditions sadden pro-union editorialist

No one begrudges a decent wage for skilled and unskilled laborers in the area. But Mankato’s consideration of a prevailing wage ordinance comes at a bad time. Residents are struggling to keep up with spiraling inflation and stagnant paychecks. Local governments say they are falling behind each year in funding. That’s why instituting a prevailing wage plan, which would drive up the cost of at least some public projects, is difficult to support.

The state already has prevailing wage rules for state-funded projects. Under the proposal before the Mankato (MN) City Council, the same rules would apply to city-funded project. The state sets the prevailing wage in dozens of job categories.

During initial discussion, there have been widely varying estimates of how much a local prevailing wage would add to project costs — from zero to some 40 percent.

Unions representing many of construction workers in the area argue that the prevailing wage rules used in state contracts don’t drive up the cost of projects.

That appears to be true in the Twin Cities metro area, where the going market cost for construction projects is about the same as the cost required under the state’s prevailing wage law.

But in outstate Minnesota, where wages and living costs are lower, prevailing wages do appear to drive up the cost of public projects, sometimes substantially.

A St. Cloud contractor doing a state project at St. Cloud State, told a television station that he is paying more than 30 percent more for the wages of his employees than he normally would.

As the council continues with hearings on a local prevailing wage it needs to get more accurate information about the potential cost increases and it should move slowly and skeptically on the proposal.

Spending taxpayers’ money conservatively is always important. In times of daunting economic challenges, it’s even more important.


Socialists cheer SEIU dissidents

Taking on Andy Stern's purple machine

Puerto Rico teachers picket the SEIU convention in San Juan to protest the U.S. union's siding with the island's union-busting governor (pr.indymedia.org)Puerto Rico teachers picket the SEIU convention in San Juan to protest the U.S. union's siding with the island's union-busting governor (pr.indymedia.org)

This year, I was elected by my co-workers to be a delegate to the SEIU International Convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I have been asked to share my experiences and my thoughts on that convention.

When I was checking out of my very expensive hotel in San Juan (paid for with member dues), I ran into some folks who work for the SEIU International office in Washington, D.C. We compared our experiences, and after talking with the staffers, it sounded and felt like we had attended two different conventions.

And in a sense, we did. I aligned myself with a newly emerging rank-and-file, pro-democracy group, SEIU Member Activists for Reform Today, better known by its acronym, SMART--whereas the staff worked for the big purple machine (the administration of SEIU President Andy Stern). I think that's why we experienced the convention so differently.

In the lead-up to the convention, we read in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Seattle Times and San Francisco Chronicle about secret "SEIU-employer partnerships," in which our union signs deals that let the employers decide who is to be organized by our union, and how.

Deals in which the boss gets to decide which workers at which facilities get to be "organized." Deals in which the union agrees not to organize a majority of an employer's workers, and where the union agrees to "disavow" rank and file organizers who "jump the gun" and try to organize without permission of the boss.

Deals in which the union promises not to make disparaging remarks about the employer, and to encourage its members not to engage in "adverse reporting to regulatory bodies." Deals in which the union lobbies the state legislatures for more money for the employers, with no guarantee of how much will go into the pockets of the workers. Deals so secret that the union signs confidentiality agreements requiring SEIU to "disavow" their existence.

The SMART delegates came to question, challenge and debate the direction in which Andy Stern is taking SEIU. The staff, however, was there to defend the status quo, quell dissent, rally support for the Stern machine and stifle real debate. Consequently, the convention assumed an "us versus them" atmosphere.

For most of us aligned with SMART, it was our first SEIU international convention. Consequently, "we" were rag-tag, clumsy and easily outmaneuvered. "They" were a slick, highly disciplined and well-oiled machine.

"They" spoke with authority, confidence and an air of entitlement. "We" were nervous and hesitant--and sometimes, our voices cracked when we spoke from the convention floor. But when we did get called upon by the chair, we spoke from the heart, with determination, enthusiasm and anger.

"They" prattled on endlessly about "member involvement." But in SEIU, the term "member" has been stripped of all meaning. Almost anyone in SEIU can be a member, including staff and appointed officers. But being a "staff member" is not the same as putting in 40-plus hours a week as a janitor, working the floor as a nurse, performing maintenance on equipment or taking care of someone with psychiatric or medical needs in the patient's own home. "We" continually inserted the adjective "rank and file" in front of "member."

"They" set the agenda, chose the speakers, gave the presentations and dominated much of the discussion time. Their stage managers carefully choreographed and controlled the proceedings. "We" dutifully lined up at the microphones to speak from the convention floor, often to be passed over or ignored.

"They" won every motion, resolution, constitutional amendment and procedural question. The only vote "we" came close to winning was a motion to extend one discussion by 15 minutes. The chair granted our request when it became clear that a roll call vote, moved by our side, would take longer to carry out than the 15-minute extension.

"They" resembled an army with their headsets and vests, and constantly speaking into their walkie-talkies. Indeed, there was an army of staff arrayed against us. "We" did not have a single headset, vest or walkie-talkie. But we knew how to text message, and we did so from morning to night.

"They" used block votes and ran on slates. "We" called for "one member, one vote"--the direct election of top officers by the union rank and file. "They" were well rehearsed and polished. "Our" inexperience hindered, but did not hide, the simple eloquence of our call to let the members decide.

"We" came to San Juan wanting to shake things up. On the surface, "they" appeared to prevail--they won everything. But appearances can be deceiving. Our little motley band of union reformers and rank-and-file dreamers succeeded in starting a debate inside the largest union in North America. We put forward an alternative vision of trade unionism, one for and by the rank and file.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE LAST item of business was the election of international officers. The "Stern Team" swept the elections. But the results showed something else as well. Fifteen rank and file candidates ran on a platform of "elect at least one rank and file member to the International Executive Board."

SEIU is not used to contested elections. Instead of the usual "elected by acclamation," the "roll call committee" now had a real job--to count votes. The purple machine suddenly faltered. We waited minutes...that turned into hours and days until we got a final tally.

Previously unknown and politically unconnected, rank-and-file workers garnered between 4 percent and 16 percent of the vote! Remember, this was a vote of convention delegates, a self-selected group of "members" who tend to be pro-administration. If we had direct election of international officers, the vote tallies would be radically different. We might even have some rank-and-file workers on the International Executive Board.

Suddenly, everything seemed possible. The mood lightened. On the final day, as we waited for the election results, many delegates, who had previously ostracized and shunned us, now came up to thank us for being there, for speaking up. Many secretly confessed that they agreed with a lot of what SMART said and what we stood for.

"We" had put a dent in the big purple machine.

I have tried to resist using the David and Goliath analogy because David won in the end. We did not win, by any stretch of the imagination. But some little SMART members did have an impact on the Stern Goliath.

The mighty Davids (and Danielles) of SEIU work in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and local and state governments. They clean buildings, run mass transits systems, and much more. When they hear what some SMART workers achieved at the convention, they're going to take notice.

"We" came out of the SEIU convention emboldened, stronger, more experienced and with new connections across the country.

Look out, Purple Goliath!

- Larry Bradshaw, a paramedic for the San Francisco Fire Department, has been a member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) for more than 15 years. He reports on the crisis in the SEIU in the wake of the union's convention.


SEIU: Vamos for Obama

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