Barack embraces failed policies of the past?

Some special interests are more equal than others

Democrat Barack Obama is moving quickly this week in hopes of uniting the labor movement behind his candidacy. The presumed presidential nominee is scheduled to meet with AFL-CIO leaders today, followed by a meeting with leaders of the AFL-CIO and other unions on Thursday at a closed-door economic forum.

The AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor organization, has yet to endorse Obama, although its eventual support is all but certain.

Obama still needs to make amends with many in the labor movement; at least a dozen AFL-CIO unions, including the powerful American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, backed his Democratic rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton. A decision on an Obama endorsement will come from the AFL-CIO's general board, which is expected to meet soon, spokesman Steve Smith said.


95% in Gopher State support secret-ballot

Related story: "Card-check TV ads coming to Minnesota"
Related story: "Al Franken, Minnesota DINO"

Anti-democratic Democrat fights against voter tide

Al Franken, supposed champion of the little guy, is supporting the deceptively named Employee Free Choice Act, which takes away the private ballot from employees voting on whether or not they want to unionize their workplace. Harassment and intimidation will replace the integrity and freedom of conscience that comes with the private ballot.

We all know that it’s risky to trust politicians of a certain sort with words or numbers, but this is a little much even for them. Labeling a piece of legislation “free choice” when it takes away the basic right of a private ballot election when deciding whether or not to unionize is simply stunning.

In a recent survey, 95% of Minnesotans – that’s right 95% - support a private ballot in a union organizing election. So why in the world are Franken and other Democrats in Congress, like Tim Walz, trying to take it away? The Washington, DC union lobby.

These powerful union bosses, desperately trying to reverse years’ worth of declining membership rolls, will continue to step on workers’ rights as long as there are candidates like Al Franken who will do their bidding. When Franken rails against other candidates’ ties to special interests, voters should consider that he is supporting this grossly un-American legislation on behalf of his Big Labor backers.

When Franken received the DFL Party endorsement he was elected in the manner that the party deemed fairest: A private-ballot vote. After that, he will be running in a private-ballot election this November—and possibly in a September DFL primary, if he doesn’t clean up his act in short order—but what’s good for him apparently is too good for Minnesota workers.

One of the fundamental, bedrock American principles, and of union organizing, has been a private ballot. When we vote, there isn’t someone looking over our shoulder. We are free to vote our conscience, free of any harassment, intimidation, or reprisal.

Al Franken’s failure to pay his taxes, his degrading attitude toward women, and now his scheme to take away our rights and give power to the unions funding his campaign is not the way we do things here in Minnesota. Maybe in New York or California or one of his other homes, but not here.

- Pat Shortridge is Director of Minnesotans for Employee Freedom, a non-partisan, non-profit organization fighting for fair elections in the workplace and leading the fight to oppose the Employee Free Choice Act.


AFSCME, Soros scramble political cash

Billionaire foreign collectivist trucks with jumbo gov't-union

In other McCain ad news, MoveOn.org is continuing its anti-McCain campaign with its second TV spot since last week -- in addition to a viral web ad the liberal 527 group co-sponsored with Planned Parenthood. MoveOn.org is partnering with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to air the spot on cable in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, according to The Caucus.

In the spot, titled "Not Alex," a young mother -- her hair unkempt, perhaps from lying awake at night, worrying about the fate of her baby boy under a McCain presidency -- gushes over her son, then looks into the camera and asks McCain if he was counting on him when he said he would stay in Iraq for 100 years.

"Because if you were," she says, her voice cracking. "You can't have him."

Production Notes: According to MoveOn.org:

Our new Iraq ad is the most effective ad we've ever put together. This isn't your average political ad--it lays out the truth about McCain's Iraq policy in a personal and compelling way. We just got the results back and polling shows that voters found it to be more persuasive than any other ad we've tested before.

That's really not surprising. Implying that a cute baby will be shipped off to combat and potentially killed is perfect for stirring up anti-war sentiment among, say, women -- which just happens to be the demographic McCain and his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, are agressively courting in the wake of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's exit from the race.


LIUNA unionists attack non-union workers

Police needed to quell violent labor protest

Members of a local labor union exchanged shouts and obscenities at a major construction project in downtown Cleveland (OH) Tuesday morning. About 60 members of Laborers Local 310 showed up at the site of the renovation of the Atrium Office Building at 668 Euclid Avenue. They were protesting the hiring of a non-union company to do internal demolition and asbestos removal. Police were called when there were reports of rocks being thrown, but no arrests were made.

The Atrium Office Building was recently sold to The K&D Group of Willoughby, which is undertaking a $65 million renovation of the historic structure.

K&D Group spokesperson Tracey Bradnan says the developer is "shocked and dismayed" by the protest.

"We requested bids from ten companies on this work. Five of them were union shops, yet none of them submitted bids," Bradnan tells Channel 3 News. "You can't award jobs to someone who didn't bid."

The contact for internal demolition and asbestos removal was awarded to Reliable Maintenance, a non-union Cleveland company.

"They're a local company and we're committed to providing work to local companies," said Bradnan.

Local 310 Business Manager John Kilbane tells Channel 3 News the protest was needed. "Obviously K&D does not support local labor," said Kilbane.

"Due to the scope of public financing on this project we believe at least prevailing wage ought to be paid," Kilbane explained, "but right away you see non-union presence on the job."

The Atrium Office Building deal contains a $5.1 million TIFF loan from the City of Cleveland, a $1.1 million loan from Cuyahoga County, and various historic and other tax credits.

"If this is the pattern being set for future development in Cleveland," Kilbane said of the presence of the non-union workers, "then there's going to be a lot of unrest in the construction trades."

K&D's Bradnan said meetings between representatives of the developer and union labor have taken places and that K&D has assured the unions "they will have every opportunity to bid" on other work on The Atrium Office Building project.

On Cleveland's west side another union protested the use of non-union labor at a public job site. Members of the Concrete Mason's Local 404 picketed at Cleveland new Thomas Jefferson School.

The Local is upset a non-union company, Accurate Concrete Systems, is allowed to do curb and concrete work surrounding the new school.

Dennis Radloff with Accurate Concrete tells Channel 3 News his company was sub-contracted by Giambrone Construction of Hudson and that "nothing illegal is going on."

Radloff says he does not have to use union labor on his job because he signed the contracts before Ohio Governor Ted Strickland signed new legislation requiring paying prevailing wage.

"My guys got to eat too," says Radloff.


Union refuses to organize workers

Culinary loath to represent workers at possibly doomed hotel

Maids at Imperial Palace are fed up — and it’s not just because they say they’re being worked a lot harder than other housekeepers on the Strip. They’re angry at the Culinary Union for not coming to the rescue by organizing them.

The Culinary, they say, could protect them from having to clean 18 to 22 rooms a day; maids represented by the union clean an average of 16.

If ever there were easy pickings for a union organizing drive, they would be the housekeepers at Imperial Palace, it seems.

And they hoped help would be coming when they sat down with a Culinary organizer last month, delivering a petition with 100 signatures. They complained of poor work conditions and having to work through their breaks and lunch hours to complete their quotas of cleaned rooms.

The pressure has caused several maids to faint and sent some to the hospital, and supervisors don’t care, they claim.

Maids say they even staged a small walkout to protest the conditions.

Management concedes the maids may have some grounds to complain. A spokeswoman for the owner of Imperial Palace, Harrah’s Entertainment, said that on Sunday, some maids cleaned as many as 20 rooms because many workers had called out. The workload, she said, was an anomaly. Nevertheless, the company is hiring more full-time maids “to bring the ratio back to normal,” spokeswoman Marybel Batjer said.

But that hasn’t stopped the maids’ campaign to bring in the Culinary.

They said they followed the union’s instructions when it asked for more letters about work conditions.

The Culinary then asked them to compile a list of management names, they said.

But the maids feel they’re just being strung along.

“It’s sad when you have people who want their help, willing to pay union dues, and the union doesn’t want to hear anything,” said one maid, who spoke anonymously because of fear of management reprisal.

Indeed, the Culinary is making no noise about organizing the maids, which seems counterintuitive because it represents about 15,000 other workers employed by Harrah’s Entertainment — and could, by contractual right, organize the maids free from company opposition. Moreover, putting the property’s maids in the union column would leave labor foe Sheldon Adelson’s Venetian and Palazzo as the lone nonunion holdouts on the Strip — not to mention give the union a few hundred more dues-paying members.

But the Culinary’s decision is strategic — and not without precedent.

Culinary Secretary-Treasurer D. Taylor said the union has maintained a long-standing policy of avoiding organizing drives at casinos whose fates are uncertain, and that is the case with Imperial Palace.

“It would be somewhat disingenuous to pick up a place and then see it close,” Taylor said. “The workers are there and then there’s not much you can do. Several thousand workers we represent would have no place to go.”

Taylor cited the example of the Boardwalk casino, which MGM Mirage demolished in 2006 to make room for CityCenter. Rumors of the property’s demise persisted almost from the moment it was purchased by casino mogul Steve Wynn in 1998. So the Culinary held back on organizing its workers.

Likewise, the union stayed away from the Aladdin while its owners went through bankruptcy proceedings, Taylor said. Years later, in 2005, the Culinary organized workers there.

As for Imperial Palace, which was purchased by Harrah’s in 2005, casino industry insiders and Wall Street analysts had expected the company to implode the 29-year-old property to capitalize on its prized Strip location.

The 2,600-room hotel was targeted for redevelopment in 2006, but that plan was delayed when two private equity companies purchased Harrah’s last year. Taylor said the new owners have not clarified their intent, so the union is still assuming Imperial Palace will be razed. Batjer said the hotel is still part of a redevelopment plan.

“There’s no shortage of people who call us to organize,” Taylor said. And workers at properties that seem destined for destruction are last in line, he said.

There may also be another factor at work. The Culinary is spending its energy these days lining up its ducks to try to organize a much larger prize, Station Casinos, a nonunion gaming giant that owns and operates 10 major casinos and employs 14,000 people.

An Imperial Palace maid leading the organizing effort said the Culinary told her “our hands are tied because we’re trying to get Station.”

Taylor acknowledges that the Culinary is targeting Station Casinos, but said that’s not the reason the Culinary hasn’t reached out to Imperial Palace maids.

The Imperial Palace situation is reminiscent of when maids at the San Remo walked out in the 1990s over working conditions and pleaded with the Culinary for representation. The walkout occurred just as the union had won a protracted fight to organize the MGM Grand. The company, which had been stridently anti-union, gave the Culinary a year to organize workers, free from retaliation.

The Culinary decided to throw all of its resources into unionizing the MGM Grand, and declined to organize the maids at San Remo.


Pro-union Dem Gov. crosses powerful SEIU

'Sick-or-not' leave mandate flops with Ohio voters

Gov. Ted Strickland likes unions, and unions like a budding fall ballot issue that would give most full-time workers in Ohio seven paid sick days a year. Yet the proposed ballot issue is giving the governor a headache. Strickland, a Democrat, began speaking out publicly against the so-called Healthy Families Act's appearance on the ballot last week, urging business and labor to get together and work out a compromise that would keep it off the ballot.

His motivations are both practical and political.

The issue would require companies with at least 25 employees to give workers seven sick days a year, with unused sick time carrying over to the next year. The United Auto Workers, United Steelworkers and Service Employees International Union Local 1199 - which gave generously to Strickland's 2006 campaign - are pushing the idea.

From a practical standpoint, Strickland clearly is concerned about the measure's economic costs. Like the coalition of business interests that is opposing the issue, he has noted how expensive it would be for companies to provide such a benefit. Currently, 48 percent of private-sector workers in Ohio don't have as much paid sick time as the initiative would require.

A recent analysis of the act by the law firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey pointed to technical issues in the language that could cause legal problems. Among them:

The act allows employees to carry over unused sick time, but also says it shouldn't be construed as requiring employers to offer more than seven paid sick days in a year. How can both be true?

The act restricts release of information about the employee's health without the sick employee's express consent. So could an employer be fined for telling a customer, "He's not in. He's out sick today"?

The act forbids an employer from reducing any existing leave in order to comply with the seven-day requirement. What if the employer already offers five paid sick days and two personal days: Would that company be required to offer seven sick days as well as the two personal days, for a total of nine?

Despite the concerns of employers, voters love the idea. Therein lies Strickland's political headache.

"This is an idea whose time has come," said Dale Butland, spokesman for the Healthy Families campaign. "Across party lines, over 70 percent of the people support this. This is just wildly popular because everyone gets sick."

A recent study by Policy Matters Ohio, a Cleveland-based liberal think tank, found that 2.2 million Ohioans would see their benefits expanded if the measure passes.

The proposal has been predicted to drive Democratic turnout in this fall's presidential race in much the same way a proposed gay marriage ban did with Republican turnout in 2004. As with that issue, the sick-day proposal has national scope: it has been proposed in a dozen states and two cities, and is supported by presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

Strickland certainly doesn't want to campaign against a ballot issue that Obama and the unions support and Democrats love. Nor does he want to support a ballot issue that he and business interests view as harmful to his state's economy.

Butland insists, however, that striking a compromise that will keep the issue off November's ballot will be difficult, if not impossible. He said backers of the initiative already tried.

"We met at the request of the Legislature. They asked the business community and us to sit down," he said. "It became clear after two or three meetings that they don't just want it off the ballot; they want no paid sick days at all. There just seemed to be no common ground at all."


SEIU's troubled investment

Related story: "Dem Gov. taps unions for reelection bid"

Buying a re-election takes an intriguing turn

At about 10:07 a.m. on Tuesday, as KOMO radio launched into its midday news programming, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire jumped the shark. Gregoire claimed that she knew of no contributions to her re-election campaign by casino-owning tribes beyond the legally permissible limit of $3,200.

Huh? We are to believe the governor knows nothing -- nothing -- of any connection between the $600,000 that tribes have given the state Democratic Party, and the $511,000 that the party has contributed to her campaign in the past two months.

She would apparently be equally ignorant of a just-formed Democratic front called Evergreen Progress, which has received $250,000 from the Democratic Governors Association and $495,000 from the Service Employees International Union.

Both are major forces in the governor's re-election effort.

"Jumping the shark," in case you haven't heard the term, is the defining moment in TV shows where an unbelievable plot twist or change in a character causes credibility to collapse.

It stems from the episode of "Happy Days" on which The Fonz water-skied over a shark.

Shark jumping is becoming the defining feature of the 2008 gubernatorial rematch between Gregoire and GOP candidate Dino Rossi.

A front group for the Building Industry Association of Washington, called ChangePAC, is behind what's now a $500,000 "independent" campaign of anti-Gregoire radio spots.

In an event not listed on his schedule, Rossi will be featured guest speaker Thursday at the BIAW's annual membership meeting at Skamania Lodge.

Will he cheer on the group's opposition to the Puget Sound Partnership, commend the BIAW's newsletter for likening environmentalists to Nazis or praise its personal smears against Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander?

Bluntly put, our gubernatorial campaign is being hijacked by special interests, big-time fundraisers and front groups -- an unholy trinity that debased American politics until the 2008 presidential race came along.

Nor do we have an alternative. Thanks to the new "top two" primary, there won't be an Owl Party candidate or a Libertarian nominee to serve as a safety valve on the November ballot.

Of Gregoire, I expected more. She has been an impressive public servant for 20 years.

As ecology director, negotiating a Hanford cleanup accord, she made the Bush (1) administration blink. As attorney general, she forced tobacco companies to fork up. As governor, she has launched the Puget Sound Partnership, brought health care to poor kids and kick-started transportation projects -- every place but Seattle, where local government is hopeless.

Gregoire is also worth admiring for the haters she has attracted, the BIAW with its vicious sexist diatribes, and the bitter losers on the far right who rail against "Queen Christine."

Still, I have talked to friends whose law and public affairs firms have been "asked" to put on a fundraiser for Gregoire and provided with a "suggested" figure on what is to be raised.

At a recent charity dinner, a businessman friend returned to our table a little white under the collar. A top gubernatorial aide had just hit him up for a contribution larger, by a factor of more than 10, than the $3,200 official donation limit.

It's a political form of press-ganging, the old British expression for conscripting people into the Royal Navy by force.

It used to be, when Democratic governors (or influence-dealing friends) grew ham-handed, Republicans offered up such quality alternatives as Dan Evans and John Spellman.

What do we get now? Dino Rossi proclaims himself a green, and pledges to open up state government, but then gets in bed with the BIAW's anti-environmental extremists.

A bipartisan rebellion is in order. A state with clean government traditions should contrive to recapture a campaign. One possible solution comes courtesy of Sen. John McCain.

Why not have major civic outfits, newspapers and colleges across this state propose -- or band together in proposing -- multiple town meetings at which Gregoire and Rossi would take center stage.

The City Club, in Bellingham, could update its 2006 invite to U.S. Senate candidates. The Olympian could reissue its 2006 call for an outside-Seattle debate in Western Washington. (Both invitations were nixed by the re-election campaign of Sen. Maria Cantwell.)

The Yakima Herald-Republic does tough, incisive interviewing of candidates before its editorial board. Why not move to an auditorium, with a well-screened panel of citizens joining in the fun?

Cherry picking would be verboten. If Gregoire does the Association of Washington Business, Rossi shouldn't be allowed to fink out (again) from Washington Conservation Voters October "Wake Up" breakfast.

In Massachusetts' 1996 Senate race, incumbent Sen. John Kerry and GOP challenger Gov. William Weld faced off no fewer than eight times. A total of 3 million Bay State residents saw at least two debates on the tube or in person. The face-offs eclipsed TV spots.

Given the sorry state of our sports franchises, a political playoff series would entertain and inform. And town meetings could set up a space outside for tailgate parties.


Talkback: Call a scab a scab

Related story: "The definition of a scab"

Newspaper accused of sanitizing ugly union argot

According to an old Webster's dictionary at my desk, one definition of the word "scab" is "a worker who refuses to join a union, or one who takes the place of a striking worker." That's the word as described in the dictionary. The so-called "temporary workers" crossing the picket line at Kewaunee Fabrication are taking the place of striking workers, therefore according to the dictionary and common terminology, they are scabs.

I'm no fan of Barbara Lawton or her boss, but her use of the word "scab" doesn't offend me in the least. Yes, she's a politician and she was pandering, but I believe that political correctness has reached a ridiculous stage in our society. In the words of the old Eagles' song, "Get Over It!"

By the way, I am not a union member, but I respect their right to strike. In my opinion, neither side wins in a strike, but if the union members feel they have no other choice, good luck to them.

- Bill Berkey


Government union goes out on strike

Water main repairs on hold

Nearly two dozen union members are on strike against Indiana American Water at the utility's Burlington Drive processing plant in Muncie. An Indiana American Water company spokesman said the company would negotiate "in good faith" with striking workers but, in the meantime, managers would oversee operations. The strike, called by United Steelworkers Local 12213 on Monday, resulted in picketing Tuesday.

Union spokesman Joe New said 23 union members -- who purify water, install meters and repair water mains -- were striking over wages and lesser compensation for new employees.

Mary Beth Johnson, manager of external affairs, said the company's three-year contract with the union local expired at noon Monday.

"They determined not to return to work without a contract," Johnson said. "We have management personnel on hand and they are filling the gaps. Customers should see no difference in water quality or service."

New said the union was concerned about wages keeping up with the cost of living and with lower pay for employees with less than five years on the job.

"We countered several times with a proposal that we would do a one-year contract, and they said a three-year deal or nothing," New said.

"The company will continue to work in good faith with the union to reach an agreement," Johnson said.

She said the strike at the Muncie plant would not affect the company's customer service contact center.


NY uses prevailing wage to nix charter schools

Organized labor has state gov't by the shorthairs

Ten years ago, New York joined the charter school revolution by passing a law to allow these innovative public schools to open. Today there are nearly 100 charters in the state and dozens more in the pipeline. But now, thanks to the state's Department of Labor and a labor-friendly state judge, building a new charter school just got a lot harder and a lot more expensive.

Charter schools are built on a simple idea. In exchange for less state funding and a mandate on performance, charters are exempt from many high-cost regulations that hamstring traditional public schools.

Tapestry Charter School in central Buffalo has accepted that bargain and has excelled. It has served lower- and middle-income students since it opened its doors in 2001. Today it has about 350 students and, like most charters, outperforms district public schools on state tests. With smaller class sizes, more individual attention, longer school days and a longer academic calendar, students at Tapestry receive nearly two years more of instruction by the time they enter high school than students in other schools.

Recently, Tapestry won approval to add high school grades, and this is where the trouble started. To accommodate these new grades as well as serve the other students, the school decided to build a new building. It expected to pay about $8.5 million.

But last autumn, as a sop to labor unions, Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith ordered charter schools to adhere to state "prevailing wage" requirements, which mandate paying union wages for construction projects and which typically add 30% or more to the cost of a project. In Tapestry's case, it would add more than $1.5 million, putting the school's building expansion plans on hold.

Since their inception, charter schools had been exempt from this state law which, like its federal counterpart, the Davis-Bacon Act, applies to most public-works projects. Last month, however, state trial judge Michael Lynch upheld the new mandate, erroneously applying labor law to charter schools beyond anything intended by the legislature or precedent. The case is on appeal and will likely be overturned, but that could take years.

"Critics say there aren't enough charter high schools, but this latest hit makes it near impossible to afford to build one," Joy Pepper, Tapestry's co-founder and director, said. "How can it be good public policy for the state to raise the cost of school buildings when we get no capital money to begin with? It's the students they're hurting."

This ruling is an egregious example of the withering autonomy of charter schools. Charters successfully educate students on 70% of the funding spent by district school competitors. But the state's education bureaucracy, legislature and now the courts are all piling on regulatory burdens.

Before prevailing wages were imposed, Elmwood Village Charter School, a few blocks from Tapestry in the Allentown section of Buffalo, was able to renovate a long-abandoned building, helping to revitalize the neighborhood. "There is no way we could afford this state-of-the-art building and serve our students if we were forced to pay another 25% [because of] prevailing wage," John Sheffield, the school's director, said. "There wouldn't be a charter school here, and our kids would remain in district schools at an academic disadvantage, frankly."

In Albany, the Brighter Choice Foundation built a KIPP charter middle school -- absent prevailing wage -- for less than $7 million. It took only nine months and won praise from Albany Mayor Gerald Jennings, who said, "It's a beautiful facility, one that anyone would be proud to send a child to." By contrast, the Albany school district spent about $40 million to build a new middle school, thanks to prevailing-wage and other mandates.

The Brighter Choice Foundation wants to build other charter schools, including Albany's first public all-girls high school. That will be much more difficult if it has to adhere to prevailing-wage mandates. "If they don't fix this, artificially higher costs will guarantee that fewer students in needy urban districts will be ready for college," said Chris Bender, the foundation's director.

The charter school movement in New York, after thriving for nearly a decade, faces an uncertain future if the state continues pushing charters to be more like the failed bureaucratic schools from which charter students fled. Prevailing wage is one way to stop the charter revolution in its tracks -- which may be the point, sadly.

- Amy H. Friedman is co-founder and chairperson of Tapestry Charter School. Peter Murphy is policy director of the New York Charter Schools Association.


Right to Work states prosper

Economic Growth Lags in Forced Unionization Labor-States

A fellow named Will Franklin over at Willisms.com has done some number crunching and he has discovered that states that support a right to work policy grow at a much higher rate than states that are awash in forced unionization.
From 2004-2007, no Right To Work state grew less than 5.1%, while fifteen Forced Unionization state grew below that level.

Meanwhile, while America’s GDP growth from 2004-2007 by 8.4%, Right To Work states grew by 10% on average, while Forced Unionization states grew by only 6.2% on average. The median Right To Work growth rate was 9.2%, compared to the median Forced Unionization rate of 4.9% (the national median for all states was 7.3%).
As expected, it appears that unionism is an albatross, a mill stone around the necks of the workers limiting the success and growth of a state.

Of course, this will not sit well with the “two Americas” types on the left in this country. As Will points out, the side that they are on is the side of failure and a stifled economy. So, good luck with that concept, there.


L.A. teachers reject jumbo dues hike

Union leaders out-of-touch with rank-and-file

The 38% dues hike (see below) proposed and authorized by the leadership and representative bodies of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) was defeated by a 2 to 1 margin in a rank-and-file vote.

The proposal did not garner 40% support in any area of the district, receiving just 5,713 votes overall. There were 11,413 "no" votes, which means that about 60% of UTLA members could not bother themselves to vote in an election to determine whether an additional $264 would be taken from their paychecks.

UTLA Wants to Raise Dues by 38%

As EIA reported three weeks ago, United Teachers Los Angeles was setting up members for a dues increase by comparing its $689.04 dues to other locals in California and elsewhere. But not since the Michigan Education Association extracted an additional $112 from its members have we seen such a bold and sizable dues hike.

UTLA leaders want to alter the provision of the union's constitution that currently sets dues at 1.5% of the minimum teacher salary and convert it to 1.5% of the average teacher salary. UTLA computes the annual increase at $264 – a 38% increase. Two weeks ago, the union's board of directors approved the plan by a 35-1 vote. It will go before the UTLA House of Representatives on June 4 and, if approved, will be subject to a rank-and-file vote from June 9-12.

The outcome of the vote is of less interest to me than the turnout. Rank-and-file voting for union officers is notoriously poor, especially in Los Angeles. What would it say if the members can't be bothered enough to at least vote their preference on whether they want large sums of money extracted from their paychecks?

I'm also struck by the appeal of UTLA President A.J. Duffy, who noted in his regular column in the May 16 United Teacher that the dues increase "amounts to 72 cents a day – far less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks." A similar comparison was used when the California Teachers Association enacted its huge assessment in 2005.

The Los Angeles Unified School District should try the same tactic. For the price of the UTLA dues increase, the district could save the jobs of a couple of hundred classroom teachers. Isn't that worth a daily cup of coffee?


SEIU organizers mass in Denver

Roughly 200 people sporting purple shirts, multicolored picket signs and even brooms and mops rallied Tuesday at Denver Civic Center to support janitors. The Service Employees International Union Local 105 is negotiating with about 25 cleaning companies to renew a master contract for the janitors that expires June 28.

The turnout, which included Rep. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, fell short of the 500 organizers expected, but SEIU president Mitch Ackerman said he was pleased with the number. "People really want to see the janitors succeed here," he said.

The contract will set the next four years' wages and benefits for more than 2,000 janitors, who clean 600 office buildings in the metro area, SEIU spokesman Jason Bane said.

Representing nine of the contractors, Mountain States Employers Council president Mike Severns said negotiations, which started a month ago, are in the later stages and that he hopes to wrap them up by today.

The union is asking for four main things, Bane said: more full-time work, a more reasonable workload, wage increases and extending family health care to janitors outside of downtown, where full-time janitors already receive the benefit.

The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute found the self-sufficiency wage for an adult in Denver County is $7.52 an hour. As of January, the contracted start wage for janitors is $8.10, Bane said.

"With rising food costs and fuel prices, those people are in much tighter spots," Bane said.


Opinion: AFSCME members are good for Philly

City's top union official backs dues-payers over outsourcing

Many Philadelphians don't realize that our public-health centers aren't staffed entirely by civil-service employees. In fact, the city Health Department relies heavily on contracting and outsourcing rather than hiring workers directly.

The problem? The city pays higher salaries plus at least 10 percent more in administrative costs, to the entities employing the workers. Result? - fewer dollars available for patient care.

These outside entities serve as a giant temp agency that costs the city a small fortune.

It eats away at the department budget, and hurts our ability to move forward with a robust workforce and knowledge base. These agents include the Philadelphia Mental Health Care Corp., Philadelphia Health Management Corp., Planned Parenthood, Hahnemann, Drexel, Temple, Mercy and Penn.

Surprisingly, even though the city does not pay health and pension benefits for these contracted workers, it still costs the city more to pay these contracts than it does to hire workers directly and provide health and pension benefits through union contracts. For example, a nurse practitioner from Mercy is paid a salary of $109,200, while a nurse practitioner employed by the city makes $63,926.

Last fall, District Council 47 (DC 47) of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees studied the difference between Health Department contract employees and city workers.

While the last administration's lack of transparency made this information hard to obtain, we sampled 136 contract employees at the department and learned that the difference between them and city employees in equivalent positions was more than $5 million and that if these workers were city employees we'd save over $1 million!

The reasoning behind contracting and outsourcing is often attributed to a cumbersome hiring process, a chafe between civil- service rules and grant-funded positions (in that grant positions need to be filled quickly and often need to be temporary) and general difficulties filling professional positions through the civil- service process.

It doesn't have to be this way.

We can provide quality health care with city employees if we improve and streamline the hiring process for open positions. Among the first changes the city should make is to hire more people in our central and health personnel offices.

One reason behind complaints about the time it takes to fill positions at the health centers and the centers' long lines is insufficient staffing due to insufficient staffing in personnel. These unseen but critical positions were lost during the last two administrations. When the hiring process stalls, positions go unfilled. The bottleneck is so significant, the two previous administrations circumvented their own process and often hired through the mayor's office and managing director's office.

This is a costly trick that needs to change. We hope that the mayor's commitment to full staffing at health centers stays at the top of his administration's priority list.

We also need to address how the city fills grant-funded positions at the Health Department. A money-saving measure agreed to in 1996 making new hires for grant positions civil service employees if their grant is extended beyond two years only needs the approval of the Civil Service Commission.

Working in the Philadelphia Public Health System can be a more attractive option for health care professionals. The city should lobby for state legislation that provides loan forgiveness to health-care professionals who work in public health. New York and Massachusetts are ahead of the curve as both states have implemented or expanded loan forgiveness to physicians who work in underserved areas.

We should look toward legislation to include cost effective incentives for health professionals like doctors, pharmacists, podiatrists and physicians assistants.

And salaries must be increased. The health centers, for example, are desperate for pharmacists, but lack of competitive pay hurts. Additionally, the city should ease residency requirements to allow for the hiring of much-needed pharmacists and for other needed health center employees

Finally, let's together create a real management and worker training budget in the City's Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) and let's make the technological upgrades to bring the City into the 21st century. If the City Personnel Departments were more technologically advanced, we would be able to predict - through DROP - when, for example, we were going to lose a critical mass of nurses, or doctors or another discipline in 5 years. Knowing, planning and training for vacancies due to promotions and/or an exodus will keep vital positions staffed and would be more cost efficient in the long run.

We know that Mayor Nutter cares about public health and sound fiscal policy. We want to work with him to look closely at cost savings and improved health-care delivery at our health centers. If we have a fully staffed Personnel Department and hire, nurture and train our own city employees, we will be better able to provide health care to Philadelphians.

- Cathy Scott is president of District Council 47, AFSCME, the city's white-collar union.


SEIU takes dues hit from labor-state privatization

Council ignores union's objection, will likely pay the price at reelection time

Saginaw City (MI) Council members approved a three-year, $225,000-per-year contract for a makeover of the controller's office. The city will hand the reins to Plante & Moran, an accounting firm with 10 Michigan offices, Tuesday, July 1. The move eliminates four positions in the controller's office and shifts work to at least two of Plante & Moran's workers, City Manager Darnell Earley said.

Officials estimate the three-year deal will save the city about $150,000. Saginaw needs to privatize some operations to save money and fix years of inadequacies in the quality of the work, supporters said.

The decision received some opposition during Monday's council meeting.

Anderson Johnson, president of Service Employees International Union Local 517, which represents the workers in City Controller Pat Mindykowski's office, said city officials should have given the union a chance to counter the proposal to Plante & Moran.

Mindykowski, who essentially lost her job with the council's decision, has said the office needs change but insisted "senior administration" had ignored her suggestions. Earley said he's never received such recommendations.

In addition to Mindykowski, the workers who could lose their jobs are accountants Rene Fulgencio and Nancy McTaggert. A fourth position, for deputy controller, is vacant.

Saginaw contracted Plante & Moran earlier this year to oversee fiscal services in the financial department and propose changes; that $73,200 pact expires next month.


Teamsters offer to share savings with district

Radical gambit to kill privatization scheme, save union-dues

Everybody has a plan. And on Monday, the Teamsters Local 79, a group that represents 250 Collier County (FL) School District custodians, revealed its plan, which would save the district millions without having to outsource its janitorial services.

The union believes it can save the district $5.69 million in fiscal year 2009, and $7.36 million in fiscal year 2010. Under the plan, the district would switch insurance plans, going from a self-insurance plan and moving the district’s more than 5,700 employees to a multi-state, multi-company plan that would save the district an average of $81.84 per employee for the remainder of 2008.

The union said the district could continue its policy to pay 100 percent of employees’ coverage while paying less per employee. Randy Pines, chief negotiator for Teamsters Local 79, said the consortium would mean better insurance for the employees, too.

“If we can get the employees better coverage and save the district more money while saving 250 jobs, so be it,” he said.

This afternoon, Superintendent Dennis Thompson will outline his proposal to privatize custodial services, including potential savings and costs, and recommend hiring GCA Services Group during the School Board’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

Following Tuesday’s presentation, Thompson will recommend that the School Board vote to privatize custodial services effective July 14.

On Thursday, it will be up to the Collier County School Board to decide who has made the better case.

If the board approves the recommendation, 250 custodial positions — including full and part-time custodians, head custodians and custodial attendants — will be eliminated. The plan will save the district more than $3 million.

The custodians have found an ally in the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. In a letter to Board Chairwoman Linda Abbott that was copied to all School Board members, Chamber Board Chair CJ Hueston asked that the School Board postpone Thursday’s vote.

“Taking the time to reach out to the public, to share all data, to seek balanced input, to listen and consider all alternatives before making this dramatic and historic decision, seems prudent and reasonable. It will also speak volumes about the desire of the School Board to be adroit, sensitive and credible,” Hueston wrote.

“May we also suggest, as you proceed through the months ahead to explore professionally prepared and appropriately presented balanced public policy decisions impacting on local business that you consider the recent positive deliberations of the Collier County Board of Commissioners to wherever possible and practical you give every consideration to local businesses?” the letter states. “After all, they are those who contribute to the tax base supporting our schools. And most importantly they employ citizens who entrust to your care our most precious resource: our children.”

School Board members cannot postpone the vote because the district must present its proposed balanced budget to the state on July 1, according to School Board Attorney Richard Withers.

Members of the public are welcome to hear the superintendent’s presentation at the Committee of the Whole meeting. The Collier County School Board’s chambers can accommodate 300-plus people. The meeting will also air live at 3 p.m. on The Education Channel, cable 20.

Those wishing to speak on the issue will likely have three minutes to make their case.

“They will have three minutes unless there are a whole lot of people who want to speak,” Abbott said. “We will get into the meeting, see how many people want to speak and go from there.”

Abbott said she will also check on the possibility of having a translator for those who would like to make comments, but who may not speak English.

Abbott said she and her fellow board members are preparing for Tuesday’s presentation by reviewing information provided by the district.

“We have to focus on our main task, our main goal to educate the students,” she said. “But we also need to provide a clean place and a healthy environment for our students.”

The district notified custodians that they could possibly lose their jobs by mail last week, according to a letter written by Allun Hamblett, the district’s executive director of human resources, to Pines.

Although Hamblett’s letter does not say which company the district is interested in hiring, the Committee of the Whole agenda indicates Thompson will recommend the board hire Knoxville, Tenn.-based GCA Services Group. The company also has a contract to clean schools in the Rockford, Ill., school district, where Thompson served as superintendent before being hired to lead Collier’s schools.

According to the Committee of the Whole agenda, GCA Services Group’s proposal will save the district about $3.2 million in operational costs and about $200,000 in capital funds for fiscal year 2009.

The district estimated custodial cleaning costs, including costs of custodial supplies, equipment repair and other supplies, at $12.75 million for fiscal year 2009. GCA Services Group has proposed to do the same work for $9.54 million in fiscal year 2009. The company’s fee will increase to $9.83 million in fiscal year 2010 and $10.13 million in fiscal year 2011.

GCA Services Group indicated that current Collier County School District employees who take a job with GCA would be paid the highest wage in the range, which is $9.75 an hour to $14.50 an hour, depending on the job classification. GCA’s proposal also indicates the company would like to hire all existing Collier County School District custodial employees, subject to the company’s hiring requirements.

In his letter, Hamblett said the district would work with the School Board’s selected vendor as soon as possible in hopes of assisting employees who want to continue to work at the schools.

“I understand how difficult this is for the employees and families impacted by outsourcing the custodial needs of the district; clearly, a decision like this is not taken lightly,” he wrote.

Related Posts with Thumbnails