Baristas strike v. Starbucks, issue demands

Related Starbucks stories: here

Are 'wobblies' making a comeback?

Baristas at the Mall of America Starbucks walked off the cafĂ© floor today and delivered a demand letter to management calling for just treatment of all employees affected by Starbucks’ closure of stores nationwide. The surprise job action comes in the wake of the coffee giant’s announcement that it will close 600 stores, including 27 in Minnesota.

The baristas demanded an option to transfer to other stores and a fair severance package for affected workers. Starbucks reportedly plans to give workers just one month notice before laying them off with a paltry two weeks’ pay. The company will insist that some baristas transfer and will revoke severance pay if transfer offers are refused.

The protesting baristas are members of the Starbucks Workers Union, which is a campaign of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union. Starbucks previously backtracked on its refusal to disclose which locations would be shuttered after the union and others condemned the company for leaving workers in a nerve-wracking limbo.

The store action makes the Mall of America location the first Starbucks in Minnesota, and the first store in the Mall of America, to have a public union presence.

Erik Forman, a barista at the store recently fired for union activity, said, “With the skyrocketing cost of living, workers have no other choice than to stand up for improvements on the job. The alternative is a continued decline into poverty and a degraded quality of life for working families. But this doesn’t have to happen. Our message is hope- even at Starbucks in the Mall of America, we can organize and fight!”

While portraying itself as a ‘socially-responsible’ employer, Starbucks pays baristas a poverty wage of $7.60/hr. In addition, all retail hourly workers at Starbucks in the United States are part-time employees with no guaranteed number of work hours per week. According to Starbucks figures released to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 40.9% of its employees (including managers) are covered by the company health care package, a lower percentage than the oft-criticized Wal-Mart, which insures 47% of its workforce.

Since the launch of the IWW campaign at Starbucks on May 17, 2004, the company has been cited multiple times for illegal union-busting by the National Labor Relations Board. The company settled two complaints against it and is awaiting a decision by a judge in New York on more than 30 additional rights’ violations. Starbucks’ large anti-union operation is operated in conjunction with the Akin Gump law firm and the Edelman public relations firm.

The IWW Starbucks Workers Union is a grassroots organization of over 200 current and former employees at the world's largest coffee chain united for secure work hours and a living wage. The union has members throughout the United States fighting for systemic change at the company and remedying individual grievances with management. The SWU has been especially active in New York City, Chicago, and Grand Rapids.

Union baristas, bussers, and shift supervisors have fought successfully toward improved scheduling and staffing levels, increased wages, and workplace safety. Workers who join the union have immediate access to co-workers and members of the community who will struggle with them for a better life on the job.


Michigan Unions Out-of-Bounds

Related 'Reform Michigan' stories: here
Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Is forced-labor unionism part of the problem or part of the solution?

With Michigan in a state of economic despair and transition, the Legislature needs to remove all obstacles to change. Unfortunately, the largest obstacle standing between the state and recovery is only worsening the situation. The recent petition to "Reform Michigan Government Now" and the recent decision by Volkswagen to build a manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., rather than Michigan, only prove that organized labor is a significant roadblock to prosperity.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a labor union is "an organization of workers formed for the purpose of advancing its members’ interests in respect to wages, benefits, and working conditions." This is a noble goal, and there is no doubt of a need for safeguards against abuses by employers. An average worker who puts in an honest day’s work deserves the best wages and benefits available, as the market dictates. However, at some point in our nation’s history, the labor movement diverted from this goal of helping the common worker to one where it plays a vastly large role in the political system, spending members’ dues on various political campaigns and causes. This would not be such a concern if employees gave that money freely to support political causes with which they agree, but Michigan law forces mandatory dues and union membership as a condition of employment. This practice needs to end, and the best way to accomplish this is through a right-to-work law.

There is the possibility of a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would dramatically alter the size and structure of Michigan’s three governmental branches. This proposal would not only reduce the number of justices and judges on the state courts, but would also change how legislative boundaries are redistricted. These are only two of 31 separate questions that the population will be deciding. If the issue is approved to be on the ballot, state law requires the complexities of the issue — the petition runs more than 19,000 words — will have to be boiled down to 100 words or less for voters.

The group in charge of seeing the proposal come to fruition, Reform Michigan Government Now, has contended the proposal is non-partisan, but refuses to release the source of the funding. Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney revealed he helped initiate the proposal, and has said the "AFL-CIO will probably help going forward" with funding. The Mackinac Center, however, has revealed a PowerPoint presentation presented to union leadership that blatantly outlines the partisan goals of this proposal.

Why are labor unions devoting time, energy and possibly members’ dues towards this proposal? Simple. The only way to protect organized labor’s political interests (and its power) is to align with the beneficiaries of this proposal. This deceptive method to maintain power over a membership that does not have a choice in belonging to a union is unjust and unfair.

Volkswagen, which earlier this year chose to move its North American headquarters from Michigan to Virginia, officially announced last week its plans to open a new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. This move is not surprising, and hardly the first time Michigan has lost in an effort to attract new business opportunities to the state. Although Michigan has prime real estate and a ready-made, experienced manufacturing workforce, we consistently lose these economic opportunities. The power that organized labor wields in the daily lives of Michiganders has a negative impact on attracting potential growth. Various union officials will have you believe that these businesses just want to pay lower than their own inflated scale wages. The larger and more realistic fear is that of work stoppages. Business cannot survive with the constant threat of strikes, as Michigan’s economy is finding out the hard way. The main enticement southern states have in their possession that we do not is a right-to-work initiative that protects employers and employees alike.

A right-to-work law would increase union accountability, which in turn would force union leadership to focus on representing the needs of their members in the workplace, not at the ballot box.

- Jim Vote is a graduate student at Wayne State University and a labor policy intern at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich.


Two-faced ACORN

Related ACORN stories: here

Insiders expose inconvenient truth for organized labor

I totally agree. I currently work for ACORN, and have personally dealt with condescending attitudes towards me because of my age and the color of my skin. I feel sorry for those who work in the field, risking their lives for a paycheck. The organizers are looked upon as “low-skilled” and ignorant. Unless one has worked for (survived) ACORN for at least 10 years, they are treated with absolutely no respect. This has to stop. The management skills of some the superiors of the organization are absolutely incompetent. They are placed in these positions of power, not because of merit, but because they have allowed themselves to become members of the “cult.” The work atmosphere is very uncomfortable. One would think that after numerous lawsuits for incompetence of supervisors, that this would change. WRONG. Employees are still afraid to ask questions or say the “wrong thing” because of fear of being fired. It is funny how the #1 fan of unions is actually ANTI-UNION when it comes to their employees.

The work dynamic of ACORN reminds me of a “Get Rich Quick” scheme: Organizers are trained and lied to, only to be placed into an office that is drowning in debt. Some have gotten lucky and become successful, while the remaining 98% remain hopeless, drained, and absolutely BROKE. Hopefully Bertha Lewis, the interim director, will turn this whole mess around. Community organizers and other ACORN workers deserve the workplace respect and LIVING WAGES THEY WORK SO HARD FOR OTHERS TO RECEIVE. It is a crying shame that ACORN was run with such hypocracy and disdain for the poor.

Hopefully, there are better days ahead for this organization. Although the management is questionable, there are still workers and volunteers who are dedicated to promoting TRUE SOCIAL JUSTICE in their communities. It is unfortunate that their work has been overshadowed by the ignorance of a small few. I encourage these workers to keep working and fighting for the issues they believe in. ACORN NEEDS MORE LIKE YOU TO SURVIVE.

Although the Wade Rathke have given us all a chance and opportunity to earn a living working for what we believe in, his archaic (and demeaning) way of management is no longer tolerable. Transparency is the key for success in any company. Workers AND MEMBERS do not deserve to be kept in the dark about anything dealing with any issue affecting the organization. A CHANGE IS NEEDED AND THE TIME IS NOW TO DO SO.


- anonymous


Workers use secret-ballot vote to reject union

Arab, Alabama workers show why Dems demand card-check

Employees at Hyco-Arab, by a 20-vote margin, elected to remain union-free Wednesday. Representatives for The National Labor Relations Board were in Arab (AL) Wednesday to conduct the election, in which employees turned down unionizing the company 65-45. The NLRB is expected to certify the vote within seven days. Art Zimmerman, manager of the Arab plant, said he is happy with the results. "We have good people working here at Hyco," he said. "Now we can move on with the business of satisfying our customers."

Hyco employees build hydraulic cylinders, and about 120 of the workers were eligible to vote on the union issue.

Management, engineering and clerical employees were not eligible to join a union.

Some employees blamed the election results on "Hyco's anti-union consultants that were hired to fight us."

Flyers from the company urged a "no" vote.

"Join with us and stand together so that we and our families might have a more promising future at Hyco," the flyer read. "It's about us and our families and having a real voice in our future at Hyco.

Hyco owns six plants, two in Germany, one in Brazil, two in Canada and one in Arab. All are unionized except one in Canada and one in Arab.


Employers quake in fear of EFCA

More EFCA stories: here
More card-check stories: here

Organized labor drools over dues-flood

Union “card checks,” the EDGE program endowment and infrastructure repair may join health care, lawsuit reform and other perennial concerns on The Oklahoma State Chamber’s list of key issues for 2009. President and Chief Executive Richard P. Rush released a tentative list of legislative issues Monday, noting the agenda’s final status remains in flux as 30 State Chamber committees stocked with volunteers work through this summer to identify business concerns and positions.

Although the issues were listed in no particular order, Rush said the first one could be the top concern for 2009: the Employee Free Choice Act. Expecting the issue to come before Congress next year, Rush said many unions had geared up to push for the card check legislation.

The effort would do away with secret ballots when deciding whether employees would join a union, which Rush feared would raise public scrutiny and pressure to encourage positive votes.

Rush said The State Chamber is working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several national associations in forming a coalition against the union effort.

The EDGE endowment fund makes the tentative list not just to secure more funding, which now sits at $150 million, but also to let businesses know that the state now has $13 million from this program for further research and economic development prospects.

The possibility of boosting that endowment to $1 billion also remains on their minds, said Rush. That would generate $50 million a year in interest for EDGE prospects.

Immigration reform remained a key concern, said Rush, although it did not actually appear on the tentative list. The issue fits with the chamber’s drive to improve worker education and skill sets, since both help attract more business to Oklahoma.

“We’d love to grow them from within,” Rush said of high-quality workers. “That’s the primary goal. “But if we can’t grow them, we’d better import them,” he said. “Otherwise the business will move to where they can get them. Keeping American business in America – that’s the future.”

Last year the chamber fought legislative efforts to put sunset clauses on several business incentive programs. Expecting such arguments to rise again, the chamber included keeping these promises on its tentative 2009 agenda.

Although scattered across the list, Rush said both lawsuit reform and health care could place near the top. He said the same of transportation infrastructure repair, even though those costly bridge and road repairs could siphon off funds from other projects.

On the other hand, Rush said the chamber is considering a stand against any move over water supply concerns until researchers complete work on the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan, which he admitted may take until 2011.

The agenda amplifies policy goals within The State Chamber’s five-year strategic growth plan, a program Rush started when he came to the organization in 1986. Then a five-employee staff with an annual budget of $458,000, Rush said the five-year plans helped the lobbyist organization focus its efforts and resources, charting growth with each success. Having accomplished 87 percent of all stated goals on its five-year plans to date, the chamber has grown into a $3.7 million organization with 21 employees, benefited by a Champions Program that provided a new foundation for its development.

Rush also spoke highly of the developing Prosperity Project, which polls prospective lawmakers to help voters understand a candidate’s business positions. He hopes to expand the project to judicial positions.

“I’ve had seen no tool prove more effective in 36 years of my chamber work,” he said. The State Chamber of Oklahoma tentative key issues for 2009:

• Protecting a worker’s right to a secret ballot.
• Lawsuit reform for small business development.
• Support of strong economic policies.
• Additional funding for the EDGE endowment fund.
• Common education system support, including paying teachers by their rated effectiveness.
• Protecting state tax and economic incentive programs.
• Support of programs for affordable health insurance, accessible health care and medical training.
• Regional airport modernization.
• Support of economic development and tax-increment financing laws.
• Increased funding for state road and bridge repairs.
• Opposing major changes to state water supply laws until completion of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan.


Teamsters strike v. Coca-Cola, day 9

Related Teamsters-Coca-Cola strike stories: here

Strikers now question their own endurance

Monday marked day nine of a Teamsters strike at the Coca-Cola Consolidated Bottling Plant in Vancleve (MS), and still no progress has been made. Coca-Cola is proposing to stop pension plans payments and put more money into workers' 401k plans. But striking workers look at the move as a big financial loss.

Under the company's proposed plan, workers would receive higher wages, and the company would switch from a pension fund to putting more money into union members' 401k plans. But 18 year employee Bobby Kovacevich believes the proposed plan does more harm than good.

"The older guys will lose up to $500-$700 out of their pension per month," Kovacevich said.

Kovacevich said Coca-Cola has not contacted union leaders to work out a new deal. He said, until that happens, his fellow union members will continue to walk the picket line.

"I think they are wanting to see how long we can hold out in these economic times, and I know we are hurting... they are hurting too," Kovacevich said.

"It's hot, and its going to get harder and longer because a lot of these people don't have a lot of money to live on," union member Richard Miller said.

Coca Cola Spokesperson Lauren Steele told WLOX News, "Coca-Cola has made a very generous contract offer, especially in light of the current economy. This does not make any sense for them to walk off their jobs and not make money."

"I think they are trying to bust this union up," Kovacevich said.

"Hopefully the union and Coca-Cola start talking and get this settled and get back to work," Miller said.

According to Steele, the strike will not affect customers in South Mississippi and surrounding areas.


Collective bargaining ads air on TV

More EFCA stories: here
More card-check stories: here

Unions want to see your secret-ballot

There are two ads that have run on local television stations, about changes to union organizations. They focus on the private ballot issue, and tell people to keep the privacy option. Voting in the open is also called card check neutrality. The issue is over the Employee Free Choice Act, or EFCA, proposed federal legislation that stalled last year in the Senate. The ads are sponsored and paid for by the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. The Duluth Chamber is part of the coalition.

Andy Peterson, public policy director at the Chamber, said that keeping union organizing voting private is very important.

AFSCME Council 5 leadership says the Employee Free Choice Act is not about private voting. Eric Lehto said it's about making it easier to form a union, and that card check neutrality is not mandated.

One of the ads focuses on Senator Norm Coleman and Senate candidate Al Franken. The EFCA legislation stalled in the Senate last year. Coleman does not support EFCA, Franken does.


IAM on strike in N.C. but can't hold picket line

Scabs make picket-line violence a possibility

Union workers at the Moncure Plywood plant in Chatham County are on strike today after rejecting the company's contract offer. Workers are picketing outside the plant after going on strike Sunday at 9 p.m., said Melvin Montford, business representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Montford estimated about 90 percent of the 206 workers in the bargaining unit have gone on strike. The remainder are crossing the picket line.

Issues dividing union workers and management, according to Montford, include: seniority rights, the company's right to hire temporary workers, overtime, worker drug testing, health insurance premiums and the creation of a joint committee comprised of management and union workers to improve safety at the plant. Wages are not a major issue, he said.

Executives at Moncure Plywood, which is based in Moncure, couldn't be reached for immediate comment. The plant, which produces hardwood plywood used in upholstered furniture, was sold by Weyerhauser to Wood Resources of Greenwich, Conn., in December 2004.

After the union's three-year contract expired April 30, the two sides continued negotiating with the assistance of a federal mediator. But talks broke down Tuesday after the company made a final take-it-or-leave-it proposal, Montford said.

Items in the company's proposal that the union objects to include increasing the cost of health insurance for families by $80 to $90 a month and increasing the number of hours that employees can be required to work each week from 50 to 60, Montford said.

"With a 60-hour mandatory clause, they could work people seven consecutive days for weeks without a day off," Montford said. "You know, even the slaves got off on Sunday."


Barack won't let Big Labor down

Collectivism, discredited around the world, surges in the U.S.

On June 26, the AFL-CIO brass officially endorsed Barack Obama for president. With Big Labor's largest umbrella organization — and its member unions — pouring unprecedented resources into the general election campaign, the public ought to fear the legislative payback that would ensue if Obama were elected.

Indeed, Big Labor is launching its largest political campaign in its history, and this year, more than ever, Big Labor means Big Money. The two largest union coalitions — the AFL-CIO and the "Change to Win" Federation, a coalition of labor unions formed in 2005 as an alternative to the AFL-CIO — admit that they will spend at least $300 million on federal elections alone. When combined with political action committees, local unions and other union funders, at least $1 billion of pro-union money is being dumped into electioneering. You can bet the union bosses expect a lot of "change" from Obama next year on labor law. An Obama administration — possibly coupled with a filibuster-proof Senate — will feel a real sense of obligation to repay Big Labor that supported them.

Top on the Big Labor agenda is the "Employee Free Choice Act" (EFCA), which is better described as the Employee 'No Free Choice' Act. If it passes, employees would be subjected to a "card check" system which effectively requires them to declare publically their support or opposition to unionizing their shop. Without the protection of the secret ballot, workers would be subject to coercion and deceptive practices by pro-union forces. Mandatory card check union drives will mean that millions more American workers will be forced to join unions and facing the "choice" between paying union dues or being fired. Both President Bush and John McCain have said they would veto this union power grab, while Obama is a co-sponsor and leading advocate.

Another pro-union bill on the fast track is the misnamed "Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act." If it becomes law, the bill would force state and local governments to collectively bargain with union officials over all contracts involving police officers, firefighters, and paramedics. This would be required even in "Right to Work" states that currently guarantee workers the right to choose whether or not to join a union. Public safety employees would no longer be permitted to bargain individually and could be forced to accept the union's "representation" — like it or not. The bill would also facilitate union efforts to stamp out the proud tradition of volunteer firefighting. It would create massive unfunded mandates by imposing significant additional costs on state and local governments which are not reimbursed by the federal government.

Like the other bills, the police and firefighter unionization bill has so far been blocked — barely — in the Senate, backstopped by a Bush veto threat. But it would likely be unstoppable under an Obama presidency. One of Obama's pet projects is the Patriot Employers Act, which he introduced last August. The bill offers incentives — in the form of tax breaks — to employers that comply with a litany of Big Labor demands. To get these tax breaks, companies need to agree to eliminate secret ballot elections for unionizing in their shop and to enforce a gag rule on truthful speech about the downsides of unionization.

An Obama White House will also seek law changes that prohibit permanent replacement of striking workers. Under current law, an employer has the right to continue operating during a strike by hiring replacement workers. In advocating a ban on striker replacements, Obama's message is clear — union-ordered strikes would be automatic winners, and American workplaces would come to a screeching halt in the face of extortionate union demands.

Obama would also invariably promote the ultimate, though rarely spoken, goal of Big Labor: ending the rights of "Right to Work" states to preserve the rights of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union. All Right to Work protections would be eliminated by repealing Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act. Without this provision, forced unionism would prevail in all states, and states could not protect private sector workers from union demands to pay dues to them as a condition of employment. This would be a huge win for unions and pro-union candidates — literally billions of additional dollars in new coerced dues would flow into Big Labor's coffers which could be used to support pro-union candidates. So the union bosses have found their man. With their billion-dollar bet on Barack Obama, they know that the payoff of new union coercive powers will be worth the trouble.

- Mallory Factor, a Charleston resident, is a financial consultant and the co-founder of The Monday Meeting, a New York-based monthly gathering of economic conservatives and corporate leaders.


ACORN welcome at Tides confab

More ACORN stories: here

Leftist charity gathers in SF to share what's working

I'm sitting here at Momentum watching Alex Gibney, director of Taxi to the Dark Side, talking about waterboarding, Gitmo, and how America descended into a country willing to torture and even kill people, even if they're innocent (as many Gitmo and Abu Ghraib internees have turned out to be). And he's doing so in a calm, rational voice, certain that his audience is sane, too. Just the sound of it is a good thing.

There's a reason people attend church even when their religion doesn't demand it. The converted need to be preached to sometimes, just to remain invested. So if nothing else, meetings like this are always inherently useful, even necessary.

Unfortunately, that's sometimes all that results from these things. I've been to a few conclaves where a pep rally would have gotten just as much done.

So are we learning anything here? Yep. Partly because of the quality of speakers and the convention's unusual structure: 18 minutes per speech (make your point, show what works, and get off), and no formal Q&A periods but plenty of roaming face time, made possible by a strictly limited head count (300 people here, total).

You could call the format elitist, but it would be a strange description for a bunch of people fighting for immigrant and labor and women's rights. Call Tanya Harris, an ACORN activist who has devoted herself to rebuilding the devastated Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, elitist, and I think she'd just laugh gently in your face and get back to work.

It's an eclectic mix — microloan lenders, health care experts, environmental activists, you name it. The main thing the speakers seem to have in common: they've actually succeeded at something, and they're sharing their knowledge about what works. That's refreshing.

Right this minute, psychology professor Drew Weston is discussing how to communicate progressive values (which the majority of the public shares on an overwhelming number of issues) by "shaping and activiating neural networks" in voters. It's sound science married to basic neurology — which is to say, really just good basic marketing — but it's also something the left is still learning.

Here: look at these six words:

Ocean moon glasses chair faith floor.

Now, name a laundry detergent at random. What's the first detergent that comes to mind?

Tide, probably, simply because of the preset association with "ocean and moon," etc. (Readers of Prisoner of Trebekistan will recognize this from the memory techniques I learned for Jeopardy.)

Simple, powerful, and (sadly for us all) poorly understood by lefties. Weston is now illustrating how the GOP has brilliantly done this for years, turning the positive word "liberal" into "latte-drinking, Volvo-driving, anti-American," etc. (Also probably the root of the impulse to call 300 activists meeting privately "elitist.")

And now Weston is now moving into how concise conservative messaging is, contrasting it with the muddled, unfocused messaging of progressives. (Using the word "progressive" now because the word "liberal" has been soiled in such an Orwellian fashion.) If you've read George Lakoff, this is nothing new, but it's stuff that every successful activist absolutely needs to understand.

And now he's demonstrating some specific reframes. On national security, for example, the proper frame isn't specific policy arguments, since they can't address either the underlying emotions or principles. The proper frame: "if we detain people without hearings, wiretap our own citizens, and torture people on mere suspicions, the terrorists have won, because we have given up everything our country has stood for."

Let's all say that together now.

So this really is a useful gathering. That's nice to say and mean. Even when a few of the presentations have felt a little gee-whiz, remapping history with a Steve Jobs shine, they've still been provocative.

Granted, we're still a bunch of primates in here, so there's a serious amount of networking going on. One gathering last night felt much like many Hollywood parties I've been to, with people talking about their projects and sniffing out who could help whom mostest. But that's unavoidable. Hell, Gandhi's people probably used to elbow each other for position. It's a human thing.

And at least here, unlike Hollywood, the people desperately trying to save the world aren't fictional and carrying machine guns.

But even here, there are still disturbing glimmers of our own quiet despair to overcome. One speaker last night quoted Obama's inspirational refrain "we are the ones we've been waiting for," itself a quote of Maria Shriver quoting Alice Walker quoting June Jordan and singers Sweet Honey in the Rock, all of whom were quoting a traditional Hopi saying.

Believe it or not, a few feminists actually got visibly pissed — hearing the uplifting phrase not as inspirational, but as a misogynist slam against women, I guess because the speaker didn't verbalize a string of footnotes while trying to move people at the climax of an 18-minute speech.

Yes, misogyny sucks, anytime it actually occurs — but so does self-disabling instant-on anger at your own allies. Getting from there to what works seems to be part of what this conference is supposed to be about.

And even here, where everyone is already Involved to the hilt, we primates still seem to need an alpha male to get the troops truly psyched.

Last night, Sen. John Edwards swung in, chatting for an hour about hunger and poverty with a depth I wish had been possible during the campaign.

Not a bad way to start, even if it's an accidental reminder of just how broken our electoral/media system truly is.

Speaking of one's own quiet despair... ahem.

Onward ...


Teamsters suspect dues ripoff by employer

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Don't cheat the toll on toll-collectors

The Teamsters want to pry open the Massachusetts Turnpike’s books to make sure they’ve been getting as much money as called for in a union contract. The administrator for a Teamsters fund has sued the Turnpike to gain access to payroll records so that union Local 127 can determine if the Pike is setting aside enough money for its “legal services” program.

Under a recent contract, the Pike was to pay 12 cents to 15 cents for every hour worked by hundreds of Teamsters, up to 40 hours a week per union member.

A spokesman for the Turnpike said the authority is complying with the contract and contributed $165,000 to the union fund in fiscal 2008 and $205,000 in fiscal 2007. The Pike hasn’t reviewed the suit yet and couldn’t comment further, the spokesman said.

Matthew Dwyer, an attorney for the Teamsters, said the union isn’t accusing the cash-strapped Turnpike of underpaying into the fund. The union just wants to see the books to verify accounts - and the Turnpike won’t let it do so, he said.

Teamsters Local 127 represents about 500 toll collectors, maintenance workers, couriers, mechanics and other employees working at the Pike.


SEIU 1199 negotiators take a summer break

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Jumbo union needs time-out for '08 political training

Negotiations with state worker unions have gone smoothly so far, but the largest general-government union is taking a two-week break from talks, and tough pay issues are on the table. The Washington Federation of State Employees talked with the governor's team for three days last week but did not come to a deal. Now it's suspending discussions for two weeks as leaders attend a national union convention and the annual meeting of the Washington State Labor Council.

"Normally we don't have that kind of scheduling conflict, but it just worked out that way," union spokesman Tim Welch said. "I don't think it will be a problem at all."

A coalition representing all union state employees reached an agreement on health-care terms in a single day this month. The deal keeps the same 12 percent to 88 percent split between workers and the state on health-insurance premiums.

Contract pieces regulating workplace conditions also have gone smoothly so far, according to the federation and other unions.

Leonard Smith of Teamsters Local 117 noted this is the third round of bargaining under the laws allowing unions to negotiate pay, and that could be speeding the pace.

"It may be the parties are used to it now. And ... the hard stuff is always left to the end," he said.

The state economic forecast has been trimmed repeatedly, and legislators are bracing for a shortfall next year. That could make it more difficult to talk Gov. Christine Gregoire — who is up for re-election this year — and her team into pay raises.

The Teamsters union, representing workers inside state correctional facilities, is entering pay issues now, Smith said.

The budget has to be balanced, he said, but added, "You've got to attract and retrain good employees."

The Teamsters in particular and unions in general won added pay raises two years ago for job classes that were more than 25 percent behind the pay of peers in the private sector or local government.

Raises beyond cost-of-living adjustments are still on the table because many jobs are still 25 percent behind, Smith said.


Diane Leigh, the head negotiator for Gregoire, said her teams are talking about pay at almost every bargaining table now.

The exception, she said, is Service Employees International Union 1199, which represents state nurses at hospitals and at the Department of Health. Talks with that local have not begun, she said.

And although the federation won't start talks for its 30,000 general-government members again until Aug. 12, there are still plenty of negotiations happening.

"We have negotiations scheduled almost every day for the next several weeks," Leigh said.


Did Barack work for ACORN?

Related story: "Foreign collectivist pays Barack's shock troops"

Voter-fraud trail shifts direction

John Fund's "Obama's Liberal Shock Troops" (op-ed, July 12) has some facts wrong. The historic nonpartisan drive to increase voter participation that Barack Obama led in 1992 wasn't for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, but for Project Vote -- of which I was the national director in 1992.

Instead of accepting far more prestigious and better paying offers, Mr. Obama accepted a grueling job with Project Vote for a meager salary. He believed so much in the democratic process that he even gave up the contract for publication of his book, not knowing whether he would ever find another publisher. He brought a broad spectrum of community organizations into that effort, conducting what remains the most successful nonpartisan voter drive in Illinois history.

Project Vote remains a separate organization today. Indeed, it wasn't until after Mr. Obama's tenure had ended that it began to conduct projects more frequently with Acorn than with other community-based organizations.

Both Project Vote and Acorn should be proud that their efforts have increased voting. Acorn should also be proud of its other work, including winning minimum-wage increases and helping lead the fight against predatory lending and unfair foreclosures.

Mr. Obama's willingness to sacrifice because of his deep commitment to strengthening the democratic process is something that all Americans should applaud regardless of their party or politics.

- Sanford A. Newman, Takoma Park, Md.


Privatization infects labor-state

Prevailing wage forces town to confront the proper role of government in a free society

The town's days of hosting weddings could be numbered. North Andover (MA) Selectmen are considering allowing a private company to take over the town-owned Stevens Estate — an 1886 mansion with a carriage house and lush gardens and trails — because the town has lost money running it in the last couple of years.

"We can't allow this to continue," Selectman Richard Nardella said at a recent meeting. "We need to find ways to make the estate pay for itself." The estate closed fiscal 2008, which ended June 30, $180,000 in the red, he said.

The town purchased the 150-acre estate on Lake Cochichewick in 2004 for $4.9 million after Boston University sold it to a developer who planned to put houses around the lake.

Since then, Nardella said, the town has done more than $1 million worth of repairs and maintenance at the estate.

Part of the problem is that the estate is trying to compete with privately owned function facilities, which aren't required to follow the same rules as a publicly owned building, according to Town Manager Mark Rees.

For instance, because the town owns the Stevens Estate, it must pay the prevailing wage for repairs. Prevailing wage is the minimum hourly wage set by union contracts for work on public construction projects, which raises the price.

Kevin Willoe, president of the Stevens Estate board of trustees, said the estate has also had employee, building and marketing issues. He credits the new director, Laura Gifford, with drawing more bookings to the estate. He said the board is now focused on getting out the word about the facility, including throwing an open house in the fall and inviting the community to tour the estate.

He said the board would consider privatization if that would be the best thing for the estate.

"Longer term, I think we can turn this around, and if that means outsourcing, we support it," he said.

The town received two proposals for privatization after one round of bids. One company proposed taking over the operations of the current facilities. Another wanted the town to sell nine acres, where the company would build a function hall. The company did not give details on how that hall would be related to the current buildings on the Stevens Estate.

Nardella said any major changes, such as a sale of land, would require a vote by Town Meeting. If approved, the town would have to solicit more bids before selling land.

The estate is run through an enterprise fund, meaning whatever the estate makes goes back into running it. The enterprise fund can carry a deficit for one year. If the deficit lasts beyond the next year, costs may have to be covered by the general budget.

Selectman Rosemary Smedile said the town has been making repairs and redecorating the property in hopes of attracting more events.

"Improvements up there have been overwhelming," she said. "Business is really up."


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Rep. Douglas Bruce said Monday that accusations of sexual harassment leveled at him - accusations dismissed for lack of evidence - were part of a conspiracy against him. Bruce said he received a letter Friday from Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff stating there was nothing to support the harassment charge made against him late in the session.

Romanoff, D-Denver, declined to comment Monday. Legislative rules on sexual harassment policy don't allow officals to confirm or deny such allegations.

While pleased with the outcome of a 2 1/2-month investigation, Bruce questioned the timing of its conclusion - a week after early voting began in his legislative primary race. He referred to his unidentified accuser as a "vicious lobbyist for a liberal cause" and wrote that the investigation into her accusations "shows how obsessed liberals are with removing me from office."

"Her claim was just delusional and paranoid, but it was despicable and vicious that the political establishment tried to twist it into something that it wasn't," Bruce said.

He said the woman claimed that he looked at her from a distance of 20 feet and smiled. Bruce said he does not know her.

The investigation occurred as Bruce is being challenged in his Colorado Springs district by political newcomer Mark Waller, whose backers include the two highest-ranking House Republicans. It also came after a session in which Bruce was censured, yanked off a committee and gaveled down on the floor - actions that leaders said were a result of his petulant behavior but that Bruce characterized as an effort to stop him from rocking the boat.

"The effect that (the exoneration) should have is it should cause people to say: 'Yeah, I suspected Bruce was being framed and this house of cards is starting to collapse,' " Bruce said.

House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, declined to comment on the allegations and noted only that Bruce had talked about them publicly.

"If there's a conspiracy, there's a conspiracy of one to self-implode," May said.


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