ACORN-Tides Foundation cash link probed

More ACORN stories: here
More Wade Rathke stories: here

Who is Drummond Pike? What is Citizens Consulting Inc.?

The head of a foundation that has funneled millions to liberal causes anonymously repaid $1 million embezzled from one of the organizations the foundation financially supports.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Drummond Pike secretly agreed to replace the money embezzled from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or Acorn. Pike is chief executive of the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation.

According to the Times, Pike was aiding Wade Rathke, the Acorn founder and a Tides Foundation board member, when he decided to buy the promissory note requiring the Rathke family to repay money taken by Rathke's brother, Dale.

Acorn discovered the embezzlement in 2000, but did not alert law enforcement officials. Acorn's management committee instead negotiated an agreement to have the Rathke family pay back the stolen funds. The Times reported the agreement was carried on the books of an Acorn affiliate, Citizens Consulting Inc., as a loan to an officer. Pike purchased the loan in June from the affiliate, according to e-mail messages from senior Acorn officials obtained by the newspaper in which they discussed how to keep the transaction a secret.

Acorn's Web site describes the organization as the nation's largest grassroots community organization of low- and moderate-income people, operating in 110 cities across the country.

Acorn has an Allegheny County chapter that most recently garnered attention in June, when its members marched through East Liberty to protest the upswing in mortgage foreclosures.

The Times reported that several Acorn affiliates have received money from Pike's Tides Foundation, which has provided more than $400 million to nonprofit groups since 2000. Much of the money flows out of donor-controlled accounts that Tides manages.

Tides received $8.3 million from 1994 through 2005 from The Heinz Endowments, chaired by Pittsburgh ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz.


Barack paid ACORN unit at least $850K

More ACORN stories: here

How long have Dems used tax-free charities for GOTV?

Irrefutable evidence indicates that Obama’s campaign has been doing business with CSI, which appears to have been operating fraudulently in the State of Maryland and Ohio, and ACORN, which has been associated with a laundry list of fraudulent business practices. The full nature of the relationship between ACORN and Citizens Services Inc. is not known but this much is clear: both share the same address in New Orleans and officials with CSI refer folks to ACORN for questions about “political consulting” and “Get-Out-The-Vote” activities. These are questions that mainstream media should examine.

According to Wikipedia, ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, was founded in 1970 as “a community organization of low- and moderate-income families that addresses housing, schools, neighborhood safety, health care, job conditions, and other social issues that affect its members.” Voter registration has been a major activity for the organization and ACORN has been working actively to register voters on behalf of the Obama campaign. According to the Milwaukee Journal Online,
The ACORN effort is part of a massive voter registration drive aimed at the fall presidential election, which is expected to pit Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois against Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Although voter registration and Get Out the Vote drives seem like noble activities, in fact, not all of ACORNs dealings have been legal, and once again ACORN is facing investigation for illegal voter registration:
Criminal investigations could be launched against at least six voter registration workers who tried to add dead, imprisoned or imaginary people to the voter rolls, according to the Milwaukee Election Commission and the organization that employed them.
This is not the first time that ACORN has been under criminal investigation. I have already looked at Obama’s connections to ACORN and put into context ACORN’s fraudulent activities during the primary election season here, and here. In fact, the same Wiki entry list five earlier indictments:
False registrations by employees

In some locations, ACORN employees have submitted false registration forms rather than obtaining registrations from actual eligible voters.

* In Ohio in 2004, four ACORN employees were indicted by a federal grand jury for submitting false voter registration forms.

* In January 2005 two Colorado ACORN workers were sentenced to community service for submitting false voter registrations. ACORN’s regional director said, “we find it abhorrent and do everything we can to prevent it from happening.”

* On November 1, 2006, four part time ACORN employees were indicted in Kansas City, Missouri for voter registration fraud, after being caught, fired, and turned in by ACORN. Prosecutors said the indictments are part of a national investigation.ACORN said in a press release that it is in large part responsible in these individuals being caught, and has cooperated and publicly supported efforts to look into the validity of the allegations.

* ACORN was investigated in 2006 for submitting false voter registrations in St. Louis, Missouri. 1,492 fraudulent voter registrations were identified.

* In 2007, five Washington state ACORN workers were sentenced to jail time. ACORN agreed to pay King County $25 000 for its investigative costs and acknowledged that the national organization could be subject to criminal prosecution if fraud occurs again. According to King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, the misconduct was done “as an easy way to get paid [by ACORN], not as an attempt to influence the outcome of elections.”
Indeed Obama has a long history of working with ACORN in his community organizing days in Chicago. A subsidiary of ACORN, Citizens Services Inc (CSI), is part of what John Fund of the Wall Street Journal calls “Obama’s Liberal Shock Troops”.

For example, a search for ACORN at the 1024 Elysian Fields Avenue address in New Orleans uncovers at least 70 different organizations operating out of that front. One of these, Citizens Services Inc, has received almost $1 million dollars from Barack Obama’s campaign in the last five months.

Citizens Services Inc seems to run under the radar and they do not advertise their services. In response to one of their board members, someone named Sunday Alibi, we were told that this work is done by ACORN, not Citizens Services. Citizens Services has worked on the Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) efforts for campaigns in at least two states, Maryland and Ohio.

First, they were involved in the Maryland Congressional race of 2006, which brought about an FCC complaint this year involving Representatives Al Wynn and challenger Donna Edwards, Wynn vs. Edwards. At the center of the complaint is Citizens’ Services Inc and several other ACORN entities. According to the Louisiana Secretary of State all three of these businesses work out of 1024 Elysian Fields Avenue, New Orleans, ACORN’s business address.

According Lori Sherwood, Wynn’s campaign manager, Edwards made three payments of $76,866.80 to Citizens Services Inc, for a door-to-door get-out-the-vote effort. It seems CSI listed as their business address, 11 Chase Street, Baltimore. When Ms. Sherwood checked the address she found no CSI/ACORN. Upon further examination by Ms. Sherwood, CSI was listed as a foreign company, which was false. Finally Ms. Wynn discovered that the company had forfeited their license to do business in Maryland two months after the 2006 primary race.

Secondly, I looked for CSI/ACORN “campaign consulting” fees in Ohio. I called the Secretary of State of Ohio to find out if they were listed as an active business and they were not. I did find the following businesses operating in Ohio, ACORN LLC, ZACORN (active fictitious name) and acorn.net. As there was no permit for CSI to do business in Ohio, clearly any GOTV activities were operating illegally in that state as well.After placing my call to the Secretary of State in Ohio, I found the following advertisement seeking workers for the Obama campaign, dated February 21, 2008. These are positions paid for by the Obama for America campaign. The full body of the help wanted ad can be found here: Obama Seeks Canvassers
GOTV for Obama! Ohio ACORN is doing a Get Out The Vote project with the OBAMA Campaign. Ohio ACORN is hiring canvassers to go door to door encouraging voters to vote for Barak Obama.

ACORN is hiring in Cleveland (216)431-3905 , Columbus (614)425-9491, Cincinnati (513)221-1737, for Dayton (call Cincinnati), and for Toledo call Cleveland. Or email polnatoh@acorn.org and your inquiry will be routed to the appropriate person in each of these cities. Intake and training will be held daily at local ACORN offices.

Canvass begins on Wednesday Feb. 27th and will work through election day. Please, only persons wishing to work all or most of these days (Saturday and Sunday included) should inquire.Please do not contact the Obama campaign directly regarding this post as they are not the organization doing the hiring and it will only distract their staff and volunteers from the other important work they are doing on behalf of Senator Obama. Good luck.
According to Ohio Citizen Action, payments of $590,526.10 were made to Citizens Services Inc (ACORN) for “campaign consulting”. I reviewed all the FEC filings from February until June for Obama for America (Obama’s campaign title) and found payments to CSI/ACORN. In all Obama for America made payments
totaling, $832,598.29 .

The FEC filings can be found here: Federal Election Commission.

Irrefutable evidence indicates that Obama’s campaign has been doing business with CSI, which appears to have been operating fraudulently in the State of Maryland and Ohio, and ACORN, which has been associated with a laundry list of fraudulent business practices. The full nature of the relationship between ACORN and Citizens Services Inc is not known but this much is clear: both share the same address in New Orleans and officials with CSI refer folks to ACORN for questions about “political consulting” and “Get-Out-The-Vote” activities. These are questions that mainstream media should examine.


News union briefing

AFL-CIO big Trumka bristles at Barack

Barack smacked down for straying from collectivist principles

As he prepares to accept the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama's allies in organized labor are worried that he is becoming too friendly with Wall Street types such as former Treasury Secretary and current Citigroup, Inc. senior executive Robert Rubin.

According to Bloomberg News, a recent presentation by Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO argued that unfettered global traded and inadequate government regulation resulted in lost manufacturing jobs. "It will do us little good if, when the next Democrat moves into the White House, Wall Street takes command of our country's economic policy," Bloomberg quotes Trumka's presentation as saying. The story adds that there is no doubt that Trumka is taking a shot at Rubin.

Trumka is unapologetic. The AFL-CIO already is flexing its political muscle and began looking at candidates for cabinet posts including the Treasury and Energy Departments along with the Federal Reserve. Obama's advisors deny that Rubin or anyone else has any particular sway over his economic policies. But there definitely is a tilt toward the center going on.

Obama, who backs union goals such as reopening NAFTA and universal health care, recently raised a few eyebrows when he seemed to accept the notion that he can't pay for these programs only through the capital gains tax. Last week, two Obama advisers wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the Illinois senator would only consider raising capital gains taxes from 15% to 20% instead of as high as 28%. That's no cause for celebration for investors, but the prospect of an Obama presidency is no reason to panic, either.

This weekend, the New York Times chronicled the battle between Obama and John McCain for the hearts and minds of businesses both large and small. Corporate types are not enthusiastic backers of McCain but are backing him since their favored candidate Mitt Romney got out of the race. Obama, though, does have his share of backers in the corporate world including Google Inc. Chief Executive Eric Schmidt. Warren Buffett has also advised him.

Organized labor knows that Obama needs their support. They are going to hold the Illinois senator's feet to the fire to make sure that he doesn't forget them even as he tries to make new friends at the boardroom level. It will be a tricky balance to maintain through the general election.


Hurried striker fatally strikes striker

Machinists strike turns deadly

A prayer vigil was held this afternoon for a Hawker Beechcraft worker killed early this morning when a truck driven by a fellow striking worker hit him on Greenwich. Jeff Hart, 45, died in the accident, according to the Machinists Union Local Lodges 733. The vigil was held at the Machinists union hall on MacArthur Road. The event was to have been a rally for the Machinists negotiations at Boeing Co.

"We know this a time of very solemn hearts," said Mike Burleigh, a union business representive who led the vigil. "We gather here today to think about Jeff."

Those who attended were Machinists represented employees at Hawker Beechcraft, Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems. They joined hands and prayed for strength for the family.

"We do not know why, but we want you to be here with this family," Burleigh prayed.

With a strike at Hawker Beechcraft and negotiations at Boeing, "we know that we have other things that we have to do,... but this is not the day for that," Burleigh said.

Linda Callen, a union steward at Hawker Beechcraft knew Hart.

"He was a nice man; he was very very friendly," Callen said. "And he was very kind."

Callen had been back to work only three weeks from having open heart surgery.

Despite the surgery, he wanted to walk the picket line to show his support of the strike, Callen said.

Hawker Beechcraft workers represented by the Machinists union went on strike Aug. 4 after rejecting the company's offer of a new labor contract.

The accident happened about 5 a.m. today in the 300 block of Greenwich Road just south of East Waterman Street. Hart was crossing from west to east across Greenwich when he was struck by a 1989 GMC truck driven by a 49-year-old Hawker Beechcraft worker.

Police said it appeared that Hart was running across Greenwich from an overflow parking lot near the old Palace Theatre toward a strike rally set to begin at 5 a.m.

The driver of the vehicle was southbound on Greenwich apparently trying to drive to a parking lot entrance that would allow him to park in the Palace overflow lot, police spokesman Gordon Bassham said.

Bassham said no charges have been filed in the case.

Some who took part in the rally Monday morning said the turnout had been strong and traffic was heavy at the time.

Rick Ward worked just a few feet from Hart on the Hawker 900 line in Plant Four. He was at the rally when he heard the news that Hart had been hurt. Ward went to the hospital where he learned Hart had died.

"I was totally shocked," Ward said.

He described Hart as a "freehearted person. I don't think he ever met a stranger."

In the workplace, "he'd always come up to me and asked if I needed any help from him," Ward said. "He was a very caring person."

A statement from Wood said that Hart had been member of the International Association of Machinists for two years.

Several Machinists provided CPR and assistance until police and an ambulance arrived, Wood said.

"Our thoughts and prayers today go out to Jeff's family," Wood said in the statement.

Donations for Hart's family are being collected today in every IAM-represented facility in Wichita, Wood said, and "we intend to do everything possible to assist the family of our fallen member. The Machinists Union is a family, and today we grieve as a family.a^

Hawker Beechcraft released a statement about 1:45 p.m. today, calling the accident a tragic loss.

"People across the company are deeply saddened that Jeff Hart passed away as a result of an accident this morning," said Andrew Broom, director of media relations and public affairs. "The company offers our most sincere condolences to his family and friends, and will be assisting the family during this difficult time."


Losing the game? Change the rules.

More EFCA stories: here

Barack: Unions are not a special interest group

We take it for granted that a vote means a secret ballot, but it was not always that way. Moreover, it will not remain that way for workers who vote on whether or not they want a labor union, if legislation sponsored by congressional Democrats and endorsed by Sen. Barack Obama becomes law.

Before there were secret ballots, voters dared not express their true preferences if those who watched them vote could retaliate — whether by firing them, beating them up or in other ways. Anyone who is serious about people being free to express themselves with their votes wants a secret ballot.

The problem for labor unions is that workers in the private sector increasingly vote against being represented by unions. The proportion of workers in the private sector who are represented by unions has fallen below 10%.

Since unions are losing the game under the current rules, their obvious answer is to change the rules. Specifically, they want to do away with secret ballots when the government conducts elections to determine whether the workers in a particular company or industry want to be represented by a union.

With labor unions being major supporters of the Democratic Party — spending hundreds of millions of dollars in this year's election campaign — it is hardly surprising that congressional Democrats have lined up solidly behind legislation to let union organizers simply collect signed cards from a majority of workers, in order to be certified as the officially recognized union for those workers.

Of course, the union organizers will then know who did and who did not vote for them. And they may have long memories or short fuses, or both. Moreover, the workers themselves know that, so they may find it prudent to sign up for a union, whether they want one or not.

This legislation passed the House of Representatives last year but did not make it through the Senate. "I will make it the law of the land when I'm president of the United States," Barack Obama has said to the AFL-CIO.

Sen. Obama has also said many times that he is against "special interests." But like most politicians who say that, he means that he is against other politicians' special interests. His own special interests are never called special interests.

Neither are the environmental extremists who support the Democrats called special interests. But the green zealots who have for decades blocked the country from using oil within our own borders — more oil than in Saudi Arabia, by the way — are also among the special interests with a big voice in the Democratic Party.

They are also a major factor in shutting down the democratic voting process — in this case, in the House of Representatives, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi refuses to allow a vote on drilling for oil in places where the green zealots don't want drilling.

The congressional Democrats could of course vote to continue forbidding drilling in those places. But voters paying $4 a gallon for gas are not likely to agree with the green zealots — and recent polls show that they do not.

Rather than lose votes in the November elections by voting with the green zealots, or lose the money that the green zealots contribute to the Democratic Party coffers, Nancy Pelosi simply shut down the House of Representatives, so that there could be no votes, and turned off the lights so that C-SPAN could not broadcast Republicans' speeches protesting what happened.

After all, what is democracy compared with support from the green zealots?

It is the same story when it comes to the teachers' unions, the biggest special interest of all in the Democratic Party. They not only contribute money, they can contribute people who walk the precincts on election nights, rounding up the faithful to go vote.

Even the Congressional Black Caucus dares not vote for vouchers or any other form of school choice that the teachers' unions oppose. Better to let a whole generation of black children be trapped in failing schools that employ union teachers.

But special interests? Not at all.


Labor lawyers warn employers about EFCA

More EFCA stories: here

Forcing unwanted unions on workers would damage job market

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) of 2007, if passed, would result in the most sweeping changes in federal labor law since the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was enacted in 1935, according to Littler Mendelson (Littler), the nation’s largest employment and labor law firm representing management. Passage of the EFCA hangs in large part on this year’s presidential election; therefore, voters should carefully consider its implications as the controversial legislation will endanger one of this country’s founding principles—democracy.

By changing the law and making it easier for employees to unionize, the EFCA would not only strip workers of their right to vote, it would also disrupt the balance of power between employers and unions in favor of organized labor. Senator Barack Obama, who vowed to pass the EFCA if elected, is an original co-sponsor of the bill, while Senator John McCain is strongly opposed to the EFCA and voted to block its continuance in the House.

The EFCA is designed to make union organization easier. It would amend the NLRA by replacing government-supervised, secret ballot elections with a “card-check” process that only requires unions to obtain authorization cards signed by the majority of employees; by requiring mandatory interest arbitration if an employer and a newly certified union are unable to reach a first contract within a specific number of days; and by imposing significant financial penalties for unfair labor practices committed by employers during organizing campaigns and first contract negotiations, but no financial penalties on unions for coercing or misleading employees to obtain authorization cards.

“As a law firm and leader in the employment and labor arena, Littler is deeply committed to the NLRA and its functions related to employers, employees and unions,” said Robert Battista, attorney in the Labor Management Relations Practice Group at Littler and former Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the federal agency created by Congress to administer the NLRA. “Unfortunately, we feel the EFCA will do serious harm to the principles of free debate and free choice that are now protected by the NLRA.”

Battista urges employers to educate themselves on the EFCA and its potential ramifications and to consider taking immediate action against passage of the legislation. He offers the following steps for employers concerned about the impact that the EFCA would have on them:
* Encourage trade associations and other organizations to engage in lobbying and education efforts regarding the EFCA. Many organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace have campaigns well underway to defeat or modify the EFCA and have posted information about these campaigns on their Web sites

* Let their representatives and senators know that they oppose the bill. Employers can learn how their representatives voted on the EFCA in 2007 through the Web site for the Library of Congress, and use this information to express their support or disappointment

* Communicate their position on this issue to candidates running for House and Senate positions in the 2008 elections, and let them know that their position on this important legislation may influence the way in which employers vote

* Draft letters to the editors of local newspapers and find other opportunities to promote public awareness of the impact the EFCA would have
Battista contends that an alternate way of dealing with the EFCA is its amendment so that a more palatable version is ultimately enacted into law. Including safeguards to balance the potential for union abuse of the “card-check” procedure, and removing the binding arbitration provision, would likely result in a bill that could be more easily tolerated by most employers.

To speak with Robert Battista, attorney in the Labor Management Relations Practice Group at Littler and former Chairman of NLRB, about the EFCA, please contact Jenn Myres at (619) 234-0345 or myres@formulapr.com.

About Littler Mendelson

With more than 700 attorneys and 45 offices in major metropolitan areas nationwide, Littler Mendelson is the largest law firm in the United States devoted exclusively to representing management in employment, employee benefits and labor law matters. The firm’s client base ranges from Fortune 500 companies to small-business owners. Established in 1942, the firm has litigated, mediated and negotiated some of the most influential cases and labor contracts in the nation's history. For more information, visit www.littler.com.


Stern struggles to damage-control scandal

Related Tyrone Freeman stories: here

Audit trail could lead back to Andy Stern

Today a representative of the Executive Board of SEIU Healthcare United Long Term Care Workers, Local 6434 ("ULTCW") filed a letter of complaint with SEIU International against United Healthcare Workers-West ("UHW-W").

In the letter written to President Stern and the SEIU International Executive Board, Joyce Hayashi -- an elected Vice President of ULTCW and member of its Executive Board exposed the fact that UHW-W is calling ULTCW members to solicit their participation as plaintiffs in a lawsuit against President Tyrone Freeman.

"This latest attack on ULTCW once again speaks to the unfortunate extremes UHW-W leadership will take to fuel their war waged on SEIU, its programs, and those who support its vision in order to redirect public focus off of their own internal issues surrounding the investigation and legal action taken by its own members for the improper transfer of $3 million of dues money into an outside fund," wrote Hayashi.

Hayashi also points out that this is not the first attempt by UHW-W to attack ULTCW. In a previous letter sent to President Stern and the SEIU International Executive Board, President Freeman outlined UHW-W's concerted efforts to interfere in ULTCW internal elections by sponsoring ULTCW member Eva Lozada's protest of our election -- in addition to being bankrolled by them.

In closing, Hayashi called on International to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter and take the appropriate action.


Preventing unionization

Newspaper offers 'survival guide'

As unions ramp up local activities in a bid for growth, more local businesses will find themselves working with organized labor. Here's a primer on how to get along before, during and after contract talks:

Know your corporate practices. We're not talking about what your employee handbook says. We're talking about the stuff your company actually does. Unions that research companies they're negotiating with often find disconnects between written policies and actual procedures, said Edwin Keller, a partner in the Las Vegas labor law firm of Kamer Zucker Abbott. Typically, the status quo that existed when the union entered is what you must maintain in your labor agreement. Try to impose a handbook rule that doesn't exist in practice, and the union could accuse you of making unilateral changes in employment agreements. That could violate federal labor laws. You could end up in front of the National Labor Relations Board defending your company against unfair labor practices, rather than spending your time negotiating a mutually-beneficial contract, Keller said.

Pinpoint your priorities before you bargain. Ask yourself what corporate policies and practices you most want to preserve, and what policies need changing. Your general counsel might spend days arguing with the union over vacation protocol, only to report back to human resources and find department heads cared far more about sick leave.

Develop informal lines of communication. Bargaining meetings can include as many as 60 people advocating for the union or the company.

"Some sessions can turn into circuses," Keller said. "There can be a lot of posturing on one side or the other."

That's why it's essential for just one or two lead negotiators on each side to get together occasionally outside formal labor talks. Just grabbing a cup of coffee before a session can help each side understand where the other party is coming from.

"I can recall situations where the union representative would say, 'This is a real hot-button issue for some people who'll be there today, so let's both make sure we don't ratchet up the tension level by giving short shrift to it or making offhand comments that can be taken wrong,'" Keller said.

Educate your managers on the new contract. Contract-administration training helps your managers know basics ranging from vacation-time seniority to proper layoff procedures. If you botch a vacation request because you don't understand the new agreement's rules, you could have some minor aggravation on your hands. Or you could end up on the wrong side of a serious grievance procedure. Either way, some contract training can prevent big mix-ups.

Share information with the union. The union has a legal obligation to represent all its members equally. It can't always do so if an employer doesn't give details during a grievance process. If you're taking a union member through a disciplinary process, or if you're having trouble interpreting a contract, provide as much information as you can so the union can effectively cover its members.

Keep in touch. Regular post-contract discussions with union officials can head off smaller concerns before they become full-blown grievances, Keller said.


Perhaps the most effective way to avoid strife with organized labor is to prevent union entry into your business. Here are some tips that could help:

Make your pay and benefits competitive. Perform regular salary and benefit surveys to ensure the compensation you offer is up to snuff when compared with competitors in your market.

"If you think everything is fine even though you're paying $3 an hour less than the competition in wages and benefits, you're asking to be organized," Keller said.

Keep up management training. When the economy tanks and companies look to cut expenses, supervisor training often goes out the window. But good management skills are essential in department heads who have immediate contact with employees. The best technical skills don't mean much if a manager doesn't communicate well, or if he fails to understand why he shouldn't dress down poorly performing employees in front of their coworkers.

"There's an old adage out there that bad employees don't bring in unions -- bad supervisors do," Keller said.

At a minimum, find a two- or four-hour management class that will review labor laws and impart basic people skills. Labor law firms, including Kamer Zucker Abbott, often offer such courses.

Be consistent. Implementing policies and procedures fairly and evenly can head off discontent among employees. Applying rules differently could send disgruntled workers into the arms of the nearest labor union.

Boost communication in uncertain times. Keller said he frequently sees unions enter the picture when corporations experience big changes. The departure of a key executive or the sudden attrition of departmental managers can make workers nervous. Be up front with your work force about what's going on.

"If the employer is not communicating with employees and assuring them that things are OK during a transition, they will look for that support and input from a third party," Keller said.


Corrupt NY Carpenters get more oversight

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Labor-state union proves difficult to clean-up

Citing continued corruption, a federal judge has ordered a one-year extension of government oversight of the New York City carpenters’ union, which has spent 14 years under supervision.

Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. of Federal District Court in Manhattan pointed to widespread off-the-books work and the bribery convictions of several shop stewards in ordering the extension in a decision issued on Friday. Under the government’s supervision, Judge Haight and an independent investigator oversee the union.

The union, the New York City District Council of Carpenters, which represents 25,000 carpenters, had asked Judge Haight to end the supervision, saying that the union was no longer under the influence of the Genovese crime family. The union signed a consent decree in 1994 agreeing to court-appointed supervision after federal prosecutors filed a civil racketeering lawsuit alleging that organized crime figures held sway over the union and assigned mob-linked workers to high-paying and no-show jobs at many sites, including the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

The carpenters’ request to end supervision was undercut last week when a dissident candidate in a union election was harassed and assaulted at a candidates’ forum that was held in the auditorium of a Catholic school in Manhattan.

According to witnesses and accounts provided to the union’s independent investigator, the candidate was beaten unconscious outside after the meeting on Aug. 5 by a group of men who had been yelling during the forum.

On Monday, in response to the assault, Judge Haight issued a memorandum urging union leaders to ensure that there would be no more beatings at candidates’ forums. He also directed the union and the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan to inform him of the results of a Labor Department investigation into the attack.

Judge Haight rejected the union’s assertion that the standard for ending court-ordered supervision should be whether mob control of the union had ended. The judge, accepting the arguments of the United States attorney’s office, instead concluded that the standard should be whether all forms of corruption and labor racketeering had been eradicated.

Judge Haight cited federal criminal cases brought against the construction contractors On Par, Boom Construction and Tri-Built, which prosecutors said had saved on wages and benefit payments by employing carpenters off the books, with shop stewards often being bribed to turn a blind eye to the practice. The contractors paid far less into the health and pension funds than they were supposed to, prosecutors said.

Judge Haight wrote that the shop stewards and other union officials “played vital roles in facilitating, enabling or abetting the employers’ fraud” by failing to supervise job sites or keep track of hours worked.

The judge also noted that rank-and-file carpenters had reported serious corruption earlier this decade. Investigators later found that out-of-work political supporters of union leaders were frequently allowed to jump the job-referral line and were assigned jobs before many carpenters who had been out of work longer.

In asking that supervision be continued, the United States attorney’s office cited a “culture of corruption that continues to impede efforts to fight that corruption.”

But Judge Haight accused federal prosecutors of “hyperventilation” about the extent of corruption. He wrote that the “outer and visible signs of organized crime influence have been significantly reduced” and that the union officials and Genovese family members involved in corruption in the early 1990s have “departed.”

He said he took the advice of William Callahan, the union’s independent investigator, who said an important test for ending the supervision was that the union “will be able to police itself without court and government supervision.”

Judge Haight concluded that this was not the case. “The record,” he wrote, “makes clear that massive job-site corruption was taking place from the 1990s through 2006.” He also pointed to a recent indictment alleging that the Genovese family had the ability to manipulate the district council, local unions and certain contractors through early 2004.

While praising the union’s reforms, including changes in the job-referral system, the judge wrote, “It is too early to tell whether recent reforms will achieve the purpose of showing whether the union can police itself without supervision.”

He also asked whether the union’s internal culture could change so that rank-and-file carpenters would no longer be scared to speak out about corruption.

“The district council must demonstrate that the union’s efforts to combat corruption have reduced the frequency and scope of corrupt practices to the extent that this court is convinced that the union and its constituent locals can adequately police themselves, without further government involvement and court supervision,” Judge Haight concluded. “At the present time, the district council has not made that showing.”

The assault last week on the dissident union candidate, William Davenport, undermined the union’s assertions of a change in its internal culture. Mr. Davenport, according to several accounts, was heckled when he spoke at the union meeting, which was attended by about 500 members. Despite the presence of two retired police detectives hired to maintain order, a group of men stood up in the front rows and screamed, according to one longtime union dissident who was there.

“It was disgraceful — thugs took over the meeting,” said the dissident, Eugene Clarke, a member for 49 years. Mr. Clarke, who did not see the assault, said the group yelled insults at Mr. Davenport and threw a roll of toilet paper at him when he was on the stage.

When candidates running on the slate of an incumbent, John Greaney, spoke, the crowd was less raucous, Mr. Clarke said.

In a separate decision issued on Friday, Judge Haight rejected the United States attorney’s request to replace Mr. Callahan as the independent investigator.

The government said that Mr. Callahan had not been aggressive enough in unearthing corruption. But Judge Haight said he was satisfied with Mr. Callahan’s performance saying that Mr. Callahan, like his predecessor, Walter Mack, was working diligently to ferret out job-site corruption.

Judge Haight said corruption had declined, thanks in part to Mr. Callahan and Mr. Mack, but too much remained. For that reason, he chose to extend Mr. Callahan’s term for two years.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Mr. Callahan called it “an important decision that reaffirms our credibility.”


Teamsters out on strike v. Ford

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Militant union fails to stop production in labor-state

Teamster workers at Ford's Louisville Assembly and Kentucky Truck plants went on strike yesterday after contract negotiations broke down between the union and Auto Port, a contractor Ford hired this year to load new vehicles onto railcars for shipment.

The strike, which involves about 435 workers, is not affecting production at the plants, said Ford spokeswoman Angie Kozleski. She said the auto company had contingency plans in place but declined to describe the measures.

Disputes over the railcar-loading work began soon after Ford announced the switch from contractor RCS Transportation of Shelbyville to Auto Port, a subsidiary of Toronto-based CN International.

Auto Port, which had won a three-year contract for the work, notified Teamster employees that they would be out of a job June 1, but invited them to interview for their old jobs at less than half their former hourly pay of $20 to $22.

A compromise allowed the Teamsters to stay on at reduced wages, but with the same health and pension benefits. Details of a final contract were to be worked out later, but "negotiations broke down Friday, and they refused to meet with us," said Fred Zuckerman, Teamsters Local 89 president. "As a result, we set up picket lines today."

The two sides deadlocked on job security issues, Zuckerman said. "That's always been the biggest issue."

Under the Teamsters' national contract, "we have the ability to follow the work from one employer to another, and they will not agree to it," Zuckerman said. A spokesman for CN International did not immediately return a call seeking comment late yesterday.

The Teamsters also filed a lawsuit Friday against Auto Port in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. The union charged that the company had agreed to arbitration regarding disputes over remaining sick days and personal leave days for the former RCS employees.

The suit alleges the Teamsters won the arbitration, but that Auto Port refused to abide by the decision. Claims in a lawsuit represent only one side of a case.

Kozleski declined to comment on the suit or other issues in the dispute.

Zuckerman said the Teamsters "will continue to picket … until we can resolve our differences," but acknowledged that Auto Port may seek to replace the striking workers.

"This is a very important issue for us," Zuckerman said.


"Go where the money is ... and go there often."

Willie Sutton guides unions' desert success

The national headlines tell stories of unions in retreat, of organized labor groups facing record-low membership numbers and fewer retirement benefits for their workers. But unions in Las Vegas seem to have missed that message.

Labor experts say organized labor in the Silver State thrives today, and they point to sustained organizing and bargaining efforts as evidence of a healthy union climate here. "Las Vegas has been on the radar screen for the labor movement for many years now," said Daniel Cornfield, a sociology professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. "It probably won't go away."

Added Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara: "Las Vegas is the center of unionism in the country. Everyone is watching, because there's a lot of activity going on and all sorts of things happening."

Take the tussle between local electric utility Nevada Power Co. and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 396. Nevada Power wants to reduce union workers' pension benefits by up to 70 percent in a bid to protect the company's long-term bottom line; IBEW officials say the company can afford current benefits, given the 40 percent increase in net income the utility posted in the second quarter. Neither side is yielding, despite their labor contract's expiration in February.

Or look at the bitter fight between the Service Employees International Union and the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee. The nurses' group attempted in May to wrangle representation of 1,100 St. Rose Dominican RNs from the SEIU, forcing an employee election that split workers but fell three votes shy of winning representation outright. Contested votes and pleas to the National Labor Relations Board followed. A runoff election is pending.

From the AFL-CIO's Building Justice campaign to organize residential construction workers to Culinary Local 226's efforts to unionize locals casinos, area unions are agitating for more members and richer benefits. The share of Nevada workers belonging to unions is 15.4 percent, up from 13.8 percent in 2005 and higher than the nation's 12.1 percent. Local union officials say the ailing local economy, with its rising unemployment and its falling government revenue, could give them an important assist in further boosting their share of the state's labor market.

"This (economic) environment is very clearly an opportunity for workers to organize," said D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of Culinary Local 226. "If you notice when workers really organize in this country it is during a depression, not during good economic times. What's going to happen is that all the cuts that companies have done where workers don't have a collective bargaining agreement, when the economy gets better and they start rolling around, most of the time they don't restore those cuts. Those cuts become part of the landscape."

The economy isn't the only factor set to bolster union fortunes in Las Vegas.

An area's political climate, including its "managerial-legal framework," plays a large role in fomenting organized labor, Lichtenstein said. And in its managerial-legal setup, Las Vegas offers a friendly environment to unions: The Culinary maintains mostly positive relationships with the resorts that employ its 60,000 local members. The deals local unions work out with employers amount to a "sort of de facto abridgement of right-to-work laws" that prohibit making union membership a condition of employment, Lichtenstein said.

Also important to the expansion of organized labor: prevailing union sentiments. There, too, Las Vegas offers benefits to unions. With organized labor's heavy penetration in the resort sector, workers in other industries are well-acquainted with unions and thus more comfortable with their presence. Plus, Las Vegas houses a growing number of Latino immigrants, a demographic that Lichtenstein said tends to harbor strong, pro-union leanings.

"You might have a Latino construction worker whose sister works in a hotel, and he hears about hotel maids who can buy houses," Lichtenstein said. "He'll say a union is a good idea."

Most of the favorable sentiment about unions locally is based on the relatively good relations that the Culinary has had with casino companies.

The Culinary has contracts with most of the major Strip and smaller downtown casinos, the big exceptions being Las Vegas Sands and Station Casinos -- two companies the union has long targeted.

Taylor refused to discuss current organizing efforts. But on July 18, Culinary members descended on various resorts owned by locals operator Station Casinos, the largest nonunion gaming company in Clark County to protest.

New York Times labor writer Steven Greenhouse recently described the Culinary union as "unusually farsighted," and the "most successful union local" in the country.

Greenhouse's new book, "The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker," dedicates three pages to the union's rise from 18,000 workers in the late 1980s to nearly 60,000 members today.

The expansion happened as unions nationwide shrank with the modernization of factories and the off-shoring of U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Other unions are joining the Culinary in ramping up local organizing and negotiating activities.

The 7,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers Local 711 continues to picket retail giant Wal-Mart, even as it negotiates new contracts with Albertsons, Food 4 Less, Smiths and Vons. Union officials have said they see Wal-Mart, which has 13 local supercenters and 11 area neighborhood markets, as a long-term growth opportunity.

Unions that used to organize industrial factories now want other avenues to curtail their decline.

The United Auto Workers, whose labor force at General Motors shrunk from 400,000 in 1970 to 74,000 last year, according to Greenhouse, trolled Atlantic City casinos for new members.

Following the UAW's lead, the Transport Workers Union of America is organizing dealers along the Strip through its Las Vegas Dealers Local 721.

After failing to organize workers inside 10 Las Vegas casinos in 2001, the TWU found success at Wynn Las Vegas, where dealers angry over the resort's tip-sharing policy voted for union representation in May 2007. Dealers at Caesars Palace followed suit in December.

The TWU suffered a defeat in mid-July when nearly 60 percent of the Rio's dealers rejected it.

Unions aren't relying on gaming alone for their growth.

Labor officials are increasingly focusing on industries that provide personal and professional services such as entertainment and tourism. They're also chasing the home-building sector, health care, retail and services related to hospitality, such as caterers and launderers, Lichtenstein said.

Those targeted growth areas put Las Vegas right in the path of labor union management and organizers.

The AFL-CIO launched its Building Justice movement in 2006. The campaign, focused on the home-building sector in Nevada and Arizona, has involved more than 5,000 workers, many of whom work for subcontractors of Michigan-based housing giant Pulte Homes. Union representatives and workers have distributed pamphlets outside Pulte's local new-home communities, and they've held news conferences that feature local construction workers discussing their treatment on the job. They've also picketed residential job sites belonging to Pete King Construction, accusing the contractor of poor safety practices.

Pulte officials have countered that they don't employ the staff members of subcontractors, and they're not responsible for the relationships between subcontractors and their workers. They've also said the AFL-CIO is targeting Pulte in its organizing campaigns to generate publicity.

Pete King executives have said they field regular visits from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to make sure their safety practices are up to snuff. They countered that the union is more interested in organizing Pete King workers than it is in safety, and they believe unions have targeted Pete King for its large business volume and its big employee base.

Shifting political winds could also have implications for local union growth.

With the 2009 Legislature now six months away, some unions are weighing legislation to send to Carson City.

One of the most public issues, with 12 deaths on Strip construction sites since December 2001, is safety.

Steve Ross, a Las Vegas city councilman and secretary-treasurer of the Southern Nevada Building and Construction Trades Council, said his organization is looking at legislation that would require union and nonunion contractors to adopt stricter safety standards, including OSHA safety training for all workers.

"We look at the industry in general," said Ross, whose trade council contains 17 construction labor unions. "We want everyone protected."

Ross is also looking at promoting labor agreements for public works projects, and keeping more of them in the hands of in-state contractors.

He plans to present the Legislature with proof of unscrupulous contractors that underpay workers, pocketing the money.

"We want to save the taxpayer money," Ross said. "Someone's walking away with the money and stealing it. The worker's not getting it. We think we have a pretty good case."

And November's presidential election will also affect the expansion of organized labor.

Lichtenstein said unions would benefit more from a Barack Obama presidency than they would a John McCain term. That's because Obama would likely emphasize providing universal health care, which would remove health benefits as a common sticking point in union negotiations and allow organized labor to focus more on what Lichtenstein said they do best -- negotiate over grievances and wages.

What's more, Lichtenstein said, Obama is more amenable to the Employee Free Choice Act, a proposed federal law that would replace secret-ballot union votes with card-check procedures. Unions say the act would make it easier to organize a company, because the bill would protect workers from anti-union speech and actions that employers undertake before secret balloting. Employers say the law would make organizing easier because card checks aren't anonymous, and that would leave workers open to union intimidation.

Obama supports the Employee Free Choice Act, while McCain would veto the bill, Lichtenstein said.

"Although the promised land will not be reached with Barack Obama as president, he will be much better for unions than John McCain," Lichtenstein said.


Teamster mini-strike gets the job done

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Bus drivers employ typical labor-state tactic

Some folks have places to go ... but no way to get there. That’s what hundreds of people are faced with in Racine (WI), after city bus drivers went on strike Monday morning. If you were looking for a bus ride in Racine Monday, chances are, you had trouble finding it ... because bus drivers went on strike Monday after contract negotiations fell apart.

As Racine city bus drivers picketed outside their headquarters Monday, their buses sat empty, and their passengers were wondering where they were. “We were on our way to the doctor’s office, and were waiting to catch the bus, and now we basically have to walk down there,” Manuel Guajardo said.

Guajardo and Gail Draves thought the bus would be coming Monday morning, until TODAY’S TMJ4’s Jay Olstad told them it wasn’t.

“I have a bad knee as well. We’re going to have surgery on it, so that’s kind of hard for me,” Draves said.

Both of them have health issues and depend on the buses.

“We’ll have the drivers get back to work today if they’re willing to work with us. They know what our issues are,” Local Teamsters 43 Union Rep. Wes Gable said.

Gable said the issues involve insurance and jobs. The drivers work for Professional Transit System, which manages busing for the city.

Here are the sticking points: PTS doesn’t want to insure retirees and plans to shift some union jobs into management, moves they claim have to be done because of sky rocketing fuel prices.

“We’re hoping they can recognize that times are tough. Our offer is as good as we can make it and I hope they come back to work soon,” Curtis Garner with PTS said.

Until they do, the buses will sit empty ... and some people only have one option to move forward.

“A lot more walking,” one person said.

Workers will be striking as long as it takes. Now, people who ride the buses are stuck in the middle.

Because of the strike, the busing company claims nine dialysis patients were not transported to their clinics Monday. The company says it will have vans available for those patients Tuesday.

The mayor and union met Monday afternoon to try and resolve the strike.


AFSCME takes dues hit in labor-state

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Excessive labor costs force gov't union layoffs

Duluth Mayor Don Ness said 169 employees received layoff notices as part of a plan to balance a $6.5 million budget shortfall. The layoffs announced Friday included 28 full-time, permanent employees and will have short- and long-term impacts, officials said. "It's a major change for us," said City Assessor John Gellatly, who will lose two appraisers. "But I can't specify or quantify things right now."

Two branch libraries in the Woodland and West Duluth neighborhoods are now closed until at least the end of the year. The hours at the main library will be scaled back starting Sept. 1.

The beach house at Park Point is closed for the rest of the summer with the layoff of lifeguards.

Ness previously said Monday that 217 jobs would have to be cut, but to reduce the number of laid-off employees, Ness said his administration will seek to impose four unpaid days off for all employees who are not in public safety jobs.

"There is a shared feeling of disappointment that this has become necessary," Ness said. "But even as people share their disappointment, the vast majority also recognizes the necessity for difficult decisions and hope by addressing these lingering issues head-on that we will get to the point where the city will be more stable financially."

The cuts were spread through nearly all departments but were heaviest in parks and recreation, libraries and maintenance. Parks lost 58 employees, including five full-time. Libraries lost 33 employees, including nine full-time. Public Works and Utilities lost 65 employees, including five full-time.

"They're the people that mow the grass, water the lawns, tend the rinks, deliver the senior meals. The list goes on and on," manager John Grandson said. "They take care of traffic lights, plow streets they do whatever they're told."

The city's largest labor union urged any laid-off members to file grievances with the city, and also will file a grievance over forcing employees to take unpaid days off.

Deb Strohm, a representative of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and an employment counselor with the city, said the union wants the administration to cut all part-time employees before touching full-time employees.

AFSCME Local 66, which includes 543 members out of more than 800 city employees, will hold a news conference Monday on the steps of City Hall to speak out against the cuts and argue that they weren't necessary.

"Why does the city have money to continue to provide services to all of our visitors and tourists, but doesn't have the dollars to spend to retain employees who provide services to Duluthians?" Strohm said.


Laborers haul out giant rat again

Related story: "Union label: 20 ft. inflatable rat"

Typical union threat, intimidation in labor-state

No, Halloween didn’t come early this year: The 16-foot-tall inflatable rat bearing beady red eyes and menacing yellow teeth posted outside Selinsgrove Elementary School on Monday was part of a union protest.

A Harrisburg-based asbestos workers union, the Mid-Atlantic Laborers Association, travels throughout eastern Pennsylvania with a giant rat they use to symbolize perceived injustice. They were stationed outside Selinsgrove Elementary School on Monday because the district hired a nonunion contractor to remove asbestos as part of its 18-month-long renovation project, a spokesman said.

“It’s definitely an attention-grabber,” said union organizer Joe Wingert, of Dalmatia. Wingert and two other men set up beach chairs flanking the rat on Broad Street. From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., they waved at honking cars and took turns handing out fliers.

“Their safety records are questionable,” organizer Tim Bowen said of asbestos removal company Power Components Systems. His association claims Power Components Systems has been fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for “serious and repeated violations.”

A search of OSHA’s online records reveals two occasions in the last five years in which government inspectors said the company had violated requirements regarding the wiring methods used at the job site. One violation was categorized as a “serious” infraction.

Union representatives also said the contractor was cited by the EPA for violating the Clean Air Act and was once removed from a job at Sadler Health Center in Carlisle.

A Power Components Systems spokesman on Monday did not dispute the union’s claims.

Selinsgrove Superintendent Dr. Frederick Johnson on Monday said the demonstration “mean(t) nothing to me.”

Johnson said his district doesn’t discriminate between union and nonunion contractors. “We feel those kinds of issues are company issues,” he said. “We know we have to pay the prevailing wage. After that, we don’t get much into it.”

Johnson said the demonstrators were on borough property and were within their rights.

And as it turns out, the giant black and brown rat has a name.

“His name is Thor,” said Wingert. “My daughter named him.”


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