Gov't-union organizers know where you live

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Labor militants put pols between a rock and a hard place

Montgomery County (PA) commissioners distanced themselves Thursday from a letter prepared by their labor lawyer and sent to county workers that labeled as “despicable” a union's campaign of calling county employees at home and showing up at their houses.

The letter, made available to the media Thursday, was mailed to the homes of some employees after several complained about what they saw as intimidating tactics used by recruiters for the Service Employees International Union, Commissioners Chairman James Matthews said.

“Union representatives have recently been appearing unannounced at the homes of some county employees,” the letter said. “Some employees have also received telephone calls at home, even to unlisted employee telephone numbers. ... I have confirmed that the county did not provide any personal employee information to union officials. ... we think such actions are despicable.”

It says the county “strongly opposes” the unionization effort and urges employees to do the same.

All three commissioners said Thursday they were unaware of the mailing, sent out a few weeks ago. Matthews said it was drafted by attorney Alfred D'Angelo, the county's counsel on labor matters, and turned over to Carolyn Carluccio, the county's acting human resources director.

Matthews said Carluccio and D'Angelo held a meeting with department supervisors who had been asking for advice in how to deal with the recruitment. It was there they were given the letter and told they could change the parts of it they did not like. Carluccio and D'Angelo were on vacation Thursday and could not be reached for comment.
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Matthews said the letter was inappropriate and he did not care for the word “despicable.” But after describing himself as “a friend of the trades” and saying the county did not want to appear to be endorsing unfair labor practices, Matthews noted that employees have described their “revulsion” with the union tactics.

“I know many were intimidated,” he said. “Your home is your castle. You show up there in the dark hours unannounced, that is intimidation. Once I'm home, get out of my face.”

Commissioner Joe Hoeffel said he found the mailing “objectionable.”

“Employees have a right under the law to organize,” he said. “They should feel free to make a decision based on their own free will.”

Currently, only county probation officers and domestic relations officers are members of a union, belonging to AFSCME.

Matthews said he is “totally against unionizing in county government” because employees here are treated well. “I don't think it's wise to give up one percent of your pay check. If someone wants to waste their money that's up to them. ... I do not like the intimidation going on out there right now.”


Barack one-sided, uninformed, ticks off locals

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• 'Whole Foods cancels non-union beef'
• 'Whole Foods goes back to non-union beef'
• 'UFW may face RICO charges over Whole Foods'
• 'Barack joins Whole Foods card-check snafu'

Originally, Barack Obama's visit to Eastern Oregon seemed like a whirlwind stop on a route that took him from Portland to Pendleton and then on to Roseburg. Apparently he hung around longer than we thought.

At least it would appear that way now that he has weighed in on the dispute between the United Farm Workers and Beef Northwest.

On Aug. 4, Obama sent a letter to John Wilson, a partner in Beef Northwest, urging him to accept the results of a card-check survey that showed a majority of Beef Northwest workers at a Boardman feedlot were in favor of union representation.

It seems strange that a presidential candidate who admitted he knew almost nothing about the Hanford Reservation and the activities of 13,704 workers in and around Washington's Tri-Cities could be so well-versed on a labor dispute involving a few hundred workers at a remote feedlot.

It's also possible that he hasn't spent much personal time reviewing both sides of the issue, preferring instead to court the unions that are almost unequivocally supporting his candidacy.

We don't suggest for a minute that the workers at the feedlot ought not be able to organize if they so desire. But we do have questions about a system that allows one side in the dispute to distribute and collect the cards and determine who will count the results.

On one hand, the United Farm Workers say they have results that show workers want to unionize. On the other, Beef Northwest says it has a petition saying the workers don't want to be represented.

It would only seem logical to have a neutral third party conduct an election.

The governor's office has attempted to intervene by attending a meeting of the two sides.

Or, more importantly, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski could make passage of a fair and workable agricultural labor law a priority in the upcoming legislative session. Such a law has been desperately needed for years.

Meanwhile, Wilson has invited Obama to visit the feedlot and even have lunch with some of the workers to get a better look at the situation.

Even in presidential politics, it helps for candidates to know all sides of an issue before speaking out.


Union bigs lay card-check before Governator

Nunez to Arnold: Go ahead, make my day

Legislation that would make it easier for unions to organize farmworkers is headed to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk for a second straight year. Both the state Senate and the Assembly passed the bill earlier this week, but whether the governor will sign this year's version remains to be seen.

Sponsored by former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, whose father came from Mexico as a bracero in the 1950s, the measure would drastically alter the way unions form on the farm. The bill would allow unions - primarily the United Farm Workers, the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers - to organize local chapters automatically if a majority of workers at a farm or dairy check off "yes" to joining a union on a postcard. The card is then sealed in an envelope and sent to a state mediator for counting.

This is a different from last year's attempt, in which workers would check off their preferences on a postcard that they would then hand to a union organizer. Schwarzenegger vetoed that bill as a violation of the right to a secret ballot.

Nunez says he's trying to address Schwarzenegger's concerns, but the entire agricultural community remains opposed.

The system leaves huge avenues for fraud and many growers say the legislation is a power play by the United Farm Workers, whose membership has lagged in recent years.

"They can coerce workers into joining," said Coachella Valley table grape grower Nick Bozick. "The workers don't see the value of union representation, they have this forced on them and it's unfortunate."

The UFW has lost several recent union votes held in the San Joaquin Valley. Growers such as Bozick say the votes are held only because the union is bullying workers into asking for a vote.

Nunez, who was a union organizer before he entered the Assembly, says those votes fail because they are held at the farm, where workers can be intimidated by their bosses.

What Nunez calls intimidation, farmers call reality: Growers with a unionized workforce face higher labor costs and those costs cannot be passed on to the consumer - especially in a market where most shoppers couldn't care less if their asparagus was grown in Stockton or Santiago, Chile. Farmers say they will not be able to tell their employees that this could happen if they unionize.

"They don't want a grower to have anything to say about the consequences of unionization," said Bryan Little, a lobbyist for the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Nunez says it is especially important to pass his bill this year because several field workers have died form heat exhaustion this summer, including a pregnant 17-year-old in Lodi. Nunez created a 20-minute documentary to highlight working conditions in the fields and showed it to Schwarzenegger, whom Nunez hopes will be swayed by what he sees.

Schwarzenegger is the only Republican governor to ever stand on stage with a UFW leader, when he enacted strict regulations intended to provide shade and water for workers.

"He's done a lot," Nunez said. "He really cares about the farmworkers."

Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the governor has not seen the details of Nunez's bill and so couldn't comment on it specifically.

But McLear did say that "even one heat-related death is too many and the governor agrees that more needs to be done. The governor remains opposed to card-check, but he will continue working with the Legislature to come up with a solution to this problem."

Both sides think Schwarzenegger will side with them.

Farm groups such as the California Grape and Tree Fruit League and the Farm Bureau say they think Nunez's attempt to allay the governor's objections will fall short - but they're uncertain enough that they keep working hard to kill the bill.

Nunez's bill will be held by the Assembly until the state budget is passed because Schwarzenegger has vowed to veto any legislation that arrives on his desk before then.


Bigs ousted at huge corrupt SEIU local

Andy Stern sacrifices protege - but is it too little, too late?

The Service Employees International Union on Friday removed all elected officers of its biggest California local amid an inquiry into the financial practices of the labor group and a related charity, including payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars to firms owned by its president's relatives.

Friday's action follows an announcement earlier this week that the president of the Los Angeles local, Tyrone Freeman, would step aside while the union's national office investigated expenditures disclosed by The Times.

In placing the 160,000-worker local in trusteeship, the union formally relieved Freeman, the local's secretary-treasurer, Amanda Figueroa, and its 55 board members of their posts.

The trustee appointed to take over the local's operations is John Ronches, who has been based in the union's Washington, D.C., headquarters. Ronches, who could not be reached Friday, is an assistant to SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger and is a 30-year veteran of the union.

The union also has appointed an outside monitor to review future financial transactions before they are executed.

"We are committed to leading a reform movement within labor, and we will not tolerate any act that puts the interests of our members at risk," SEIU President Andy Stern said in an e-mail.

"As our history shows, when serious factual allegations are brought to our attention, we act swiftly and decisively to ensure that our leadership is being held accountable to our members, who work some of the toughest jobs in America," Stern's statement said.

Freeman could not be reached for comment Friday. He has denied any wrongdoing.

His local, United Long-Term Care Workers, is made up mostly of people who make about $9 an hour tending to patients in their residences and in nursing homes.

SEIU spokeswoman Michelle Ringuette said the union "is going to be looking very closely" into allegations this week that the local leadership retaliated against some staff members when they refused to sign a letter in support of Freeman.

A small number of staffers were transferred to positions far from their homes, and about 10 had their union cellphone service terminated after balking at signing the letter, according to three workers who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisal.

Ringuette also said the union is examining Times disclosures that the local reported paying $82,000 last year to a Florida video firm that says it never received such a payment. In addition, she said it is reviewing Times revelations that a home owned by Freeman's former chief of staff was used as the address of a housing nonprofit associated with the local, as shown by Labor Department records, interviews and the nonprofit's website.

Freeman and officials of the housing group, which did not receive the tax-exempt status it sought and had lost its right to do business in California, have declined to answer questions about whether the former chief of staff, Rickman Jackson, was paid for the use of his residence.

Jackson, who heads a Michigan local, has not returned several phone calls seeking comment. Last year, the Los Angeles local reported paying him about $133,000 in salary and roughly $45,000 in other, unspecific disbursements, Labor Department filings show.

Two weeks ago, The Times disclosed that the local paid nearly $178,000 to a video firm operated by Freeman's wife at the couple's home, and that his mother-in-law's day-care service had received $96,000 annually for several years from a union-affiliated charity that runs a worker training center.

The local also has paid $16,000 to a now-defunct minor league basketball team coached by Freeman's brother-in-law, and $219,000 to a small video firm run by a former union staffer, Brian Cheatham, records and interviews show.

Three former union employees said in interviews this week that Cheatham has a close relationship with Freeman and his wife.

They identified Cheatham as one of the members of Freeman's wedding party pictured on the website of a Hawaiian nuptials service, www.pacificaisles.com.

Last year, the local spent nearly $300,000 on a Four Seasons Resort golf tournament, restaurants, such as a Morton's steakhouse, a Beverly Hills cigar club and the William Morris Agency, the Hollywood talent firm, The Times reported.


SEIU corruption sways L.A. politics

More Andy Stern stories: here
Related Tyrone Freeman stories: here

Andy Stern gets blowback for overspending on politicians

Controversy surrounding a powerful Los Angeles labor leader threatened Thursday to alter the landscape beneath the county's hottest political race, which has been fueled by record amounts of union spending.

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors candidate Bernard C. Parks, who trailed in the June primary, challenged opponent Mark Ridley-Thomas to return more than $4.5 million raised on his behalf by a labor alliance that included beleaguered union leader Tyrone Freeman.

Parks, a Los Angeles city councilman, also noted that county officials have accused Freeman's local of raising more than $5 million in illegitimate union dues from low-wage home healthcare workers, a charge that union attorneys have flatly denied.

"Mr. Ridley-Thomas, how do you feel about benefiting from the money of people who are hovering just above the poverty line?" Parks said. "Give the money back to the people who need it most."

Steve Barkan, a political consultant for Ridley-Thomas, called Parks' request "silly" and countered that Parks should return donations that he received from contractors doing business with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where he is a board member.

"There's an investigation pending into the allegations against Mr. Freeman," said Barkan, who said Parks received a $500 donation from Freeman's union during his 2007 reelection campaign for City Council. "Whether the union wants to give the money back is clearly up to the union."

Two weeks ago, The Times reported that the union had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to firms owned by Freeman's wife and his mother-in-law. Earlier this week, the labor leader took a leave of absence until the union's national office completes an internal investigation.

Most of the more than $4.5 million in labor money raised to support Ridley-Thomas, who is a state senator, came from other union locals that joined with Freeman's local to create an independent expenditure committee. As long as such a group does not coordinate with the candidate it supports, it can sidestep campaign finance laws that limit contributions to $1,000 a person. Because no union money was given directly to Ridley-Thomas, he has nothing to give back -- even if he wanted to do so.

However, Freeman's local has been one of Ridley-Thomas' most ardent supporters and gave the independent committee at least $468,000 to spend in the hotly contested primary campaign for supervisor.

The union dues allegation mentioned by Parks stems from complaints made by the Public Assistance Services Council, a county agency that employs 135,000 home healthcare workers. The workers' contract is negotiated by Freeman's union, but those employees who choose not to join the union have been allowed to pay a reduced rate of monthly union dues. However, the union recently raised their dues to the same rate as members'. The difference is what county officials consider excessive and in violation of the union's collective bargaining agreement, said the council's attorney, Richard Fisher.

"Is it any coincidence," Parks asked at his press conference, "that the charges began to be implemented in October, the same month Ridley-Thomas announced his candidacy for county supervisor?"

Since Ridley-Thomas declared for office, Freeman's SEIU Local 6434 spent at least $35,000 on radio advertising, putting spots on KJLH-FM, which bills itself as the city's No. 1 black-owned radio station.

The union also bought at least $22,000 worth of print advertising in the Los Angeles Sentinel, a newspaper with a heavily African American readership. Less than two weeks before the June primary, Freeman's union paid for five full-page ads promoting Ridley-Thomas' candidacy in the Sentinel.

The same edition also featured a sixth, full-page ad in color accusing Parks of seeking to roll back rent control; that ad was paid for by the unions' independent committee, the Alliance for a Stronger Community.

Even before the supervisorial campaign had gotten underway, Freeman used his union's money to improve Ridley-Thomas' name recognition in the black media. One full-page advertisement that ran in the Sentinel in January -- not listed as a campaign expense but paid for by SEIU Local 6434 -- served as a "salute" to Ridley-Thomas and his "unyielding commitment to strengthening our community."

"Mark has, for more than a decade, been one of long-term care workers' greatest allies," said Freeman, who appears with a broad smile in the advertisement, just below three photos of Ridley-Thomas.

Scott Mann, a spokesman for SEIU Local 6434, dismissed Parks' request to return any of the money to union workers. "Mr. Parks' call certainly sounds like another effort to silence the voice of working people," he said.


Corruption-challenged union gets political

More LIUNA stories: here

News Guild-member reporters unlikely to delve into union problems

LIUNA -- the Laborers' International Union of North America -- will have a major presence in Denver next week during the Democratic Convention. Spokespeople, including the Laborers' Union's up and coming General President Terence O'Sullivan, as well as member delegates, will be available for on camera and quote purposes on topics that include:

- Democratic Convention activities - LIUNA is a top tier sponsor of the Democratic Convention and will be doing significant advertising across Denver.

- 2008 Presidential Election activities - LIUNA has more than doubled its election spending from 2004 and 2000 and has mobilized an army of rank-and-file workers thousands strong who have recruited more than 4,000 fellow members to volunteer to elect a build America president.

- LIUNA members - predominantly construction workers in battleground states -- and millions of working men and women like them -- are the working class voters whose support is crucial to Senator Obama's victory in November.

- Infrastructure investment - LIUNA's Build America, so America Works campaign is leading the way to make investing in America's infrastructure a national priority. LIUNA President Terence O'Sullivan is on Monday's transportation infrastructure roundtable panel.

- Any issues important to working people - including: economic stimulus, jobs, healthcare, retirement security, Employee Free Choice Act and Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws.

Please contact Jacob Hay at (202) 445-4788 or jhay@liuna.org to make interview and guest appearance arrangements.

The members of LIUNA! - the Laborers' International Union of North America - are on the forefront of the construction industry, a powerhouse of 10 million workers who are proud to build America.


Franchisers gang up to oppose EFCA

More EFCA stories: here

Unions want to eliminate workers' voting rights

Senate races in Maine and Minnesota are heating up the pro-business Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, including the International Franchise Association, which has launched a TV campaign to alert voters to the so-called Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would give paid union organizers an easy path to organize companies' employees by simply signing a card.


Organizers walk away from nurses

Do disinterested workers plague CNA - or is SEIU waiting in the wings?

The California Nurses Association has withdrawn from a scheduled election and is walking away from a contentious four-year effort to represent nurses at Inland Valley Medical Center.

The election to decertify CNA as the bargaining unit at the Wildomar hospital was to be held Wednesday and Thursday. That election has been canceled, the National Labor Relations Board confirmed Friday morning.

"The union walked away," said James Small, director for Region 21 of the NLRB, which covers Riverside County. "The individual who filed the decertification petition withdrew it."

In 2005, Inland Valley Medical Center nurses and supporters protest the California Nurses Association's stalled negotiations with the hospital.

Nurses voted to join the union in May 2004, but the two sides were not able to agree on a first contract. After almost two years, nurses petitioned the NLRB for an election to decertify the union, and a majority of them voted to oust CNA in November 2006.

But a year later a judge tossed out that election after agreeing with union supporters who filed charges accusing hospital officials and outside consultants of surveillance, harassment and intimidation during the weeks leading up to that election.

Those tactics were cited by a statewide union official Friday. In a statement, Charles Idelson, CNA's communication director, said the union withdrew because they "are not willing to subject nurses again to the outrageous anti-union campaign" management put on.

"There's been a history of that behavior by the employer," Idelson said in an interview. "That compromises the integrity of a fair election."

Idelson said he had no information indicating this behavior was continuing in advance of the vote that had been planned for next week. NLRB official Small said Friday his agency has not received any new complaints.

Teresa Fleege, the hospital's director of marketing, said there were no complaints about attempts to harass or intimidate nurses.

Union officials for CNA's Southern California operation could not be reached for comment.

In a statement, hospital officials accused the union of interfering with operations and their relationships with the nurses while doing nothing to better nurses' lives.

"Our nurses felt that the CNA did not deliver on their promises and it was time for them to go," Dennis Knox, chief executive officer of Southwest Healthcare System, the parent company of Inland Valley Medical Center, said in the statement.

Small said the union is not allowed to submit a new petition to represent IVMC's nurses for six months but other unions can. The Service Employees International Union and the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals both represent registered nurses in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.


Labor-state could make things worse

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Another job-killing measure advances in Ohio

It looks like the proposal to mandate sick leave pay will be on the November ballot. The initiative pushed by the Service Employees International Union would require employers with 25 or more workers to offer seven paid sick days.

Ohio Senate President Bill Harris of Ashland says he opposes the issue. Governor Ted Strickland has been working to keep the issue off the ballot because he does not want Ohio viewed as a state unfriendly to business.


Andy Stern ignores fiduciary duty

More Andy Stern stories: here

Puts union dues cashflow ahead of retirees

Give Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern credit for tenacity. Fresh off his California failure to pressure private equity to accede to his demands, Mr. Stern has moved on to Washington state.

The SEIU recently filed a citizens initiative to the Washington legislature to limit the state's investment in private equity companies. Under the proposed SEIU-drawn rules, the State Investment Board, which manages $62 billion in public pension money, would be required to consider certain "societal criteria" before it could invest in the likes of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts or the Carlyle Group.

On the SEIU political checklist are a private equity firm's "lack of transparency, poor employment practices, environmental impacts and other indicators of irresponsible corporate behavior." The Investment Board would also have to encourage private equity to comply with the SEIU's vision of "corporate responsibility." That means firms would have to release data on revenues, taxes, and executive compensation, provide "living wages and benefits," recognize a "collective bargaining representative" at each portfolio company, and mitigate "climate risk," which is to say be politically correct on global warming. The Investment Board itself would also have to "support changes to tax laws that eliminate unfair advantages" to private equity, and more.

In other words, Washington state pension funds would for all practical purposes be barred from investing in private equity. State Investment Board Executive Director Joe Dear concluded as much when he told a local newspaper that "No private equity firm that we want to do business with will do business with us under these terms." He predicted this would "cost taxpayers and beneficiaries millions in higher taxes and contributions."

And he has the data to prove it. Nearly $14 billion of Washington's investments are in private equity, which has provided returns of 12.6% over the past decade, compared to 7.9% for pension holdings as a whole. Barring private equity would "destroy our ability to invest in our highest-returning asset class," said Mr. Dear. The losers would be union pensioners who depend on those returns for retirement income.

Mr. Stern's real agenda here is to coerce private equity firms into giving his union a free hand in organizing workers at their portfolio companies. Having failed to organize those workers in elections, or to negotiate unionization deals with private equity management, Mr. Stern is now seeking political retribution. His strategy is to demonize the industry in public and promote damaging legislation until the companies give in.

His first stop was California, where the SEIU pushed a bill to restrict pension fund investments in private equity firms that also receive money from sovereign wealth funds. The SEIU's supposed concern was human rights in Singapore and Abu Dhabi, which happen to invest with private equity firms he's targeted. He was routed by fellow labor leaders, who said state pension funds would lose billions due to his restrictions.

The SEIU is hoping its "societal criteria" will work better in Washington. The union must collect nearly 225,000 signatures before January to put the measure in front of lawmakers in 2009. With the Investment Board warning about dire consequences to taxpayers and retirees from lower returns, legislators might be reluctant to pass the legislation themselves. They could nonetheless put it on the ballot for voters in 2009.

Mr. Stern's initiative once again reveals his bare-knuckle approach to union organizing. He's willing to hamper one of America's most productive industries, while putting state retirees at risk, all in the name of rounding up more members to pay his union dues. At some point, workers should wonder whose interests Mr. Stern really has at heart.


Newhouse mag pimps 'Strike TV'

Multi-billionaire hypes unions for others, but not for his own media empire

Hollywood startup Strike TV has begun testing its sea legs with a private beta launch. Similar to Joss Whedon's internet musical Dr. Horrible, the idea for Strike TV was hatched on the picket lines of the Writers Guild of America strike earlier this year as a way for screenwriters to showcase their inking skills to directors, producers and other content creators -- while still retaining copyrights and ownership of their work.

The post-strike web venture has an impressive roll call of talented writers attached to it, including the scribe minds behind How I Met Your Mother, LonelyGirl15, Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Office.

So far, the beta version of the site works a bit like Hulu: Users skim through shows by genre, actor or director and short advertisements screen before each episode. (Teaser reel embedded.)

Viewers can also subscribe to series feeds, rate and comment on videos and engage in show discussions in dedicated forums on the site -- a smart move to keep the audience engaged in the project.

So far, programming is limited to a few premiere episodes of series, including: Global Warming, an off-kilter romance between Saturday Night Live star Kristen Wiig (pictured) and The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi; dramatic murder mystery Unknown Sender; and teen horror show 5 or Die, created by Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child's Play).

More episodes and new shows will roll out over the next few weeks and the hard, public launch is expected to happen later this month.


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