SEIU's pathetic search for a fig leaf

More Andy Stern stories: hereMore embezzlement stories: here

Andy Stern's corrupt proteges have looted members' union-dues

Andy Stern announces a new ethics committee in response to a flood of corruption reports - it's a victory for member democracy activists who've shed light on some of the darkest parts of SEIU, but a self-serving attempt by Stern to do the minimum to save himself.

Stern's announcement that the international will now hold locals to the requirements they set for international staff is only notable because it highlights that there were no such rules before. It's strange that Stern - so quick to threaten trusteeship at the first sign of dissent - has never set standards for whether a president should give lucrative contracts to family members.

New reports make it crystal clear that Tyrone Freeman's corruption was an open secret in SEIU for many years while Stern actively covered up the abuse until forced to act. Now that his appointed leaders have been exposed, Stern feigns surprise and distances himself from them. Emails between him and a senior staffer make it clear (if it wasn't already) that he is motivated by his personal power and reputation rather than the good of SEIU or our movement.

More importantly, his proposed ethics reforms entirely miss the point. Members don't need a fancy new committee to keep our leaders honest, we can and will do it ourselves. Freeman got away with stealing our money for so long not because there was no code of conduct or panel, but because he was propped up and promoted by Stern and the international, and members were shut out of every important decision, without any control or oversight. A union cannot be ethical unless it is democratic. The many members who knew exactly what was going on had no way to remove Freeman - they were required to collect 4,800 signatures in three weeks to run against him.

As Stern says in the story, "These things hurt". If he wants to be seen as a reformer, he should start by giving members back our union, not by creating posts for another set of hand picked friends.


Barack details 'change' to Alaska AFL-CIO

Related story: "No favorite son for Alaska AFL-CIO"

Change that only union bigs can believe in.

The day before his Berlin-style stadium acceptance speech rally, The One addressed Alaska's AFL-CIO. Often criticized for being vague, Barack offers plenty of detail here.

Union bigs stiff GOP-member rank-and-file

Related story: "Barack captures union dues"

Hyper-partisan unions stifle 1/3 of their membership

Skip Roberts is assistant director for the Service Employees International Union, a huge labor group that represents public service workers, nurses, and security guards. In the Twin Cities this week as he has entered elevators and receptions and talked to GOP delegates about where he works, the Vietnam veteran often finds himself getting a strange look from his fellow Republicans.

"You are a member of the SEIU? Are you here to protest?" his interlocutors ask, Roberts recounted in an interview with Convention Daily. "People don't quite know how to deal with us."

What people forget is that although the powerful union is heavily Democratic and has endorsed Democratic nominee Barack Obama for president, about 25 percent of the 2 million members are registered Republicans, and their voice matters, said Roberts. The Connecticut native was hired three years ago by SEIU President Andy Stern to help bolster the SEIU's voice among Republicans and help the union find common ground with the party on economic security issues.

"It's important to leverage our support" on both sides of the aisle, said Roberts, a former aide to the late Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, and Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii.

Under Stern, the SEIU is making a concerted effort to build bridges with the GOP, and for the first time ever it helped to finance a Republican convention by giving $50,000 to the host committee. Furthermore, the SEIU wrote a $25,000 check to the Republican Governors Association and gave about $10,000 to the Republican Main Street Partnership.

Those checks got Roberts invited to several receptions at the convention, which has helped the SEIU make a few new friends. The union also held a reception on Sunday afternoon to honor Republican labor activists in state delegations. Roberts said 2,000 were invited, and 200 came. Though the number may seem low, the lobbyist said the process was useful for the SEIU because it raised awareness among SEIU members that the union cares about its Republican members.

"It is hard for people to wrap their minds around the concept," said Roberts. "I think we are in the consciousness-raising phase right now."

This November, while most of the union will be focusing its energy on electing Democrats, the SEIU's political action committee will endorse and give money to several Republican candidates, including Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania. Roberts estimated that the union will probably spend about $150,000 to $200,000 on electing Republican candidates -- a tiny amount compared to the $85 million that the Change to Win alliance (which the SEIU is part of) expects to spend on get-out-the-vote efforts that are likely to help mainly Democrats.

The SEIU isn't the only union to reach out to Republicans this week. The National Education Association Fund for Children, the International Association of Fire Fighters, and others co-hosted a lunch with pro-labor Republicans, which included Reps. Mark Kirk of Illinois and Denny Rehberg Montana.

Randy Moody, the chief lobbyist of the teacher's union, said the convention has been a "good opportunity to let people know that we have 3.2 million members and 1 million of them are Republicans." Moody, himself a lifelong Republican, said the NEA event had some 200 people in attendance. "It's certainly appropriate for us to be here."


Barack's hopeless contradiction

More EFCA stories: here

#1 agenda item strikes fear of intimidation among union rank-and-file

Does “the politics of hope” mean scrapping the right of American workers to cast a ballot in private? Does Barack Obama really want his image to include the systematic dismantling of union elections in the workplace?

Well, apparently so. Obama’s campaign is now inextricably knotted up with the campaign by organized labor to strip workers of their right to vote in private on whether they want to unionize.

The so-called Employee Free Choice Act has become labor’s top priority, with a labor advocacy group this week launching a $5 million ad campaign. And as the Herald reported on Sunday, local union affiliates are mobilizing the troops to press the case for the bill now before Congress.

The legislation would require employers to immediately recognize a union upon receiving cards signed by a majority of eligible workers. But under current law the signed cards lead to a workplace election, supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. With a secret ballot.

Labor’s motives are clear. Union membership, with the exception of government unions, is declining. Naturally organized labor wants to reverse that trend. And hey, more power to ’em.

But just as workers have a right to organize, they have a corresponding right not to organize. And the card-check system essentially strips them of that right.

And heaven help the politician who ends up on the wrong side of this issue. At least one union has resorted to thuggish threats. At the Democratic National Convention last week, the head of the Service Employees International Union told The Associated Press that any Democrat or Republican who reneged on support for “free choice” would “paint a target” on their backs this election season.

Threats and intimidation. Not exactly the change we’ve been waiting for.


What is best for the workers?

More EFCA stories: here

Not EFCA - according to a Dem political consultant

Much has been written in the local news recently about proposed national changes to the way unions are formed. Rep. Tom Allen has been attacked in TV ads by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for supporting these "card-check" changes. So what really gives here?

What is being proposed is analogous to the following: You are a member of your local school's parent-teacher organization. This parent-teacher organization is independent, but the state parent-teacher organization would like you to become one of its chapters.

That would mean trading your independence for the benefits and some extra costs of being part of a statewide organization.

At issue is the process by which your organization would decide whether to join. The state PTA organization wants to directly approach each of your members and ask them to sign a card signifying they would like to join the state organization.

Once they sign up more than 50 percent of your members this way, you would become part of the state organization. Your local governing group suggests that asking all members to vote by secret ballot after a period for public discussion of the pros and cons is the more appropriate way to proceed.

Which approach is more democratic?

I suspect most of you would choose the secret ballot. It is a common way that we, in a democracy, make significant voting choices.

So it may surprise you to learn that the "sign-a-card" approach is what organized labor is supporting to replace the current secret ballot process for organizing new unions.

They are proposing the approach in a law inappropriately titled "The Employee Free Choice Act of 2007."

Organized labor is fighting for relevance. Union membership has been steadily declining since the mid-1950s. Today organized labor makes up just 12 percent of the workforce.

However, it has not been lost on union leadership that up north in Canada, where card-check is much more widely applied, union membership is 32 percent of the workforce.

The national debate on this bill, which passed the House but not the Senate last year, has not been edifying.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce commercials are particularly heavy-handed and inappropriate. On the other hand, union leaders have rushed to characterize the current secret-ballot process as coercion by employers.

That's because it allows employers 30 days to "hold employee meetings" prior to a vote. Presumably union organizers have the same period to make their case.

In sum, what we have here is a simple case of power politics. Unions want a process more likely to get them a win. Employers want the greater flexibility that comes with a non-union work force.

The real question, often lost in the rhetoric, is what is best for the workers? I would argue that the fundamental reason for the decline of organized labor is that in most situations today workers get just as much, if not more, benefit from being non-union as union.

Labor relations law is so well-developed that workers have avenues to redress the abuses that were much of the original rationale for joining a union.

Moreover, nonunion employers in many industries pay a premium over union wage because they value the flexibility they retain in nonunion circumstances.

In addition, the increasingly global nature of many industries has greatly limited wage-negotiation flexibility.

Time and again union leadership has been short-sighted. Intent on preserving pay and benefits packages increasingly out of touch with the global market, they have ended up with the worst of all outcomes – widespread plant closings and layoffs. Given the current direction of markets and the current protections already built into the U.S. labor law, it is hard to see unions gaining more influence unless their gain is through political muscle.

The Employee Free Choice Act is not likely to improve the lot of U.S. workers, but it would improve the leverage of U.S. unions. It is the kind of law that politicians sponsor from time to time to please the proponents, figuring that it has little chance of being passed.

From my perspective as a Tom Allen supporter, it is hard to reconcile his support of this legislation with the more pragmatic and thoughtful positions he usually espouses.

I simply have to hope that, on closer examination, he sees the "Employee Free Choice Act" is anything but that.

- Ron Bancroft is an independent strategy consultant based in Portland.


Chicago-area voter knows Barack's record

More ACORN stories: here

Union-backed voter fraud group ACORN cited

The writer of a letter in the Courier & Press published Aug. 28 worried that the author of a book critical of Barack Obama (Jerome Corsi, "The Obama Nation") is a "danger to our society."

He further cautioned that it is the responsibility of U.S. citizens to actively examine political discourse for truth and clarity. I wonder if he followed his own advice and voiced concern about the left-wing, radical rantings of Michael Moore, in books and movies, against our president and our society. Our enemies loved Moore's words, but fortunately, our great country is strong enough to withstand criticism, just or unjust, as well as any necessary investigation of a presidential candidate.

The other bit of advice from the letter writer was to do some unbiased investigation of Obama's position on policy issues. Actually, I'm a step ahead of many citizens in that investigative process, as I was a lifelong resident of Chicago until six years ago, and had an up-close-and-personal view of Cook County machine politics. Not a pretty sight.

I followed Obama's political progression over a period of years:

- "Community organizer" (more accurately, "political agitator") in the 1980s, rubbing elbows with radical groups Gamaliel and ACORN.

- Eight years in the Illinois Senate, with an ultraliberal voting record and a habit of voting "present" in order to dodge tough decisions, a pattern he has continued in the United States Senate.

- Reformer charade: When Obama had an opportunity to prove his self-described "reformer" credentials, he backed away, disappointing both Democrats and Republicans in Chicago who were tired of the corruption and patronage of machine politics. In the Democratic primary of 2006, Obama backed the machine candidate rather than the reformist challenger. The former one won the primary as well as the general election, with Obama flexing his federal-level muscle and lending support.

I am wary of Obama moving into the White House, as he would surely bring along, both physically and ideologically, some unsavory associates. We've already met several of them on TV.

The continued investigation of Obama is warranted as he seeks election to the highest position in our government.

- Jacqueline Jordan is a resident of Evansville.


Fighting for forced-labor unionism

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Union bigs go to war against worker-choice

A metro Denver union poured more than $160,000 last month into the campaign to fight a ballot measure that would ban mandatory union membership as a requirement of employment.

The campaign report filed Tuesday showed that the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 7R contributed $161,234 in August to the Committee for Fair Wage Benefits. The group, which opposes Amendment 47 on union membership as a condition of employment, collected $161,944 and spent $98,069 during the month.

A pro-Amendment 47 group, Defend Our Economy, took in $26,000 and spent $20,317 during the month, the group's filing said. The Bickel Family Foundation was the committee's biggest donor at $15,000.


Non-members forced to pay union dues

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Typical illegal tactics at labor-state NEA unit

Some non-union members of Pennsbury's teaching staff have just been absorbed into the union's collective bargaining agreement. If a collective bargaining agreement with teachers exists in a Pennsylvania district, then teachers have to join the bargaining unit, according to the state collective bargaining law for school employees.

In a district of more than 800 teachers, roughly 30 or so Title I and Pupil Achievement teachers were apparently overlooked until now, said George Miller, president of the Pennsbury Education Association, the district's teachers union.

“We weren't aware that they weren't in the bargaining unit,” he said.

The district and the union will be negotiating teacher contracts this year. That's why it's important to put all teachers together under one contract system as soon as possible, said Miller.

Under the umbrella of the union's bargaining power, those teachers won't be left floundering when it comes time for negotiations of their contracts, he said.

The benefit of having their salaries and benefits linked to the education association contract doesn't come free.

Though an individual can choose whether to belong to a union and pay union dues, everyone under the collective bargaining agreement has to pay the union's “fair share” fees.

The fees amount to roughly 75 percent of union membership dues, which range from about $500 to $1,000 annually, said Miller.

The amount varies from individual to individual, depending on the number of hours worked, the pay scale, benefits and job title.

“Because non-union members benefit from the bargaining of the unit, they are charged for the representation,” said Miller.

While that amount is less than the fees that union members pay, Pupil Achievement and Title I teachers did not volunteer to take advantage of the union's collective bargaining. They generally provide extra educational services part time, said Gregory Lucidi, president of the Pennsbury School Board.

However, the state labor relations board determined that the teachers had to join the bargaining unit, so the district had to agree to it, said Lucidi.

“Back in early spring, the board and the PEA agreed that these people had to come in to a bargaining agreement. It cleans up the situation of who these people are represented by,” said Miller.

As part of the agreement, the teachers also get an insurance policy against any sort of malpractice, he added.

“This first minor round of negotiations has turned out positively for the PEA and the district. It's a good sign going in to full-fledged negotiations,” he said.

The union and the district have to meet by Jan. 10 as they enter contract negotiations this year. The education association is already prepared to meet with the district, said Miller.


Workers deserve secret-ballot protection

More EFCA stories: here

Dems running Congress want to change the rules

For several decades, union membership has been declining as employment conditions continue to improve and workers increasingly choose to negotiate their own pay, benefits and working conditions. Naturally, unions are distressed by the decline and constantly look for ways to force unionization upon employees across the country.

The latest example comes in the form of "card check" legislation, touted by the unions as the "Employee Free Choice Act." Card check legislation would remove from workers a basic American right when it comes to voting - the right to a secret ballot when considering whether to form a union.

While the legislation has temporarily stalled because the Senate failed to achieve cloture, both Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate President Harry Reid have made it clear that card check remains a top legislative priority.

The results of the November election could see the issue quickly resurrected with immense pressure for quick passage. Big Labor would have us believe that the card check process is somehow beneficial to the average American worker. But the only real benefit would be to the unions themselves.

Card check would give the unions the tool they need to halt slipping membership - and, more importantly for them, slipping revenue from dues - by essentially giving them the green light to force unionization, even where employee support for a union is not reflective of the true wishes of the majority of workers. It is no surprise then that union leaders are the primary supporters of card check legislation, not the workers themselves.

But the real implication of card check legislation is even more disturbing. Making card check the law of the land would result in increased pressure from unions, fewer rights for workers, more economic hardship for middle America, and fewer rewards for individual accomplishment and initiative.

By replacing the secret-ballot method of voting that has been in place for more than seven decades, the so-called Employee Free Choice Act would force workers considering a union to declare their position publicly by signing union authorization cards in front of union bosses, fellow workers, and their employers.

Not only does this plan violate basic freedoms of choice by employees, it also subjects workers to pressure and intimidation from their peers and from unions themselves. Workers could be the target of coercion from union leaders and members, and could be forced to unionize against their will.

Additionally, once a union is formed, workers are required to pay union dues, resulting in an unwelcome and sizable deduction from a hard-earned paycheck.

As if that weren't enough, it would replace employer-employee negotiations with arbitration by a federal bureaucrat - a bureaucrat who doesn't understand the specific factors in a particular local workplace, or what's best for the individual workers. And last but not least, unionized workers would be promoted based on seniority, not based on merit or achievement.

Current law prohibits employers from making threats of reprisal or force, or promising benefits that might interfere with an election. Prohibited acts include threats of physical force or loss of job or benefits, or promises of pay raises, promotions or other benefits.

If employers engage in such conduct, and their behavior disrupts election conditions, the NLRB may order the employer to bargain with the union even in cases where the union lost the election.

In cases where a union enjoys a majority of employee support, current law allows employers to waive the secret ballot election requirement and recognize a union that produces signed union authorization cards from over 50 percent of the employees. Unfortunately, unions have abused this provision by launching attacks on employers in an effort to pressure them to agree to card elections, even when it is not clear that the union enjoys the support of a majority of the employees.

Associated Builders and Contractors strongly supports legislation introduced by the late Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., and Senator Jim DeMint, R-S.C.,"The Secret Ballot Protection Act of 2007" (HR. 866 and S. 1312, respectively), which guarantees the right of every worker to a secret-ballot vote on decisions regarding union representation.

America's workers face countless challenges today. Adding the card check scheme to the mix will create even more problems inside and outside of the workplace.

As president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio, I support maintaining and fostering a relationship of trust between employer and employee, and allowing workers to negotiate wages and promotions based on merit and achievement to ensure the continued growth and success of our state's economy.

That's why I don't support card check legislation, and I particularly don't support the artificial growth of unions through a method that relies on intimidation and coercion to achieve that goal.

- Braden Black is the president of Associated Builders and Contractors of Ohio.


No favorite son for Alaska AFL-CIO

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Hyperpartisan one-sided labor bigs fail to represent rank-and-file

No matter how much Alaska workers may want to support the Republican presidential ticket billing Gov. Sarah Palin’s name as second-in-command, they should cast their votes instead for Democrat Barack Obama, a state labor organization leader said Monday in Fairbanks.

Related video: "Barack details 'change' to Alaska AFL-CIO"

A vote for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election is essentially a vote against the working man, said Vince Beltrami, executive president of the Alaska federation of the American Federation of Labor, Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

He added that any action placing Lieutenant Gov. Sean Parnell at the helm of Alaska government also goes against workers’ best interests.

“We can’t afford to have John McCain as our president or to have Sean Parnell as our governor,” Beltrami said after a short speech endorsing politicians in the state’s national races.

Organized labor has had a generally good relationship with Palin, but that doesn’t change the fact that labor has to support the candidate who best supports working families, Beltrami said.

“We are 100 percent on board for supporting Barack Obama,” he said in a brief speech Monday at a Labor Day picnic hosted by about 30 organized labor groups.

Beltrami also announced the Alaska AFL-CIO’s endorsement of candidates in state races for national offices.

The organization supports Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich in his campaign to unseat long-time U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. In the race for the U.S. House of Representatives seat held by incumbent Rep. Don Young, the organization has taken a different approach. As in the primary election cycle, a dual endorsement is being extended to Democrat Ethan Berkowitz and to Young — although Young has yet to formally win the primary against Alaska Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, with some votes yet to be counted.

“Both of them (Berkowitz and Young) have done tremendous things on behalf of working people,” Beltrami said.

Begich and Berkowitz stood alongside Beltrami at Pioneer Park as the labor leader offered his organization’s endorsement. Begich said the support reflects the desire of Alaskan workers to “change things up” in Washington, D.C., something that isn’t going to happen from within the establishment.

“I come with a package of experiences that are really missing in Washington, D.C.,” Begich said, citing his roles as an assemblyman, mayor, parent and small business owner.

The annual Labor Day picnic was a day for politicking, as campaign workers doled out candidate stickers and collected support. A number of local Democrats running for state Legislature seats also were at the Pioneer Park event.

Families filled the grounds, many sporting T-shirts in eye-popping colors celebrating their unions and the Labor Day event, sponsored by organized labor and Local 942. Kids shed shoes in the weak sunlight, wriggling toes in sandboxes or plucked ice cubes from a tub. Families sprawled on the green grass, dining on smoky grilled hamburgers and all the expected fixings.

Don Shannon stood to the side of the smoky grill, ready to haul a large pan of baked beans to the food line. The retired laborer — he’s been a facilities painter and many other things — has lent a hand at the Labor Day event for 10 years.

“I found out I wasn’t a very good hunter, so instead of going camping during moose season, I decided to come here and cook for my fellow workers,” he joked.

Unions came through for him time and time again, especially during his years as a state worker at times of budget uncertainty.

“If we had to survive by the whim of the people, forget it,” he said, explaining that any time the state comes up short, people turn to work force or wage cuts for answers.

Mary McBride was a member of Local 71 through her job as an airport custodian — that is, until her retirement, which started on Labor Day.

After spending the first day of retirement at work by hot barbecues, McBride said the plan is to sleep in every day for a month.

She’s helped keep the food supplies flowing at the picnic for several years and likes to offer her time on a day that is important for workers everywhere — and for the public.

“It’s important to workers, for people who work hard all year,” she said, pausing from her duties with a mound of hamburger buns in hand. “They need to be recognized.”

Dennis Moen of Local 71 helped organize the annual event, which normally hosts a crowd of 3,000. He said counts by early afternoon seemed on track to surpass that figure and a semi truck backed up near the barbecue pavilion would keep the food flowing.


Anti-democratic legislation a job-killer

More EFCA stories: here

A controversial path to economic ruin

With the potential for the Democrats to control both houses of the US Congress and the presidency for the first time in 14 years, labor unions are starting to flex some muscle again after several decades of falling membership and declining influence.

With strong support from most Democratic legislators, the labor agenda could have a big impact on the operations and supply chains of US companies – especially the controversial measure known as the Employee Free Choice Act, which would enable unions to form at companies without a secret ballot.

Free trade, embodied in such agreements as NAFTA, is also likely to come under assault, but former Home Depot founder Marcus Evans says the Free Choice Act is the one companies need to really pay attention to.

“To my astonishment, most CEOs in America are unaware of this planned hostile takeover of their human resources,” Evans recently wrote in a column in the Wall Street Journal. The bill is a path to economic ruin, he predicts.

The Free Choice Act would eliminate the requirement for secret ballots in union elections, and instead allow employees to sign a card that signifies their support of union representation. The measure would open up employees to substantially more pressure and threats to support the unionization effort than the secret ballot, as their support or not would in effect be public, depending on whether or not they were willing to sign the card.

Evans says the law will “virtually guarantee that every company becomes unionized,” and also give unions the option to have federal arbitrators set the wages, benefits, hours and all other terms and conditions of employment.

Opponents of the law are not only on the right side of the aisle. Former Democratic presidential candidate and friend of labor unions George McGovern recently wrote that the bill is "a disturbing and undemocratic overreach not in the interest of either management or labor."

In 2007, the bill won support in the US House, but failed in the Senate over a Republican filibuster. Even if passed, it would have been vetoed by President Bush.

But with some chance for Democrats to achieve the 60 Senate seats needed to overcome a filibuster, and an even better chance of capturing the White House, there is a real chance the bill could become law in 2009.

Barak Obama was a co-sponsor of the bill, and said, "We will pass the Employee Free Choice Act. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. We may have to wait for the next president to sign it, but we will get this thing done."

Supporters, of course, argue that amid globalization of the supply chain and rampant offshoring, the balance of power has shifted to business, and left labor with a weak hand. The number of manufacturing jobs in the US continues to decline, as a result both of offshoring and/or automation, depending on who is doing the analysis. Giving unions more power by increasing dramatically the number of companies that are unionized will redress this imbalance and let workers grab a higher share of corporate profits, according to supporters.

Critics, on the other hand, say the result will be an economy that comes to look much more like that of France or Germany – characterized by slow growth, high unemployment and general stagnation.

“It's time to stand up and fight. America's competitiveness, jobs and right to a secret ballot are at stake,” Evans says. “CEOs, employees who want to keep their jobs in America -- and those retirees like me who would not be where we are today but for our system of free enterprise -- must stop this anti-democratic legislation.”


OK employers unite against card-check

More EFCA stories: here

Union organizers want to see your secret ballot

Under the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), organized labor is trying to take the “secret” out of the secret ballot. It would allow a union to be certified once it has proven to the National Labor Relations Board that a majority of employees in a unit have signed authorization cards. These cards can be signed in or outside the workplace. Worse is that signatures would be collected on cards in front of union organizers and fellow employees, which is why EFCA is referred to as “Card Check.” The pressure to say no while your big union brother watches will be immense.

The State Chamber of Oklahoma is working with the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace to defeat Card Check and to ensure that your vote remains your business. But because EFCA could be reintroduced to Congress this year — 240 congressional members voted last time that the American worker doesn’t need a secret ballot anymore – we encourage readers to ask their Oklahoma delegation to continue fighting against Card Check.

Unions know Card Check does not reliably reveal workers’ wishes and that it can lead to workers being pressured into signing a card. That’s why unions have argued against letting workers use Card Check to decertify their union as passionately as they now argue in favor of using Card Check to organize.

The State Chamber is against Card Check because it does not lift up Oklahoma workers. It’s about union bosses enhancing their power by avoiding the time, expense and potential risk of giving workers the chance to express their views in private at the ballot box.

The name “Employee Free Choice Act” sounds great. Was “The Union Boss Act” already copyrighted?

If Card Check passes and union bosses get their way, the secret ballot will no longer be suitable in the American workplace. That ballot you cast in the future? It just may become everyone’s business.

- Mike Seney, senior vice president of operations, The State Chamber of Oklahoma


Unions strike fear in HR executives

More EFCA stories: here

There's more to the forced-labor unionism agenda than EFCA

This presidential election has HR executives quaking in their boots. Regardless of which party wins the White House, there will likely be an onslaught of legislation that could have a profound impact on HR -- from unions to sick leave to ergonomics.

If the Democrats pick up seats in the House and Senate, as expected, a Republican administration might have difficulty stemming the tide, a variety of policy experts say. And if Barack Obama is elected president, human resource leaders could see more new workplace regulations than at any time in the last two decades.

"2009 will be the year of living dangerously for HR executives," says Larry Lorber, a Washington-based employment-law attorney with Proskauer Rose and chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Equal Employment Opportunity Committee. "The Democrats are teeing up all these bills. There's pent-up demand."

Says John Sullivan, a management professor at San Francisco State University, "This could be the biggest change for HR since the Reagan administration."

One issue in the presidential race is [clear], and looms far above all the others for HR -- the Employee Free Choice Act, known as EFCA.

"It's the big daddy of them all," says Lorber.

EFCA would allow workers to join a union -- without a secret-ballot election -- if more than half of any bargaining unit sign union-authorization cards. Business groups contend employees, even ones who oppose a union, would be pressured by labor organizers and co-workers into signing authorization cards. Without a secret-ballot election, those workers would have no opportunity later to vote against the union.

EFCA opponents say that one-two punch -- the pressure to sign and the lack of a vote -- would lead to an explosion of unionization.

Also extremely troubling for business groups is a provision in EFCA that says when the employer and the union can't agree on a contract within 90 days, either party can ask for federal mediation -- which could lead to binding arbitration. Employers fear such "first-contract arbitration" would take away a great deal of their flexibility in employment decisions, and make them less competitive and profitable.

"This is the potential generational change in our labor laws," says Michael Lotito, a workplace-law expert and partner in the San Francisco office of law firm Jackson Lewis. "Nothing in my lifetime, including the Civil Rights Act of 1991, would change our labor and employment laws as dramatically as EFCA would."

EFCA passed the House in 2007, but failed to make it through the Senate, where supporters couldn't get the necessary 60 votes to end debate. That could change if the Democrats pick up Senate seats.

Obama is a strong supporter of EFCA; McCain has voted with opponents. Lotito predicts that with 60 pro-EFCA senators, and Obama in the White House, the bill would be enacted within 100 days after Obama takes office.

Even if McCain is elected, EFCA still could become law, according to Lotito and others. There could be enough pro-EFCA Senate votes to overcome a McCain veto. Alternatively, if EFCA passes the Senate and is sent to McCain as part of a compromise with another piece of legislation -- say, a tax or energy bill -- McCain could well sign it.

EFCA may not get enough Senate support, but that doesn't mean employers would be in the clear. Policy experts say there would likely be a compromise bill, one that might drop the union card-check provision but keep first-contract arbitration. And McCain might go along with it -- again, as part of a larger compromise, the experts say.

Employers worried about EFCA can only hope that, regardless of who is elected president, and how many seats the Democrats gain, the Republicans will stand firm in the Senate.

"It is possible," Lotito says, "that the Republicans will hold tight and say, 'This is a defining moment; there is no compromise.' "

For HR, EFCA is not just another bill in Washington -- it would change the nature of the profession, says Lotito.

"With EFCA, talking about a union is not going to be an event; it's going to be a way of life."

Because the majority of employees could sign authorization cards before a company even gets wind of a union drive, human resource leaders will have to be proactive.

"The company is going to have to communicate its value proposition, and why a union is irrelevant, in its everyday communications with its workforce," says Lotito. HR will also have the responsibility to make clear to employees the value of their benefits, including such intangibles as complaint resolution and promotional opportunities.

In addition, HR will also have to train supervisors to communicate to employees why unions aren't needed, and make sure supervisors properly handle employees' questions about unions.

An increase in unions will mean that HR will have to get involved in a host of labor issues, such as helping negotiate and administer collective-bargaining agreements.

"The HR person is going to have to become a labor person," says Lotito, the way it was back in the 1940s and '50s, when unions reached their peak.

"This will revolutionize the HR profession," he says, "by taking us ahead -- into the past."

Many policy experts believe HR is ill-prepared for EFCA.

"Most of the HR leaders at companies today have grown up in a world where they haven't had to deal with unions," says Fred Foulkes, professor of organizational behavior and faculty director of the Human Resources Policy Institute at the Boston University School of Management.

And, he adds, "a lot of HR staffs have been downsizing. If you have plants around the country, and you're dealing with dozens of organizing drives, it's going to be difficult to respond."

Government at Work

According to policy experts contacted for this story, EFCA may be HR's most serious concern, but it's just one of many far-reaching workplace regulations that could become a reality with the Democrats in control of both Congress and the White House. Among them:

* The Healthy Families Act. The bill would require employers with at least 15 employees to provide seven paid sick days per year. The measure failed to gain traction during the previous session of Congress, but was co-sponsored by Obama, and if he's elected, the bill "would stand a decent chance of passage," says Mike Peterson, the director of labor and employment policy for the HR Policy Association.

McCain has not taken a position on the bill, and Peterson and other policy experts say they don't know whether he would oppose such legislation.

The bill is strongly opposed by business groups, who are worried about the cost and the loss of employer flexibility.

"Employers would like to manage and decide the appropriate benefits that make sense to their workforces," says Jeri Gillespie, vice president of human resource policy for the Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers.

* The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The bill, aimed at reversing a Supreme Court ruling, would make it easier for employees to sue for pay discrimination. Each time an employee receives a paycheck or pension payment, the time period for filing a claim would be restarted.

Business groups say that, under the bill, ex-employees could file claims years after they've left a company -- all they'd need is to receive a pension check. Such claims could be difficult to defend against, particularly if witnesses have died or moved away.

And, says Peterson, "there would never be any finality from an employer standpoint."

The bill passed the House last year and was introduced in the Senate this year but failed to advance. Obama is a strong supporter of the measure; McCain has said he would vote against it.

As with the Healthy Families Act, the bill has a reasonably good chance of passing if Obama wins and the Democrats show strong gains in the Senate, policy experts say.

* The Civil Rights Act of 2008. Opponents say this bill would create more headaches for HR than a jackhammer in the ear. Most worrisome is the provision that would eliminate caps on compensatory and punitive damages awarded in discrimination cases.

In addition, the bill would eliminate pre-dispute arbitration agreements, in which workers agree to arbitrate any complaints with the company, rather than in court. The bill would also render unenforceable any agreements already signed.

Proponents of the bill say employees are pressured into signing such agreements; employers argue that the agreements allow resolutions that are faster, more efficient, less expensive and confidential.

The bill would also allow plaintiffs in wage-and-hour lawsuits to recover compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to the back pay currently allowed.

The legislation was introduced in both houses this year; Obama was a co-sponsor in the Senate. McCain hasn't taken a position but would likely veto it, experts say.

* Ergonomics. In 2000, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration introduced ergonomic standards for the workplace. Business groups attacked the standards, saying they would cost employers as much as $100 billion to implement, and the new rules were overturned by Congress in 2001.

Congressional Democrats are expected to push for the standards to be reinstated. Obama has said he strongly supports such a move; McCain would likely oppose reinstatement, policy experts say.

Obama and McCain are on opposites of a number of other issues that would affect the workplace. For example, Obama wants to raise the minimum wage as inflation rises. McCain, at a campaign appearance before a group of business leaders, called that "a sure way to add to your costs and to slow the creation of new jobs.

And last year Obama, with two co-sponsors, introduced the Patriot Employer Act of 2007, which would give tax breaks to companies that keep jobs in the United States, maintain their corporate headquarters here, pay a certain level of wages, stay neutral during organizing drives, pay at least 60 percent of the healthcare premiums of employees, prepare workers for retirement and support workers who serve in the military.

Even with Obama in the White House and a strong Democratic Congress, the bill may not have much chance of passing, says Yager, of the HR Policy Association. But, he adds, "it's a blueprint showing how Barack Obama would define who is a good employer and who is not a good employer."

HR is also keeping a close eye on what will happen to the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire in 2010. McCain is expected to extend most of them; Obama is expected to let some expire.

Mike Aitken, director of governmental affairs for the Alexandria, Va.-based Society for Human Resource Management, says changes to the tax cuts will have a significant impact on the human resource profession, ranging from pension-plan administration to the way retirement savings are calculated.

Aitken notes that "many companies recruit on employee benefits," and letting some tax cuts expire would "cut down on some of the things you're trying to push for."

At least one major set of regulations could go into effect before the next president takes office. The Americans with Disabilities Act Restoration Act would reverse four Supreme Court decisions that narrowed the definition of a disability, thereby limiting who would be covered by the ADA. Under the Restoration Act, for example, courts and employers could no longer consider mitigating measures, such as medicine or a device, to determine whether a person is disabled.

The bill is moving through Congress and could reach the desk of President Bush, who is expected to sign it. Both McCain and Obama support the measure. (The bill had yet to be signed at press time.)

Immigration Matters

Although recent polls show that worry about the economy and energy costs has diverted the public's attention from immigration reform, the issue is still very much on the radar of HR leaders.

Not that they're likely to get many details from the two presidential candidates.

"I think they're being intentionally vague -- it's not an issue they want to talk about publicly," says Lynn Shotwell, executive director of the Washington-based American Council on International Personnel, whose members are in-house immigration professionals -- usually in HR or the legal department -- at large, multinational employers.

It's hard to take a position on immigration without alienating voters on one side or the other, and so the two candidates are talking in generalities.

McCain has been particularly silent on the issue, says Shotwell, because his past positions have alienated the many Republicans who oppose any sort of "amnesty" for illegal immigrants. In 2005, McCain, along with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced a bill that would have created a path to legalization. Like other immigration-reform bills, it failed to get off the ground.

Shotwell and other immigration policy experts say McCain may not come out and announce it, but if a strongly Democratic Congress passed a bill similar to the one he co-sponsored, he would probably sign it.

"He understands the complexity of the situation, and would support a reasonable solution," says Shotwell.

Obama also supports legalization. Just about the only difference between the two candidates, say experts, is that McCain argues that securing the border with Mexico should be the first priority.

There may be differences in their approaches to H-1B non-immigrant visas for highly educated workers. Both candidates support increasing the number of visas allowed, says Shotwell. But Obama, who shares labor's concern that H-1B workers are sometimes used to substitute for American workers, would likely put more restrictions on how employers can use the visas, she says.

"New restrictions," says Shotwell, "would add to the bureaucratic hurdles for companies that comply with the visa requirements, and the ones that don't comply aren't going to comply."

But, she says, the positions of the two candidates may not make much difference in the end. "What really drives the debate is Congress," she says. "Either Obama or McCain, like Bush, would sign almost any reasonable bill that would be put in front of them."

Pain, Gain in Healthcare?

HR leaders hoping to find a clear choice between McCain and Obama on healthcare are likely to be disappointed. Both candidates are offering proposals that business may find difficult to swallow.

McCain's plan to shore up the individual health-insurance market could have a major impact on HR, says Marisa Milton, the director of healthcare policy for the HR Policy Association.

McCain is proposing a refundable tax credit of $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families to offset the cost of health insurance.

That would be a boon to people with individual health plans, who currently get no tax write-offs. But it would also mean that many people who get health insurance through their employers would no longer get a full write-off -- and so their plans would essentially cost more.

The danger to employers is that many young, healthy workers might be tempted to move into the individual market, where they may be able to get a better deal. "As healthy people leave, the employer-based plans could implode," says Milton.

Obama is calling for a new national healthcare plan that would cover the 47 million Americans who don't have health insurance. Part of the cost of that plan would come from employers.

Under Obama's proposal, employers that don't provide a "meaningful" contribution to their workers' health coverage will have to pay the government a percentage of their payroll. The money would go toward the national plan.

Business leaders may not like this proposal any more than McCain's. As Milton says, "No one is going to come out of this unscathed."

As with immigration, the two candidates' overall proposals on healthcare aren't particularly detailed, and HR leaders don't have a clear picture on everything that might affect them.

Yager says the candidates are likely to keep things vague.

"At the end of the day, healthcare is going to take a comprehensive solution, and we're not likely to see that articulated before the election."

However important immigration and healthcare may be, that's not what this election is all about for HR executives.

All the employment-related bills are like planes circling an airport, getting ready to land. And many of them may get clearance, no matter who becomes president.

"This backlog of employment stuff is the wish list of the union folks and the civil-rights folks," says Lorber, the Proskauer Rose attorney.

"That's what frightens HR executives the most."

In other words: Get ready.


Andy Stern's campaign for Labor Secretary

More Andy Stern stories: hereMore embezzlement stories: here

Looking out for #1: SEIU bigs' sham exposed

Leaders of the Service Employees International Union plan to announce the formation of an ethics committee in the wake of allegations of misspending by union officials at several big locals.

The purpose of the committee would be to improve oversight of union leaders. It also would address complaints that although the union under President Andy Stern has excelled at adding new members and political organizing, it has failed to adequately address issues of ethics and union democracy.

A series of emails between Mr. Stern and Matt Witt, a senior Stern adviser, from June and August indicate that the committee was conceived before recent media reports of misspending at the union's biggest local in California. The emails, which were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, also indicate that the committee would help shore up Mr. Stern's legacy and make it easier for him to pursue opportunities outside the union.

Michelle Ringuette, an SEIU spokeswoman, confirmed that the union's executive board met Tuesday and discussed ethics proposals. Union officials said an announcement could come as early as Wednesday.

Mr. Stern said in a statement that the union is "committed to leading a reform movement within labor and insisting on the highest standards." The SEIU has "taken immediate actions to deal with the issues involving California locals, and we are constantly reviewing our standards to ensure that the interests of our members...are fully protected."

The SEIU has grown rapidly under Mr. Stern and it says it now has two million members, making it one of the nation's largest unions. Critics of Mr. Stern within the union have said that his focus on membership growth has led to less-democratic practices, such as the creation of ever-bigger locals through mergers and the appointment of handpicked leaders to run them.

Recently, ethics issues involving appointees have come to the fore. In one instance, a 160,000-member SEIU local in Los Angeles and a related charity were reported to have allegedly paid more than $850,000 to the union's head, his wife and firms owned by his wife and her mother. The House Committee on Education and Labor has said it would open an inquiry on the matter.

Meanwhile, the SEIU will hold a hearing to decide whether to take over the 150,000-member San Francisco local, which the union alleges misspent union funds. Officials of that local say they are being targeted because the local's president, Sal Rosselli, has opposed some of Mr. Stern's policies, including merging locals. Ms. Ringuette dismissed those claims.

The emails between Messrs. Stern and Witt indicate that Mr. Witt had urged forming an ethics committee in June because of a growing perception that the union had grown "at the expense of democracy and ethics."

But attention on the alleged financial misconduct added urgency to the matter. Media reports have "set in motion events that will make it hard for you to pursue other opportunities outside SEIU," Mr. Witt wrote to Mr. Stern in an email dated Aug. 15.

On Aug. 16, Mr. Stern asked Mr. Witt to write a statement "announcing the formation of a process to ensure democracy and accountability" led by independent experts and SEIU leaders.


Bellevue, WA teachers on strike

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Typical start to school year for a labor-state

Teachers here hit the picket lines Tuesday on what was supposed to be the first day of school, as negotiations with the Bellevue School District remained deadlocked. Despite a mediator's presence during negotiations that ran through the long holiday weekend, the union and district were unable to come to terms on compensation and teachers' freedom to stray from the established curriculum. Both sides are scheduled to resume talks with a mediator early Tuesday afternoon.

In the meantime, about 1,200 teachers spent all night making picket signs, and the district's 16,000 students will have an extended summer -- but it's not clear for how long.

"I'm really sad that we're here; sad that we have to be here," said teacher Byona Golding says.

The teachers are demanding more control over their lesson plans, better health care benefits and an 11-percent increase in pay over the next three years.

"Cost of gas is going up, cost of living is going up. So we want to stay competitive and make sure we attract the best," said teacher Randy Litzenberger. "Bellevue kids deserve the best teachers. We want to make sure that happens for the long run."

The district says there's room to be more generous with benefits and allow teachers more control over how they teach, but there is no room in the budget for the pay raise, which would cost the district $3.8 million.

"To offer them what they're asking for would really call for significant cuts in positions, in programs and for class size increases," said school district spokeswoman Anne Oxreider. "I just know there's a sense that we want to keep working on this. We want to get somewhere, but I don't think anybody's predicting the outcome."

In June, the Bellevue Education Association voted strike lines if they did not have a contract by September 2.

"It makes no sense to start school and have poor education where education is lacking in some way," said Michele Miller with Bellevue Education Association. "And so we're asking for some patience until we can guarantee the education they get in the classroom is quality education."

Parents and students who support their teachers' decision are hoping for a quick resolution.

"We really hope there is a compromise and it's reached quickly because there will be consequences for students, teachers and the administration," said student Stephen Bronski.

And for parents who have day care issues.

"(This strike) is very hard to us," said parent Yanan Zhang. "We both have to work and we have no plan for this little one."

Bellevue city leaders said they'll support an expanded Boys and Girls Club day camp on Tuesday to provide child care and could open two additional day camps if the strike continues through Thursday. Extracurricular activities such as after-school sports will go on as scheduled.

The BEA last went on strike 28 years ago.


Teachers picket on first day of school

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Teaching labor-state kids a lesson in collective bargaining

On what should have been the first day of school for Tuscarora School District, district teachers walked the picket lines outside four district buildings from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

According to Marcia Bender, southern region field director for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, representing the Tuscarora Education Association (teachers' union), teachers will continue to walk picket lines each weekday until they get a "fair and equitable contract."

Bender said teachers could be out of the classrooms until October.

State law requires teachers provide 180 days of education to students by June 15.

Bender said the state Department of Education will look at the district's calendar and eliminate all Act 80 (teacher in-service) days and holidays except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, New Year's Day and Memorial Day to determine when the teachers must return to work.

While Bender said it's not PSBA's policy to release vote counts on how many teachers voted to strike, the fact that all 178 of the rank-and-file teachers were walking the picket lines on Tuesday should be an indication of the vote.

"It (the vote) was overwhelming. I think the fact that the members are out on the picket lines supports the fact that it was indeed overwhelming," Bender said.

The teachers' union and school district remain divided on four issues: salary, benefits, members of the bargaining unit not on scale with the rest of the members and language for compensation for an extended athletic/event season.

While teachers want a 4.5 percent salary increase each year for the duration of the four-year contract, the district wants to pay the teachers 3.75 percent each year.

Bender said that no teacher gets a 4.5 percent raise. She said the 4.5 percent is a pot of money that is divided and paid to the teachers.

After the teachers' union voted down the fact finder's report, the district offered less than the fact finder recommended, which was 4.4 percent, 4.3 percent, 4.25 percent and 4.25 percent over the four-year contract.

The two parties are also divided on health care.

The union wants to pay 7 percent, 7 percent, 8 percent and 8 percent over the four-year contract for the premium for employee coverage as well as dependent coverage

The district had proposed 9 percent, 10 percent, 11 percent and 12 percent.

Sheryl Allison, chairperson of TEA's negotiating committee, said the association wants the district to negotiate.

"We left on Aug. 20 feeling like there was some movement, and we were cautiously optimistic. We feel that we have been deceived," Allison said Tuesday while picketing at St. Thomas Elementary School.

District Superintendent Rebecca Erb said the board has a full schedule with two community meetings concerning the high school referendum and Monday's board meeting.

"The district does plan to continue negotiations, but it won't hold any until after Monday," Erb said.

While the union is required to give the district 48 hours notice before striking, Erb said it does not have to give notice for teachers to return to work.

However, Erb has asked Bender to inform her by 2 p.m. the day before teachers plan to return to work, in order to organize transportation and cafeteria services for the students.

"Therefore, students will not return to school until further notice," according to Erb's post on the district's Web site.

Aside from the strike causing the cancellation of classes at Tuscarora, Erb said everything has been going smoothly.

"Students who attend the Career Center were picked up at the high school without any problems today," Erb said. "They provided their own transportation to the high school this morning and it was uneventful. There were no problems or complaints."

All scheduled sports are on schedule through Saturday -- except tennis, because the tennis coach is a teacher.

"We've encouraged all of our bargaining members not to cross the picket lines to do coaching, and it's our understanding that our coaches are supportive," Bender said.

Athletes are to contact their coaches for practice and game details.

If teachers had returned to the classrooms without a contract this year, Allison said it would have been the third time it has happened.

"We've always gone back (to school without a contract) and it's time to take a stand. This is not what we want to do. We want to be in our classrooms," said Allison, who teaches science at James Buchanan High School.

Sleeping in late and enjoying a few more days of summer vacation wasn't an option for Chandler Steiger, 13, Mercersburg.

The James Buchanan Middle School eighth-grader chose to walk the picket line at the high school to support the teachers.

"This matters to us. It's our school. Summer vacation is fun, but we all like school," Steiger said. "It's not fair that they don't get paid enough. They need more money than they are getting."

Carrying a "We Want School," sign, Maggie Ortbal, 15, also supported the Tuscarora teachers.

"I want school because I care about my education. I don't think it's fair that the school board is doing this to the teachers that has gone to such an extreme that they have to strike," said the JBHS sophomore.

Shaina Haas' sister teaches at the James Buchanan Middle School.

"I just think it's ridiculous what the school board is doing. Every night I see my sister working so hard, and it's just not fair that they are doing this (to the teachers)," said the 14-year-old JBMS eighth-grader. "I want to come back (to school) when the school board decides it's time to be fair."

Bender said the only thing that will get the teachers back into the classrooms and off the picket lines is a fair agreement.

The last time district teachers went on strike was in 1973.

Teachers receive no money while they are on strike.

"PSEA has strike loans. We have other locals around the state that support locals that are on strike and sometimes adopt families, depending on the length of the strike," Bender said.

State Rep. Todd Rock, R-Waynesboro, has initiated House Bill 1369 to prevent Pennsylvania teachers from striking.

A former teacher himself, Rock said he's not anti-teacher or anti-union, but doesn't think anyone wins in a strike situation.

"There are school children involved and taxpayer dollars, and that makes teacher strikes totally different from any other that's out there in the private sector," Rock said.

He said 37 of 50 states don't allow teacher strikes.

"Most teachers are looked at positively as hardworking. They are looking out for the best interest of my children. When you start using the taxpayers' children as a bargaining chip, that all changes and then the community turns on the teachers," Rock said.

Rock's bill still contains mediation, fact-finding and arbitration, but if there's no agreement, then the bill requires mandatory negotiations between the union and board four times a month as well as public forums every six weeks. There is no mandatory settlement.

"We would hope that the community would encourage the board members that they have elected to insist on another bargaining session and bring the contract negotiations to a close," Bender said.


Striking teachers hold out "hope"

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Typical start to school year in labor-state

Teachers in the Duquesne City School District will put down picket signs and return to work if school officials begin negotiating toward a higher raise, union officials said Tuesday. But district officials believe the union is looking for money the district doesn't have.

The district's 49 teachers went on strike yesterday after one week of school, delaying a return for students after the Labor Day weekend. Duquesne is one of three districts in the state where teachers are striking and the first in Western Pennsylvania.

Tom Sturm, communication coordinator for the Duquesne Education Association, said teachers want to get back into classrooms but are tired of being paid lower wages than any other district in Allegheny County.

"We have to have hope," said Sturm, a school counselor in the district for 36 years and a class of 1967 alumnus. "Our teachers don't want to be on that picket line. They want to be in there teaching. We're willing to negotiate."

According to state Education Department records, teachers in Duquesne are the lowest paid in the county and a 19 percent raise requested by the union would make the average teaching salary there equal to the average in Clairton, which has the second-lowest paid teachers.

Duquesne has seen a lot of changes since being put under state control in 2000 for financial troubles, including a one-year stint under Pittsburgh Public Schools' control. Sturm said the district had 10 different superintendents and 34 elementary school principals in the past 30 years.

With an average salary of about $40,000, Duquesne teachers make in excess of $14,000 more than the average family in the city. The district tax office reports that the average household income in the distressed city is $25,898.

"I just don't know how a district such as Duquesne can do this," district Solicitor Bill Andrews said. The district, with 520 students, has a $15 million annual budget.

Sturm contends a 19 percent increase for teachers would cost the district about $400,000. The district proposed a 3 percent increase for the second consecutive year after a two-year wage freeze.

The strike means a state mediator must step in to restart negotiations.

One point of contention is the amount of money available in the distressed district. Sturm said the district's subsidy from the Pennsylvania Department of Education increased by $700,000 this year, but Andrews said the subsidy went up just $398,000.

Michael Race, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of State, could not verify either number. Race said the district's basic subsidy was increased by $298,000 this school year, but other programs have different increases. Each increase can be used only for certain programs and not necessarily teacher salaries, Race said.

The money is split among charter school reimbursements, special education programs, a 3 percent salary increase totaling $72,000 and the addition of extracurricular activities. Andrews said this year brought the reintroduction of instrumental music programs and middle school athletics.

"It doesn't even scratch what students in other districts have," Andrews said. "If this district is ever going to turn around to compete with other districts in the county, we've got to start introducing other things."

Lisa Collins moved to Duquesne about five years ago and enrolled her daughter, Tracey, in the district. She's not satisfied with the district's offerings and is considering sending her eighth-grader to a charter school.

"My daughter needs to be in school," Collins said from the porch of her Fourth Street home while watching 38 teachers picket just down the street. "They've got all these hurdles to get over, and they keep changing things. They need to shut it down."

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