Anti-Stern rally draws 4,000 SEIU members

Related story: "Andy Stern's cover-up: 'Preposterous'"
More Andy Stern stories: hereMore embezzlement stories: here

'A desperate attempt by Stern to distract attention'

More than 4,000 members of SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) and other SEIU locals marched in downtown San Jose on Saturday to oppose a planned takeover by national union officials.

On Aug. 25, national SEIU President Andy Stern and Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger announced their intent to put UHW into trusteeship, which would replace elected rank-and-file UHW leaders with handpicked appointees accountable only to Stern and Burger. UHW members, who work in hospitals, nursing homes, and private homes across California, have been leading an effort for democratic reform within SEIU and opposing Stern's efforts to centralize power in Washington, D.C.

A letter to Andy Stern from leading labor scholars and historians was presented by Cal Winslow, a labor history fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. The letter declares that a takeover of UHW would be "a disaster for the California labor movement and for SEIU nationally."

"This is a desperate attempt by Stern to distract attention from the growing scandal involving local union presidents he appointed and promoted," said Maria Martinez, an elected shop steward for 15 years at Fifth Avenue Healthcare Center in San Rafael. "In UHW, members elect our leaders and they are accountable to us."

Pat McGinnis, director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said that the trusteeship could lower standards for nursing home care across the state by limiting caregivers' voice to advocate for residents.

"The strategy SEIU International and Local 6434 have pursued with nursing home operators in California discourages caregivers from speaking out about dangerous conditions in nursing homes," she said. "Nursing home workers in UHW have been the leading voice for union contracts that empower them to stand up for their residents."

Eloise Reese-Burns, a nursing assistant at Cottonwood Healthcare Center in Woodland and member of UHW's executive board, announced two resolutions that were debated and approved at the local's annual conference by more than 2,000 elected stewards and member leaders.

One resolution directs the union to protect member control of UHW by mobilizing the union's 150,000 members to stop the illegal trusteeship. The other reaffirms UHW's longstanding goal of building one statewide union that is accountable to healthcare workers in California instead of union officials in Washington, D.C.

With more than 150,000 members, SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West is the fastest-growing healthcare union in the United States. We represent healthcare workers in all job classifications and all healthcare settings, including hospitals, homecare, nursing homes and clinics. Our mission is to achieve high-quality healthcare for all.

Contact: Sadie Crabtree, +1-323-365-2083

SOURCE SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West


Gov't unions join corporate welfare scam

Securing position for 'advance auction in stolen goods.'

In late 2006, Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy Inc. was pushing the notion that nuclear power should be included with solar and wind in any federal mandates for renewable-energy generation. Xcel's idea was supported by Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who had ordered a study and drafted federal carbon-reduction legislation that included Xcel's proposal.

At about that time, Minnesota Republican leaders were asking local corporations to sponsor the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, which ended Thursday. Xcel agreed to give $1 million.

Coleman was involved in the fundraising, but it could not be determined if he made calls. Xcel and Coleman's office said there was no connection between the RNC donation and the senator's support of the Xcel proposal.

But the timing illustrates the potential conflicts underlying the intense fundraising that both political parties engaged in while preparing for their conventions this year.

Though federal law sets strict limits on how much companies and other organizations can give to candidates and parties, it provides no restrictions on their donations to the party conventions. The events are largely paid for by contributions from corporations, labor unions and others who have political agendas, and the sponsors are rewarded with access to lawmakers during the conventions.

The Democratic National Convention host committee raised more than $50 million from private donors; the RNC committee has said it is shooting for $58 million. The DNC host committee received support from more than 200 corporate, union and other contributors.

The federal government gives each party $16.4 million for general convention expenses and $50 million for security.

Critics call convention funding a huge loophole in campaign finance laws, and even the candidates themselves have said the system needs reform.

"You can give $1 million, $6 million or as much as you want to the conventions," said Steve Weissman, associate director for policy at the Campaign Finance Institute in Washington. "These contributions make an enormous impression, and they're clearly related to companies' interests."

Xcel gave $1 million each to the organizers of the GOP convention and the Democratic National Convention in Denver Aug. 25-28.

A spokesman for Coleman dismissed any connection between Xcel's RNC contribution and his legislative actions.

"There is absolutely no connection between Sen. Coleman's legislative agenda and the financial support that any company or organization made to the 2008 RNC convention," said spokesman Leroy Coleman. "Sen. Coleman's record of championing nuclear as a clean energy source goes back to his race for Senate in 2002."

An Xcel spokesman said both contributions were made as civic gestures to help the host cities — its two major operations bases — pull off the important events.

"We gave because we're part of the community," said Xcel spokesman Joe Fuentes. "It's a bit of a stretch to say there was any connection. The dots don't connect."

In any case, Xcel's push for nuclear power as a renewable energy source withered from lack of support in Washington. A spokesman for Coleman said the senator never introduced legislation including Xcel's proposal.

Raising questions

Examples from the DNC in Colorado include:

• Three unions — the American Federation of Teachers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union — gave a combined $1.75 million to the DNC host committee. They've given similar contributions to past Democratic conventions.

Local units of each group benefited from Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter's November executive order allowing state workers to join unions.

AFSCME spokesman Gregory King said the union committed in late spring to give $500,000 after Ritter called the union's president.

"We gave to support the candidate and the efforts of the host committee," King said.

AFT spokeswoman Janet Bass said the union's $750,000 donation in July "was a contribution to the committee" that was unrelated to Ritter's action.

An SEIU representative could not be reached for comment Friday.

Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer would not discuss Ritter's fundraising activities.

"We hit the goal, and it took a lot of hard work on the part of a lot of people," he said, adding that convention fundraising is "certainly not an ideal process."

• Qwest, the largest contributor to either convention with $6 million in cash and in-kind contributions to each, had a major issue before the Federal Communications Commission during the past eight months. In July, Qwest lost its bid for the FCC to relax regulations and allow it to charge higher wholesale rates to telecommunications companies that use its network.

Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat involved in DNC fundraising, sent a letter to the FCC in June after being contacted by Qwest and its opponents on the issue. She asked the FCC to put consumers first and did not promote Qwest's side.

"This was a business opportunity and a financial opportunity for us," Qwest Colorado president Chuck Ward said of the company's contribution, announced in November. "It was about brand recognition. It was not a political opportunity."

• Comcast, which gave the DNC host committee an estimated $5 million in cash and in-kind services and the RNC a smaller contribution, has had many issues before the FCC during the past two years. It spent $8.8 million lobbying in Washington in 2007.

The company prevailed this year in an effort to keep the FCC from expanding its regulatory oversight. But the FCC delivered Comcast a defeat in December when it restricted cable companies' nationwide reach. And last month the FCC ruled that Comcast cannot slow some users' Internet traffic without informing them.

Comcast spokeswoman Sena Fitzmaurice said the company gave to support the local host committees and not for political reasons. The company tends to give more to conventions when it is the cable provider in the host city, as was the case in Denver and St. Paul, she said.

Easy way to reform

Weissman of the Campaign Finance Institute said there is a simple solution to the convention-funding loophole: Eliminate the local host committees.

The committees were originally created in the 1970s as independent welcoming organizations but developed over time into convention fundraising arms of the state and national parties, Weissman said. Conventions could be funded from general contributions to the party, which are restricted, he said.

Steve Farber, a Denver attorney and sometimes lobbyist who was pivotal in raising money for the Democrats, said the focus on donors' political interests misses the point.

"When we undertook to bring the DNC to Colorado, I saw it as an opportunity to showcase Denver," Farber said. "We didn't know who the candidate would be at the time. But I knew it would have a very positive impact on Denver if we pulled it off. And we did."

Paying top dollar

Top disclosed contributors to the host committees of the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions, in cash and in-kind services.

Democratic National Convention

Qwest $6 million
Comcast $5 million
EchoStar $1.5 million
Xcel Energy $1 million
Level 3 Communications $1 million
Molson-Coors $1 million
Union Pacific $1 million
Alvarado Properties $1 million
American Federation of Teachers $750,000
Service Employees International Union $500,000
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees $500,000
Vail Resorts $500,000

Republican National Convention

Qwest Communications $6 million
UnitedHealth Group $1.5 million
Xcel Energy $1 million
Medtronic $1 millio
St. Jude Medical $1 million
US Bank $1 million
Cargill $250,000
Eli Lilly $250,000
Koch Industries $250,000
Wells Fargo $250,000
Land O'Lakes $100,000
Waste Management $100,000


Likely voter-fraud states identified

More ACORN stories: here
Related story: "Barack paid ACORN unit at least $850K"

Labor-backed community organizer ACORN under investigation in five states for voter-registration fraud

Five days a week, Linda Graham trolls tattered neighborhoods of this once thriving steel city outside Pittsburgh for unregistered voters she can sign up as Democrats — one of thousands of unknown volunteers whose work outside the limelight has already altered the basic arithmetic of the November election.

The epic nomination battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton helped put millions more Democrats on the voter rolls while Republican registration declined. Now Graham, 45, has taken three months of unpaid leave from her job at Pittsburgh's Central Blood Bank in the hope of adding to those gains before the presidential vote.

She's encouraged by the response here. "They're all feeling the crunch" of lost jobs and a sagging economy, Graham said. "But people are feeling empowered. They're feeling like, you know what, I hold a little bit of power in this."

To counter this effort, the Republicans are counting on a formidable, high-tech get-out-the-vote operation that has helped them win the past two presidential elections.

Since the last federal election in 2006, volunteers like Graham combined with the enthusiasm generated by the Obama-Clinton struggle to add more than 2 million Democrats to voter rolls in the 28 states that register voters according to party affiliation. The Republicans have lost nearly 344,000 thousand voters in the same states.

The Democrats hope their voter registration efforts can boost Obama to victory in competitive states like Pennsylvania, Nevada and Florida and perhaps even give him a shot at winning traditional Republican states like Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

Both Obama and his Republican rival, John McCain, are fighting for independent swing voters, and many of the new Democrats had been unaffiliated voters.

The number of unaffiliated voters dropped by nearly 900,000 since 2006. Many joined the Democratic Party to take part in the primaries and caucuses, and now they will now be targeted by an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign.

"We feel that our supporters are more enthusiastic than we've seen in previous cycles," said Jon Carson, Obama's national field director.

The Obama campaign is taking the lead among the party organizations and labor unions that traditionally work on voter registration efforts.

Because party organizations and unions, like the Service Employees International Union to which Graham belongs, can raise unrestricted amounts of money, presidential campaigns typically rely on them to handle the bulk of voter registration drives, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said in an interview.

"This is the first campaign I've seen where the voter registration is done by the campaign," Dean said.

The Republicans are relying on a more traditional voter registration model, with the Republican National Committee leading the effort among state parties.

"We hope that the hard work we've done in the past will provide us with a strategic advantage," said Mike DuHaime, McCain's political director. "We will have the most technologically advanced ground operation ever."

DuHaime said the RNC is working with the state parties to register voters in every battleground state. He said there is extra emphasis on the fast-growing ones, including Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida and North Carolina.

He said the GOP's comprehensive voter database helps it track voters moving into competitive states.

"If you ever voted in a Republican primary and move without registering, we pick it up," DuHaime said.

Nationwide, there are about 42 million registered Democrats and about 31 million Republicans, according to statistics compiled by The Associated Press.

The Democrats have posted big gains in many competitive states, including Nevada, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Florida. They have also been targeting historically Republican southern states.

Since 2006, the Democrats have added 167,000 voters in North Carolina, while the Republicans have added 36,000. The Democrats' biggest voter registration goal is in Georgia, where the Obama campaign hopes to register 500,000 voters before the election, said Dean, who has spent the past month traveling the country on a voter registration bus tour.

"The Obama folks are serious about Georgia," Dean said. Georgia has added 337,000 voters since 2006, but the state does not identify them by party affiliation.

In Pennsylvania, the Democrats have added 375,000 voters since 2006 while the Republicans have lost 117,000.

America Votes, an umbrella organization, coordinates voter registration efforts for more than 40 groups in Pennsylvania, including unions, the NAACP and the Sierra Club.

On a recent weekday, two dozen volunteers canvas neighborhoods in five southwest Pennsylvania counties, targeting African-Americans in their teens and twenties, who tend to vote at lower rates than older voters.

Graham, the SEIU member, works the neighborhoods of Clairton, where the steel industry's decline has left more downtown storefronts boarded up than occupied.

Graham finds a potential voter at the first house she stops at. Justin Webb, a father of two, is unregistered, but tells Graham he has serious concerns about the economy.

"We need more jobs," said Webb, 28. "If we had more jobs, we would have more opportunities to better ourselves."

It takes Graham less than five minutes to register Webb as a Democrat.


UAW squanders dues on golf resort

More union-dues stories: here

United Auto Workers' golf course losing millions

Down a lonely country road far from the interstate hangs a banner at the UAW's golf course: "Public welcome." But a review of the golf course and adjacent education center's financial statements indicate that not enough people have been visiting.

The UAW International's golf course and education center operations on 1,000 acres near Onaway have together lost $23 million over the past five years, independent audits obtained by the Free Press show. Both are run as for-profit corporations, according to paperwork filed with the U.S. Department of Labor, and the UAW has been propping them up with loans.

"There's a lot of debate over what to do," said Arthur Wheaton, a union expert from Cornell University. "They've been having trouble there trying to get enough people to go through there to justify the expense," he added.

The facilities are reminders of another time when the autoworkers' union was flush with dues-paying members. But now the U.S. auto industry is losing money, the UAW is losing members and some people are questioning the need to keep the money-losing operations.

The UAW and others defend the properties as important assets and point out that President Ron Gettelfinger has been aggressive about cutting costs to protect the union's financial health.

While the UAW International has a huge reserve of money, the union filed financial records with the federal government stating that it spent about $2.7 million more than it took in during 2007 -- the third time over the past five years that the union spending exceeded receipts, records show.

"All you have to do is look at the membership trends and realize that there was a golden age when they could easily support the education center," said Hal Stack, director of the Labor Studies Center at Wayne State University.

"It could be that either things turn around or they sell it," he added.

From a peak of 1.5 million members in the 1970s, the UAW ranks have dropped to just 465,000 regular members, according to its most recent federal filings.

In 2007 the UAW had receipts -- union dues, fees and other income -- of $327.6 million and it spent $330.3 million. While losing members, the UAW International, since at least 2000, has been able to hold fairly steady in the amount of money it brings in and spends, according to federal records. It has $1.2 billion in net assets.

Gregg Shotwell, a UAW activist, is not troubled to learn that the education center is losing money. "When you are educating and training union members, that's the business of the union. That's never a loss," Shotwell said.

But the golf course is a different story to Shotwell. "We should be running a union -- not a country club," he said.

The education center, which opened in the 1970s, was legendary UAW President Walter Reuther's dream -- a place where workers could "gather and learn and work together to build a community and solidarity that would help build a strong unity as part of the educational activity," said Roger Kerson, a UAW spokesman. "That vision has certainly succeeded."

Walter Reuther's vision

The Walter and May Reuther Family Education Center, or Black Lake, as it is often called, clearly holds a special place in UAW history.

"UAW members -- if you've never been to the UAW Family Education Center at Black Lake, it's worth begging your local union president for an opportunity to attend a conference here," Dona Jean Gillespie, of UAW Local 602 in Lansing, wrote on her blog, Blue Collar Heart, last month. "There's a peace here at Black Lake," as though Walter Reuther's spirit were present.

Last year, 9,000 members attended classes at the education center and 13,000 rounds of golf were played, including 1,000 donated for charity events and such, Kerson said. UAW members played 4,000 of the rounds, he said.

"The UAW family education center is an integral part of our union. It provides very important training and education activities for our members," Kerson said. He declined to talk about specific operation numbers or plans for the future.

The UAW Web site says the Black Lake facilities are funded from interest on the union's strike fund. "No union anywhere in the world offers an education center of this magnitude to its members. With its stunning design, beautiful location and warm, open atmosphere it is the envy of labor educators."

Course cost $6 million

The UAW opened the adjacent Rees Jones-designed golf course, which reportedly cost at least $6 million, in 2000, before Gettelfinger became the union's president. The UAW said that it has won several honors, including rankings by Golf Digest and Golf for Women magazines.

UAW members and retirees get a 20% and 30% discount, respectively, on greens fees, according to the course's Web site. Golf with a cart on a summer weekend costs $85 for 18 holes. The course offers five tees on nearly every hole to reflect a golfer's skill. The par 72 course can play from 5,058 yards to 7,030 yards.

"Our objective is to make it a state-of-the-art facility that continues to provide the best possible education for our members, while also giving the center the potential to be used during off times as a conference center for outside groups," the golf course's Web site quotes Gettelfinger saying.

Wheaton, the union expert from Cornell University, estimates that he has taught training courses at the Black Lake education center around 40 times over as many as 10 years. "We were part of doing training programs for the UAW and Ford several years ago, and they started to say instead of teaching in other places we want to do many more of our programs at Black Lake, specifically to help utilize the facilities," Wheaton said.

Wheaton said the UAW opened the golf course with the hope of attracting more people to the facility, even going so far as to invite the public.

Stack, the Wayne State labor expert, said the education center "has been losing money for some time."

"In the old days, they had a percentage of the per capita that supported the education center. Obviously when they had a million-and-a-half members, that was no problem," Stack said. "As they have declined in membership and dues income, their budget available to support the education center has subsequently declined."

Stack added: "Given what's going on in the economy, they don't have as many members to go up there as used to be going up there all of the time."

When the Detroit automakers hire workers at a second-tier wage allowed under the new labor contract, Stack said he could see an immediate need for the education center to help train new members. "One could argue that the educational effort becomes even more critical," he said.
Loans keep center afloat

Both the resort and golf course are held by a UAW-controlled holding corporation called the Union Building Corp, which is a not-for-profit organization that holds real estate for the union, records show.

The golf course is operated by a for-profit corporation called UBG Inc., which was set up for just that purpose, Labor Department records say. The education center, which reportedly has rooms to sleep 400 people, is operated by the for-profit UBE Inc. The union values the center at $27.3 million.

UBE's management of the education center has generated revenue of about $30 million over the past five years -- and net losses of $20.5 million. The operations were hit hard last year by a $5.9-million payment to an employee pension fund. And from 2003 to 2007, revenue at the education center dropped by 18%.

Over the same five years, revenue at the golf course dropped about 14%. Over five years, UBG has generated a net loss of $2.6 million. Records indicate that since opening in 2000 the golf course has never turned a profit.

Audits of both UBE and UBG by Clarence Johnson, a certified public accountant from Royal Oak, said UBE had a negative retained earning of $20.6 million and UBG had a $4.2-million negative retained earning at the end of 2007. The two entities had loans payable to the UAW International worth a total of $24 million.

Aside from the loans, UAW International's financial statements show expenses to the UBE for several conferences and other activities. In 2007 alone, the UAW International paid UBE $3.3 million for services.

Also, the union's executive board is authorized to transfer money to UBE "to help supplement the cost of education activities at the Family Education Center," a past financial statement to members said.

The losses at Black Lake are small compared with the UAW International's overall budget, said Sean McAlinden, an economist and labor expert from the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. "That's not going to bother them for a while, but I bet it's something that they're working at."


Sununu: Secret ballots for them, but not you

More EFCA stories: here

Congress must deny unions' anti-democratic powerplay

Families across New Hampshire celebrated Labor Day last week, and we should all take a moment to appreciate the strength and resilience that American workers bring to our economy every day. Equally important, we should keep the rights of those workers foremost in our minds.

Yet, just the week before, in Denver, the Democratic National Convention passed a platform that would deny those same workers the right to secret ballot elections for union representation. The convention delegates who voted on the platform were largely chosen by secret ballot; the members of Congress who attended were elected by secret ballot; and the presidential election itself will be determined by secret ballot in cities and towns across the country on Nov. 4.

It's hard to imagine the audacity required for these elected officials to deny that same fundamental opportunity to America's workforce.

Private ballot elections, or the right to vote in secret, have been a fundamental article of faith in free societies for so long that it's hard to imagine it ever being otherwise. Americans haven't thought of having it any other way for more than two centuries, and most of us are shocked to hear that there are still places in the world where the right to vote one's conscience is commonly denied.

Despite this history, on March 1, 2007, the House of Representatives voted nearly along party lines to strip workers of the right to a secret ballot in voting for or against a union. The Senate defeated the legislation, but only by the slimmest of margins. Now union bosses are calling in favors, demanding that this law be part of the liberal party platform.

The so-called "Employee Free Choice Act" is anything but. By reversing the decades-long practice of secret ballots at the workplace, its enactment would force workers to stand up and declare their vote in front of both union bosses and employers -- subjecting them to intimidation and coercion by both. Far from granting free choice, the legislation promises to deny it at the workplace and to potentially erode the foundations of free elections everywhere else.

It's no secret why big labor interests are pushing the bill. Over the last few decades, union membership in America has plunged from 34 percent of the workforce to 12 percent today. Union bosses are rightly worried about their political future, and they are asking the Democrats in Congress to do their dirty work.

Not long ago, both parties in Congress stood up to defend the secret ballot. In 2001, a group of Democrats in the House sent a strongly worded letter to government officials in Mexico urging them to reconsider a similar measure there: "We feel the secret ballot is absolutely necessary to ensure that workers are not intimidated into voting for a union they might not otherwise choose," they wrote.

It's hard to disagree with that.

Indeed, the vast majority of Americans, including union members, do agree. Recent surveys show that 78 percent of union members think Congress should keep the law the way it is. Other surveys show that 89 percent of people believe that secret ballots better protect the individual rights of workers. Even the bill's authors realize that a secret-ballot vote is preferable: they may be calling for a publicly declared vote in forming a union, but, incredibly, their bill requires a secret ballot to disband one!

Casting a ballot free from intimidation is essential to our democracy.

For more than 200 years, the United States has enshrined in our election system that every American has the right to vote their conscience privately without coercion.

We should stand to protect the same right for the American worker. In Denver, a group of political elites did just the opposite.

- John Sununu, a Republican, represents New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate.


Controversial, undemocratic card-check

More EFCA stories: here

Labor makes push, but business groups look to check card-check legislation

Several groups attending the Republican National Convention this week have serious concerns about elections—but not the presidential kind. The groups are worried about the controversial card-check legislation pending in Congress. The proposal would give unions the ability to organize at a company simply by having workers sign a card, rather than voting in a secret ballot.

Many Republican leaders worry that a Barack Obama victory in November would lead to the passage of the bill, which is currently stalled in Congress. Mr. Obama supports the bill; his opponent, Republican John McCain, does not.

The card-check proposal stokes passions on both sides of the political divide. Unions say their organizing efforts are often hamstrung by aggressive anti-union efforts by companies, including worker intimidation. Corporations claim unions will use the card-check method to make employees offers they can’t refuse—and do it while off company premises.

Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, said in an interview with Financial Week that business attacks against the bill have twisted reality, making the method seem undemocratic.

“It’s amazing that American corporations are now the defenders of democracy in the United States,” Mr. Stern said, “even though they are the supporters of communism in China.”

The Employee Free Choice Act passed the House in March 2007 by a margin of nearly sixty votes, but was later held up by a threatened filibuster in the Senate. Democrats failed to secure the 60 votes necessary to block the filibuster, but they did get Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to side with them in the 51-48 vote. Business groups now worry that if Democrats pick up several more seats in the Senate, they will have enough votes to pass the card-check legislation.

As it stands, groups like the National Association of Manufacturers—which staunchly opposes card-check certification—view the House as the best battleground to stymie the bill. And they say they are making inroads.

Some House Democrats “say they’ve seen the light,” said Jay Timmons, executive vice president at NAM. “There was some buyer’s remorse among some members.”

One concern, Mr. Timmons said, is that lawmakers might face a backlash from constituents if workers feel threatened by union members looking to corral votes outside of a secret election. “It’s simply undemocratic,” he said.

Mr. Stern disputes the assertion, saying “the House is very comfortable with what they passed, the candidates are very comfortable with what the bill says.”

One thing’s for sure: this election cycle is turning into a battle royal between business interests and unions.

At the SEIU’s Take Back Labor Day music festival Monday, hip hop artist Imani and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello spoke alongside Mr. Stern, urging concert goers to sign petitions supporting the card-check legislation.

Union officials at the festival also set up a giant banner calling for universal health care. The sign was clearly visible from the Xcel Energy Center, where the Republican convention is being held.

“Big labor is flexing its muscle,” Mr. Timmons said, noting the reported $50 million the AFL-CIO is said to be spending to get out the vote in November. He added that businesses eager to get workers to the polls are “hobbled” by election laws that bar companies from giving workers a day off to vote or busing employees to voting locations.

- Nicholas Rummell


Teachers strike silences school band

Related story: "Striking teachers picket PA school district"
Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Typical start to school year in labor-state

Missy Zelker stood atop a 4-foot high podium at a football field in Franconia Township, speaking into a microphone headset that boomed her commands through a loudspeaker.

''OK guys. Can you hear me?''

''Yes,'' the group of 50 shouted back.

''We'll march, but no playing music. One, two,'' she counted, moving her arms in time to the beat, which the drummers picked up. The Souderton Area High School Big Red Band stepped forward in one row, then separated to form a double row.

Zelker noticed something wasn't right. ''You're going to need to don't slow down so much.'' So the band repeated the formation, and she offered encouragement: ''That was a lot better.''

For a couple hours on Thursday afternoon, the band practiced, as Zelker, a senior and the band's drum major, led the way. She and her bandmates are practicing on their own -- victims, as are all 6,700 students in the district, of a teachers strike that began Tuesday and left them without band directors to supervise them.

That means they can't perform at Souderton football games -- yes, football and other sports continue despite the strike because coaches, even if they teach in the district, are covered by separate contracts.

And it's possible the band could miss the first of several fall competitions later this month, said Rich Sharp, president of the Souderton Big Red Band Boosters.

The band, Sharp explained, is considered a co-curricular activity for which students can get class credit and is an extension of the classroom. Band directors who are teachers are on strike, and while some assistant band directors don't teach in Souderton, they decided not to work with the band, he said.

Sharp said it's unfortunate the teachers and district can't agree.

''It's also unfortunate that we're seeing the sports teams have their regular practices and games,'' he said. ''It's unfortunate that we don't have support staff that wants to help out.''

Natalie Dietterich, a junior who plays clarinet, sees what's happened as unfair: ''If the football team should play, so should the marching band,'' she said.

Rob Broderick, spokesman for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said the union would rather see the coaches not coach.

''We prefer that they not cross our picket lines,'' he said. ''It gives the impression that sports is more important than school.''

But Zelker, for one, isn't bitter. ''We're not getting the short end of the stick. It means we have to become stronger. To grow,'' she said before Thursday's practice. ''The directors, even though they are on strike, support us.''

Katelyn Frueh, a junior and member of the color guard, agreed.

''We're doing this for ourselves, for the good of the band. We want our season to be good.''

So Zelker, Frueh and others have tried to do what they can to keep the band sharp during the strike. They can't rehearse on school property without school supervision so they've become a band on the run as they seek places to practice. A band section met in a church one day, for example. Then the entire band had its first practice together at Franconia's municipal park. This week, the band may be somewhere else.

By practicing on their own, the students are showing their maturity, Sharp said.

''We are proud of our students who are trying to make the best of a bad situation,'' he said.

Practicing will help them become more familiar with their routines. While students can give each other feedback, it's not the same level of constructive criticism they'd get from band directors.

''We have a big disadvantage without our instructors,'' said Keith Hunsicker, a junior who plays the snare drum. ''I'm not exactly mad about the situation. It just hurts us more than sports.''

Tracy Cole was one of several band member mothers who watched the Thursday practice.

''They're motivated,'' said Cole, who served six years on the school board before losing in the 2007 election. ''They're definitely taking pride in the program.''

Barb Denison, with two children in the band, said she is frustrated by what seems to be conflicting information from both sides of the strike.

''I don't know the truth,'' she said. ''Whatever it is, the kids are the ones who get hurt.''

Despite the adversity of the strike, Katelyn Frueh, the junior member of the color guard, summed up the band's attitude: ''We'll march on.''


Others pay price for IAM strike v. Boeing

Related video: "IAM bigs prep Boeing clash"

Supply-chain workers unlikely to recover losses from strike

Spirit AeroSystems plans to shorten the work-week of many of its employees during the Boeing machinists' strike. President and CEO Jeff Turner says Spirit worked on the contingency plans for several months before the strike. The shortened work-week is similar to a plan the company implemented during a strike in 2005.

Turner says the shortened week will apply to hourly, salaried, management and executive employees. In a statement, Turner says employees who work with new customers and future projects will not be impacted.

Reduced work-weeks begin next week. Turner says each Spirit unit and support organization will determine its own schedule.

Boeing machinists hit the picket lines at 12:01 Saturday morning. More than 27,000 workers in Kansas, Washington and Oregon are on strike after the machinists union and the company failed to come to terms on a new contract. About 750 Boeing machinists work in Wichita.

Boeing's says its most recent contract offer was for three-years. It included bonuses totaling at least $5,000 and averaging $6,400, raises averaging 11 percent, pension increases and a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment -- $34,000 in average pay and benefit gains per employee.

Analysts say a strike could cost Boeing about $100 million per day in deferred revenue. During the last strike - a 24-day walkout in 2005 that was one of the shortest in company history - Boeing was unable to deliver more than two dozen airplanes on schedule.

The strike could put the 787 Dreamliner even further behind schedule. The plane is more than 18 months behind schedule.

Spirit makes parts for most Boeing planes, including the the 737 and 787.


Democrat favors anti-democratic organizing law

More EFCA stories: here

Senate candidates differ on secret-ballot

Two business groups that back U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole say the Republican’s stance on union-related issues are a key factor in winning their support. In particular, Dole opposes so-called card-check legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize by letting a majority of workers simply sign a union card rather than holding a secret election.

“I stand with you to oppose giveaways to union bosses, such as the card-check bill,” Dole told National Federation of Independent Business members when she accepted their endorsement in Greensboro.

State Sen. Kay Hagan, Dole’s Democratic opponent, does not offer a full-throated endorsement of the idea but is much more sympathetic to the union position. “It’s something that I am looking at favorably,” Hagan said during an interview with the News & Record’s editorial board.

Besides NFIB, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has weighed in on the race by airing an independent expenditure ad. Chamber spokesman D.J. Fiedler called the check-card legislation a “top-tier issue” for his group.

“We make our endorsements based on experience, records and mostly we make our endorsement based on who we think will benefit the business community,” Fielder said. “We want to be certain that workers continue to have secret-ballot elections in the workplace.”

This is an unfamiliar position for Hagan, a lawyer and one-time banker who has had a reputation as a business-friendly legislator. And Hagan has served in the N.C. Senate, a chamber seen as friendly to business interests and not overly sympathetic to union concerns.

In 2006 and 2007, Hagan received campaign donations from political-action committees representing Walmart; drug companies Eli Lilly, Pfizer and Merck; General Electric; Progress Energy; Bank of America; and Coca-Cola in addition to groups of economic developers, home builders, retailers and the like.

Fielder said the chamber does endorse Democrats, such as former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner , who is running for Senate there. He could not say exactly how the chamber made its selection but pointed out that Dole voted against the card-check bill the last time it was before the Senate. Meanwhile, he pointed to Hagan’s statement on the legislation as a concern.

Hagan and Dole disagree on other union-related legislation. Hagan, for example, says Congress should consider a bill that would give government workers the right to collectively bargain. North Carolina law prohibits that.

“I would look at having the collective bargaining process available if the employees so voted on that,” she said.

As with the card-check issue, Dole is unequivocally opposed to that idea.

“I think that would be a mistake,” Dole said. “Because if the federal government can tell the state to do that, what can’t they tell them to do?”

Hagan’s willingness to look at these issues has won her support among labor groups, including the Greensboro-based Teamsters Local 391.

“She and I disagree on some issues,” said Jack Cipriani , the president of the local who acknowledge that Hagan does have the profile of a politician one would think naturally appeals to union leaders.

But she has been willing to listen to his group’s concerns, Cipriani said, such as issues related to school bus drivers’ pay.

“Dole will not come to any of our meetings to even talk to us,” he said. “She’s never with us on any of our workers’ issues.”

The controversy over the card-check bill centers on whether unions would be able to pressure workers into joining, or whether the current system allows employers to bully workers into renouncing union membership.

“Most workers I talk to, and I think there are statistics that show this, do not want to have a vote that’s public where they just check a card because it then lends itself to pressure,” Dole said.

Hagan points out that North Carolina could remain a right-to-work state, allowing non-union members to be hired even in those workplaces where unions are active.

“If they don’t want to join a union, they’re not going to, obviously,” Hagan said. “I think right now we’ve got to make it on a level playing field.”


Community organizers compared to socialists

Modern-day socialist cites Jane Addams

I was shocked and extremely disheartened while watching the speeches at the Republican National Convention. Throughout the speeches, the sheer level of hate spewed by the speakers made me sick to my stomach. Especially upsetting were the wisecracks about community organizers. These men and women have the gall to laugh at community organizers?

Community organizers have been on the front lines of fighting against poverty, against racism, against sexism and many more pivotal issues. Where would we be without community organizers such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Jane Addams?

Addams was an incredibly important figure in the development of educational facilities, and King was vital to the civil rights movement.

The speakers and delegates at the Republican National Convention are clearly trying to continue to make our elections be about divisiveness, rather than uniting us, about tearing down their opponent rather than giving a concrete plan for the economy and the other important issues of our times.

As voters, we cannot let this continue to happen. We must let them know that elections are about the issues, not about tearing us apart.

- Casey Gallagher, Salem


News Union takes a dues hit in Providence

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Industry beset by red ink, leftism, paper-stream waste

A.H. Belo Corp., of Dallas, announced yesterday that it will lay off employees at three of the media company’s properties, including The Providence Journal. The layoffs are to be completed by middle to late October, according to the company.

The announcement comes after A.H. Belo offered a voluntary buyout program. Twenty-two Providence Journal employees took buyouts, according to yesterday’s statement. At the Dallas Morning News, 270 people took buyouts and at The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif., 120 took buyouts, according to the company.

The number of layoffs at the Providence Journal was not provided, with the company noting they are “subject to contractual obligations.” The affected departments are news, editorial, advertising and promotion, according to the company. A letter A.H. Belo sent to employees said the layoffs would also affect about 50 positions at The Dallas Morning News and about 30 positions at The Press-Enterprise.

During the buyout process, the company had said it was looking for 35 Journal employees to accept the offer.

For the layoffs, called “involuntary reductions” in the company’s statement, the severance package will be 1.25 weeks of severance pay for each year of service through 20 years and 2.5 weeks of severance pay for each year of service above 20 years. The maximum will be 35 weeks.

A.H. Belo said the combined work force cuts company-wide are expected to result in $29 million in savings on a yearly basis.

When the job reductions were first announced in July, the company said the cutbacks are part of a broad restructuring plan because A.H. Belo faces an “unprecedentedly adverse business environment in the newspaper industry.” The company said it hoped to achieve the targeted job cuts through voluntary severance offers. If not enough workers agreed to the buyouts, however, the company said then it would have to resort to layoffs.

Robert Decherd, A.H. Belo chairman, president and chief executive officer, said in a statement with yesterday’s announcement, “These job actions are part of a restructuring of our newspaper operations that accelerates the allocation of resources to promising new print and online products while focusing our workforce on A.H. Belo’s local content creation and sales capabilities. We greatly appreciate the dedication and service of all A.H. Belo employees who are leaving the company under the voluntary severance program. I’m confident that we’re taking the right steps to realign our resources to meet consumer and advertiser needs while maintaining the exceptional quality at A.H. Belo’s journalistic products.”

John Hill, president of the Providence Newspaper Guild, the union representing most Journal employees, said, “It’s obviously something that is happening throughout the country, so The Journal isn’t any different in that respect. The business is going through a major transformation and papers all over the country, like The Journal, are trying to figure out how to survive and, we hope, thrive in an Internet-based environment."


Oppressive, non-union employers fight back

Related story: "Franken smacked over no-vote unionism"

Dem Senate candidates like comedian Al Franken are knocked as anti-worker

As organized labor and its Democratic allies push to change federal rules that would make it easier to unionize, they're squaring off with pro-business groups in one of the most aggressive and expensive ad wars of the election season.

The American Rights at Work group on Labor Day began a $5 million four-week nationwide cable-television ad campaign in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow unions to organize new locals if a majority of employees sign cards or petitions - bypassing the traditional secret-ballot method of organizing.

The ad depicts an actor representing a corporate executive on a seesaw with an announcer saying, "CEOs' salaries are getting fatter and fatter." The laughing chief executive's smile drops when a group of "workers" sit on the plank's opposite end, suspending him above the ground.

The group, which ran the ad in battleground states, says it may consider more ad buys later this year.

"When there is a difficulty to get a union in your workplace, that's a disadvantage for workers," said Josh Goldstein, a spokesman with the pro-union group. "This is more about the economy, it's more about health care, and it's more about the minimum wage than it is about the labor movement."

Both sides of the debate agree the "card-check measure," if passed, would dramatically enhance labor's ability to increase its membership. U.S. union membership has fallen from 35 percent of the work force in the mid-1950s to about 12 percent in 2007. Less than 8 percent of private-sector workers are in unions.

"The strength of labor in this country is a measurement of the success of our economy - it really is," Mr. Goldstein said. "You cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement."

A U.S. Chamber of Commerce TV ad in Minnesota portrays Mr. Franken's support of the card-check proposal as akin to denying workers' rights, saying that "taking away the private vote is just plain undemocratic."

The chamber is running a multimillion-dollar ad campaign against the measure in Maine and other battleground states, and may expand the effort elsewhere in the coming weeks, officials said.

"But that will pale in comparison to the $400 million the unions will spend on this," said Glenn Spencer, who heads the chamber's anti-card-check campaign. "We are definitely outgunned on this, but we have a winning message, I think, and the unions don't."

The labor movement collectively is expected to spend about $400 million on promoting candidates and issues this election cycle, including more than $200 million from the powerful AFL-CIO labor federation. But union officials say only a portion of the total amount will be spent directly on supporting card-check legislation.

The Change to Win labor federation will spend "tens of millions of dollars" promoting the Employee Free Choice Act, said Executive Director Chris Chafe. The campaign will include TV, radio and print ads in Oregon, Alaska, Minnesota, Mississippi and New Hampshire, as well as other battleground states.

"It's a major, major priority for Change to Win and its affiliates," said Mr. Chafe, whose coalition includes the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union.

The AFL-CIO hasn't bought ads yet in support of card check, but instead has focused on promoting the proposal internally to its members, said Fred Azcarate, who heads the group's pro-card-check efforts. But he said the federation may run ads in the coming weeks.

"We're looking at all our options in terms of paid advertising," he said.

Union and Democratic leaders, including presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, say the card-signing - or card-check - method is fairer than the secret ballot method because it's a simpler, more direct approach for workers to decide whether they want to unionize. Unions argue they need the legislation to defend against anti-union companies and lawmakers, which they blame in part for decades of declining membership.

Opponents of the bill, including big businesses such as Wal-Mart, say Democrats are making a desperate attempt to pander to organized labor - one of the party's most loyal backers. They add the proposal would deprive workers of their privacy and their right to vote.

The fight over the bill has underscored the historic alliances of labor with Democrats and business with Republicans. The GOP added a plank to its policy platform that demands workers retain the right to unionize through secret-ballot elections.

Former New York mayor and one-time Republican presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani recently told The Washington Times that Democratic efforts to change the labor voting system would leave workers vulnerable to corruption and intimidation.

A card-check proposal passed the House last year 241-185, largely along party lines. It failed in the Senate 51-48 - nine votes short of the 60 needed to proceed to final passage.

Democrats say they will reintroduce the measure next year.


Candidate deceives on secret-ballots

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