Card-check: Big Labor vs. Small Business

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"
More EFCA stories: herecard-check: here

Labor unions attacking a basic American freedom

Throughout the state of Alaska and around the country, people are struggling with the twin challenges of economic insecurity and a rising cost of living.

Small businesses see this every day, both in their own lives and in the lives of their employees and customers. During times like these, it should be the government's role to encourage business development and economic growth.

Unfortunately, there are those in Congress and in labor unions who are promoting a piece of legislation that would not only have disastrous effects on the economy, but is grossly unfair to Alaska workers as well - all at the worst possible time for small businesses in Alaska.

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), a cleverly deceptive title given the legislation's likely consequences, is a bill big labor is pushing in Congress to help stem the tide of declining union membership.

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

As their desperation for more members - and, of course, dues - has grown, the unions have resorted to ever-more fringe tactics to try to recover their once formidable influence on the American economy and government.

EFCA, the latest attempt, is perhaps the most disturbing yet. While purporting to represent the interests of American workers, proponents of the legislation are knowingly undermining some of their most basic rights, such as the right to a secret ballot vote in union-organizing elections.

This radical proposal gives big labor the green light to replace the right of employees to vote privately in union elections and replace it with a system known as “card checks.” Rather than hold an election, union representatives would only need to coerce a majority of employees to sign authorization cards. Can you imagine if we elected our senators and congressmen this way?

This is not all the bill would do. Through its other provisions, it would further undermine the position of American workers by diminishing the role they play in making the key decisions of their working lives and making it harder for them to get ahead in tough economic times.

For example, under EFCA, a simple majority of worker signatures - without protection a secret ballot - is all that would be needed to force a company to recognize the union as representing all employees, even those who would not support the unionization of their companies in a secret ballot. Then the union gets to collect dues.

In a time when we are all contending with a lackluster economy and increased living costs, is this really a fair approach? Of course not, but worker fairness is not really the point of the legislation, despite its title.

Another provision of the bill would effectively take away workers' voices on the contracts that set their pay, benefits and workplace conditions and give it to a federal arbitrator. Employees don't get a vote at all in these cases.

In addition, the decision on pay is made by someone with no fiduciary responsibility for his or her decision. If the decision puts the small business out of business, the federal arbitrator wouldn't suffer the loss of employment they cause.

Alaska workers and independent businesses are the backbone of the Alaska economy. During these troubled economic times, we need to be doing everything we can to encourage business growth and fairness to workers to help fuel an economic recovery.

The Employee Free Choice Act fails on both of these counts.

For businesses, it would seek to force more and unaffordable red tape onto organizations that are already struggling under small margins and slumping sales. For employees, it would take away some of their most basic freedoms and undermine both their current economic situation and future prospects, perhaps including their very jobs.

In short, this bill isn't good for anyone - except the union bosses.

- Denny DeWitt is Alaska state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.


Changing the rules to automate unionism

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"
More EFCA stories: herecard-check: here

Expert: Dems may have to compromise on secret ballots

Organized labor spent more than $100 million in support of Barack Obama and Democratic congressional candidates. It might not have been enough to deliver unions' top legislative priority.

Democrats are short of the 60 Senate votes they need to overcome attempts to stall legislation. That doesn't bode well for a measure to require that companies recognize unions once a majority of their workers sign cards requesting a union rather than only after employees vote. Without the 60 votes, the bill may be in trouble.

"The bill will likely be subject to a filibuster,'' said Robert Lian, a labor lawyer in the Washington office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP. To pass the measure, Democrats will have to compromise, he said.

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

Obama as an Illinois senator co-sponsored the legislation and pledged on his campaign Web site to fight for its passage as president and to sign it into law.

AFL-CIO Treasurer Richard Trumka said he expected Obama to push the so-called card-check legislation during his first 100 days in office.

"What's good for the American working class is going to be at the front of the policy discussion, not at the end,'' said Trumka, whose labor federation is the largest in the U.S. with 10.5 million members.

Six Seats

Democrats gained six Senate seats in the Nov. 4 elections with three other races undecided. Republicans lead in the races in Alaska and Minnesota and the Georgia race will go to a runoff. If the Democrats fail to win any of those races, they will have majority control with 57 seats, including two independents who back the caucus.

Under Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to overcome objections to legislation, so Democrats would need the help of Republicans to pass the union measure.

Former House Minority Whip David Bonior, a Michigan Democrat who now heads the Washington-based labor advocacy group American Rights at Work, said Senate Democrats also may try to attach the provision to legislation, such as budget measures, that aren't subject to filibuster and need only simple majority to pass.

Union members will contact their senators and urge them to vote for the bill, said Tom Woodruff, Change to Win's director of strategic organizing for Change to Win, a rival federation representing about 6 million workers.

Arrayed on the other side are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business lobby; the National Federation of Independent Business; and the National Association of Manufacturers. The coalition will contact lawmakers in their districts to make the case that the card-check measure would raise costs for businesses and hinder the economic recovery.

'Serious Implications'

It "would have serious implications on the creation of jobs and on the stability of the economy,'' Chamber President Tom Donohue said. The chamber spent $35 million in the election.

The battle mirrors organized labor's drive to help elect Obama Nov. 4 and expand the Democratic majorities in Congress.

"Election Day is only an opportunity to make things happen,'' said Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union and director of Change to Win. "We do need to stay on the ground.''

Labor spent $58 million in campaign contributions, 91 percent going to Democrats. Unions also laid out $44 million in independent expenditures supporting Obama, almost as much as the $53 million the Republican National Committee spent against the Democratic nominee, Federal Election Commission reports show.

More than 450,000 union members knocked on doors or made phone calls during the election campaign.

Try to Organize

Union officials say that employees who try to organize are fired, companies force workers to attend anti-union meetings, and penalties for violating the right to organize are too weak.

"With Obama's direction from the White House, this issue will be front and center very early on,'' said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Business leaders say the legislation will take away the workers' right to a secret ballot.

"This is the biggest labor fight of a generation in Washington,'' said David French, vice president of government relations for the International Franchise Association, part of the business-funded Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, which opposes the legislation. "This battle is not about fixing ills in labor law; this battle is about changing the rules so unions always win.''

Failed Bill

The U.S. House passed the measure in 2007 only to have it die in the Senate when supporters couldn't muster the 60 votes to bring it to the floor.

Business groups focused this year on re-electing enough Republicans to prevent Democrats from reaching 60 seats.

Change to Win's Burger said Republicans, having lost six Senate seats, may decide not to block a vote on the measure.

"The sitting senators can look around and see what happened,'' Burger said.

Union leaders point out that the legislation was the subject of business-financed ads and mailings in Senate races in Colorado, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon, where the Democratic candidates won on Nov. 4, ousting three Republican incumbents in the process.

"They made this a major issue in their campaign and obviously they lost even though they spent tremendous amounts of money,'' McEntee said.

The unions now are counting on Obama, 47, to push for the legislation.

"Unlike in the past, instead of saying 'OK, we've elected you, now do what's right by us,' we are going to keep our machinery in place,'' Trumka said. "We are going to make sure that our interests are considered at the front of the parade.''


Taking away secret ballots tops Dem agenda

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"
More EFCA stories: herecard-check: here

Secret ballots are the American way

Current labor law is straightforward. If 30 percent of employees call for a vote, a federally supervised representation election is held. If a majority of workers votes for the union, it wins the right to collect dues and represent them.

Yet union membership has been on the decline for decades. Less than 8 percent of the nation's private-sector workforce is unionized.

As president, Barack Obama will be under pressure from Big Labor to change that, and he is quite likely to comply. In the Senate, he was a co-sponsor of the cynically named "Employee Free Choice Act."

It would do away with the secret ballot and expose workers to union pressure. Unions would be allowed to organize workplaces by getting workers to sign authorization cards in public - exposing them to pressure from organizers and pro-union co-workers.

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

Union representation is down to 12.1 percent of the total work force nationwide, and 14.7 percent in West Virginia. Naturally, union officials here want to change that.

"When things get bad in the workplace, that's when workers come to us and say, 'We'd like to have a union'," Kenny Perdue, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, said.

"This (legislation) would allow that process to follow through. Right now that process isn't allowed to happen because corporate America has been able to stop the organizing and the NLRB process."

Actually, what the present law does is protect workers from intimidation by either side. It leaves decisions on union representation to wage earners themselves.

That's where such decisions should remain. Workers know what they want, and when they want unions, they get them. The current system is not broken.

Unions typically win more than half of thousands of representation elections held each year. They won 61.4 percent in 2006 and 60.1 percent in 2007.

Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said workers and employers are concerned about the card-check proposal.

"In the United States the secret ballot is nearly sacred," he said. ""What the unions want to do is take away the secret ballot."

That would subject employees to intimidation that is currently unlawful, he said. Organizers would even be allowed to follow employees home.

Unions are believed to have spent more than $300 million - from workers? - in an attempt to elect a filibuster-proof, 60-seat majority in the U.S. Senate so they could put this proposal into law.

They failed.

So should the Employee "Free Choice" Act.


Harmonizing U.S. labor law with Europe

Unions would kick back gains to Dem pols

The election of Democrat Barack Obama as president could bring the most sweeping changes in labor law in decades, reversing a long-standing erosion of the power of private-sector unions.

The changes could include measures to make it easier for workers to join unions, an expansion of family and medical leave rights and more enforcement of worker safety laws.

Business advocates in the Lower Hudson Valley say the changes would saddle employers, particularly small companies, with burdensome costs and thwart job creation. But union leaders in the region say changes Obama supports would lift wages, protect their health benefits and provide them with more job security.

There's good reason for unions to be concerned about their diminishing role in the relationship between American companies and their workers. In 2007, union members accounted for 12.1 percent of wage and salary workers in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was down from 20.1 percent in 1983. Only 7.5 percent of private-sector employees belonged to unions last year.

Union leaders, who sent armies of members to battleground states to work for Obama's election, are pledging to take advantage of the opportunities they think a labor-friendly administration will present.

"I see the CWA (Communications Workers of America) becoming more aggressive, along with organized labor all over the country," said Joseph Barca, president of CWA Local 1103 in Port Chester. "We are going to expand union membership. We are going to regain the middle class in this country."

The centerpiece of Obama's labor initiatives is the Employee Free Choice Act, a proposed law that would let workers organize a union through a process known as "card check." A majority of the workers in the proposed bargaining unit would sign cards indicating they want to join.

Under current law, it's much harder for workers to join a union. Thirty percent of the workers must express an interest in joining the union. That triggers a secret-ballot election in which a majority of the workers must vote in favor of the union.

But it is customary for management to try to dissuade workers from voting for the union. That's the part of the process that organized labor does not like.

"The company has 45 days to have those work-site meetings," said Barca, whose local represents Verizon Communications Inc. workers in Westchester and Putnam counties. "And I can tell you what happens in those meetings. The prospective union members are threatened with, 'If you pick a union, we're going to move your job overseas.'"

Paul Galligan, a partner in the New York office of Seyfarth Shaw LLP who represents management in labor matters, said the part of the proposed law that's most objectionable to management is contract arbitration.

Once a union became certified, the sides would have 90 days to negotiate a contract. If they did not, they would go to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, which would appoint an arbitrator who could impose a settlement, he said.

It's a huge power shift from current labor law, which lets management impose a settlement on a union if good-faith negotiations reach an impasse.

"I think that's what scares a lot of businesses," Galligan said. "They no longer have the right to dictate the contract."

Mike Fishman, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ in New York, said union membership in other countries has increased by up to 30 percent after the enactment of similar laws.

And that's an economic stimulus because workers generally earn higher wages once they join a union, meaning they have more money to spend on goods and services in their communities, Fishman said.

"We see it as an anti-poverty program," he said. "And it doesn't cost the government anything."

Business advocates have a different view of the possible change.

Al Samuels, president and chief executive of the Rockland Business Association, said he thinks employers throughout the region could be taken by surprise by quick organizing efforts.

A pair of employees at a nine-person company could have a chat in which they agree they want to unionize. They could recruit three colleagues to sign cards and the union would be formed, he said.

"They could do this over the weekend at their homes, and the company never has a chance to know the drive is going on or to present its side of the issue," he said. "On Monday, the company would have to start deducting union dues from the paychecks."

Since small companies generally do not have the expertise to negotiate a contract on their own, they would have to hire lawyers or other professionals at a significant expense, Samuels said.

"He (Obama) has pledged to sign the Employee Free Choice Act when it comes to his desk, and I think it's a damaging, damaging piece of legislation - not just for business, for the entire economy," Samuels said.

Obama's campaign Web site says he is a "strong advocate" of the law and thinks "workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union without harassment or intimidation."

The House of Representatives passed a version of the act last year but it was killed by a Senate filibuster. Democrats have gained six seats in Tuesday's election and need to win the remaining three that are still contested to reach 60 seats, the number needed to stop a filibuster.

Barca acknowledged that without 60 seats, a Republican-led filibuster could stop a new law. But he said he hopes that a labor-friendly president will be able to rally support for the bill.

John Maraia Sr., president of the Building Trades Council in New City, said he thinks Obama will reverse the Bush administration's opposition to project labor agreements for federal building projects.

A project labor agreement requires contractors, even those that are non-unionized, to agree to pay union wages and other benefits in order to get a contract. Opponents of the agreements contend they drive up the costs of projects.

But Rockland tradesmen have benefited from project labor agreements on public and private projects, including the construction of the Palisades Center in West Nyack, Maraia said.

"It put people on that job who were out of work in this area," he said. "Project labor agreements level the playing field and put people to work who live in the community."

Maraia said he also expects the Obama administration to increase funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration so that the agency will be able to conduct more workplace inspections.

Obama is also a Senate co-sponsor of legislation to overturn National Labor Relations Board decisions that let employers classify certain employees as supervisors, making it much harder for those employees to be union members.

Family leave laws also could become more generous. Obama has supported allowing parents up to 24 hours of leave a year to participate in their children's academic activities and letting workers take time off to address domestic violence.

He pledged to encourage states to enact paid-leave laws, saying he would provide a $1.5 billion fund to help offset the costs for workers and employers.


Workers oust Teamsters by secret ballot

Teamsters decertification shocks politicians

Shock went through municipal councils more than a decade ago when Teamsters Local 880 organized Tecumseh's firefighters and later negotiated the first union contract in Canada for a volunteer fire department.

But with the current contract set to expire Dec. 31, Tecumseh's firefighters are saying the much-improved relationship with new Chief Ken McMullen and town council makes the union unnecessary.

Without much fanfare, firefighters voted 25-11 last month to decertify the Teamsters, says Dave Lessard, an 18-year veteran of the fire department and a spokesman for his colleagues. "Nothing against the Teamsters," said Lessard Friday. "A majority of the firefighters felt it (the union) wasn't necessary any longer."

In 1997, 30-day suspensions handed to two Tecumseh firefighters for publicly questioning the wisdom of lending a fire truck to the City of Windsor sparked the Teamsters' union drive.


With the opposition from the council of the day who believed firefighters couldn't legally belong to a union, it took three years to get the first contract.

Rates of pay were never a big issue, but there were concerns about guaranteeing insurance benefits for firefighters who were injured or killed on the job.

Layoffs of some 16 firefighters followed the first contract, with claims from them that it was punishment for joining a union. The town and former chief Randy Cecile said at the time the consolidation of the Sandwich South and Tecumseh fire departments following amalgamation explained the shrinkage.

Today, the relationship with the new chief is good and morale is high, said Lessard.

"The biggest thing is the guys have come together real good," said Lessard. "Council has been very supportive."

Lessard said an association will be formed to handle communications with the chief and council, and co-ordinate fundraising for the many charitable causes that firefighters champion.

The decertification comes as the Tecumseh fire department is about to experience major upgrades in equipment for its two stations, and likely some additional hiring, says Mayor Gary McNamara.

McNamara said the town is investing about $1 million in two new fire trucks -- one expected shortly and the other by the end of 2009.

The town's first fire master plan will also be presented to council Nov. 25. The mayor expects some new firefighters will be needed, although he's not sure of the numbers. Some are in training now, he said.

McNamara said the decision of the firefighters to vote out their union was theirs alone, and the town was fully prepared to negotiate a new contract with the Teamsters.

A Teamsters representative couldn't be reached Friday for comment.

If future negotiations will be done through an association, "we're prepared to work with them," said McNamara. "We've got a great bunch of guys."

The 36 volunteer firefighters -- eight of them captains -- hold down full-time jobs and are paged for calls. Most make $4,000 to $7,000 annually, Lessard estimated. "We're certainly not in it for the money."

McMullen said he budgets about $10,000 a year on average for wages and training for each of the firefighters.

The only full-time employees are the chief, Deputy Chief Doug Pitre, Assistant Chief Bob Hamilton and an administrative assistant.

McMullen, a Winnipeg native who came to Tecumseh two years ago, said the current contract will essentially continue in place for now. "I don't have any major changes I want to make," he said.

McMullen said he wasn't around at the time the union was formed and can't comment on what led to it.

A former deputy chief in Oakville, McMullen said a major focus for the department will be increased training to improve firefighter safety at fire calls.


ACORN stonewalls judge over embezzlement

More ACORN stories: hereWade Rathke stories: here

Union-backed fraud group circles the wagons around Rathke crime

A pair of ACORN board members trying to get a hold of some of the group’s financial records were back in court Friday to try to workout a method for getting that information.

Karen Inman and Marcel Reid said they are seeking the records after discovering that the brother of the group’s founder reportedly stole $1 million. The alleged incident occurred eight years ago, but wasn’t made public until this past summer.

Inman and Reid’s lawyer met with attorneys for ACORN and its accounting firm, Citizens Consulting Incorporated, in the chambers of Judge Michael Bagneris to work out a procedure for transferring the documents.

“I feel like it’s being sent out in small amounts and a lot of it is unusable,” said Reid.

ACORN attorney Andrew Lemon believes the matter should remain private.

"There was a lot of mistrust among people who maybe didn't know each other so well and the policies, the ACORN policies weren't written specifically. Now we have written policies, the documents are going to be provided," he said.

A protective order was also issued in this case so that the documents would remain private within the organization.

Lemon added that ACORN would look into the matter internally.

In response to today's developments, Vanessa Gueringer, chair of the Lower 9th Ward Chapter of ACORN and a national board member, said, "The board has asked for the removal of these two women...(They) are trying to secure jobs with ACORN as CEO's at double the salary of any tenured employee."


Chávez lectures Prez Bam

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Urges social justice agenda for U.S.

“Obama should make a swing toward humanitarianism, toward respectful treatment of the rest of the world,” said President Chávez in his first public comments on Obama's US election victory Tuesday. He stated that the US should begin reforms from inside and it is only then that America could become a great country.

“I wish the new US government would keep abreast of the desires of the world and its own people. The US administration should focus first and foremost on internal US matters,” Chávez said.

President Chávez, a vocal critic of US President George W. Bush, accuses him of meddling in affairs of his country and the rest of Latin America.

Obama won a decisive election victory against his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, last Tuesday.


News Union takes big dues hit at Scripps

More union-dues stories: hereMore TNG stories: here

Tree-killers beset by red ink, leftism, paper-stream waste

E.W. Scripps Co., the parent company of The Commercial Appeal, said Friday it was laying off around 400 employees nationwide.

The Commercial Appeal has identified 27 positions it will eliminate, according to a written statement issued earlier last week by the Memphis Newspaper Guild. A phone call to The Commercial Appeal’s media relations staff was not immediately returned by press time.

The newspaper has enacted several measures to offset falling revenues, including hiking subscription rates and shrinking delivery areas. The Commercial Appeal stopped home delivery to 5,600 subscribers in outlying areas last month and increased its subscription rate by $2 a month.

The decrease in circulation area followed another one in March when the newspaper halted home delivery to another 4,000 readers.

E.W. Scripps said the restructuring is expected to save about $15 million a year. It announced the layoffs when it issued its earnings report Friday.

The company swung to a third-quarter loss in a weak advertising market. Scripps said in the earnings report that its publishers had notified affected employees on Thursday.

Scripps didn’t say where the layoffs will occur, but the Knoxville News Sentinel has announced that about 50 jobs, including 13 in the newsroom, would be cut at properties of the KNS Media Group subsidiary of Cincinnati-based Scripps. The move affects about 10 percent of the KNS work force.

Companywide, employees were notified of impending cuts Thursday and the job cuts will be completed in the fourth quarter.

“These are unusual times, not without difficulty and peril,” Chief Executive Rich Boehne said in a statement.

Focusing on its financial health in the short term “will yield outsized returns over the long term for those in position to exploit the transformation of our industry,” he said.

The newspaper division remains profitable; it earned $14 million in the quarter, down from $32.7 million last year.

Scripps also said it would suspend its dividend and take other steps to cut costs. The layoffs amount to 9 percent of its total work force.

The Cincinnati-based owner of local newspapers and TV stations lost $16.8 million, or 31 cents per basic share, in the quarter compared to a profit of $88.4 million, or $1.63, in the same period a year earlier. The loss from continuing operations came to $21 million, or 39 cents per share. That compares to profit of $16.6 million, or 31 cents, a year earlier.

The quarter also included a $22 million charge to spin off its cable networks and interactive media business in July and a $25 million non-cash charge to write down its investment in a Denver newspaper partnership.

Revenue fell 9 percent to $230 million from $253 million.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters on average expected a profit of 9 cents per share on revenue of $241.2 million.

Scripps said it would book a $5 million charge in the fourth quarter related to the layoffs at its newspaper division.

In the third quarter, Scripps-owned newspapers saw revenue plummet 17 percent to $131 million as the advertising market weakened.

National newspaper ads were the hardest hit, down 31 percent, followed by a 28 percent decline in classified advertising. Local ad revenue was down 16 percent, and online ads fell 12 percent.

Scripps said the decline in online advertising was mainly because of ties to print classified ads. Excluding these deals, revenue from online ads rose 13.4 percent in the quarter. Circulation revenue fell 7.6 percent to $26.6 million.

As for joint operating agreements and partnerships with other papers, Scripps said revenue in this business fell to $2.1 million from $8 million.

The loss came to $3.1 million in the quarter, down from a profit of $1.7 million in this area a year earlier.

Among its television stations, revenue was up 5 percent to $76.9 million.

Political ad revenue rose nearly 15-fold as local ads fell 6.4 percent and national ads dipped 15 percent.

Scripps noted that three NBC affiliate stations were helped by Olympic advertising.

Segment profit came to $17 million, down 28 percent from a year ago.

Licensing revenue fell 5 percent to $22.2 million but profit rose 15 percent to $1.5 million.

Scripps operates 10 TV stations and daily and community papers in 15 U.S. markets.


York University at its best

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Big Labor pressures Prez Bam, Congress

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"
More EFCA stories: herecard-check: here

'Middle-class' is oppressed by secret ballots for union recognition elections

At post-election news conferences Nov. 5 leaders of the nation’s two huge labor federations, the AFL-CIO and Change-to-Win, told reporters that the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is at the top of their agenda and that unions will work with the incoming Obama administration and with Congress to ensure its passage.

“In an economy that gives corporations far too much power, a union card remains the single best ticket into the middle class,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney declared.

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

“With a president-elect who is a co-sponsor of the EFCA, with a vice president-elect who is a co-sponsor of the EFCA…with the gains in the House and Senate, the prospects of passage have increased dramatically,” added Rich Trumka, the federation’s secretary-treasurer.

On Nov. 6, just two days after the election, a new Hart poll showed sweeping support for the EFCA despite multi-million dollar attack campaigns against the bill mounted by various corporate interests.

Despite an unprecedented $20 million spent in nine battleground states to defeat candidates who support the EFCA, voters overwhelmingly backed candidates who support the measure. A poll by Peter D. Hart Research Associates commissioned by American Rights at Work shows that anti-union advertising was among the least important factors in determining voters’ choices for the Senate, and further indicated that they continue to support making it easier for workers to join unions.

The poll reveals that nearly two-thirds (60 percent) of voters believe even in these tough economic times, it is important to pass the EFCA, and nearly one-third (30 percent) of voters believe it should be a priority for Congress.

Labor leaders warned at their post election press conferences, however, that the effort to pass the bill will not be without roadblocks.

Passage will require a filibuster-proof 60 vote super majority in the Senate. The law was passed by the House last year but derailed in the Senate in a filibuster led by Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a right-winger who was re-elected Nov.4 in Kentucky.

Democrats, along with two independents who caucus with them, now number 57, three below the filibuster-proof super majority. To stop a filibuster three Republicans would have to join them.

The possibility remains that the Democratic Senate majority can still grow to 60 because three races remain unsettled.
One race, in Georgia, is headed for a runoff in December. Georgia law says a senator can be elected only if he or she wins an absolute majority of the vote. Third party candidates prevented both the right-wing Republican incumbent, Saxby Chambliss and the liberal Democratic candidate, Jim Martin, from achieving that majority.

Two other races, in Minnesota and Alaska, are too close to call.

Another problem, according to union sources, is that it might be necessary for the incoming Obama administration to deal first with other aspects of the continuing economic disaster. AFL-CIO leaders have said privately that they have not yet discussed scheduling of the bill with Obama’s team and that, until now, the priority for labor has been to help guarantee Obama’s election.

The EFCA would allow workers to form a union as soon as a majority at a work site sign pledge cards indicating their desire to be represented by the union. This would short circuit the prolonged company-dominated campaigns of harassment and firings that often now precede elections that companies can call for at workplaces where employees express a desire to unionize.

The EFCA would also sharply increase penalties, up to $20,000 per violation, for those who violate labor laws and would make it easier to get court orders against labor law breakers. The law would also mandate binding arbitration between unions and employers if they cannot reach agreement on an initial contract within 120 days of starting talks.

Union leaders say they are not too worried about reaching the so-called “magic” number of 60 in the Senate.

Trumka, Sweeney and others said the prospects of passage will change and improve because two of its supporters will be in the White House. They will replace George Bush, the leaders noted, who hated the law and the unions that support it.

“For the first time in eight years we have a president who supports workers’ rights,” AFL-CIO political director Karen Ackerman said at the press conference.

When asked if there were any possible compromises labor might make to pass the EFCA Change to Win Chair Anna Burger said, “No!”

“We must counter-balance corporate power. The gap between the wealthy and everyone else has grown from a gulf to a chasm under Bush,” Sweeney said. “We cannot rebuild the middle class and ensure that economic growth is shared unless we give working people back the freedom to improve their lives through unions and bargain for better wages and benefits.”

The Chamber of Commerce and other business groups spent $60 million this year in an anti-EFCA drive in states where Democrats were challenging Republican opponents of the measure. The campaign flopped in at least five states where pro-labor senators were elected.

Trumka said that, as far as labor is concerned, every possible way to get the legislation through Congress will be on the table. “There are an infinite number of strategies to get it passed and each one of them will have our complete attention,” he said.


Socialist boasts of U.S. labor traditions

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Collectivist big bristles at mainstream journalism

Ross Mackenzie's Nov. 2 column, "McCain, Obama, and 'the Change We Need'," for the most part simply repeats the standard talking points of the McCain campaign and the Republican right. Unfortunately, he threw in a few extra talking points about Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) that he picked up from even more extreme sources without bothering to engage in the fact-checking that is the hallmark of good journalism.

In his first, and presumably most important, bulleted point he says that the New Party, a now-defunct attempt to establish a national third party based on "fusion" voting, was "an offshoot" of our organization. The fact is that DSA had nothing to do with the creation of the New Party. The New Party never described itself as a socialist or even social democratic party. We were never affiliated to it informally or formally.

This story has been circulating on extreme right-wing blogs for at least 18 months and has been ignored by most of the mainstream media because it is not true. There was even a recent National Review article (online) that raised questions about the story's validity.

Mackenzie goes on to describe our organization as "quasi-Communist" -- with a capital C. This Joe McCarthy-style smear is a direct attempt to link us to the politics and political orientation of the now (happily) defunct Soviet Union. A journalist of Mackenzie's age and experience cannot possibly be so uninformed as to not know the difference between democratic socialists and communists. Even a few minutes' research could have corrected the error.

Democratic socialists seek to strengthen, not harm, our society by extending democracy to our major economic institutions so they will be accountable and work for the good of all rather than for the profits of a small elite. We are unfortunately seeing today the disastrous results of the opposite policy.

DEMOCRATIC socialists believe in democratizing control over corporate behavior by giving workers and consumers a democratic voice in how these powerful firms are governed.

We are members of the Socialist International, a worldwide organization of more than 140 organizations, that includes currently or recently governing parties in Great Britain, Germany, France, Spain, and other nations that are allies of the United States. Only in the United States have right-wing propagandists been able to confuse the public about the nature of democratic socialism by equating it with authoritarian communism.

Democratic socialists have consistently defended political and civil liberties and argue that only by extending democracy into economic life can the full promise of democracy be realized. In addition, contrary to Mackenzie's McCarthyite equating of socialism with authoritarian communism, the social democratic, labor, and socialist parties of Europe staunchly opposed repressive Communist regimes as being antithetical to the values of democratic socialism.

Mackenzie's uninformed journalism is typical of the discussion we have witnessed since the McCain campaign inserted socialism into the political debate. The recent financial bailout -- something designed to preserve the basic capitalist structure of society (a bailout socialists opposed) -- has been routinely described as socialist. The progressive income tax, a reform instituted during the time of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, is now being labeled as socialist. Refundable tax credits -- signed into law by Ronald Reagan in the form of the earned income tax credit, and a feature of John McCain's poorly thought-out health care proposal -- are described as socialist.

IF JOURNALISTS are going to use the socialist label as something more that a curse word, they ought to learn just a little bit about what socialism means today. There exists a rich but often overlooked democratic socialist tradition in the United States, upheld by such staunch democrats as Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Norman Thomas, Walter Reuther, Michael Harrington, and Marin Luther King Jr.

Socialists played a key role in the building of the labor, civil-rights, and feminist movements -- all of which enriched American democracy. Throughout the 20th century many American cities elected socialist mayors who were known for good government, and today Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who identifies himself as a democratic socialist, is considered his state's most popular elected official.

Democratic socialist parties have brought universal high-quality health care to the people of all other developed nations, alongside an array of other social programs, such as universal preschool in France and generous paternity and maternity leave in Scandinavia. These programs have raised the quality of life for all people in those countries. The United States suffers from a shorter life expectancy, higher rates of infant mortality, and far greater economic inequality than exist in the countries with strong democratic socialist parties.

Mackenzie, along with readers who would like to learn what American socialists believe in and work for today, should visit our Web site, www.dsausa.org.

- Frank Llewellyn is the national director of Democratic Socialists of America.


News Union takes dues hit at Time Magazine

More union-dues stories: hereMore TNG stories: here

Tree-killers beset by red ink, leftism, paper-stream waste

The other shoe is about to drop at Time Inc. Insiders expect the troubled magazine giant to start offering buyouts to staffers as the work week begins.

In the face of a severe advertising recession that has brought double digit ad-page declines to many of its titles, including Sports Illustrated and Entertainment Weekly, the Time Warner division announced a major restructuring on Oct. 29th that was set to include a 6% cut in its workforce, or about 600 jobs.

According to one insider, Time Inc. follows Newspaper Guild rules that mandate a two-week window for staffers to be offered buy-out packages. If not enough volunteers come forward by the end of that period, layoffs begin.

“[Management] is not going to get [the number it wants],” predicted a veteran staffer. The stock market plunge, which has hurt pension plans, and the dismal job market would make people extremely reluctant to leave, he explained.

“Morale is horrendous,” he added. “No work is getting done.”

A Time Inc. spokeswoman declined to comment.

The company posted an 8% decline in ad revenue in the third quarter, Time Warner announced Wednesday. Through the first 9 months of the year, the division generated operating income of $162 million, a slide of 36% compared to the year ago period.

Time Warner also stated that Time Inc.’s restructuring charges would come to more than $100 million.


SEIU's Anna Burger feels her oats

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SEIU big vows 'no compromise' on secret ballot ban

The 2008 election results, headlined by Democratic nominee Barack Obama's White House win, provide a mandate for changes to boost the lives of workers and their families, leaders of Change to Win said.

And in a Nov. 6 D.C. press conference, Change to Win Chair Anna Burger and pollster Celinda Lake were joined by union workers who said much the same thing, citing reasons from health care reform to the Employee Free Choice Act to racial reconciliation that led them to endorse Obama early and campaign vigorously for him.

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

"American workers won this election," Burger declared, after the union coalition dedicated thousands of its members to four specific-themed weeks of campaigning before the Nov. 4 balloting, telling their friends, allies and colleagues about the differences between Obama and GOP nominee John McCain.

"This mandate has been so overwhelming for a progressive agenda" that includes secure pensions, good jobs, universal health care, equal pay on the job and the right to organize, she added.

"On Nov. 4, they (U.S. voters) turned a page on the tax breaks for the rich, on the trickle-down economics and on the unrestrained corporate greed" that characterized the regime of anti-worker GOP President George W. Bush, Burger stated.

Voters and workers "envision a 21st century with respect for work, a health care system for everyone and jobs to build a green environment. We won the election, but we want to change our country," she added--meaning CTW would keep the pressure on Obama and other elected officials to do so.

Lake's poll, which covered 700 non-supervisory workers--22% of them union members, retirees or members of union households--showed a 53%-37% Obama-McCain margin, below the 2-to-1 Obama lead in the unionists-only poll conducted for the AFL-CIO. The proportion of unionists/household members/retirees in Lake's poll matched that in the overall electorate, at least according to exit polls.

In Lake's sample, 53% called the economy and jobs their top issue and another 19% put it second, for 72% total. No other issue got out of single digits as the workers' top factor. Health care and prescription drugs, at 17% combined, was second when workers were asked their top two issues. Almost nine in ten workers felt both the U.S. economy and their own families' economy were on the wrong track.

Workers are now more willing than they were at the beginning of the Reagan era, in 1980, to get the government into fixing the economy, including regulating business practices, the poll showed. It had 37% of workers saying "too much government regulation interferes with the free market." But 54% agreed "our current crisis was the result of deregulation and lack of corporate oversight that let greed run wild."

Asked to set the priorities for Obama and the new Democratic Congress, workers put protecting pensions and health care first, saying politicians should guarantee that "employers keep their promises to employees" in those two areas. On a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 being the top score, that goal drew a mean of 9.2.

There was a 3-way tie for second among enacting universal, affordable health care, fair trade agreements, and equal pay for equal work, each with a mean of 8.8. They were followed by cracking down on oil companies and speculators, a progressive tax system, rebuilding infrastructure, protection from predatory lending, investment in job training and green technologies, making it easier to recover from bankruptcy or foreclosure, and passing a new stimulus package.

The Employee Free Choice Act, labor's top cause, ranked last among goals workers picked for the new president and Congress. Phrased as "making it easier for working people to form unions without management interference so they negotiate better pay and benefits," EFCA drew a mean score of 7.6, with 41% giving it a "10" on the scale. It was the only priority where fewer than half the respondents voted "10."

The CTW-member-union workers who campaigned for Obama also mentioned other reasons for getting out on the hustings, sometimes pausing as the emotional impact of electing the first African-American president overcame them.

"We first had to tear down these barriers to us at home, at the worksite, even in our own unions," said Keith McCorkle of Teamsters Local 391 in eastern North Carolina--a state where a huge African-American turnout pushed it from being reliably Republican to Obama's column. North Carolina is also the least-unionized state.

"Barack came in and he didn't talk at us, he talked to us," McCorkle said with emphasis. "This trickle-down economy never trickled down to me." If it had, "that's where the wealth gets spread," he added.

"We went back to neighborhoods in Columbus (Ohio) to convince people their voices will be heard," said Jennifer Fullom of SEIU District 1199 in Cleveland. Her metro area was so pro-Obama that its union workers headed south, to the rest of Ohio. Obama carried the state.


Judge puts AFSCME in charge of labor-state

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Jumbo militant gov't union gains executive power

A Rhode Island Superior Court judge yesterday ordered the Carcieri administration to turn over contracts and other records pertaining to its privatization efforts to the union that represents state workers.

Judge Netti C. Vogel said a state law passed last year, over Governor Carcieri’s veto, gives Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, “a clear legal right … to access the specific public records that they sought from [administration officials].”

“The court declares that under the subject wording of the statute, information about privatization contracts valued at $100,000, or more, must be disclosed in accordance with [the law] so long as the contracts provide services that once were performed by public agency employees at some time in the past.”

The General Assembly passed a law last year that requires the state to produce verifiable evidence of potential savings and proof that present state employees cannot perform the service just as efficiently.

The law requires state departments to conduct detailed cost comparisons before awarding contracts to private firms. It also requires that “the savings to the state is substantial,” but does not define “substantial” savings.

Information about the contracts and a summary of private contractor employees for the appropriate contracts is supposed to be included with the administrative agency budget requests.

The law gives “affected parties” — program recipients, state employees or unions — 60 days to appeal any privatization decision to a Superior Court judge.

The union claimed the governor and administration officials unjustifiably denied its requests to produce records pertaining to privatization contracts. The union further claimed the state failed to compile the mandatory records.

Carcieri administration officials contended they had complied with the law and that the union based its lawsuit on an “overly broad interpretation” of the law, Vogel wrote in a 22-page decision released yesterday.

Vogel ordered the governor and his administrators to compile records related to agency budget requests submitted since June 23, 2006, and make them available to the union. The judge also ordered the state to pay the union’s legal fees and costs related to the lawsuit.

In a statement released to The Journal, Council 94 President J. Michael Downey said: “As the state continues to experience budgetary problems, the public deserves to know how hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on private contractors and temporary employees. While it cannot eliminate all temporary employees, the state’s over-reliance on these firms required more rigorous oversight to avoid abuse of taxpayers’ dollars.”

A Carcieri spokesman said the governor’s legal office would release a statement Monday regarding Vogel’s decision.


Union big predicts "World War III" over EFCA

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Feds gang up against working Americans' secret ballots

Organized labor sees a historic opportunity with Tuesday's election and is counting on the incoming Obama administration to back its agenda in what promises to be a landmark battle with business.

At the top of labor's wish list is passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it harder for companies to fight union-organizing drives. "It is the most important issue that we have," said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO.

President-elect Barack Obama has promised to fight for the legislation, but whether it is introduced in the first 100 days of his administration could signal how strongly he is aligning himself with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, say political consultants. Moderate Democrats and those who have just won seats in traditionally Republican states are expected to argue against making the legislation an early priority.

Related video: "Employee Forced Choice Act"

Unions failed to get major labor legislation passed under the Carter and Clinton administrations, and union membership has declined to 7.5% of private-sector workers, from about 20% in 1980, according to U.S. Labor Department data.

After unions spent more than $400 million on the election and mounted massive voter-turnout efforts for Mr. Obama, they're inclined to push for bringing the Employee Free Choice Act up for a vote early next year, believing they have a narrow window to get it passed. They're worried other issues could emerge to eclipse the legislation, and that business would have more time to mount opposition the longer action is delayed.

"This is one the business community is united on," says Dan Yager, spokesman for HR Policy Association, a corporate lobbying group. "Now that it looks like it has a serious possibility of being enacted we think it will galvanize the community even more," he said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and large employers, especially those that have resisted union organizing like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., vehemently oppose the legislation. Business groups, including the Chamber, spent a combined $50 million this year on advertising against it and say they will ratchet up ads and lobbying.

Some Democrats worry the issue could produce a divisive fight early in the Obama administration, imperiling the new president's broader agenda.

Paul Blank, a consultant who ran the United Food and Commercial Workers campaign against Wal-Mart before leaving to work for the presidential campaign of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, said he expects "political World War III" between labor and business over the issue.
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Both sides say the legislation would lead to increased unionization. Unions say that would lift wages and help the middle class, while businesses say it could increase costs and eventually lead to widespread layoffs.

The bill would give unions -- rather than companies under current law -- the choice of having workers vote for a union by signing cards instead of through a secret-ballot election. Card-signing is preferred by unions because it can be done without an employer's knowledge. With secret-ballot elections, companies typically have months to mount an opposition.

The bill also authorizes an arbitrator to impose a first contract if a union fails to reach agreement with a company by 120 days following the union's formation. Under current law, if the two sides don't reach a contract within a year, the union typically loses its right to be the exclusive bargaining agent for the workers.

"If we're going to build a stronger labor movement and have a stronger campaign on behalf of workers, we need the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act," Mr. Sweeney said.

With Democrats failing to win a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate, some say a compromise on the controversial card-signing provision is more likely now.

Hal Coxson, a management-side labor lawyer in Washington, said he expects the AFL-CIO to propose shortening the notice before elections to five days, which would give companies less time to campaign against a union, but allow Democrats to say they preserved secret-ballot elections. "If they overreach, they lose," Mr. Coxson said of the AFL-CIO.

Randel Johnson, vice president of labor policy for the Chamber, said he thinks unions proposed an "outrageous" bill in order to win a lesser compromise that would still be a big victory for labor. But he added, "any combination that still leaves the binding-arbitration in there would still be unacceptable to the business community."

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