Tuesday wrap

Send in the union organizers ... The No-Choice Act, in addition to effectively rendering secret ballot elections a thing of the past, would also require employers to submit to binding arbitration if they do not reach agreement with the union over a collective bargaining agreement within 90 days. The incentive for unions to stonewall to get to binding arbitration would be overwhelming. There are plenty of legal scholars who believe that this portion of the No-Choice Act is unconstitutional, but it still is a prominent feature of the proposed law. Imagine an arbitrator, whose experience is teaching at a university, deciding how much you should pay a presser. Barack Obama supported the No-Choice Act while in the Senate, and he has championed the proposed law during his campaign. We can expect it to pass in some form. Even if the worst aspects are taken out, we can expect the federal government to make it easier for unions to organize workers. Some of the compromises could include quick secret ballot elections, or granting unions access to employees during company time to sell the idea of unionization. There is going to be something, quickly, passed by Congress to pay Big Labor for its support. (natclo.com)

Prez Bam places Progs in power posts ... In the past two weeks, Obama has tapped Melody Barnes, of the progressive think tank Center for American Progress, to serve as his domestic policy director; Patrick Gaspard, a political organizer for the Services Employees International Union, or SEIU, as his politics director; Ellen Moran, of the liberal fund-raising group EMILY’s List, which backs pro-choice women candidates, to run his communications shop; and Phil Schiliro, a former aide to Sen. Tom Daschle, to serve as the White House’s liaison with Congress. As head of the Domestic Policy Council, Barnes will oversee national policy priorities. She will be responsible for developing two of Obama’s top priorities — health care and education reform. Barnes has a history of strong ties to progressive causes. She was chief counsel to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) on the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1995 to 2003, working with the liberal standard bearer on civil rights and women’s health legislation. Before that, she helped craft the 1992 Voting Rights Improvement Act while assistant counsel to a House voting rights subcommittee. (washingtonindependent.com)

Congress knows best ... Another concern is a contract mediation and arbitration provision that would refer contract disputes between employer and union to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) if the disputes weren't resolved within 90 days. If the FMCS proved unsuccessful in uniting the parties, it would refer the matter to arbitration, with the results binding for a period of two years. "Essentially, the provision says a government mediator can run your business for two years if business and labor can't come to terms," Bentz says. "I think it would be very difficult for restaurants and other businesses to create jobs and grow their businesses under those circumstances." Obama, who as senator signed on as a sponsor of EFCA, rarely addressed the issue before general audiences on the campaign trail, but promised unions he would sign the bill if he won the presidency. Card checks pave the way for workers to organize much more quickly and easily, without the time needed for both management and organizers to make their case to workers. "We're ready to play offense for organized labor," he told AFL-CIO members in April 2007. "It's time we had a president who didn't choke saying the word 'union'—a president who strengthens our unions by letting them do what they do best: organize our workers." "It's unfathomable that Congress would take away a worker's right to vote in private." Gay says. "Frankly, we don't think this is a bill that can even be fixed." (qsrmagazine.com)

Union test for Prez Bam ... Organized labor provided unprecedented backing to Barack Obama this fall because activists believe he “walks the walk” rather than simply “talks the talk.” Case in point occurred in Chicago on June 16, 2007, when Obama joined a UNITE HERE Local 1 picket line at the Congress Hotel. The Congress strike began in 2003, and is the nation’s longest. After walking the line Obama vowed to return to join the striking picketers after he was elected President. Will Obama become the first sitting President to walk a picket line? Should labor activists push him to keep this pledge, or should it use it as leverage to help secure systemic changes? The Congress Hotel strike is not the only labor campaign Obama has weighed in on – in September, he lent momentum to the campaign for free and fair union elections at California’s St. Joseph Health System, saying the hospital workers there were standing up for “American values.” As some criticize Obama’s commitment to change, it is in his fulfilling of promises to labor that may be the best test of his progressive credentials. (beyondchron.org)

Organizing the United States of Soros ... Four years ago the Democratic Party was in disarray after failing to reclaim the White House and Congress despite record contributions by high-dollar donors. George Soros and other wealthy liberals decided they had the answer to the party’s problems. They formed a secretive donors’ collaborative to fund a permanent political infrastructure of nonprofit think tanks, media outlets, leadership schools, and activist groups to compete with the conservative movement. Called the Democracy Alliance (DA), Soros and his colleagues put their imprimatur on the party and the progressive movement by steering hundreds of millions of dollars to liberal nonprofits they favored. The Democracy Alliance helped Democrats give Republicans a shellacking in November. Now it’s organizing state-level chapters in at least 19 states, and once-conservative Colorado, which hosts the Democracy Alliance’s most successful state affiliate, has turned Democrat blue. Moreover, the DA-funded “Secretary of State Project” has helped elect the chief electoral officials in nine states. Critics worry that a secretary of state sympathetic to the aims of ACORN, the radical community organizing group, will open to door to vote fraud. (capitalresearch.org)

Congress: Arbitrators know better ... The Arbitration Fairness Act is another bill employers should watch for this session that could greatly limit the use of mandatory arbitration clauses common in many employment contracts. Mandatory contract arbitration clauses generally require both parties to submit to arbitration prior to trying the dispute in court and have become an effective way for businesses and employees to avoid the significantly higher court costs. The clauses are also prevalent in a majority of consumer contracts and have been the subject of many appeals cases in recent years from plaintiffs that claim arbitration unfairly favors employers. The Arbitration Act would waive an employer’s ability to use the mandatory clauses in cases where a clear disparity exists in the negotiating power between the two parties. As written, the legislation would affect new and current contracts, altering the language to make the practice optional. (pressdemocrat.com)

Teamsters strike v. ex-NFL great ... Richard Blevins, negotiator for Teamsters Local 838, said Monday that about 28 union truck drivers went on strike after negotiations for a new contract stalled. A picket line was set up at United Beverage’s headquarters at 1903 Woodland Ave. United Beverage is owned by Deron Cherry, a Jackson County Sports Complex Authority member and former Kansas City Chiefs safety. Cherry said the company had trucks out making deliveries and will continue to do the best it can to meet its clients’ needs. The company is operating at about half-strength. (kansascity.bizjournals.com)

Typical News Union complaint dismissed ... The National Labor Relations Board has dismissed a wrongful termination claim filed by a union organizer at a MediaNews Group chain who was laid off two days after being voted in as unit chair. Sara Steffens, a nine-year reporter at the Contra Costa Times of Walnut Creek, Calif., was voted unit chair of the new Bay Area Newspaper Group-East Bay Guild unit on July 9. A chief organizer of the new Guild unit at the chain outside San Francisco, Steffens was laid off on July 11. She claimed then that she was being let go in part for her union activities and filed a complaint with the NLRB shortly afterward. (editorandpublisher.com)

Teamsters out on strike for XMas ... Eighty-five workers went on strike, a majority of the plant’s work force. Mike Mullin, a company spokesperson, said the St. Joseph location is currently being staffed by salaried employees as well as employees from other plant locations. Smurfit manufactures cardboard boxes at its factory on Lower Lake Road. “The new management team simply wants to manage by convenience and totally ignore seniority and personal needs,” said Byron Austin, president of Local 235. “The workers are only asking for a fair contract with fair wages.” Union officials and workers are optimistic, though. The Graphic Communication Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has represented the workers at the plant for 30 years and Monday’s strike is the first for the local plant. “For the majority of us, this means a very bad Christmas,” Mr. Hayes said. “It’s not a good time, and we understand that, but you have to do what’s right.” Yet the company maintains it has done everything it can. “We’re disappointed that they’ve decided to strike,” Mr. Mullin said. “We believe (the proposal) was fair and responsive to our employees’ needs.” (stjoenews.net)

Gov't-union dues hit looms in Louisville ... The cuts that were announced today will go into effect on December 14. Since the city still hasn’t reached that $20 million mark and there currently aren’t any plans to dip into that rainy day fund, more cuts will be coming. Meanwhile, local unions are coming together to challenge the mayor’s decision about the budget. Members of AFSCME, the FOP, local Teamsters and the Louisville Professional Firefighters talked about ways to cut back without endangering the safety of the city. This afternoon, they called the mayor to ask for a comprehensive outline of the proposed budget cuts. They plan on then taking the list and giving it to accountants and analysts. Their hope is to come up with alternative ideas. (whas11.com)

Economic ideas to discard ... In decisions on whether to unionize a workplace, the labor movement is pushing to replace secret-ballot elections with a "card check" process in which everyone would know how each person voted. Support of this measure might have helped Obama with unions, which see the new method as a way of increasing their membership. But it is hard to see how ending the secret ballot would do much besides initiating campaigns of subtle, and not so subtle, intimidation as workers contemplate their decisions. Pushing this idea through Congress would position Obama less as an agent of change and more as a pal of Big Labor. (blogs.usatoday.com)

Brother, can you spare some change? ... For example, organized labor is looking forward to seeing Obama honor his promise to support the Employee Free Choice Act that would make it easier for workers to join unions. Yet according to reports, top union officials are hesitating to go all out to mobilize support, fearing that a "backlash" from Corporate America would alienate them from their allies in the new administration. But big business has already thrown down the gauntlet on this question--and it's likely to get its way if there isn't a fight. What individual labor activists do now to mobilize for that fight matters a lot--whether that's by taking advantage of every opportunity opened up by labor leaders, such as the state AFL-CIO meetings planned to mobilize for labor's political agenda, or by organizing new initiatives. (socialistworker.org)

Union tsunami builds ... Big Labor is gearing up to pursue the most significant changes in federal labor law in years. Union officials hope that with a sympathetic president and large Democratic majorities in the Senate and House, they will get some results on a host of initiatives that were stymied during the Bush Administration. Labor's huge get-out-the-vote efforts were crucial to Democratic wins, especially in key swing states such as Nevada, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. (kiplinger.com)

Outsider Collectivists Look to Sway Georgia Race ... Mr. Martin, the Democratic candidate, has also gotten backing from interest groups. The Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and other labor unions have sponsored about $1 million of television advertisements for Mr. Martin. The environmental-advocacy group League of Conservation Voters and NARAL Pro-Choice America have spent more than $50,000 combined on mailings urging Georgia residents to vote for Mr. Martin. Labor unions also have dispatched volunteers and paid political organizers to stump for Mr. Martin. Sunday morning, scores of volunteers for the AFL-CIO convened at the headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to make phone calls and walk precincts urging voters to go to the polls. The roughly 100,000 Georgia members of the AFL-CIO have been contacted an average of four times, said Richard A. Ray, president of the union's chapter here. (online.wsj.com)

Unionists murdered in workers' paradise ... Three leftist Venezuelan unionists were shot dead the night of Nov. 27 in the city of Cagua, southwest of Caracas in Aragua state, just days after two of them ran unsuccessfully in Nov. 23 state and municipal elections. In what appeared to be a planned assassination, one or two armed men on a motorbike gunned the unionists down as they were leaving a nightclub. The victims were Richard Gallardo, president of the Aragua branch of the National Workers Union (UNT), the main leftist labor confederation; Carlos Requena, a UNT national coordinator; and Luis Hernández, the general secretary of the union at Pepsi Cola de Venezuela's plant in Villa de Cura in southern Aragua. The three men were also leaders in the Left Socialist Unity party (USI). Gallardo had been the USI candidate for deputy from Zamora municipality to the Aragua legislature, while Hernández ran for major of Zamora on the USI ticket, losing to Aldo Lovera from the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the party of President Hugo Chávez Frias. (ww4report.com)

Union objector jailed in Oregon ... Sizemore was back in Multnomah County Court today on contempt charges relating to a lawsuit and $2.5 million judgment the Oregon Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-Oregon won against him in 2002. Following earlier hearings, Judge Janice Wilson ordered the tax activist jailed because he had failed to file required tax forms for a non-profit he runs. There was an usually large contingent of Multnomah County Sheriff's deputies stationed around Wilson's courtroom for the 9 am proceeding. After the judge read her 42-page order deputies - members of AFSCME, one of the public employee unions Sizemore has consistently targeted with his measures - led him away. (wweek.com)

Man in the Box - Union Gary

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