Friday wrap

Andy Stern: SEIU Agonistes ... Today the media is full of SEIU news -- but most of it isn't about evolving out of archaic structures. Quite the opposite. First there was the L.A. Times' expose of alleged corruption and cronyism charges leveled against L.A. local presidents Tyrone Freeman and Annelle Grajeda. Then attention shifted to Rickman James, a Freeman associate whom the SEIU international office has sacked from the presidency of the union's largest Michigan local. And this week, of course, SEIU had suffered the defiling touch of indicted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who has emerged as an irrepressible throwback to his states' storied history of political corruption. (blogs.laweekly.com)

Blago, SEIU and Prez Bam connected ... The arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D, comes at a time when a influential Chicago politician is heading for the White House. And raises a number of questions. There is no doubt Barack Obama will come under scrutiny as the scandal unfolds, as Mr. Blagojevich is charged with putting the president-elect’s vacant U.S. Senate up for bids. Mr. Obama is hoping to ensure the scandal doesn’t rain on his inaugural parade and has been forceful in his condemnation. (thebulletin.us)

Prez Bam still campaigning ... President-elect Barack Obama said Thursday morning he has not been contacted by federal authorities in the investigation of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and said nobody in his transition was involved in deal-making with the governor. "I had no contact with the governor's office. I did not speak to the governor about these issues. That I know for certain," the president-elect said. "“But what I’m absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal-making around my Senate seat ... That would be a violation of everything that this campaign has been about, and that’s not how we do business,” Mr. Obama said. (washingtontimes.com)

Politico dogs corrupt SEIU bigs ... I reported Tuesday that a Democrat familiar with some of the circumstances around the Blagojevich complaint identified an SEIU official recorded talking to Blagojevich as its president, Andy Stern, who had met Blagojevich in Chicago just before the election. But NPR now reports that that official was Tom Balanoff, the union's Illinois chief, and the blog Firedoglake -- which seems to have good SEIU sources -- has an SEIU official saying it was not, in fact, Stern. I'm told some inside SEIU initially thought Stern was named in the indictment, the indirect source for my apparently incorrect information. Apologies. Interestingly, the Firedoglake report also says "SEIU proactively contacted Fitzgerald's office." (politico.com)

NYT: SEIU scandal taints Prez Bam ... The Service Employees International Union has long boasted that it is on the cutting edge of the labor movement. But the union found itself badly embarrassed this week when it was named in the federal criminal complaint charging Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois with maneuvering to secure financial gain from the appointment of the state’s next senator. The complaint said Mr. Blagojevich’s chief of staff, John Harris, had suggested to a service employees official that the union should help make the governor the president of Change to Win, a federation of seven unions that broke away from the A.F.L.-C.I.O. The complaint said Mr. Blagojevich, a Democrat, was seeking a position that paid $250,000 to $300,000 a year. In exchange, the complaint suggested, Mr. Blagojevich had expected the service employees union and Change to Win to seek to persuade him to name President-elect Barack Obama’s first choice, Valerie Jarrett, to succeed Mr. Obama in the Senate. The union would also receive help from the Obama administration, presumably for its legislative agenda. Several union officials in Chicago and Washington said the service employees official approached by Mr. Harris was Tom Balanoff, the president of the union’s giant janitors local in Chicago and head of the union’s Illinois state council. Mr. Balanoff, one of the union officials closest to Mr. Obama, is widely seen as an aggressive, successful labor leader, who has helped unionize thousands of janitors not just in the Chicago area but also in Texas. (nytimes.com)

Corrupt power-pols detest competition ... There also are common threads among the recent high-profile corruption cases: Complacency with power, and the enormous power of government to make or break financial outcomes. Nearly all of the officeholders embroiled in scandal had no serious partisan competition. The real solution lies in more competitive politics, which means drawing congressional and state legislative district lines to make more seats actually competitive, and in shrinking the size and influence of government. There may be more hope for the former than the latter. With Washington inserting itself into all sorts of businesses in the name of financial rescue, it's only a matter of time until corruption occurs where government has stuck its nose too far into the marketplace. (news-register.net)

Socialist praises union organizing ... Good morning, brothers and sisters. It is great to be out here in L.A. amongst comrades and friends, new and old, taking part in the building of a mass fightback movement. I’ve been asked to share some of the lessons I’ve taken away from my experience leading a union organizing drive. An important lesson for me was the need to be patient and remain steadfast in my efforts. Lenin taught that we should "patiently and persistently explain." At times, it was difficult to restrain my enthusiasm, but I had to move with my coworkers as they went through their own experiences. For socialists leading organizing drives, we must remember that it is the "deed, and not the revolutionary phrase, that will be the key to success." (pslweb.org)

Stern protégé in crime spree ... Before his downfall, Freeman headed two SEIU-related groups: the 160,000-member United Long-Term Care Workers, in Southern California, and the 30,000-member California United Homecare Workers. SEIU President Andy Stern announced the actions against Freeman following an internal investigation. In August, the Times had revealed the ULTCW had paid Freeman hundreds of thousands of dollars to businesses owned by his wife and mother-in-law. The local also had spent lavishly on a golf tournament, expensive restaurants and other perks. In denouncing his former protégé, Stern said in a statement, “It is tragic and unconscionable that a young leader with such great potential would violate … the trust of his members.” A criminal investigation is ongoing. (newsreview.com)

Prime Time for Andy Stern ... Today, the Service Employees International Unions (SEIU) finds itself at the center of two evolving pay-for-play political scandals. In Illinois, a high ranking SEIU union official appears to have agreed to run the traps for Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s attempt to sell off President-elect Obama’s Senate seat. At the same time, an equally appalling scandal is happening in plain sight in Washington. A diverse array of players, including SEIU, President-elect Barack Obama, indicted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and scandal-plagued activist group ACORN, are wielding their political power to push for passage of the deceptively-named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would effectively eliminate secret ballot union elections. The bill would expose employees to intimidation and coercion, and should really be called the Employee Forced Choice Act. Led by SEIU President Andy Stern, the labor union movement has effectively bought and paid for EFCA. Across the country, union political operatives demanded that Democratic politicians agree to support EFCA before receiving unions’ support during the 2008 election. SEIU’s Stern openly admits that he expects payback: “U.S. labor unions, having helped Barack Obama win the presidency, entertain high hopes he will enact their agenda to bolster their negotiating power with employers and increase their numbers after decades of decline.” (laborpains.org)

Denver Post stands by 'Pay-to-Play' Andy Stern ... The head of the Service Employees International Union said in Denver on Thursday his union "had no involvement in anything improper" in the scandal surrounding Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. "When all the facts are out, it will be very clear we have a governor who is out of control," SEIU president Andy Stern said after a downtown labor rally. "You will see that the SEIU has had no involvement in anything improper. We have a governor who clearly abused his authority." (denverpost.com)

SEIU, ACORN to light up Broadway ... Most of the big Hollywood disaster movies start with some horrible calamity befalling New York City, sort of like the recent Cloverfield. So it was not surprising to hear of a real life disaster in the making. Get ready New York, Bertha Lewis, SEIU and ACORN national will soon be consolidating power in your city. ACORN has ruled out of New Orleans for years, but now Bertha's has decided to set down roots in the same town with old friends, Bruce Ratner, Alida Rockefeller Messinger and the Rockefeller Family Fund. I can only imagine the possibilities for quid pro quo activities disguised as “community investment.” If ACORN brings with it the long reach of SEIU, this could spell disaster for fair tactics in service an other worker contract negotiations. ACORN and SEIU would also bring their political arms Project Vote and America Votes. For those of you who are not familiar with America Votes, here [are] ACORN's own notes from 2006: (webcommentary.com)

SEIU members boycott Andy Stern's sham election ... In a statewide vote of healthcare workers conducted by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), ballots are still being counted but the result is clear: healthcare workers overwhelmingly oppose the forced merger planned by national union officials, and lawmakers and healthcare advocates are joining them in protest. Caregivers from all three affected local unions signed more than 125,000 petitions and cards opposing the forced merger and pledging to boycott the vote. SEIU officials could find less than ten percent of eligible voters willing to cast ballots -- fewer than 28,000 of more than 309,000 of eligible voters -- despite changing election rules more than halfway through the three-week mail-ballot election in order to improve turnout, and despite reports to UHW election observers that SEIU staff have encouraged members of other local unions to request duplicate ballots even if they already voted. The validity of almost a third of the ballots received has been challenged by the SEIU-appointed election officer. (sunherald.com)

Congress to workers: Surprise, you're unionized! ... "This is really scary stuff," said Cathleen Welsh, a labor and employment lawyer with Lenhart Obenshain. She spoke at an event Thursday hosted by the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce to educate businesses about the changes the law, also called "card check," would enact. Currently, if union organizers get a certain amount of employees to sign union-interest cards, the National Labor Relations Board orders an election. After 42 days of campaigning by both the business and the union, a secret ballot election is held to see if employees want union representation. Under the Employee Free Choice Act, if a majority of employees sign the union card, the union automatically represents the workers without an election. The legislation would also make employers and unions submit to binding arbitration if they were unable to reach a contract agreement within 120 days. All manner of small businesses would be adversely affected, no matter the number of employees, Welsh said. "This really is the perfect storm," she told the businesses gathered. "What else can businesses handle? How can this help businesses if now you have to spend money on campaigning and collective bargaining?" (dnronline.com)

Job Killer Act: Revealed ... "This is a 'right-to-work-for-less' state," said James Andrews, president of the state chapter of the AFL-CIO. "We are in this (national economic) mess because of the mentality of the free market run wild – businesses do whatever you want to satisfy business." Workers need unions more than ever in the tough economy, Andrews said. "It is a way to protect the middle class and get folks and workers that want to bargain to the bargaining table and begin to move wages – stagnant wages – up again," he said. Chuck Wright, who runs a property maintenance company with 70 employees, said that he treats his workers fairly because it's good business, not because a union forces his hand. "I will not run a business for one minute while it's unionized." Wright said. "I don't know what they say about 'the man' back there (among employees). I may not like to know; maybe a good thing I don't know. But I do know our guys stay with us a long time." (wral.com)

Job Killer Act politics exposed ... As for the prospects of blocking the Employee Free Choice Act, DeMint was neither defeatist nor optimistic. He figures that Norm Coleman is likely to hang on to his seat, meaning that there will be 42 Republicans. But DeMint expects to lose Arlen Specer on this issue (Specter reportedly has been searching for a "middle ground" position, but Scottish law does not seem to apply here). So unless every other Republican sticks together, the legislation will pass unless Democrats break ranks. DeMint predicts that, understanding the unattractiveness of taking away the secret balllot, the Dems will load up the initial legislation with additional bad ideas in the hope of presenting their core position as a compromise. He added that the "card check" is so unattractive that, in the end, there is some chance the Dems will have to compromise that away too. This would leave the manadatory arbitration position, coupled presumably with reforms in election procedure, such as quick elections, that would make it easier for unions to win. (powerlineblog.com)

GOP delays UAW Bailout ... The car deal is in trouble again and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union is being asked to commit hara-kiri in order to let it pass the Senate. This line is from one of the Republican party talking points being circulated in Washington: "This is the Democrats' first opportunity to pay off organised labour after the election. This is a precursor to card-check and other items. Republicans should stand firm and take their first shot against organised labour, instead of taking their first blow from it." (bbc.co.uk)

Dems savor UAW payback: Wreck entire industry ... But there's another possible outcome here, one maybe overlooked by a GOP wing in smackdown mode. Contrary to the tired stereotypes coming daily from Washington, President Ron Gettelfinger's UAW is well on its way to helping Detroit's automakers achieve wage and benefit parity with foreign-owned rivals operating in the United States. Come next month, amid recession anxiety, job losses and widespread distrust of business, the union and others like it are poised to reap the political benefit of having bigger Democratic majorities in the House and Senate and a labor-friendly Democrat in the White House. The president-elect and the congressional Democrats all have signaled a willingness to pass labor's top legislative priority -- the so-called "card check" legislation, which would essentially abolish secret ballots and make organizing easier. Everywhere. If it passes, I'm betting the first stops on the UAW's southern swing will be auto plants in Shelby's Alabama and Corker's Tennessee, soon to be home to Volkswagen AG's first U.S. plant in a generation. Let the paybacks begin. (detnews.com)

Typical gov't-union strike violence erupts ... Tension between car drivers and striking transit workers flared Wednesday and Thursday outside a municipal building, leaving one picketer with his foot pinned beneath a car's wheel. Police intervened Thursday in what they described as a "minor" incident at 100 Constellation Cres., in the Centrepointe neighbourhood near Baseline Road. Picketers said a driver cut around a line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot. The strikers said they are allowing about three cars in every three minutes. (financialpost.com)

Teamsters back off, cite economy ... The Teamsters, after meeting with the pilots union at AirTran Airways, said that it is “not planning to pursue a more official relationship at this time.” According to a written statement from Teamsters airline division director David Bourne, “Given the current volatility of the airline industry, and the tendency toward continued consolidation, it is to everyone’s benefit that the pilots of AirTran strengthen their own organization before entertaining any other representational possibilities.” The National Pilots Association is “a bit disjointed,” Bourne said. (ajc.com)

Some states still permit worker-choice ... Those who choose to join will have union dues deducted from their checks. But under North Carolina’s right to work laws, no worker is forced to pay union dues, even though all will be represented by the union. Stan Greer, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee in Springfield, Va., which lobbies against compulsory unionization, said a victory at Smithfield will not give unions a foothold in North Carolina. He said unions discourage economic growth and sometimes bully employees into bad contracts. “There are all kinds of reasons why employees might not see a union in their best interest,” Greer said. “Even if these employees do, that doesn’t change the fact that many don’t.” (newsobserver.com)

AFSCME bigs stole from gov't workers ... Three employees of Middlesex County College, Edison, were charged with theft from their employee union last week. Summons complaints were issued Friday against Deborah Gorden, 54, of North Brunswick, Evelyn Sanders, 50, of Cranbury and Tania Suarez, 32, of Perth Amboy, who are all former officers of AFSCME (American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees) Union Local 2269 at the college, according to a press release from the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office. The three are charged with theft from the union local, misapplication of entrusted funds and conspiracy. (suburban.gmnews.com)

AFSCME pimps givebacks in labor-state ... Macomb County’s largest union tentatively agreed to major cuts in health care and pension benefits early this morning, potentially heading off numerous cuts in services and hundreds of layoffs by year’s end. County commissioners tonight are to meet behind closed doors to consider the tentative offer by the 900-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 411. If approved, union members will decide whether to ratify the contract as early as next week, said Donna Cangemi, union president. “We’re very hopeful,” Cangemi said today. “We’re trying to get this turned over as soon as possible so we can save the county money.” (freep.com)

Collectivist bedfellows set plans ... Raul Castro's first foreign trip as Cuban president will be a symbolic stop in Venezuela, the communist island's main political and economic ally, before heading to a regional summit in Brazil. The meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez on Saturday will be the first visit by Raul Castro, 77, outside Cuba since he formally took over the presidency in February, replacing his ailing older brother Fidel, 82. Three days later, both presidents are due to attend a broader summit of Latin American and Caribbean leaders in eastern Brazil focused on integration and development. "Raul Castro will visit us on Saturday. Welcome president!" Chávez said during a public event late on Wednesday, underlining that the visit would have "the same meaning as Fidel's visit in 1959". (news.smh.com.au)

Chávez stanches corruption ... Prosecutors in Venezuela have charged one of the main opposition leaders in connection with alleged corruption and misappropriation of funds. The charges against Manuel Rosales stem from the hiring of a private firm to run a lottery when he was governor of Zulia state several years ago. Mr Rosales has accused the government of concocting charges against him in order to remove him from politics. He stood against Hugo Chávez in the last presidential election in 2006. (news.bbc.co.uk)

Chávez calls on Armed Forces for socialism ... In a televised broadcast celebrating Air Force Day on Wednesday, Chávez told Venezuelans to 'get ready for a socialist reform in 2012,' the Mercopress news agency reported. Venezuala's leader noted that the reform would be on hold until approved, as it was rejected in the December 2007 referendum. "This reform, yes I know, we can't take into consideration until the next presidential period,” he noted. In the meantime, Chávez has called on the Armed Forces not to be 'manipulated' by the campaigns against the constitutional amendment and stay firm on their approach to the socialist reform referendum due in 2012. (presstv.ir)

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