12/16/08

Tuesday wrap

Another pro-Bam Dem Gov. in SEIU 'Pay-to-Play' ... Gov. Janet Napolitano is prepared to sign an executive order allowing about 25,500 state employees to select union representatives who would have a seat at the table with state officials during talks regarding employee pay, working conditions, disciplinary actions and other personnel issues. The terms are spelled out in a five-page draft of the executive order obtained by The Arizona Republic. She is expected to act on the order shortly. But skeptics call the arrangement political payback to unions, and they worry it would complicate labor relations as the state faces budget shortfalls. The news comes as Napolitano, a Democrat, prepares to resign to join the Obama administration as secretary of Homeland Security. Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer would replace her. State Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, blasted the order as "midnight-oil rulemaking" and "a good example of a hit-and-run." "Now, (Napolitano's) going to create labor policy that we'll have to deal with long after she's gone," Kavanagh said. "If she thought it was needed, she should have done it six years ago, not as she's jogging out the door." "It's a great format for employees to have a voice," said Scott Washburn, Arizona director of the Service Employees International Union. SEIU, the largest union in North America, has about 9,000 members in Arizona. SEIU has consulted with the Governor's Office on the development of the executive order and is among the unions that would look to represent state employees. (azcentral.com)


SEIU bigs mum on Blago Pay-to-Play scam ... Asked Monday on National Public Radio to confirm whether Balanoff was the official named in the complaint, union President Andy Stern said: "I don't have any independent information on that." Stern also wouldn't say whether he had spoken with Blagojevich since the election. "I think I am going to leave it right there," Stern said. Stern also said he didn't know anything about the schemes laid out in the complaint. "When I heard the charges I was rather shocked," Stern said. "It was rather surprising." The union has given more than $1.8 million to Blagojevich's gubernatorial campaigns, making it the governor's biggest single contributor, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. Blagojevich has used his executive authority to benefit the union in the past. Shortly after he took office in 2003, he signed an executive order making it easier for health care workers who help physically disabled clients in their homes to unionize. In 2005, another executive order did the same thing for home-based child care workers. The union organized tens of thousands of workers in those two cases. (google.com)


Blago, SEIU, ACORN linked ... A self-described watchdog group criticized the nation's biggest union Monday, insisting in a full-page New York Times advertisement that the union "helped" in Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's supposed attempts to sell Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat. The 1.9 million-member Service Employees International Union swiftly fired back, characterizing the ad by Rick Berman's Center for Union Facts as easily dismissible "guilt by association." Six days after Blagojevich's arrest on federal corruption charges, the Washington-based center suggested in the ad that the SEIU and its chief, Andrew Stern, "funneled millions in member dues to gain political power," apparently including Blagojevich. "SEIU has given more cash to Rod Blagojevich than any other group in America," the ad reads. "They also offered to help in his 'sale' of a U.S. Senate seat. And SEIU has been a longtime financial partner of the often-indicted ACORN," a community activist group scrutinized for its voter-registration drives. (bnd.com)


What motivates Blago? ... According to the indictment against Governor Blagojevich, an SEIU official listened to Blagojevich's proposal to trade his Senate appointment for a high-dollar job with the union and agreed to "put that flag up and see where it goes." Furthermore, SEIU's Illinois Political Action Committee gave Gov. Blagojevich $908,000, making it the single largest campaign contributor for his re-election campaign. In turn, Blagojevich signed a state law handing over 49,000 state child care workers to SEIU local 880, which is run by the notorious community organizing group ACORN. The deal nearly tripled SEIU 880's income from $7 million in 2005 to $21 million in 2007. "Governor Blagojevich's high-profile indictment has shone a light on SEIU's propensity for doing business with corrupt groups and people," said CUF executive director, Richard Berman. "This recent pay-for-play scandal is not unlike union bosses openly quid pro quo relationship with politicians regarding the Employee Free Choice Act, which would force millions of American workers into unions against their will." Berman concluded, "We should all be skeptical of the political agenda of a group like the SEIU, which clearly has no problem breaking the rules and sitting at the table with those looking to game the system." Excerpt (prweb.com)


Bam clears himself ... President-elect Barack Obama said Monday that his transition team has completed its review of contacts with Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and has found itself blameless, but won't release the findings until next week. Mr. Obama, at a Chicago press conference, said the U.S. attorney asked the transition team to wait to release its report so as not to threaten the case against Mr. Blagojevich, who was arrested on charges of trying to sell the Senate seat Mr. Obama left vacant. (washingtontimes.com)




Union expert: Nothing wrong with 'Pay-to-Play' ... Robert Bruno, an associate professor of labor and industrial relations at the University of Illinois-Chicago, said the SEIU had played a role in the order and had begun trying to organize workers. "They were making progress on working towards an executive order, and I'm sure that they were expecting the governor to sign it," Mr. Bruno said. He said there was nothing illegal about the SEIU trying to persuade the governor to sign an executive order that would enable the union to organize more workers. But cooperation with the governor's office raises questions of unfair treatment if the union had an advantage over other unions in signing up the workers. Gov. Blagojevich's prior executive order sparked tensions between the SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which also has sought to expand its representation of home health-care workers in the state. (online.wsj.com)


SEIU Pay-to-Play: Business-as-usual ... Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was preparing an executive order that would have allowed a group of home health care workers to unionize even as a criminal complaint says the governor was exploring options to get a job with a powerful union. The order would have let 1,200 people who work with the developmentally disabled in their homes in Illinois decide whether "they want a union or not, and if they do, which union," said Michelle A. Ringuette, a spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union. Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested Dec. 9 on bribery and fraud charges, raising questions about the timing of the executive order. Ringuette said the governor might have intended to sign the bill last week -- but she was not certain. (foxnews.com)


SEIU-Blago-Dems: 'Symbiotic' ... The Service Employees International Union found itself last week in the uncomfortable position of being named in the criminal complaint against Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. For SEIU, the nation’s largest union, this is just another chapter in its longstanding, symbiotic relationship with the governor. The complaint alleged that Blagojevich, a Democrat, was seeking an SEIU job that paid $250,000 to $300,000 annually after he left office. In discussions captured on wiretaps, Blagojevich considered the spot as part of an elaborate deal involving Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat. As it turns out, the governor might have had good reason to think SEIU owed him one. Since the beginning of his administration, Blagojevich has doled out favorable actions to the union. (propublica.org)


Union-political corruption excused: As old as time ... Reading about the involvement of SEIU International vice-president Tom Balanoff in wire-tapped conversations leading to the arrest of Rod Blagojevich on Dec. 9, I was struck by a related headline in last Friday's N.Y. Times: “Union Is Caught Up in Illinois Bribe Case.” Not the kind of ink that labor needs at the moment, nor is it particularly fair to Chicago-based Balanoff. He hasn’t been charged with anything and, based on the evidence released so far, was merely on the receiving end of a job-seeking pitch from “Blago.” Nevertheless, the uncomfortable proximity of the two reminded me of the ethical, political, and public relations dilemmas once faced by Massachusetts unions, including my own at the time, due to the illicit activities of “Nicky Pockets.” (counterpunch.org)


Corruption epidemic sweeps globe ... It is ironic that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested on the day the United Nations declared Dec. 9 as International Day Against Corruption. And shortly after, he went back to work and, to quote your article, "showed no signs of buckling to growing demands that he quit or be removed." Corruption erodes the basic foundation of democratic institutions. It hurts everyone, and thus, the responsibility of fighting it must be shared by everyone. We might be busy warding off our economic woes, but we should never be too busy saying no to corruption. (sfgate.com)


Barackonomics: Flirting with workplace fascism ... The question now, however, is whether President Obama will fight for EFCA. Corporate America has made it clear that it won't give in without a battle--or worse, if Home Depot founder and CEO Bernie Marcus gets his way. According to author Thomas Frank, Marcus declared in October that EFCA represents "the demise of a civilization. This is how a civilization disappears. I'm sitting here as an elder statesman, and I'm watching this happen, and I don't believe it." Organized labor is gearing up for a campaign to push for EFCA, but there are signs that some union leaders don't want to go too far--for fear of alienating the Obama administration. Thus, John Wilhelm of UNITE HERE wrote in a memo that labor shouldn't launch an all-out campaign for the law. (socialistworker.org/)


Strike the UAW Bailout! ... I have an idea: Strike! This idea is about as wonderful as giving taxpayers’ money to this circus. If the Big Three’s business model is a failure, and the unions just keep asking for and getting unwarranted increases in wages and benefits, and our esteemed congressional representatives and senators keep thinking they actually have all the answers, this problem will never get solved. The Big Three will never make a profit and fail, the UAW will eventually lose its membership, wealth and power, U.S. taxpayers will accumulate enormous additional debt, and our esteemed U.S. officials will still be telling us they have all the answers and hold more hearings. We already have a temporary solution to the Big Three’s problem: Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It actually works. If Congress gives away more of our tax dollars to this circus before the Big Three file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, my wife and I will strike. (tcpalm.com)


UAW reaps what it sows, awaits next Congress ... According to campaign finance data from the Center for Responsive Politics Web site OpenSecrets.org, when broken down by how members of Congress voted, for the 2008 election cycle the UAW gave more than eight times as much in campaign cash to members that voted for the bailout than those that voted against it -- $1.14 million to proponents versus just $136,500 that voted against it. Overall, the UAW gave to 176 members of the House and Senate that voted for the bailout and only 22 members that voted against it. The union also gave to 78 candidates that were either unsuccessful in their congressional election bids or those that have yet to be sworn in, for a total of $768,800. The UAW donated $70,500 to nine members that didn’t didn’t participate in the vote. The union gave over $1.8 million altogether. (businessandmedia.org)


Workers defy IAM strike boss ... The 114 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 369 walked off the job at Moncure Plywood on July 20 to protest the the number of hours they were working. "It's been hell, to say the least. We've been through the heat, the cold, the rain, the storms," said Lewis Cameron, president of Local 369. Another 102 non-union workers remained on the job, and Moncure Plywood hired close to 70 temporary workers to help keep the plant running, according to the striking workers. Many of the temporary workers had been laid off this year by a Siler City poultry plant, they said. "I miss going to work and getting a paycheck every week," striking worker Virginia Smith said, adding that it gets more tempting each day to cross the picket line. "I have to pay bills, and I don't have enough money to pay bills." (wral.com)


Unions force California trainwreck ... California expects to be unable to pay its bills by February or March, and fiscal officials will consider pulling the plug on $5 billion in public works projects Wednesday. Republican Senate leader Dave Cogdill and GOP Assembly leader Mike Villines hailed their plan Monday as sticking up for taxpayers by forcing the state to live within its means. "Raising taxes would not help the economic situation, but would only cause it more harm," Cogdill said. Legislative committees will hold hearings on the GOP plan this week. But criticism from leaders of the Democrat-dominated Legislature made it clear Monday that the proposal is basically dead on arrival. (sacbee.com)


Anti-competitive News Union in the dark ... The rank-and-file are eager to hear what's next. The Free Press is owned by Gannett Co. and the News by MediaNews Group. "I am as much in the dark as my members are," said Lou Mleczko, president of Local 22 of the Detroit Newspaper Guild, which represents 350 newsroom employees at the papers. Joint-operating agreements allow papers like the News and Free Press to share business and production operations while keeping their newsrooms separate. The Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 makes the arrangement exempt from antitrust laws if the attorney general certifies one paper is in danger of failing. (google.com)


Union-backed fraud group's protesters arrested ... Four demonstrators were arrested outside a Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting Monday morning after they refused to leave the area. Monica Sandschafer, 34, the Arizona director of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, and Kristy Theilen, 27, the Tucson ACORN director, were arrested along with members Ayensa Millian, 25, and Guillermina de Pichardo, 38. Deputies booked all four on suspicion of trespassing, a class-two misdemeanor. Raquel Teran, an organizer with Maricopa Citizens for Safety and Accountability - the umbrella group that coordinates with groups such as ACORN to protest the supervisors and Sheriff's Office - said the protesters were going to continue to draw attention to county officials and their handling of Sheriff Joe Arpaio. "This group of people was willing to escalate," Teran said. "We are going to continue to put pressure on the board." (azcentral.com)


Asinine Latin socialists called out ... In a video of a conference hosted by Vicente Fox on Thursday in his native state of Guanajuato, and which hit the Internet on Friday, the former Mexican head of state renewed his attacks on Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. In 2005, the two engaged in a sharp verbal exchange. "The worst thing we can do is to listen to those who are saying that the free market economy is of no use … which is what that ass Hugo Chávez is saying," Fox said, who also labeled the Venezuelan ruler "messianic," along with the presidents of Bolivia, Evo Morales; of Ecuador, Rafael Correa; and of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega. (worldmeets.us)


U.S. intellectuals lap up Chávez ... Frontline's “The Hugo Chávez Show”—Ofra Bikel's edifying 90-minute documentary about the divisive leader—was presented in English and Spanish on Frontline's Website five days before its PBS premiere on Nov. 23, a date picked to coincide with regional elections in Venezuela. Taking a cue from for-profit media, executives at WGBH Boston, where Frontline is produced, gambled on offering the early look as they navigate an increasingly global new-media landscape. The move appears to have paid off. The film got more than 500,000 streams in the five days before the broadcast. Through Dec. 10, it has been viewed 1.5 million times. WGBH estimates that the television broadcast was watched by 2.3 million people nationally throughout the week of the initial broadcast. “The video numbers were amazing pre-broadcast,” says Marrie Campbell, Frontline's editorial director. “It really does make us think.” (broadcastingcable.com)


Wade Rathke's fingerprints all over Latin America ... Venezuelan ambassador to Panama Jorge Luis Durán denied claims that the government of President Hugo Chávez is stepping in the Panamanian electoral process by funding the campaign of Balbina Herrera, a Social Democrat and candidate for ruling Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). In statements to Panamanian newspaper La Prensa, Durán, a former military officer, described as "speculations" the reports about the alleged Venezuelan financial aid. The diplomat said that it was a smear campaign staged by the opponents of Herrera, DPA reported. Chávez and the PRD candidate have never met, he added. "People who say that President Chávez is funding a Panamanian candidate are lying and manipulating the truth. We hope that the winner will be the one chosen by people. We (the government of Venezuela) will try to maintain good relations with the new authorities." The PRD candidate has rejected comments on alleged economic support from Venezuela and denounced the plan as "a dirty propaganda." (english.eluniversal.com)


Bam silent on Russia backyard play ... Russian warships will visit U.S. foe Cuba for the first time since the Soviet era, the navy said Monday. The destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and two support ships from a squadron that has been on a lengthy visit to Latin America will put in at Havana on Friday for a five-day stay, navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said. It will be the first visit by Russian warships to the Communist-led island just 90 miles (145 kilometers) from the United States since the 1991 Soviet collapse, Dygalo said. (google.com)


Russians re-nationalize ... In the immediate aftermath of the socialist Soviet Union’s overthrow in 1991, there was a frenzy of unbridled privatization of all the former Soviet republics’ tremendous natural wealth, especially in the Russian republic. Under socialism, the huge oil, natural gas, mineral, forest and other natural resources had been owned and shared in common by the people. But in capitalist Russia, modern-day robber barons have amassed huge fortunes while poverty has risen to record levels. The government’s possible future takeovers are an attempt to keep vital industries operating by reclaiming them from the obscenely wealthy billionaires who have stolen resources that were once used for the benefit of all. In an online forum accompanying the New York Times article of Nov. 11, many Russians supported the nationalization, recognizing that "Mineral resources are a national wealth, and as such should belong to the state," and that "[o]ligarchy sprang up thanks to the ‘liberal’ reforms imposed on us by Washington." One participant observed: "The financial crisis is an excellent way to review the results of the criminal privatization. … I can only praise it. And these measures will be very popular among people." (pslweb.org)


Chávez applauds anti-U.S. journalist ... Venezuela's anti-US President Hugo Chávez said that an Iraqi reporter who flung his shoes at US President George Bush was courageous. Chávez, who has himself hurled insults at the US president over the years, said he was glad the shoes didn't hit Bush but smiled broadly during a video of the incident played during a cabinet meeting broadcast on Venezuela television. "It's a good thing it didn't hit him. I'm not encouraging throwing shoes at anybody, but really, what courage," he said. (tvnz.co.nz)


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