Monday wrap

Can Bam curb corrupt SEIU? ... Among the more prominent SEIU corruption stories during 2008 were these: * California Nurses Association (CNA) members were subjected to violence when they attempted to walk past SEIU organizers opposing CNA’s attempts to organize 6,000 nurses employed by the Los Angeles County Hospital system. * The president of the largest SEIU local, Tyrone Freeman, resigned after media reports exposed his fleecing of his own members of more than $1 million. According to The Los Angeles Times, which has done an excellent job covering the story, Stern knew about Freeman’s activities but turned the other way for years. * The federal investigation of Illinois’ Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s attempts to peddle a U.S. Senate seat appointment has zeroed in on at least three SEIU officers in Chicago. * Blagojevich’s biggest single contributor is the SEIU, which contributed nearly $1 million to the governor’s 2006 re-election campaign. In return, Blagojevich has been very good to SEIU, signing legislation that delivered more than 49,000 state child care workers to the union’s Local 880. Guess who runs Local 880? The infamous Association of Community Organizers to Reform Now (ACORN). According to The Heritage Foundation, Local 880’s income tripled from $7 million in 2005 to $21 million in 2007, thanks to Blagojevich’s action. (dcexaminer.com)

USW demands federal bailout, trade protection

Letter: NYT editorial was misleading ... Your editorial “The Labor Agenda” (Dec. 29) does not discuss the principal problem with the card signature approach to unionization: the elimination of the secret ballot. The secret ballot is the only way to avoid intimidation of the workers by either management or the unions. I have nothing against unionization, but would never support the idea of eliminating the secret ballot. It can’t be justified. (nytimes.com)

Senate Dems go wobbly on Card-Check ... It hasn't been much noticed, but the political ground is already shifting under Big Labor's card-check initiative. The unions poured unprecedented money and manpower into getting Democrats elected; their payoff was supposed to be a bill that would allow them to intimidate more workers into joining unions. The conventional wisdom was that Barack Obama and an unfettered Democratic majority would write that check, lickety-split. Instead, union leaders now say they are being told card check won't happen soon. It seems the Obama team plans to devote its opening months to important issues, like the economy, and has no intention of jumping straight into the mother of all labor brawls. It also seems Majority Leader Harry Reid, even with his new numbers, might not have what it takes to overcome a filibuster. It's a case study in how quickly a political landscape can change, and how frequently the conventional wisdom is wrong. ... Whatever the difficulties, it's hard to fathom how waiting helps Democrats. Mr. Obama will never be stronger than in his opening months, and he'll need muscle to strongarm reluctant party members to support such an unsupportable measure. The initial union strategy was to whip this through before Americans understood the debate, but in that they've already failed. The more time goes on, the more likely this issue turns into trench warfare. For the unions, that wouldn't just be a shot to the heart, but to the ego. Democrats may try to fob them off with less controversial legislation -- "fair pay" or more unionization of public safety officials -- but Big Labor feels it is owed much more. We may be about to discover just how patient, or forgiving, those union bosses are. (online.wsj.com)

Dem House leader set to act for union thugs ... HOYER: Again, let me stress, Chris, nobody's going to take away the secret ballot. The employees currently have and will have the opportunity to opt for a secret ballot. They don't have to sign the card. They can say, "Look, we'll have an election, and we may vote." But they have that choice right now, and they will continue to have that choice. WALLACE: But you want to pass the bill, just to be clear here, that the — that unions, that labor, AFL-CIO, is talking about the Employee Free Choice Act, which would — which would create a one-step system, a public vote, on whether or not to unionize. HOYER: Well, a public vote — you mean a signing of the — of the card which says, "I want the union to represent me." WALLACE: Yes, right. HOYER: What I have said, and I said on your program and will reiterate, that bill that passed the House handily is certainly going to be the base bill. Will there be discussions? There may well be discussions. And again, I want to stress nobody is precluding having a secret ballot. What we are saying is that an alternative route will be available. And if employees choose to sign — over 50 percent of the employees sign a card saying, "We want to be represented by the union," that that will be effected. WALLACE: And give me a sense of the time frame? You said maybe not the first month. How soon? HOYER: Well, I think it will be early. I think it will be early in the year, certainly in the early spring. (foxnews.com)

Employer advises Bam ... Advice for Obama: He should examine the ramifications of revoking President Bush’s tax cuts before taking any action, Taylor said. Small-business owners, including many who report their business income on personal tax returns, received the most tax relief. Those companies are important job generators and are struggling with the recession, he said. “While you sure want to close loopholes and the like,” Taylor said, “I’d counsel him to consider the impact on small business.” Taylor also is concerned about proposed legislation that would require companies to recognize unions when a majority of workers sign a statement of support called a card check. Eliminating secret ballots would open workers to more pressure, he said. (journalgazette.net)

Pay-to-Play claims Dem Bam Cabinet Appointee ... Governor Bill Richardson has withdrawn his name for Secretary of Commerce with the Obama administration. Richardson is under a grand jury investigation for giving out a lucrative state contract to a California company that had donated heavily to his campaign. This is another painful distraction for the Obama administration which has been bogged down by questions regarding Governor Blagojevich trying to sell Obama’s senate seat. Who’s next? Eric Holder maybe? (bostonherald.com)

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Dem Pay-to-Play taints Bamelot ... The mess of Bill Richardson's resignation as commerce-secretary-in-waiting eats up more of the goodwill Barack Obama badly needs if he is to implement his audacious agenda - an agenda that is being undermined by petty state-level scandals. In a statement released to the press yesterday, the New Mexico governor announced that: "I have asked the president-elect not to move forward with my nomination at this time. "I do so with great sorrow. But a pending investigation of a company that has done business with New Mexico state government promises to extend for several weeks or, perhaps, even months." That company is CDR Financial Products, which contributed to Mr. Richardson's past campaigns, while also winning $1.5-million in consulting contracts with the state government. A grand jury is investigating whether there was a "pay-to-play" connection in the awarding of the contracts. Mr. Richardson protested his innocence yesterday, declaring "unequivocally that I and my administration have acted properly in all matters and that this investigation will bear out that fact. ... Mr. Obama is to meet with congressional leaders today to discuss the proposal, which the president wants passed within weeks, but which Republicans have vowed to obstruct unless their concerns are met. That should be taking up all of the president's attention, and everyone else's. Instead, Mr. Obama must scramble to find a new commerce secretary, while ducking accusations of scandal-by-association - something with which his opponents will gleefully insist his administration has now been twice tainted. (theglobeandmail.com)

Givebacks bedevil union bigs ... Unions are forgoing previously negotiated wage increases and reopening contracts early, as they face pressure to help private and public employers conserve cash in the recession. Gordon Pavy, director of collective bargaining for the AFL-CIO, says shriveling tax revenue has state and local governments, rather than private employers, leading the way in seeking union givebacks ... Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire proposed a budget in December that omitted funding for negotiated pay raises with several unions. The state faces a deficit of about $5.7 billion through the 2011 budget year, according to Glenn Kuper, a spokesman for the state's Office of Financial Management. "Unfortunately, we had no choice but to put their raises on hold," the governor's office said. A local of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 25,000 home-care workers in the state, has filed a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to compel the governor to submit a new budget that pays for workers' raises. The state chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees also filed a lawsuit. Mr. Pavy said public-sector unions have agreed to scale back pay elsewhere. In Montgomery County, Md., teachers tentatively agreed to forgo 5% raises due this year, while in Tempe, Ariz., the International Association of Fire Fighters agreed to skip 2009 scheduled increases to help balance the budget. (online.wsj.com)

Jim Rogers: Horrible Economics ... Ask investing icon Jim Rogers about the $700 billion U.S. banking bailout, and he’ll tell you that it’s nothing but “horrible economics.” And with good reason: Most of the major U.S. banks are already bankrupt. “Without giving specific names, most of the significant American banks, the larger banks, are bankrupt, totally bankrupt,” Rogers said in a recent teleconference at the Reuters Investment Outlook 2009 Summit. “What is outrageous economically and is outrageous morally is that normally in times like this, people who are competent and who saw it coming and who kept their powder dry go and take over the assets from the incompetent. What’s happening this time is that the government is taking the assets from the competent people and giving them to the incompetent people and saying, now you can compete with the competent people. It is horrible economics.” ... “Governments are making mistakes,” he said. “They’re saying to all the banks, you don’t have to tell us your situation. You can continue to use your balance sheet that is phony. All these guys are bankrupt, they’re still worrying about their bonuses, they’re still trying to pay their dividends, and the whole system is weakened.” (seekingalpha.com)

Chicago Teamsters back down United ... United Airlines will furlough fewer mechanics than it previously thought after talks with their union, the Teamsters. In a message to United workers last month, the nation's third-largest airline said the changes will allow it to keep some maintenance work at New York-LaGuardia. United, a unit of Chicago-based UAL Corp., previously said it would close the maintenance facility there in January. In the message, United said its agreement with Teamsters leaders "will mitigate furloughs and enable higher levels of collaboration and cooperation in light of our business plan in the current economic conditions." (chicagotribune.com)

Unions balk in Massachusetts ... The state-run health insurance program provides more diverse health insurance plans for less than what local governments can get. The amount of savings differs from town to town depending on what type of plans the communities offer, how many retirees they have and what those retirees are paying. But the amount can be substantial. The town of Holbrook would save an estimated $212,000; the town of Millis would see about $300,000 in savings. But few have taken advantage of the state plan. Only 17 of 351 Massachusetts cities and towns have joined so far. The list also includes six regional school districts, three planning agencies and one charter school that have joined. According to Dolores Mitchell, the GIC's executive director, the process of joining the state plan isn't easy. A town must cancel existing labor contracts that often give workers better deals than the GIC provides. "Given the difficulty and complexity of the decision they have to make, I'm perfectly happy with the number that have decided to participate," she said. "It isn't easy. If the administration of the community has decided that they want to do it, all different unions have to get together and collectively make that decision. It's a complicated and contentious and time-consuming activity." (dailynewstribune.com)

International Collectivism

Chávistas take on free speech ... The Venezuelan government on Sunday condemned a tear gas attack last week at the studios of an opposition-aligned TV station. Information Minister Jesse Chacon said President Hugo Chavez's government "categorically rejects" violent acts such as Thursday's incident, when two people on a motorcycle threw the tear gas canister at the Caracas television station Globovision. According to Reporters Without Borders, a radical pro-Chávez group known as "La Piedrita," or "The Little Stone," has claimed responsibility. The canister detonated on the roof of the Globovision building, which was evacuated after the gas wafted down an air duct. The Paris-based media watchdog urged a quick and thorough probe to discourage further attacks. (jpost.com)

Lebanese leftists pelt U.S. embassy with onions ... Over hundred angry leftist demonstrators have been confronted Sunday with security forces outside the U.S. embassy in Awkar, east of Beirut, New TV reported. Demonstrators belonging to the Lebanese communist party who were protesting against the Israeli attacks in Gaza, attempted to cross the wires around the embassy, where they were confronted with tear gas and water hoses. TV footage showed demonstrators throwing stones and onions on the embassy guards, and ambulances rushing to rescue wounded demonstrators. (news.xinhuanet.com)

Reds going Green ... Energy-starved Nicaragua is turning to wind as it tries to reduce its dependence on oil-based power. In January, the country began operating 19 windmills that have the potential to generate 40 megawatts of energy. Energy Minister Emilio Rappaccioli said the $90 million project will be operating at full capacity by the end of January and contribute 6 percent of the country's total energy needs. Nicaragua successfully ended rolling blackouts that left the country without power for hours on many days, but the government struggled to pay higher energy costs as oil prices peaked at more than $147 a barrel earlier this year. Ernesto Martinez, executive president of the Nicaraguan Energy Company, said recently that Russia will finance and build two geothermal plants in Nicaragua with the capacity to produce 250 megawatts. And on Tuesday, Rappaccioli said Iran, Brazil and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim have also expressed interest in investing in the country's renewable energy efforts. Nearly 80 percent of the oil Nicaragua consumes is provided at a discount by Venezuela, whose president, Hugo Chávez , is a close ally of Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega. (rusty.pine-magazine.com)

News unionist prefers African communists ... Yet there is an emotional heartbeat to the political scene in Africa that is rarely seen in China. Over the past seven years, I've covered China's biggest political events: the annual rubber-stamp meeting of the National People's Congress, and the less frequent congresses of the Chinese Communist Party. These are always held in the pompous and solemn Great Hall of the People, a grandiose edifice on Tiananmen Square. The speeches are marathon recitals from prepared texts. Nobody smiles. Nobody shouts. Everyone wears nearly identical dark suits - except on the first day of the People's Congress, when ethnic costumes are mandatory for minorities. Everything is decided in advance. Votes are orderly and near-unanimous. The atmosphere is deadly dull. Contrast that with the latest political event in Johannesburg - the founding convention of a breakaway group of dissidents from the African National Congress. Yes, it was held in a suburban convention centre. But the atmosphere was buoyant, spirited, spontaneous, even joyous. Speeches were punctuated by outbursts of singing and dancing. Liberation songs filled the air. If anyone attempted to sing or dance at a congress of the Chinese Communist Party, I'm sure he would be immediately escorted out of the building and taken away for severe questioning. (theglobeandmail.com)

Chávez will miss Bush

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