Organized Labor's repugnant racist roots

This 125th Labor Day, Americans ought to consider one of organized labor's lesser-known contributions to American politics: affirmative action.

For most of their first century, American unions promoted affirmative action for white workers: Trade unions were job monopolies and most often white job monopolies. California unions, for example, led the campaign against Chinese immigrant labor, and the "union label" campaign helped to enable consumers to boycott products made by Chinese workers. "The cigars contained herein are made by WHITE MEN," the original union label read. As for East Coast immigrant labor, the celebrated socialist leader Eugene V. Debs once complained, "The Dago works for small pay and lives far more like a savage or wild beast, than the Chinese."

Above all, unions made it difficult for blacks to earn a living. The first large union federation, the National Labor Union, set the pattern of exclusion and evasion. Although it was broadly known that national and local unions excluded blacks, either by their constitutions or informal custom, the federation claimed that, since its constitution made no reference to the race issue, it was unnecessary to deal with it.

As a result, blacks often helped to break strikes by racially exclusive unions (such as Debs's American Railway Union during the 1894 Pullman strike). In response, unions became even more discriminatory and dismissed black complaints about union exclusion as demands for preferential treatment.

In 1917, Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), claimed, "Colored workmen have not been asking that equal rights be accorded to them as to white workmen, but [they] somehow convey the idea that they are to be petted or coddled and given special consideration and special privilege." He added, "Of course that can't be done."

In places where unions could not exclude blacks, they adopted racial quotas to limit their number or share of work. These were common in Gulf Coast port cities, and were used by railroad unions into the 20th century.

Black workers often had to fight past white picketers who threatened them with violence or death. And not only picketers. Gov. John R. Tanner of Illinois, a Republican, pledged to stop black replacement workers from breaking a mine workers' strike in 1898, saying he would "shoot to pieces with gatling guns" any train that transported them. An Illinois militia commander swore, "If any Negroes are brought while I am in charge, and they refuse to retreat when ordered to do so, I will order my men to fire."

Progressives also used federal legislation to enable private unions to maintain racial monopolies or even drive black workers out of their jobs. The La Follette Seamen's Act of 1915 sought to sweep Asians out of the merchant ship service. As Gompers told another leading Progressive, Sen. Robert La Follette, the unregulated labor market was "driving not only the American but all white men from the sea."

Empowered under the Railway Labor Act of 1926, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen forced reluctant shippers to help them to eliminate black firemen. The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 forced government contractors to pay the "prevailing" or union wage as a means to prevent them from hiring black non-union workers. The 1941 Southeastern Carriers Agreement (which the black press dubbed the "Hitler Agreement") imposed a 50% quota on black firemen, forbade any hiring of blacks and stripped them of all seniority rights until this quota was attained. It also permitted secret side-agreements to set lower quotas.

The 1935 Wagner Act gave unions the power to organize mass-production industries. It was hailed as a crowning achievement, but civil- rights organizations at the time opposed the act because it did not prohibit racial exclusion--"the worst piece of legislation ever passed by the Congress," Urban League President Lester Granger called it. (Ironically, the term "affirmative action" made its statutory debut in the Wagner Act, giving to the National Labor Relations Board power to order employers guilty of unfair labor practices to take such "affirmative action" as reinstatement, back pay or promotion.)

By the end of World War II, the federal judiciary recognized the problem of the black worker under federal labor law, and imposed on unions a duty of "fair representation." While not compelled to admit blacks as members, unions certified as exclusive bargaining agents could not use their monopoly power to disadvantage minority-group workers. Nevertheless, since the National Labor Relations Board consistently took the side of white unions, the onus of enforcing the fair representation doctrine fell on individual black workers.

By the 1960s, two decades of executive orders and state fair employment laws to cease discrimination had made little impact on unions. And when Congress finally outlawed employment discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it included an exemption for "bona fide seniority systems," in order to protect benefits that white workers had won at the expense of blacks over the previous generation.

In the process of trying to overcome this loophole, federal agencies devised the doctrine of "the present effects of past discrimination," which lies at the heart of contemporary affirmative action theory.

The architects of affirmative action began to formulate the "present effects of past discrimination" principle, which they called the "rightful place" doctrine, in the late 1960s, and the federal courts eagerly adopted it. The Supreme Court endorsed it in the 1971 Griggs case. Although an employer may not intentionally discriminate, the under-representation of minority workers is regarded as perpetuating past discrimination.

This theory made sense with regard to already illegal and overt union discrimination. But it metastasized into our general principle of "disparate impact"--any policy that has racially disproportionate results is presumed unlawful, and thus encourages employers to adopt racial quotas.

And yet the Supreme Court effectively restored the seniority system exemption for unions in 1977. After the unions had taken care of their senior members, the court then gave its imprimatur to "voluntary" quotas in the 1979 Weber case, in which the United Steelworkers set aside half of their skilled apprentice training slots for blacks, and shielded employers against "reverse discrimination" suits by white workers.

Unions accomplished a similar feat of provoking and then escaping quotas in the federal contracting program known as the "Philadelphia Plan." President Lyndon Johnson's Labor Department devised a set of "goals and timetables" to increase the number of blacks in the notoriously "lily-white" construction trades.

The Nixon administration implemented these plans, enraging leaders of the AFL. But after decades of dismissing legitimate black demands for equal treatment as preferential treatment, the unions' condemnation of actual demands for preferential treatment lacked force.

Nixon soon extended the Philadelphia Plan from construction trades to all government contractors--covering perhaps half of the American work force. And yet, remarkably, the very construction unions that provoked the Philadelphia Plan soon won exemption from it. The Labor Department, now headed by AFL-CIO Construction Trades President Peter Brennan ("the fox was given the duty of guarding the chickens," a former N.L.R.B. chairman noted), substituted less demanding and voluntary "hometown plans" for the quota systems of the original Philadelphia Plan.

Critics usually point to federal bureaucrats and judges as the architects of affirmative action. They ought to remember the unions who provided the materials.


Forced unionism: America's job-killer

Americans will skip work Monday to celebrate what really should be called Leisure Day. But this Labor Day, an estimated 7.2 million privately employed Americans (and even more public-sector workers) could relax more thoroughly if they were not compelled to join labor unions and/or pay union dues as job requirements. That's why the time is now for the National Right to Work Act.

Congressman Joe Wilson and Senator Jim DeMint, both South Carolina Republicans, have sponsored legislation to restore a woman’s right to choose whether or not to join a union and a man's right to choose whether or not to pay union dues.

"The National Right to Work Act simply erases the forced-dues clauses in the [1935] National Labor Relations Act and [1926] Railway Labor Act without adding a single letter to federal law," Wilson told House colleagues as he introduced his measure last January. "Passage of this bill would return to working Americans the freedom of choice that never should have been stripped from them in the first place. Furthermore, passage of the National Right to Work Act would dramatically increase both the freedom and the prosperity of all Americans." Wilson's bill features 83 House co-sponsors.

Beyond the boost in individual liberty that Wilson and DeMint advocate, abundant evidence demonstrates that America’s 22 right-to-work (RTW) states significantly outperform the overall U.S. economy, while forced-unionism states trail both.

For instance, the National Institute for Labor Relations Research found that between 1982 and 2004, manufacturing establishments expanded 4.5 percent in RTW states. While they shrank 5.3 percent nationwide, they shriveled in forced-unionism states: down 9.3 percent.

From 1995 to 2005, private, non-farm employment advanced 20.2 percent in RTW states, ahead of the 14.5 percent national average and 11.3 percent hike in forced-unionism states.

RTW states saw $50,571 average, real household income in metropolitan areas in 2002. That year, the $48,310 U.S. figure trumped its $46,431 counterpart in Big Labor states.

In 2004, 71 percent of households in RTW states owned their homes, versus 69 percent across the USA, and 68 percent in mandatory-unionism states.

RTW residents more broadly enjoy medical coverage. Between 1995 and 2005, the Census Bureau reports, the number of individuals carrying private health insurance climbed 11.9 percent in those states. The 7 percent national average once again outstripped the 4.4 percent increase in compulsory-unionism states. Meanwhile, the number of children with private insurance rose 9.3 percent in RTW states and 2.9 percent, on average, across America. But in forced-union states, the number of boys and girls with private coverage actually slipped 0.5 percent.

So, do RTW laws catalyze greater prosperity, or are RTW states the kinds of jurisdictions that cut taxes, deregulate, preserve property rights, and otherwise encourage capitalism? More pastorally, are RTW laws the animal feed that fattens the chickens, or are they the roosters that believe their crowing summons the sunrise?

"States with Right to Work laws tend strongly to have other pro-growth policies," says Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee. "But Right to Work laws themselves play a very important role in fostering a good climate, both for enacting other pro-growth policies in the first place and for maintaining them in the face of strong opposition from Big Labor."

Mix adds that in non-RTW states, "union campaign operatives use a huge chunk of the forced dues they grab to elect politicians who are beholden to Big Labor's agenda of higher taxes, more government spending, and straightjacket regulation of business."

Conversely, Mix maintains, union bosses in RTW states lack access to compulsory dues, thus limiting their spending and activity to promote statist politicians and policies.

Nevertheless, and especially on this holiday, Big Labor still sings the praises of unionism.

"More than 97 percent of union workers have jobs that provide health insurance benefits, but only 85 percent of nonunion workers do," the AFL-CIO crows. "Unions help employers create a more stable, productive workforce - where workers have a say in improving their jobs."

These are appealing arguments. Union bosses should have enough faith in themselves and what Big Labor offers that they can attract U.S. employees through persuasion rather than coercion.

That is all the National Right to Work Act asks.


Union political action: Crime without punishment

The Federal Election Commission has just found that Americans Coming Together, a top union group active in the 2004 presidential election, spent $100 million illegally on federal election activity that year. The agency imposed a fine of just $775,000 -- and not one dime will go back to the union workers who financed ACT's illegal activities with their forced payment of dues.

This is a textbook example of what's wrong with federal election laws. The FEC takes years to catch up with those who break the law, then administers a slap on the wrist on the grounds that ACT disbanded after the 2004 election and won't be engaging in further election activity.

In reality, such groups may disband but their supporters and personnel have every intention of remaining active in politics under another brand name. That perfectly describes the ACT shell game.

Its largest donor was the Service Employees International Union, one of the most politically active labor unions. Its largest non-union donor was billionaire George Soros. And who was the group's president? None other than Harold Ickes, a long-time functionary of the Clinton machine who served as Bill Clinton's deputy White House chief of staff. Mr. Ickes is now a major player in the huge fundraising apparatus of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who unsurprisingly has run into her own campaign finance scandal this week. One of her top donors, Norman Hsu, was revealed to be a fugitive from justice and may have illegally laundered campaign contributions to the Clinton campaign through "straw" or fake donors.

It's clear the FEC can't be relied upon to report on the law-skirting by major political players before voters render their judgment at the polls in 2008. Nor are its sanctions much of a deterrent to those playing for big stakes on the presidential stage. Mrs. Clinton's latest scandal appears to be a near-replica of the 1996 Clinton fundraising scandals, in which 120 people either fled the country to avoid questioning, took the Fifth Amendment or otherwise failed to cooperate with investigators.

The FEC enforcement action against ACT came after a complaint three years ago by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Meanwhile, the news media resolutely ignored the story, insisting that looking into the modus operandi of the Clinton machine represented "old news." Here's hoping the press wakes up and realizes the time for vigilant reporting on the 2008 election excesses of all parties is before Americans vote, not years afterward.


Big Labor prospers under Bush

Union bosses are quick to bemoan President Bush's record on labor issues. But don't be fooled - they are on the verge of running out the clock. In spite of losing a few skirmishes during Bush's tenure, Big Labor is winning the overall battle against individual-worker freedom.

The Bush administration's labor board displays a case in point. The five-member National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) sits at the top of the federal agency charged with administering the National Labor Relations Act, a Depression-era law that grants union officials sweeping privileges to corral workers into union collectives.

From the outset, the Bush administration's mishandling of this key federal labor agency has been breathtaking.

For starters, Bush didn't even install a Republican majority until nearly a year into his presidency. And since that installation, his NLRB has failed to correct literally dozens of activist rulings handed down by President Clinton's NLRB. Clinton's NLRB, of course, notoriously expanded special privileges for union officials; his board effectively strengthened union coercive power over employees and employers alike, entrenched unions in workplaces without a majority support of employees, and allowed for the rampant misuse of forced union dues for politics.

Of course, a Democrat majority on the NLRB can be expected to favor the interests of union officials over rank-and-file employees. But the Clinton board went beyond favoring: According to an analysis by Jones Day attorney G. Roger King, prepared for the left-wing American Bar Association, from 1994 to 2001 the Clinton NLRB overturned 60 long-standing cases, throwing a jaw-dropping 1,181 years of combined precedent out the window.

In spite of this, Bush's appointees have revisited few of those controversial Clinton NLRB precedents. Throughout its tenure, the Bush NLRB has either taken years to decide important cases, or has failed to address fundamental issues altogether. Moreover, the current NLRB has little time left to step up to the plate, since 2008 is just around the corner. In fact, because of expired terms, the Board's composition falls from five to two members in December.

The history of the NLRB is cluttered with cases in which it has failed to protect the interests of individual workers. In one long-pending case, employees waited 18 years for a decision only to have the board issue a ruling that ducked the fundamental issue.

In another case, which took place in 1989 - a day prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall - Wisconsin (with assistance from National Right to Work Foundation attorneys, David and Sherry Pirlott of Green Bay) challenged Teamsters Union Local 75 officials' attempts to unlawfully spend their forced dues on union organizing. When the Board finally ruled this past January, it ducked the issue. One dissenting Board Member said the ruling was equivalent to "dropping off a wrecked car at a garage for repairs" and after waiting for it to be fixed for nearly two decades, finding that "one tire has been patched."

Worse still, the NLRB has been absent in other employee cases that have attempted to challenge the notorious "card check" abuse. Under the card check organizing scheme, the NLRB secret ballot election is replaced with a union-rigged system where organizers often harass and mislead employees to sign authorization cards that then count as "votes" for unionization. (Card check is Big Labor's preferred organizing method these days, because employees are not petitioning or voting for unionization as they were in the past.)

In two of the Foundation's leading "card check" cases, which date back to 2003, union organizers at automotive supplier Dana Corporation gained sweeping access to employees' personal information, including home addresses, so they could conduct "home visits." Rather than enjoying the limited protections of secret ballot elections, workers were individually browbeaten into signing the "authorization cards" counted as votes for unionization.

Despite the suffering that workers endure under these increasingly common coercive unionization drives, the NLRB continues to defer action in these critical cases, effectively turning a blind eye to these abuses of employees.

With three NLRB vacancies at the end of this year, there will be one final opportunity for this president to show he cares to protect employee freedom at the NLRB. But if the administration does not get on the ball quickly, Big Labor will be laughing all the way to the bank.


Teachers picket district-wide, consider strike

Madera (CA) teachers have returned to their classrooms for the second school year without a contract amid an impasse in negotiations with the district - and now they're taking their concerns directly to parents.

The teachers are picketing Back to School Night events for the next few weeks at each of the two dozen school sites in the Madera Unified School District.

And with no contract talks scheduled before November, the 900 teachers also are considering a strike, said teachers union President Sue Thornton.

"We're talking about a strike-authorization vote, but no teacher wants to strike," Thornton said.

Madera Unified Schools Superintendent Larry Risinger said that his door remains open and he is eager for dialogue. But the teachers and the district remain far apart on pay and benefits, he said. The 18,500-student district can't afford to give teachers what they want, he said.

Risinger criticized teachers for picketing outside schools on Back to School Night.

"I just don't think that's the right time to do it," Risinger said. "I don't think it's in the best interest of kids."

The teachers have been working under their contract for the 2005-06 school year. Both sides jointly declared an impasse in April, which paved the way for the state to assign a mediator. Three attempts at state mediation over the summer failed to yield an agreement.

On Nov. 15, a state-appointed three-member panel will hear both sides and make a nonbinding recommendation. The panel is expected to take about a month to reach a recommendation, and then there will be a 10-day waiting period before it can be made public.

Thornton said the union is considering a Nov. 13 strike-authorization vote. If the teachers agree, they could accept the state panel's recommendation -- or simply not return to classrooms after the holiday break.

Some parents said they are sympathetic to the teachers.

"Not only are the teachers getting a short stick, but so are the kids," said Andrea Jones, who has two children who attend Madison Elementary School.

On Thursday night, about 300 teachers lined up around Madison to talk to parents and students who were there for Back to School Night.

"Test scores are going up, and respect is going down," said Amanda Wade, who teaches first grade at Alpha Elementary School.

Gordon Bielanski, 59, a teacher at Howard Elementary School, handed out leaflets to arriving parents. Bielanski has a master's degree in aeronautical science and flew a B-52 bomber in the U.S. Air Force for 20 years. He has been teaching for 12 years after returning to college for his teaching credential under the Department of Defense Troops to Teachers program.

"I chose Madera Unified, and they're not treating us very well right now," Bielanski said.

Erica Linares, who has a third-grader at Madison, praised the pickets for being peaceful, orderly and respectful. They deserve a raise because they put "a lot of time and effort in their job," she said.

Both Risinger and Thornton said they see the benefits package as a primary hurdle to breaking the impasse.

Teacher pay in the district ranges from a $36,210 starting salary to $68,408 for teachers with 20 years of experience, Thornton said.

During a July 11 mediation session -- the last time the two sides met -- the district offered two salary proposals, both of which were quickly rejected.

The first was a one-year, across-the-board 2% salary increase for 2006-07. It would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2007.

The second proposal was a two-year agreement covering both the 2006-07 school year and the current teaching year, which began July 1. The district offered an 8% across-the-board raise but kept its present maximum $11,360 cap on the district's annual contributions toward each teachers' benefits, including medical, dental and vision.

Thornton said that would effectively reduce by up to $1,600 annually any pay increase won by the teachers -- who already pay their own family deductible on benefit plans.

The union countered the district's July proposals with two of its own: a one-year agreement for 2006-07 with a 7.6% salary increase effective July 1, 2006, and a two-year contract with a 5.96% salary hike for 2006-07 and 4.56% for 2007-08. All the increases would be across-the-board.

The union's two proposals would have left the district's benefits contributions uncapped.

Risinger said the district will have a contingency plan if there is a strike. "We might have to bring in subs, and we might have to redeploy administrators to classrooms," he said.

The only teachers' strike since Madera Unified School District was formed in 1966 was in 1970. That was long before Risinger arrived, but he said he was told that it lasted for only two hours.


The Big Labor Party

At the AFL-CIO forum in Chicago this summer, Barack Obama declared that "special interests have been shaping our trade policy. That's something that I'’ll end." The other Democratic presidential candidates have also denounced "special interests" at various points in their campaigns. But Obama and his rivals have had nothing to say about the special interest that sat right in front of them at the forum - the one that really is shaping our trade policy. That would be the labor unions.

According to the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, unions contributed $925 million to political campaigns and causes during the last presidential-election cycle. Nearly all of that money went to Democrats. On top of those nine digits, unions routinely run massive get-out-the-vote drives to help Democrats, and their officers often volunteer full time for Democratic campaigns while collecting salaries from their union jobs. In recent election cycles, unions have spent 87 to 90 percent of their money from PACs and "527" groups on Democratic candidates and causes.

In return, Democratic politicians have supported policies that benefit union leaders at the expense of union members, as well as the non-members who are forced to pay dues in many states.

On March 1, only two House Democrats voted against a union-backed measure that, in effect, would have taken away the right of workers to a secret-ballot vote on whether to unionize. This would have left them vulnerable to harassment and intimidation. Every Democratic freshman supported the measure (known as "card check"). In the end, supporters of card check could not muster the 60 votes needed for cloture in the Senate, but not a single Senate Democrat cast a "no" vote.

Labor unions have also acquired a vise grip on the Democrats when it comes to trade. Former moderates on this issue - even many Democrats whose districts host major ports and benefit from free trade - now vote against almost every new trade pact. Their putative objections concern environmental and labor standards in developing nations, but opposing free trade also has the nice consequence of keeping the AFL-CIO happy.

Notwithstanding their professed interest in oversight and accountability, the House Democrats passed a Department of Labor appropriations bill this summer that cut $2 million from the budget for the Office of Labor and Management Standards, which oversees how unions spend dues money. During the Bush administration, this office has finally gotten unions to start complying with decades-old laws requiring itemized disclosure of their spending and their officers' conflicts of interest. No wonder union leaders don’t want it funded.

More and more, union leaders are also putting their organizations on the record on issues unrelated to labor or collective bargaining. The National Education Association spends less than 15 percent of its dues money representing members in the workplace, according to disclosure forms filed with the Department of Labor. It gives its leftover millions to groups that do such things as resist Social Security reform and litigate to prevent restrictions on abortion. It has also declared its support for a government-controlled and taxpayer-funded health-care system. Other unions advocate such causes as same-sex marriage, higher taxes (which their workers would have to pay), retreat from Iraq, and an amnesty for illegal immigrants that would adversely affect the wage growth of many union members.

In ages past, when the worker's lot was much worse than it is today, union leaders stuck to what they did best: collective bargaining and improvement of work conditions. They fought for the well-being of their workers, but frequently opposed government intervention in the workplace, understanding that a free market would create jobs and opportunities for all. Today's labor leaders simply fight to preserve their power, often at the expense of both the workers they represent and the country as a whole. Unfortunately, their closest political friends hold a majority in Congress.


SEIU in permanent political-activist fight

Seacoast (NH) residents David Lang and John Schoch are both union members, and they are concerned about many of the same issues surrounding the Iraq war, health care, the effects of globalization, and the economic needs of working families.

Where they part paths is in their choice of the right candidate to address these issues, and on this Labor Day, their choices reflect the coming battle between different unions as they choose their primary candidates to support.

Lang knows what he's doing today and every day until the first votes are cast in the New Hampshire primary. Lang, a Hampton resident and president of the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire, is attending the AFL-CIO Labor Day breakfast in Manchester with Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Chris Dodd, the candidate his organization and the larger International Association of Fire Fighters endorsed last week.

"We see a true leader," said Lang of Dodd, whose campaign secured a major boost with the IAFF backing. "For the next four months, I'm going to be telling people why we are working (for Dodd). He has stood with us, and we know where he stands. And he's going to be the next president of the United States."

Schoch has no less passion for his favorite candidate and one of Dodd's primary rivals, Sen. John Edwards.

Schoch, a Stratham resident and Vietnam War veteran, was very pleased his union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America - which has more than 520,000 members nationally and more than 2,100 members in New Hampshire - endorsed Edwards last week.

"I was 100 percent for it because we really believe he's the best candidate," said Schoch, who has seen Edwards in person during the candidate's frequent Seacoast campaign stops this year. "My feeling is that he's a real down-to-earth guy, and I'm more inspired than I was in 2004."

For Schoch, one of the most important endorsements of Edwards has come from an unlikely source - his wife, Claire, a Republican who hasn't been this excited about any candidate, Democrat or Republican, in years.

With Labor Day ushering in the unofficial kickoff of the campaign season, the presidential candidates, especially on the Democratic side, are making a major push for the backing of organized labor.

In addition to the major endorsements for Edwards and Dodd, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was endorsed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

And candidates such as Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden have joined others in the "Walk a Day in My Shoes" program with union members as they do their daily work.

The fight for these union endorsements can help significantly and add to the organizational strength of a campaign.

National AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has stated publicly that his organization will expend unprecedented amounts of money and organizational resources into the 2008 election, which will benefit the eventual nominee.

The IAFF and its affiliated state organizations like the PFF (which has more than 2,100 active and retired members) have a reputation for being very active and effective when it backs a candidate.

For example, the floundering 2004 New Hampshire primary candidacy of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry was righted, in part, by the efforts of the PFF, which brought organizational might to stirring up grass-roots support and excelling in get-out-the-vote activities.

Both Lang and Schoch said they and their members will spend hours and hours getting involved in door-to-door canvassing and working phone banks.

What's driving organized labor for the 2008 election is similar to what moved it in 2004 — hostility toward the administration. This time around, it believes President Bush's administration to be the most anti-union in recent memory and the most punitive toward working family issues.

Though Bush and Republican leaders have said their tax and domestic policies have led to a strong economy with low unemployment and interest rates, and more opportunities for workers, Bush is considered radioactive for a majority of union members.

"Most Democratic candidates have the same values as organized labor," said Mike Roche, the president of Local 8938 of the United Steel Workers in Manchester, which represents 125 workers.

"It's not even close, it's so night and day," Roche said about organized labor's perception of the main political parties.

Which isn't to say there isn't room for Republicans.

In addition to Clinton, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers took the unusual step of endorsing a Republican candidate for the primaries - former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The IAM, one of the nation's largest and most politically active trade unions, said a poll of its 700,000 members showed they wanted more discussion of economic issues from candidates of both parties.

And the New Hampshire Service Employees International Union, the state's largest union with more than 10,000 members, has invited Huckabee to take part in a "Walk a Day in My Shoes" event as part of its effort to serve Republican-leaning members.

Echoing national SEIU President Andy Stern, a spokesman said when it comes to political parties, "We have no permanent allies - only permanent issues."


Unions want legal authority to be bullies

If you ran a business that could force customers to buy your product, you'd be sitting pretty, right? Well, labor union officials in America enjoy the legal authority to compel 11 million American workers to pay union dues or be fired. And they are working to stack the deck even more.

How? By blocking workers' access to a secret ballot when choosing whether to unionize.

Federal law already gives union officials powers enjoyed by no other private organization. Union officials can force employees to accept unwanted union representation, and in the 28 states without Right to Work laws, they can also force employees to pay dues to the union as a job condition. This core privilege known as compulsory unionism enables Big Labor to rake in more than $10 billion a year in coerced dues.

The top legislative priority for organized labor in Congress today is passage of the Orwellian-named "Employee Free Choice Act." If it becomes law, union officials will be able to make it even more difficult for employees to say "no" to unwanted unionization.

The bill would replace secret ballots over whether to unionize with a process called "card check." With card check, union organizers are allowed to bully workers one-by-one into signing cards they later count as "votes" favoring unionization. Once union organizers have "persuaded" a majority of the employees to sign the cards, union officials can gain the power to "represent" all of the employees in that workplace.

Legal-aid cases brought for employees by National Right to Work Foundation attorneys have shown that union organizers regularly mislead employees about the meaning of the cards, or harass them at home and at work until they sign. Cards have been described as necessary to enroll for health insurance coverage, requests for an actual election, or even tax forms.

Across the country, the National Right to Work Foundation has helped employees stand up to card check coercion. For example, Mike Ivey, a South Carolina resident and employee of Daimler-Chrysler subsidiary Freightliner, stood up to United Auto Workers organizers when they targeted his workplace.

During a four-year card check drive, UAW officials secretly blocked workers' promised pay raises so that workers would be angry at their employer and therefore embrace the union. Meanwhile, a few employees had to threaten to call the police to get rid of unwanted UAW organizers going door-to-door seeking card signatures. A late-night caller ominously informed Ivey that "things were gonna get ugly" if he continued to oppose the union.

Given the potential for union harassment and abuse, it is no surprise that a 2006 national survey by Opinion Research Corporation found that 75 percent of Americans prefer the existing secret ballot election process for deciding whether to unionize.

But that's only half the story when it comes to "card check" coercion. Employers today are increasingly pressured to assist in unionizing their employees. Through well-honed "corporate campaigns," union officials orchestrate political pressure, frivolous lawsuits, boycotts, and scathing attacks in the media to damage the reputations of targeted non-union employers.

A company learns it can only stop the pain and expense by waiving the secret ballot election process, handing over lists of employee addresses and phone numbers, and granting union organizers sweeping access to employees. Now, union officials don't even want to go through the trouble of "persuading" companies to agree to card check organizing; they want it to be the law of the land.

While the mandatory "card check" bill was narrowly blocked in the a Senate earlier this summer, it remains Big Labor's number one legislative priority, and the Senate Democrat leadership may well try to tack it onto a "must-pass" appropriations bill this fall.

Instead of improving their product to attract employees' voluntary support, union officials have increasingly turned to coercion and politics to bolster union ranks.

Americans rightly ask themselves this Labor Day: What on earth has become of organized labor?


Labor in the movies

You've got the extra day off. You might as well use it to appreciate the "labor" in Labor Day. Here’s one way: Click over to Netflix and order up some union classics. One warning: There’s only a remote chance you'll like what you see.

Since people don’t talk as much about unions as they used to, here are some recommendations: On the Waterfront, Norma Rae, and the Academy Award–winning documentary American Dream. Between them there’s corruption, violence, strikes, shady organizing tactics, and Marlon Brando before he swelled to the size of the labor movement.

First up is the defining moment for labor in film, On the Waterfront. It's not a spoiler to remind you that this flick featured the young Brando who "coulda been a contender." The movie has it all, including a corrupt union boss up to his neck in organized crime, and violence toward those who don't go along with the program.

How times (and the docks) haven't changed.

Off-screen, the federal government is currently pursuing racketeering charges against the union that inspired the movie. Unfortunately, progress hit a speed bump when a key witness turned up dead in a car trunk. The International Longshoremen's Association had a $10 million operating shortfall last year, and union assets were down 34 percent from 2005 to 2006. Lawyers' bills will do that. Meanwhile, the union's president managed to pay himself more than $580,000, and his son grabbed another $292,000 last year.

Fast forward to Norma Rae.

The heroine, played by Sally Field, inspired her co-workers to rise up against a nasty employer. In this case, the process involved employees organizing themselves, with the help of a well-meaning union.

Unfortunately, times have changed. UNITE HERE is the real-life successor of the union depicted in the movie. Its old style of organizing - focusing on employees' needs - has pretty much dried up along with Sally Field.

The union is now the perfect picture of modern union organizing, warts and all. It relies on a "top-down" model, which is little more than attacking a company until it helps deliver its own employees up for union membership. No vote - just mandatory dues.

The change in tactics hasn’t been good for working Americans. In the last couple of years, UNITE HERE officials have been found guilty of invading employees' privacy by illegally running their license plates through the DMV so they could find where they live and make unannounced visits. And a jury ordered them to pay $17 million for defaming medical professionals after union officials falsely told expectant mothers their babies could be in danger at a hospital caught in the middle of a labor dispute. To top it all off, UNITE HERE may be liable for $75 million after union officials tried to steal life insurance benefits from their own retired staff. The staff sued the union when they saw their key retirement benefits cut by 95 percent.

Maybe the union's secretaries need their own Norma Rae.

Time to pop in American Dream, a documentary highlighting a disastrous strike by food-plant employees and a key split in Big Labor's playbook. It's arguably the most relevant union movie in decades.

The film follows two factions within the United Food and Commercial Workers during a contract showdown. On the one side is the grizzled leadership at the top of the union who want their members to take pay cuts to meet the demands of a changing industry. On the other side was a group of local union leaders and their hired gun, Ray Rogers, who is the godfather of the "corporate campaign."

Movie Spoiler Alert: The community is torn apart, everyone looks terrible, and the union's bosses are exposed as failures.

Real-World Spoiler Alert: The UFCW didn't seem to learn anything from the story. The union has failed in its traditional organizing, losing 75,000 members in the last five years. It led its own members on another disastrous strike in 2003, leading to 4.5 million days of lost work, lost homes, broken marriages, and even a few suicides.

Since then, UFCW has turned into the largest abuser of the "corporate campaign" model, with a p.r. smear machine currently targeting the nation's largest meatpacker and largest retailer. They have chosen to ignore the words of their union's former meatpacking-division chief, who warned, "They are not going to win if they continue the way they're going. They're going to become bigger losers than what they are right now. It is going to cost them their jobs."

It turns out he was right. Yet given UFCW's continued reliance on the shady tactic, it’s clear that the movie hasn’t made its way up the Netflix queue for today’s union leaders.

This Labor Day it’s worth unwinding, rewinding, and remembering some of Big Labor's most famous movie moments. When it comes to their worst scenes, it's good to know there’s always an "eject" button.


Gov't labor union v. combat police

Teachers to begin strike on Tuesday

Tiverton (RI) teachers could walk out at the start of school on Tuesday after talks with school officials failed to reach a deal Sunday. That's according to union boss Patrick Crowley of the National Education Association-Rhode Island, who says the next negotiating session isn't scheduled until Tuesday morning.

He says it's likely Tiverton teachers won't be at work on Tuesday and that the union is already calling teachers there to prepare for a strike. "There's likely a strike will happen at the start of school Tuesday morning," Crowley said Sunday. "The decision has been made to start the phone tree and inform the members not to show up for work."

The talks bogged down on health care premium costs and salary demands.

Crowley said school officials wanted teachers to pay higher premiums while the teachers want to switch to a higher deductible plan. On the issue of salaries, the school committee was offering a 1 percent increase.

Teachers were asking for a 4 percent hike for the three year contract, he said.

A call to the chairwoman of the Tiverton School Committee was not immediately returned on Sunday.

There's also a question mark hanging over the start of school in other districts.

In Burrillville, teachers are scheduled to meet Monday morning in the superintendent's office to try again to work out differences.

The discussions there came after Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel ordered the teachers union and school officials to keep negotiating on a new deal through Labor Day. That order came after talks broke down last week and the teachers voted to strike.

Vogel said if there's no agreement by 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, she would order the teachers back to work.

In Burrillville, teachers and school officials are also split on ages and benefits, but also on the issue of class size.

The school committee is trying to increase class size limits while the union is trying to maintain the current limits.

Burrillville schools were supposed to open last Wednesday, but officials canceled school for the week.

Talks in other communities were expected through the holiday weekend, including East Greenwich and Foster-Glocester Regional School District.


Striking teachers forced to bargain over holiday

It won't be much of a holiday weekend for Burrillville (RI) educators. A judge has ordered the teachers union and school officials to keep negotiating on a new deal through Labor Day.

The order from Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel comes after talks broke down earlier this week and the teachers voted to strike. The first week of classes was canceled.

An attorney for the school district wanted Vogel to order the teachers back to work, but instead she told the two sides to keep talking.

The judge said if no progress was made this weekend, she would considering ordering the teachers back to work at a hearing early next week.


Strike against state school to start Wednesday

About 3,100 clerical, technical and health care workers at the University of Minnesota are set to go on strike Wednesday, one week after contract negotiations broke off for the second time.

No new talks are scheduled before Wednesday, which is the second day of fall classes and the first day the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees could strike after the required 10-day cooling off period.

The union says the strike would affect workers at all University of Minnesota operations throughout the state. The university says it's prepared and officials are working to make sure there is as little disruption as possible during the strike.


Wisconsin SEIU choking on dues income

Labor Day weekend in Wisconsin is not just an extra day off for that final barbecue of the summer. It is a time to reflect on the past struggles and celebrate the many accomplishments of workers in our state. Lest we forget, it was the labor movement that produced the eight-hour workday, banished child labor and allowed working people to have a voice on the job.

However, unions are not a thing of the past, and it is clear there is much work yet to be done. Service Employees International Union has been building power to grow the labor movement, and return a voice in politics to working families in Wisconsin.

SEIU is the fastest-growing union in North America with 1.9 million members. In Wisconsin, SEIU members serve our communities as nurses, janitors, home care providers, clerical workers and more working in schools, office buildings, nursing homes, hospitals and homes across the state.

SEIU members are united in making Wisconsin a better place to live through raising the standard of living for all working families, fixing our broken immigration system and finding solutions to America's health care crisis.

It is a tragedy when a family risks bankruptcy from treating their sick child. Yet in Wisconsin today, over 101,000 children are uninsured and an additional 56,000 risk losing coverage. SEIU members see daily the effects this crisis has on our children and families. That is why we are working with Wisconsin members of Congress to ensure the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The program covers children whose family income is above the federal poverty line, but not enough to afford coverage for their children.

Federal funding for SCHIP would provide resources for Gov. Jim Doyle's proposed expansion of BadgerCare to cover all children in the state.

SEIU has united 1 million health care workers into the newly formed national health care union, SEIU Healthcare. Together, we have the ability to return power to the working people of Wisconsin.

This Labor Day, give thanks to the labor movement past and present. Contact your representative about SCHIP and join with SEIU to ensure quality, affordable health care for every man, woman and child in America. Let's start with our children.

Dian Palmer is a registered nurse and president of the SEIU Wisconsin State Council.


Gov't union strikers turn personal and political

It seems a six-week civic strike that has Vancouver's garbage piling up and municipal offices closed will drag on past Labour Day after the city rejected one union local's counter-offer. The response Friday was apparently accompanied by a scathing letter from Vancouver city manager Judy Rogers, who accused union leaders of making personal and political attacks.

Local 15 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents inside workers, made its counter-offer Monday. In the letter, obtained by radio station CKNW, Rogers says she is "concerned that personal and political attacks are increasingly dominating CUPE's public commentary" and that CUPE's counter-offer is "unacceptable."

In a statement posted on Vancouver's website, the city said the two sides are far apart on a number of difficult issues, including a no layoff clause, the Olympic partnership agreement guaranteeing no disruptions during the 2010 Winter Games, seniority versus merit and whistle-blower and harassment policies.

The city suggested a private meeting between key members of the city's and CUPE 15's bargaining teams to talk about how to proceed.

Meanwhile, the union and the Vancouver School Board have come to an agreement to keep open five schools that have public libraries or community centres attached to them when classes resume next week.

The school board went to the B.C. Labour Relations Board Friday seeking an order that would ensure picketing kept school entrances clear.

But late Friday the school board and and CUPE locals 15 and 391 issued a joint statement promising schools would open as usual Tuesday.

"We are very pleased with the prompt and responsible reaction by CUPE to resolve our concerns," school board chairman Ken Denike said.

"We did not want to cause parents and students any unnecessary anxiety," added Graeme Moore, staff representative for CUPE Local 15. "It is important to our members, many of whom have school-age children themselves, to ensure that all students have a successful start to the school year."


UAW strike to begin Tuesday

UAW union workers at Orion Bus in Oriskany (NY) will go on strike next week. The employees voted to strike Friday night, citing several economic issues with Orion's parent company Daimler-Chrysler. Workers will begin picketing Tuesday. According to the UAW Local 2243 boss, they are willing to head back to the bargaining table with Daimler-Chrysler.

Union workers at Orion Bus in Oriskany will go on strike next week. The employees voted to strike Friday night, citing several economic issues with Orion's parent company Daimler-Chrysler.

Earlier this month Governor Spitzer toured the Orion plant and announced Daimler-Chrysler had been awarded more than $2 million in state development funding. The money will be used to renovate the Oriskany facility and help with equipment and training costs.

More than 500 people work at Orion Bus. There is no word on how many of them will take part in the strike.


Teachers strike looms in PA

Just four days into the new school year, teachers in one local district may be getting closer to hitting the picket line. Earlier this month, teachers in the Seneca Valley (PA) School District authorized their negotiating team to call a strike.

They have been without a contract since July of last year and talks between the teachers union and district officials reportedly stalled over salary and health insurance issues.

Now the teachers have apparently refused to participate in a district-sponsored public forum, saying it is merely a publicity stunt.

In a news release issued last night, the school board announced that if the union opts to strike, "the board’s 4-percent wage proposal for 2007-2008 will be reduced on a pro-rata basis for each instructional day that the district must reschedule due to the strike."

According to the statement, this would translate to about $75 in lost wages for each teacher, each day of the strike.

Teachers could strike as soon as next week.

The average salary of a teacher in the district is the highest in Butler County, but teachers say they deserve a raise.

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