Dems too eager to please SEIU, face ethics probe

Several Washington State Democratic legislators may have violated state ethics laws when they signed a letter scolding a private nonprofit mental-health-care provider for using "hostile" and "anti-union" bargaining tactics in recent contract talks.

The letter, which was sent this month to the director of Olympia-based Behavioral Health Resources (BHR), was written on official Washington state Legislature letterhead.

The Legislative Ethics Board has ruled recently that it is illegal for lawmakers to use public resources to advocate for one side in a private dispute.

Kirkland resident Scott St. Clair filed a complaint with the board this week accusing his senator, freshman Eric Oemig, of using his legislative clout to meddle in a private matter. Other lawmakers are likely to get dragged into the controversy. Oemig was one of six Democratic senators who signed the letter. The others were Sens. Adam Kline, Ed Murray and Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle, Rodney Tom of Bellevue and Chris Marr of Spokane.

A second letter — with the same text but not written on official letterhead — was signed by 28 Democratic House members. Oemig acknowledges signing the letter with other senators, but said his recollection is that the version he signed was not on official letterhead. Kline also confirmed signing the letter, but said he did not recall what type of letterhead it had.

The letters were done at the behest of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1199, which at the time was in the midst of a bitter contract fight with BHR. The two sides have since reached an agreement.

Mike O'Connell, attorney for the ethics board, said he had seen the letters but wouldn't discuss Oemig's complaint.

Neither of the letters was approved ahead of time by legislative attorneys.

During this year's legislative session, SEIU 1199 and others successfully lobbied lawmakers for a $36 million increase for community mental-health services. Lawmakers directed that two-thirds of the money was to go to wage increases.

Some of that money is going to BHR, a private nonprofit company that provides community mental-health services in Thurston, Mason and Grays Harbor counties.

SEIU 1199 represents about 22,000 nurses and other workers statewide, including 200 BHR employees.

At the height of the union's recent contract dispute with BHR, John Masterson, the company's executive, received the lawmakers' letters.

In the letters, which actually were drafted by the SEIU, the lawmakers touted the funding increase for mental-health providers. Instead of giving workers the pay raises lawmakers intended, the letters said, BHR was demanding cuts in benefits and job protections.

The lawmakers also criticized the company for hiring Jackson Lewis, a nationwide law firm that the letters described as notoriously "anti-union."

Finally, the lawmakers reminded Masterson "your agency is funded largely through the state budget. ... As elected officials responsible for that budget, we call on you to change course, and to negotiate a fair settlement with your unionized staff."

In a response letter to lawmakers, Masterson said, "It appears that you have been provided seriously incorrect information." He denied the charges that BHR was anti-union and defended the company's decision to hire a "management-side labor attorney."

A week later, a day before the union's strike deadline, the two sides struck a deal that includes nearly 10-percent wage increases over two years.


Corrupt union lawyer pleads down from embezzlement

A former labor attorney pleaded guilty yesterday in a scam set up by a convicted union officer to split $1.8 million in health insurance commissions. John Gregory Lynch, 63, of New York, faces disbarrment in the scheme that involved the Professional Employee's Guild, a small, now-dissolved, unaffiliated union based in Hackensack that represents real estate brokers, retail workers and municipal employees.

Lynch, who was initially charged with embezzlement, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton to a reduced charge of employing a barred union officer as a consultant.

According to federal prosecutors, the union was created in 1999 by one-time labor official John Kraemer, now deceased, after he was convicted in 1987 and again in 2000 for embezzlement from another union -- Local 29 of the Retail, Wholesale, Department Store Workers Union, an AFL-CIO local also based in Hackensack.

"It was created for the purpose of creating a payday for Kraemer, his sister and others who lost their jobs at Local 29," said Assistant U.S. Attorney V. Grady O'Malley, chief of the Strike Force Unit.

He said Lynch was retained as the attorney for the new union and its benefit funds, also acting as the broker of record who negotiated insurance contracts for the union's welfare fund. Over four years, Lynch was paid $1.8 million in commissions from AETNA and US Healthcare.

O'Malley said while Kraemer was banned from any union activity, he was retained as a consultant, allowing him to operate behind the scenes through a shell company, while splitting insurance commissions with Lynch. While Lynch was entitled to the commissions, he could not bring in a barred union official.

"It's disturbing when you see people who are creating a scam in a union context for people who are simply looking for an opportunity to be represented and get health care," O'Malley said. "It's more troubling when a lawyer, who has an ethical responsibility, engages in that activity."

Lynch faces up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 when he is sentenced on Jan. 8, although he would likely serve far less under federal sentencing guidelines.


Labor boss pleads guilty to embezzling from union

The former business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 163 pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing an estimated $190,000 from the union to support a gambling addiction.

Federal prosecutors say Joseph Capece, 60, of Hanover Street, Nanticoke, PA made unauthorized ATM withdrawals on the union’s bank account and also made unauthorized purchases and cash advances on the union’s credit card. Capece hid the thefts, which occurred from around January 2000 until February 2007, by falsifying records to indicate the expenses were legitimate.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lorna Graham said union officials had been suspicious of Capece for some time, but the theft was not discovered until February 2007, when Capece wrote a letter to the union’s president admitting he had been embezzling funds to support a gambling problem.

Graham said an audit determined $256,323 was unaccounted for, but investigators believe part of that shortfall was from sloppy bookkeeping. She said investigators are still trying to determine the exact amount attributable to Capece, but it’s believed to be in $190,000 range.

Capece entered a guilty plea to one count of embezzling from a labor union, a felony. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, but prosecutors have agreed to seek a lesser sentence based on Capece’s cooperation.

Capece, a former member of the Luzerne County Community College Board of Trustees, served as business manager for Local 163 based in Hanover Township for 16 years before resigning in February.

He was released on his own recognizance pending sentencing, which is scheduled for Jan. 28 before U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo.


UAW strike v. Kohler, day 318

Picketing against the Kohler factory in Searcy (AR) continues, more than 10 months after members of United Auto Workers Local 1000 voted to strike against their employer.

“It may be another 318 days, too,” said Paul Henson, trim press operator for Kohler who has 26 years seniority with the company on Wednesday. “We’re striking over language and Kohler’s ethics. If you want a part time job, you have to get their approval.”

No talks are scheduled between the union and the company, and no developments have been made public. “There is nothing really to comment upon that is new,” said Todd Weber, manager of kitchen and bath public relations for Kohler said. “The work stoppage at the Kohler Co. stainless steel plant in Searcy remains unchanged since the membership of United Autoworkers Local 1000 initiated its action on Dec. 9, 2006.”

Earlier this year, Kohler officials began hiring replacement workers and three of the union’s original four charges were withdrawn by the union. The case was settled in an agreement April 13 which was signed by the international representative and regional director for the union, but local leaders continued the strike.

James Ceal was on the picket line Wednesday.

“At least it’s not raining,” Ceal said. “Yeah, it’s a little chilly, but we’re tough. Or try to be.”

Ceal was with three others, all warmed by a portable propane heater.

“I was in shipping and receiving,” Ceal said, adding he had a part time job now. “It’s kind of hard to do anything and be here, too. You’ve got to be on picket duty so you can’t do anything else. It’s kind of hard to get by on $200 a week.”

The national union pays the picketers $200 a week and their insurance and limits other income to $200 a week.

David Smith, local union president, said the strike has not been ruled as an economic or an unfair labor practice strike.

“The conversation Paul H. Ten Pas reported that he had with the International Union Representative about the bargaining committee recommending this [the ruling] never took place,” Smith said in a written release.

Smith said the company was misleading on their claims of absenteeism being 25 percent on Mondays and Fridays, especially during the summer months.

“This 25 percent includes vacation, medical leave, short-term disability, workers comp, bereavement and truly being absent,” Smith said. “The company counts all of these as absent, not just the people that are absent from not showing up.”

Smith said the union has been told “if you are not at work for whatever reason you are considered absent.”

“This type of thinking does not include the legitimate reasons for not being there and everyone is thrown into the same pot as being ‘absent,’” Smith said.

Ten Pas’ claim that the Searcy plant’s medical plan was the highest in the entire company is unexplained, Smith said.

“They have been asked numerous times, ‘Why?’” Smith said. “A company representative told us that maybe the doctors in Searcy charge too much. They were not sure why.”

The piece-work system was eliminated after the arbitration case against the company was won on March 7, 2006, Smith claimed, something the union expected. The issue was not part of the decision to strike, Smith said.

“As for the statement that we make in excess of $17 per hour, which is untrue: Everyone in the plant does not nor have they ever made $17 per hour as their base rate per hour,” Smith said. “When we went on strike, Tool and Die made $18.30 per hour and a janitor made $13.49. Under the new plan, the highest-paying job would have been Tool and Die and the lowest would have been a janitor at $13.75.”

New workers, except for those in four classifications, who were hired in after the acceptance of the new contract would have received $2 less per hour, Smith said. Again, Smith claimed wages was not an issue which brought on the strike.

“Paul H. Ten Pas also said that the sub-contract work was related entirely to maintenance work, but in the language given to us it lists Tool and die and Janitor also,” Smith said. “There was language included that would take [away] our right to file grievances relating to work assignments.”


"Useless, incompetent, deadwood teachers"

An alternative offer for teachers proposed by a Seneca Valley (PA) school board member is drawing the ire of union officials offended by a reference to "useless, incompetent, deadwood teachers."

The offer, made by board member Paul Adametz, was sent via e-mail to his fellow school board members, two administrators and the lead negotiator for the district, Tom King, more than a month ago. Somehow, it ended up in the hands of teachers, who posted it on their Web site, www.svteachers.com, yesterday.

In the offer, Mr. Adametz suggests the board consider a "revenue neutral increase" of 5 percent annual raises. Mr. King has previously stated that a 4 percent annual increase is the board's "best and final offer."

Mr. Adametz said in the proposal that the additional 1 percent would require the elimination of a few positions. He said that would be possible because the district has 250 fewer students than it did several years ago, but "dozens" of new teachers. The proposal also suggests that in exchange for the 5 percent raise, the board should have the ability to fire, at will, up to 1 percent of the teachers per year without fear of grievances or lawsuits.

"With nearly 600 teachers on staff, there has to be more than a handful of useless, incompetent, deadwood teachers that I wouldn't want anywhere near my kids," Mr. Adametz stated in his proposal.

He also proposed another option, a base raise of 2.5 percent, which would automatically jump to 5 percent when Seneca Valley's state test scores exceed the average test scores of Pine-Richland, North Allegheny, Shaler Area, Moon Area, Hampton and the other districts teachers have compared their salaries with since bargaining began.

"Although these ideas are outside of the box, if the union is truly interested in improving the quality of the educational product they are offering and not just lining their pockets to the fullest extent, these ideas will provide the framework and incentive to do so," Mr. Adametz said in his e-mail.

"Obviously, we're insulted," said Pat Andrekovich, lead negotiator for the union.

"We wanted to let the public know the kind of people who are sitting at the other end of the negotiating table," he said. "This letter is a prime example of what we've been dealing with here."

Mr. Andrekovich declined to say how teachers got the e-mail.

Mr. Adametz said his suggestions are common-sense ideas often used in the business world, and he sees no reason why those same strategies couldn't be applied to teacher bargaining.

He said he made the suggestion after the board announced it was locking in its 4 percent offer and the teachers said they were locking in what the board regards as a 6 percent request.

"Both sides need to open their minds a little bit and ask what we would want in exchange for going above 4 percent or below 6 percent," he said.

Mr. Adametz said board members discussed his ideas, but he declined to comment further on that discussion.


Striking nurses refuse to settle, plead to judge

Members of the Kentucky Nurses Association currently striking from Williamson ARH hospital asked the Pike County Fiscal Court yesterday to support their cause.

The employees, led by Local President Kathy Ford and accompanied by 93rd District State Rep. W. Keith Hall, asked the court to take action to voice their support for the nurses in what they consider an effort to get a better work environment.

Ford reiterated that the nurses, 63 of who have been on strike at Williamson ARH since Oct. 1, are not striking for financial reasons, but instead for better working conditions. ARH, she said, has offered more money to the nurses several times for them to ratify the contract.

“If money was the object here, we had at least three chances to benefit from voting for this contract,” Ford told the court. “It’s about safe, quality patient care that has decreased dramatically due to understaffing, which, in turn, increases mandatory overtime.”

That overtime, she said, creates a dangerous situation.

The community, she said, is suffering due to the strike.

“Nurses from our community are now out of a job, a job that provides for our families, puts food on our tables and pays our bills,” she said.

Ford asked the court to take dramatic action, something court members did not indicate they were willing to do.

She asked the court to withhold any funds promised, owed, applied for or due to ARH from any source until the company meets the nurses’ demands.

District Five Magistrate Hilman Dotson said it is important that a resolution be reached.

“I would like to encourage this court to support these people if they could find it in their hearts,” Dotson said. “You’ve got my support to do whatever it takes to get back to work.”

District Six Magistrate Chris Harris suggested a measured approach — drafting a letter suggesting both sides get together to work out a solution.

“We want the sides to get back together,” Harris said. “It’s a drain on our economy. We’ve got people who are out of work.”

Whether the fiscal court takes any action may be a moot point, though, according to one ARH official.

Williamson ARH Community CEO Tim Hatfield said yesterday the fiscal court does not control any funding that the company receives and that negotiations scheduled for Oct. 29 and 30 are no more likely to yield results than previous meetings.

“There is no future in negotiations,” Hatfield said. “Negotiations have already taken place and the last, best and final offer is on the table.”

Hatfield said Williamson ARH is moving forward, despite the strike. On Monday, he said, the hospital opened a sleep lab and yesterday, the hospital opened its PET CT scan program, which will allow it to do more effective diagnoses.

“We have hired permanent workers and are moving on,” Hatfield said. “We are operating at full capacity and not having any problems with staffing.”

Ultimately, he said, the negotiations are not going to change anything.

“I feel like the people on the picket lines are being misled,” Hatfield said. “The federal mediator cannot influence one side or the other to take any action.”

Hall told the court he supports the nurses in their effort to gain what they feel is a more fair contract.

“I would like to ask the court that, anything we can do in the future to be supportive of them ... any endeavor we can do to help bring (ARH officials) back to the table to negotiate faithfully would be very encouraging,” Hall said.

Ford said following yesterday’s meeting she feels like a resolution can be reached, based mostly on the company’s willingness to commit to two days of negotiations on Oct. 29 and 30.

“I am a little more hopeful than previously,” she said.

The fiscal court could not take any action in yesterday’s meeting because it was a specially called meeting, meaning no action could be taken on items that were not on the meeting’s agenda.


Students irritated by college faculty strike

Some Acadia University students are so frustrated about the ongoing strike they're applying to other schools, the student union president says.

"People are getting really angry," Kyle Steele said. "It's just getting to that point that people are realizing this has the potential to do some real damage to their education. People are preparing for the worst."

The picket lines have been up at the Wolfville university for more than a week-and-a-half, and there is still no sign of an agreement between the Acadia University Faculty Association and the board of governors. Talks broke down a week ago and again yesterday; no more have been scheduled.

Students are staging a rally tomorrow to let both sides know they're fed up and don't want to be taken for granted. "It's to say this is really starting to irritate a lot of the students. We put up with it enough. A lot of students are stuck in the middle here," Steele said. "We're telling them we have other options and we'll use them if we have to."

Steele said one student has already applied to go to a school near her home in Ontario, and several others are inquiring about applying at Halifax universities. Only about half of Acadia's 3,100 students have remained in the area, and the residences have emptied out, Steele said.

Students have been encouraged to catch up on reading and do independent work during the strike. More than 60 graduate and third- and fourth-year students are holding tutoring sessions for first-year students on campus.

"It's hard making that transition from high school to university when university goes on strike," Steele said.

Meggie Smit, a second-year education student, is upset that strike has caused her to lose at least two days of on-the-job training next month.

"In-the-class teaching for me is the most valuable experience that I'm getting from this program," said the 24-year-old from Truro. "The more time I lose out on that, the more time I'm losing out on the experience of being able to teach in a classroom."


Non-union ops keep trucker rolling during UAW strike

As several thousand workers picketed Navistar International Corp. work sites Wednesday, the world's fourth-largest truck maker said the strike called by the United Auto Workers a day earlier hasn't wreaked havoc on operations.

"We've taken steps to assure our customers will be served," said Roy Wiley, spokesman for the Warrenville-based company.

The UAW launched the strike covering 4,000 UAW members Tuesday at Navistar facilities in six states, including its Melrose Park plant, which has roughly 500 hourly workers. The union, whose contract with the company expired Oct. 1, accused the company of unfair labor practices.

On Wednesday, Ford Motor Co. said it was relying on Navistar-built diesel engines from inventory for use in Super Duty pickups. The diesel engines are produced in Indianapolis at one of the plants affected by the strike. The Super Duty, which includes the F-250, comprises about 40 percent of sales for Ford's F-Series trucks, the top-selling line of vehicles in the United States. Ford is "evaluating the short-term impact" of the strike, a spokeswoman said.

The UAW had just resumed talks with the company Sunday after suspending negotiations earlier this month to study Navistar's proposals. Navistar has been pushing for some concessions. It has said it needs greater flexibility in work rules and to be more competitive in its costs.

Navistar temporarily moved truck production from its Springfield, Ohio, plant to non-union plants in Texas and Mexico because of concerns about a possible strike. That work will remain at those sites until the ratification of a new contract with the UAW, Wiley said.

The company "has shredded our agreement, shipped our work out of the country and trampled our nation's labor laws," UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said in announcing the walkout.

JP Morgan analyst Stephen Volkmann isn't expecting any immediate or near-term impact on the company from the walkout, given the drop in demand for trucks.

"The overall industry has over 120 days worth of trucks in inventory," he said. "There's certainly not going to be any near-term shortage of trucks."

Shares declined 40 cents to $68.85 in over-the-counter trading.


Gov't union picketers protest Health Savings Account plan

The city of Dayton, OH wants to cut costs with a new plan, but it is not going over well with a lot of union workers. Those members took to the streets and held an informational picket outside city hall.

Officials with the city said they want to save $2 million in employee health care costs this year and they want to do it by using a new approach that involves health savings accounts.

Dozens of city of Dayton employees lined the sidewalks in front of city hall, trying to show commissioners that they do not like the idea. Almost 1,000 workers in five bargaining units are negotiating with the city about wages and insurance premium contributions.

The union said by using HSAs they are completely changing the design of the plan and they call it predatory health insurance.

The city claims that they will pay $3,000 a year into a health savings account for their workers and outside of $40 a month of standard contributions for a family insurance plan, the most a worker would be responsible for is $1,000 a year, and any unused portions would roll over to the next year.

Workers said it is a plan that high-income workers can use for tax shelters, and its not good for people with average paychecks.

The city said the police and building trade unions already signed on for HSAs and the firefighters are voting on them in the contract in the next three days.

However, 1,000 city workers will need a lot more convincing, according to the union.


Teachers strike boss asks State for end-date

The Pennsylvania State Education Association contacted the state Department of Education on Wednesday to clarify when Lake-Lehman teachers must return to the classroom.

Last week, the department calculated teachers could strike through Nov. 8 and still have 180 days of education by June 15, as required. Make-up days cannot include federal holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

John Holland, the Lake-Lehman teachers’ PSEA representative, was unsure whether five additional holidays determined by the school board before school started were considered by the Department of Education, so he sent a formal request for recalculation.

“Hopefully (Thursday) we’ll finally have the date,” PSEA spokesman Paul Shemansky said. “Everybody’s asking for it. The teachers want to know when they’re going back to work, the parents, students.”

Teachers picketed at Lake-Lehman junior-senior high school Wednesday, the eighth day of their strike. They held smaller, selective pickets Monday and Tuesday because thunderstorms were forecasted, Shemansky said.

“It’s not about the rain, it’s not about getting sick, it’s about being struck by lightning,” he explained.

Shemansky noted teachers are not paid while they are on strike. They get paid when they make up missed days.

No dates have been set for contract negotiations between the board and teachers’ union.


University student: Wisconsin for Right To Work

Among the proposals that didn’t quite make the cut in the final state budget passed by the Legislature this week was a provision that would have allowed University of Wisconsin System faculty and academic staff to unionize. They are currently the only state employees who lack the right to organize.

While the unionization issue, as it pertains to UW personnel, is perhaps more complicated than with other state employees — many UW faculty enjoy the unique right of tenure, guaranteeing them as much if not more job security than any union could ever offer, for example — it’s nonetheless unfortunate the provision wasn’t included in the final budget compromise. Workers have a fundamental right to unionize if they so choose, thus gaining the ability to collectively bargain for wages, benefits, grievance procedures and so forth. This right should apply no less to university faculty and academic staff (not all of whom enjoy tenure, anyway) than to other government employees — or to private sector employees.

In one sense, though, the UW faculty’s ongoing inability to unionize provides them with a unique right that no other group of workers in Wisconsin enjoys. It’s the right to work, or the right against compulsory unionization. On a more fundamental level, it’s the right to freely associate.

In the labor realm, Wisconsin operates under “union shop” or “agency shop” rules, in which an employee, after being hired at an organized workplace, must either join the union or alternatively start paying member dues following a short probationary period. The employer cannot mandate union membership at the time of hiring (such “closed shop” rules are illegal under federal law), but the probationary period is short enough — usually 30 days — that the near functional equivalent of a closed shop is created. If the newly-hired employee refuses to join the union or pay dues, the employer must terminate his employment.

Twenty-two states, on the other hand, operate under “open shop” rules. In these states, alternatively known as “right-to-work” states, membership in a union can at no time be a condition of employment. An employee at an organized workplace in those states is free to join the union if he wishes, but the union may never require the employee to join or financially support it.

The rationale for adopting open shop rules rests on a simple principle: if a worker possesses a skill attractive to an employer, and if the employer offers compensation in return for that skill at a level deemed acceptable by the worker, the two parties’ right to associate in a mutually beneficial manner should not be abridged. Requiring the employer and employee to negotiate through a third party — the union — when both were happy dealing solely with each other is not only burdensome, but it interferes with a basic right enshrined in the First Amendment.

Further, it stands to reason that a union that must actively promote itself to potential members will be a more effective union. Since it cannot rely on a coercive union shop or agency shop security contract to collect funds, the union must perpetually sell itself as a valuable service to entice workers to join. Taking up political causes, or working for benefits that help only a small percentage of workers, becomes far harder when the union must fight for its money.

The problem with an open shop, in the eyes of Big Labor, is that some employees won’t join the union. And since unions are exclusive bargaining units that must fairly represent all employees (whether union members or not), right-to-work laws lead to a free-rider problem. That is, a person who abstains from union membership or paying dues still reaps the benefits of the union’s collective bargaining efforts.

While it is true that some may enjoy the fruits of the union’s representation without ever financially contributing to it, it’s also true that a free-rider does not necessarily relish his status as a free-rider. Rather, these employees simply do not view the benefits of union membership as being worth the cost — or they don’t view the benefits of union membership as being worth anything at all. They have to accept the union’s representation, but they didn’t ask for or desire it.

A union naturally derives its strength from its numbers. But there’s no reason for it to derive its numbers from a coercive security agreement, as is allowed in Wisconsin. Unions still exist in right-to-work states, but their membership rolls and bank account aren’t artificially bolstered by the government’s allowance of mandatory union membership.

Of course, if federal law changed so that unions do not have to be exclusive bargainers for all employees, the free-rider problem would go away. Unions then would be free to only represent members, while an employer could in turn negotiate with the union, with another union and with individuals, all separately. Unions don’t advocate for this, though, because it would also strip away some of the bargaining power they obtain through compulsory membership.

Federal law probably won’t change anytime soon. Therefore, Wisconsin should adopt the right to work, for private and public employees. It should also grant faculty members at UW the right to unionize. Those are two rights that certainly do not make a wrong – not for UW faculty, not for the Wisconsin economy and not for workers’ freedom.


Change to Win ... or business as usual?

When a bloc of unions broke away from the AFL-CIO two years ago to form the Change to Win labor federation, their leaders appeared to have lit a fuse on a bomb—but nobody knew what kind. Would the already weak labor movement blow up amidst debilitating fragmentation and squabbles? Or would the explosion unleash a new organizing fervor?

Two years later, the fuse is still burning. But two things are clear. Despite lingering rivalry, the two federations and their affiliated unions are working together surprisingly well, most obviously on politics. Divisions—old and new, between and within the two federations—flourish, as they did before the split. But at the local level, they want to work together.

And despite Change to Win’s argument that it split from the AFL-CIO to organize on a vast new scale, the labor movement has continued to organize at the same rate, with the same unions showing the greatest success.

From 2004 to 2006, net membership increased slightly for the 10 million-member AFL-CIO unions and declined slightly for the six million-member Change to Win unions, which includes the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and UNITE HERE! (hotel, apparel and service sector workers), the only two affiliates to grow, as well as the Teamsters, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), Laborers, Carpenters, and United Farm Workers.

Some of the Change to Win unions like the Teamsters, Laborers, and UFCW, which had not been organizing effectively, say they have made ambitious alterations in how they operate. And last year within the AFL-CIO, six unions announced they were increasing their annual organizing budgets by a total of $150 million.

Those changes could pay off if the political and legal environments shift. A new pro-labor Democratic president and Congress would likely enact the Employee Free Choice Act, making it easier to form unions when a majority of workers sign union membership cards.

Ironically, when they split, Change to Win leaders criticized the AFL-CIO for spending too much on politics. Both sides now agree that unions must use political clout to help organizing efforts.

“I can’t argue with the numbers,” says Joe Hansen, president of UFCW. “If I didn’t think we’d significantly changed UFCW, I’d say that we’d made a mistake. But we have [changed], and a lot of that is due to Change to Win. We haven’t had immediate success and I can’t say how fast that will come.” But Hansen hopes UFCW, which currently has around 1.3 million members, will organize 2 million more workers in the next decade, starting with organizing drives at regional supermarket chains and in packinghouses.

Change to Win still sees explosive growth on labor’s horizon. At the federation’s second convention, held in Chicago in late September, SEIU President Andy Stern reminded delegates that the labor movement grew by 1 million members a year for five years after Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, tripling the share of the workforce in unions. “We’re at the beginning of another historic moment,” he told delegates. “We have changed our unions. If we pass the Employee Free Choice Act, these unions will grow by 1.5 million members a year, not just for five years but for 10 to 15 straight years.”

Yet, so far, recruitment results have not been dramatic.

“Did the split cause changes?” asks Cornell University labor studies Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner. “I think Change to Win has been good for the Teamsters, UFCW and Laborers’ International Union of North America. Has it been good for the labor movement as a whole? No. It hasn’t hurt the labor movement, but it hasn’t been good. Without a common vision, you’re not going to change. When the CIO formed, it stood for something. It was a movement. This isn’t a movement.”

But Change to Win does have a strategy, and it partly reflects their argument during the split that unions should concentrate on large-scale organizing of their core industries. “We said there are these 50 million workers…[in] jobs that are overwhelmingly low paid, and only six million of the 50 million are organized,” says Tom Woodruff, the SEIU vice-president who directs the Strategic Organizing Center, which helps unions develop better organizing strategies and coordinates a few of its own organizing efforts. “The obvious purpose to organize is to create a chance for the new American Dream, a middle-class life. Manufacturing and auto used to be the worst jobs, and workers organized and made them the best.”

To work, this strategy requires intense research and more organizers, but also greater use of political clout, pension fund power, global labor cooperation and public campaigns against corporate employers.

SEIU and UNITE HERE! have long used such strategic, comprehensive approaches, as have AFL-CIO unions like the Communications Workers.

Today, all seven Change to Win unions have annual growth plans in their key industries and, as a group, they review each union’s progress more rigorously than they did when they were a part of the AFL-CIO. “All of the unions have better staff, research departments, much more sophistication in developed campaigns designed to win,” says Woodruff.

The seven union presidents and three other Change to Win officials are part of a leadership group, chaired by Anna Burger of SEIU, that meets monthly. Change to Win itself is small—only about 35 employees—and three-fourths of its $16 million budget goes to the Strategic Organizing Center. In addition, some of the affiliated unions loan staff for long-term work with Change to Win. Rather than operating as a traditional, centralized organization, Change to Win sees itself as a coalition that puts decision-making in the hands of affiliate leaders and leaves much work, like policy research and lobbying, to individual unions.

When Change to Win split off, local unions and leaders of citywide and state labor federations made it clear they wanted to continue to cooperate. The two federations agreed that Change to Win’s local unions could obtain “solidarity charters” with the AFL-CIO local structures.And unions from both federations agreed to work together on elections, referenda and other political work. The AFL-CIO, however, rejected a Change to Win proposal to create an overarching body to coordinate this cooperation.

Change to Win unions may have agreed on overall strategy, but differences between member unions still exist.

On immigration reform, SEIU, UNITE HERE! and the United Farm Workers supported the Kennedy-McCain bill, while other Change to Win unions—like the AFL-CIO—opposed it because of its guest worker provisions. UNITE HERE! President Bruce Raynor says his group supported the bill because it included key reforms, not because the group supported the guest worker plan. Many of the unions are now energetically working together on immigrant workers’ rights.

And in February, after SEIU’s Stern met with Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott to promote a health care coalition, UFCW’s Hansen was so upset that he wrote Stern that such developing conflicts were “a threat to the existence of Change to Win.” Wal-Mart has been the UFCW’s chief nemesis. Hansen said that Stern’s meeting “severely damages the campaign” the union was waging against Wal-Mart.The dispute contributed to the cancellation of a Change to Win project to cooperate on policy issues, such as trade and health care, according to one insider.

The disputes have hurt, says Hansen, but, he adds, “right now, Change to Win is stronger than a year or two ago.” However, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, who left the AFL-CIO long before the 2005 break-up, may not remain a meaningful part of Change to Win. Neither President Doug McCarron nor any detectable carpenter delegation attended the convention, and rumors persist that the union will soon leave the new group.

Change to Win’s future hinges on its ability to undertake broad organizing campaigns.So far, the group has promoted campaigns that originated before Change to Win existed, but that kind of delay is not surprising since such campaigns typically require several years to succeed.

For example, the Teamsters, taking advantage of global union groundwork by SEIU, have organized several thousand school bus drivers. UNITE HERE!, implementing a strategy developed over many years but also aided by other unions,in the past two years has organized 6,686 hotel workers and has won employer neutrality for organizing drives at new hotels in six big cities.

Change to Win organizers, working with Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), have helped the Teamsters’ campaign organize 60,000 truck drivers at the nation’s ports.Classified as independent contractors who can not legally form a union, even though they usually work for only one firm, the workers earn meager wages and pollute the environment as they inefficiently idle long hours with their ill-maintained trucks. Organizers have broadened the campaign to include community residents and environmentalists in pushing for reform of port operations. In Los Angeles-Long Beach, they are close to persuading the port commissions to change employment arrangements so they can unionize, as they have long been ready to do.

This fall, Change to Win is launching two new campaigns. UNITE HERE! and UFCW will begin organizing the nation’s 440,000 drug store workers, only 8 percent of whom are unionized. The drug store campaign started with a shareholder initiative organized by Change to Win that forced the CVS pharmacy chain to pay $3 billion more than it initially offered to buy Caremark, a mail-order pharmaceutical firm, and forced one public director to resign.”CVS is a large anti-union employer and one of the least unionized of drugs companies,” Raynor says. “The message is clear: Unions have the ability to influence things near and dear to these giant corporations. It makes labor a factor in their decisions.”

Having greatly expanded their research and organizing staff and drawn on Change to Win resources, the Laborers are also starting a drive to organize more than 50,000 residential construction workers in the Phoenix, Las Vegas and the “Inland Empire” region near Los Angeles. “We could not have tackled this without the presence of Change to Win,” says Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan.The union has also boosted organizing funds and reorganized internally. “We’re not where we want to be or need to be,” O’Sullivan says, “but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Change to Win has so far mainly affected how the national union leaders and staff organize their work, not the wok of local unions and their leaders, many of whom remain skeptical.

“I’m not a big fan of splitting the labor movement,” one official of a Change to Win affiliate said. “I’m not quite sure what’s been offered beyond the rhetoric.” And a close observer of UFCW’s long-running campaign at the Smithfield pork processing plant in North Carolina argues that state AFL-CIO organizations have mobilized more useful support for those workers than Change to Win or its affiliates.

Lower-level leaders and members have also criticized the increasingly centralized decision-making of Change to Win and those member unions undergoing transformation. After Change to Win leaders told the convention that the Leadership Council had a month earlier revised the constitution to eliminate the required rotation of leaders and then re-elected the entire Leadership Council, one delegate grumbled that the organization was beginning to act like the All China Federation of Trade Unions.

The debate about whether the Change to Win unions could have accomplished many of its goals while staying in the AFL-CIO is now moot. The split has occurred and the two camps will not reunite soon. The important thing for labor is that unions develop more ambitious, comprehensive organizing campaigns with vigorous worker participation at all stages. Also, whatever their federation, unions need to cooperate as much as possible on both organizing and political action.

In the future, after President John Sweeney retires at the AFL-CIO, the labor movement may come together again, but if organizing finally does surge, the reunified labor movement may look much different. “Some day I really believe there will be one labor federation again,” says Hansen, “but it won’t be what the AFL-CIO is now or what Change to Win is now.”

Labor supporters hope it will be much bigger and much stronger.


UAW boss explains 6-state strike against Navistar

More than 4,000 United Auto Workers members at 11 local unions in six states went on strike at 5:00 p.m. on October 23 against International Truck and Engine, maker of Navistar trucks, in response to the company’s unfair labor practices.

“International Truck and Engine has shredded our agreement, shipped our work out of the country and trampled our nation’s labor laws,” said UAW president Ron Gettelfinger. “When UAW members are on strike for justice anywhere, they have the support of UAW members everywhere – and our entire union is standing shoulder to shoulder with our members at ITE.”

“Our bargaining committee came to these negotiations with every intention of reaching an agreement,” said UAW vice president General Holiefield, who directs the union’s Heavy Truck Department. “But it takes two sides to reach a deal – and it has unfortunately become apparent that management at ITE is not yet willing to work with us to negotiate a fair and equitable contract.”

The company has violated U.S. labor law, said Holiefield, by making unilateral changes in the terms and conditions of employment, ordering an illegal lockout at the company’s assembly plant in Springfield, Ohio, and by refusing to provide the UAW bargaining team with information necessary for negotiations.

“ITE executives moved our work to Mexico and to non-union plants in Texas, cancelled our supplemental unemployment benefits, and ignored our job security program,” said Holiefield.

The UAW has filed unfair labor practices regarding ITE’s illegal conduct with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board.

“We’re prepared to return to the bargaining table at any time,” said Holiefield. “If the company is willing to abide by the law and respect our hard-working members at ITE, we believe we can resolve our differences.”

UAW members on strike include members of UAW Local 98 at the ITE Indianapolis Engine Plant; members of UAW Local 226 at Indianapolis Casting Corp.; members of UAW Local 2274, who are ITE clerical and technical workers in Indianapolis; members of UAW Local 2911 at Fort Wayne Engineering; members of UAW Local 402 at the ITE Springfield Assembly Plant in Springfield, Ohio; members of UAW Local 658, who are ITE clerical and technical workers in Springfield; members of UAW Local 6 at the ITE Engine Plant in Melrose Park, Ill.; members of UAW Local 2293, who are clerical and technical workers in Melrose Park; members of UAW Local 472 at the ITE Parts Distribution Center (PDC) in Atlanta; members of UAW Local 119 at the ITE PDC in Dallas, and members of UAW Local 187 at the ITE PDC in York, Pa.


European collectivists rally for relevance

Unions in Portugal, France, Germany and Italy held uncoordinated strikes and mass demonstrations from Oct. 18 to 20. All were aimed at countering a relentless attack from the imperialist ruling class that has cut wages and benefits and eliminated job security for tens of millions of workers.

Where mass workers’ parties played a strong role organizing the struggle, as the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) did in Portugal, the goal of the protest remained clear and the mobilization on the highest level. Even in countries where the leadership was lacking, the mass rallies, marches and strikes, all defending workers’ rights, showed a mass combative spirit among the workers.

The protests coincided with a summit meeting of the European Union in Lisbon where heads of government of 26 countries signed a new treaty. This treaty replaces the constitution that had already been rejected by referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005. Such a treaty would impose common institutions on the member states that would rapidly erode social and economic gains workers had made since 1945 regarding wages, benefits and job security. It would also demand greater militarization of all EU members.

When the European Central Bank puts limits on any member country’s deficit spending, this exerts pressure to cut government spending for pensions, health care, wages and spending on education.

West European workers at present have more guarantees than U.S. workers, not to mention workers in Eastern Europe and in Asia who are now part of the globalized economy. For example, 85 percent of French workers have a legally enforceable right to their job compared to only about 15 percent in the United States.

In Portugal and Italy the governments are led by nominally “left” forces and in France and Germany by center-right parties. Both groupings are imposing anti-worker policies, that is, neo-liberal policies that allow government intervention only on behalf of the capitalist monopolies.

PORTUGAL: Largest protest in more than 20 years

Led by the major labor confederation, the CGTP-IN, more than 200,000 workers came to Lisbon on Oct. 18 to hold what union leaders called the “country’s biggest demonstration in 20 years.” The local target was the nominally “Socialist” Prime Minister Jose Socrates, whom the PCP describes as leading a sharper and more widespread attack on workers and democratic rights than any government since the fascist Salizar regime was overthrown in 1974.

A major target of the protest is so-called flexicurity. The bosses present flexicurity as a tradeoff with workers providing more flexible work hours in return for unemployment insurance. In practice, just as in the recent deals with GM and Chrysler, it provides more leeway for management to arrange work hours and dismiss workers.

“Flexicurity is, above all, for this government, a slogan to impose liberalization and a lack of job protection for many years,” Jose Carvalho da Silva of the CGTP union said in a speech at the rally.

The Portuguese workers have maintained a high level of class consciousness and combativity even in the period since the overthrow of the USSR. The PCP, a mass workers’ party, which still has a proclaimed goal of a socialist society, is playing a key role in the struggle to defend workers’ rights.

More clearly than in the other countries, the workers in Portugal have expressed that their enemy is the bourgeois regime, even if it is administered by a “Socialist” premier, and the imperialist European ruling class along with that in the United States. Their allies are the other European unions and the struggles in the oppressed countries against U.S.-led wars.

FRANCE: Rail workers shut down traffic

Some 754 of the normal 800 long-distance trains never moved in France on Oct. 18, nor did nine out of 10 trains on the Paris Metro. Suburban and regional trains in the Paris area were severely limited, with four out of five shut down by government accounts.

Twenty-nine French cities, in addition to Paris, lost public transportation, with Marseilles, France’s second largest city, nearly completely shut down. Besides workers in transportation, some teachers, school aids and workers in electricity generation and gas distribution—generally public employees—also struck.

Some 300,000 people marched to support the rail workers’ pension rights, including 50,000 in Marseilles and 25,000 in Paris. They carried signs and banners reading, “Together we can win,” “Solidarity” and “Struggle to win.” Young workers told the French newspaper Le Monde, “We are fighting for our elders’ rights in order to defend our future.”

French workers had told rightist President Nicolas Sarkozy that if the government tried to take away the right of railroad workers with outside jobs to retire with a full pension at age 50, they would react. “He’s a thief robbing me,” one worker told the media. “My pension will go from 65 percent of my final wages to 46 percent.”

The strike continued through Oct. 21, especially on the suburban trains and the Paris Metro or subway. The French government is proclaiming that it will negotiate with the unions, but won’t back down on removing the pension language that lets some workers retire at 50, which Sarkozy claims costs the government 1.6 billion euros.

The October issue of Le Monde Diplomatique points out that Sarkozy has given the wealthy elite of France tax breaks worth 13 billion euros a year and wants to increase them to 15 billion euros.

GERMANY: Train conductors disrupt work day

German train conductors also went out on a one-day strike Oct. 18 for the third time in two weeks. About half the local and regional trains in Germany didn’t run. A court order prohibits strikes on long-distance trains.

In Eastern Germany, 80 percent of the trains stopped, more than in heavily populated and industrialized western areas. Traffic jams clogged most German cities, slowing the economy, as Germany has the highest percentage of train users in the world.

The conductors are asking for recognition of their union and a 30-percent wage hike, since their wages are far below comparable workers elsewhere in Europe. Since Deutsche Bahn, the public company that owns the railroads, does not want to recognize the union and is only offering 10 percent, these one-day strikes will likely continue. Günther Kinscher, one of the union leaders, told German television, “Our membership is asking us to authorize an unlimited strike.”

ITALY: 800,000 workers demand job security

As in Portugal, the major issue in Italy is job security. Now young workers—some 4 million or one-sixth of the workforce—have short-term job contracts and thus no secure positions. This was the driving issue for the 800,000 workers, unionists, youths and women who jammed Rome with banners and red flags on Oct. 21, demanding that the “center-left” government of Romano Prodi guarantee better rights for workers.

The demonstrators were ready to struggle. What complicated the protest was that its main organizers, which included the Rifoundation Communist Party and the Party of the Communists, both separate successors to the once-massive Italian Communist Party, are also both supporters of the Prodi government and hold minister posts in it. Leaders of these parties insisted that the government itself was not a target of the protest. Prodi called on his ministers to stay away from the demonstration, and they did.

The coalition that includes these left parties is not only administering a capitalist state, it is dominated by pro-capitalist politicians and is carrying out an attack on workers’ rights and benefits. It is also participating in imperialist interventions in Lebanon and Afghanistan, and has asked for an 11 percent increase in the military budget. The strong Oct. 20 action shows that a large section of the Italian working class refuses to accept this collaboration with the “lesser-evil” Prodi regime.


UAW-Chrysler pact rejection 'too close to call'

As more than 9,000 United Auto Workers members at four Metro Detroit locals got their opportunity today to vote on a proposed labor deal with Chrysler LLC, union members remained divided and many said the outcome was too close to call.

As shift workers left the Sterling Heights Assembly plant this afternoon, many described voter turnout in the factory as "massive."

"It's soul-searching time," said Michael Williams, a forklift driver. "I know a lot of people were talking bad stuff about the contract earlier in the week but now I'm seeing that both sides are coming out."

Several other employees also described a slight shift in the momentum of the votes and that the outcome would be won by a narrow margin.

"On Monday talk on the floor was pretty much against it, but now it's pretty even," said Dean Jolliff, an assembly worker. "I think the whole thought of a strike and the unknown future is going to make this vote very close."

Machine operator Nagi Kaid said he too thinks there will be a slight majority voting 'yes.' But he also wouldn't be surprised if the vote went the other way. The 34-year Chrysler veteran said that many younger workers still seem opposed.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the younger people just said 'no.' The whole two-tier wage idea is something they will have to live with, and work with these people, and that will cause lots of division. "If anyone says they can predict this vote, I would not believe them."

Early this afternoon, dozens of workers milled about outside Local 140 in Warren, which represents workers at Chrysler's Warren Truck plant. Inside, members were attending informational meetings; voting has been open since 5 a.m.

Outdoors, some union members are openly quarreling with local president Melvin Thompson, who supports ratification of the contract.

Some were questioning him about the fate of part-time workers, which they don't feel was protected under the tentative agreement.

Damon Watts, who has a part-time job in the assembly plant and lives in Clinton Township, said "They put non-core workers in before they give us (part-time temporary workers) full-time jobs. The union wants us to vote 'yes' but I have to vote no in my own best interests."

Tamika Floyd said the deal is fair considering the state of the economy and the Chrysler's new ownership, after she cast a 'yes' vote at Local 140.

She said the importance of today's vote put her on edge.

"I'm stressed about it, it's kind of scary," said Floyd, who fears Chrysler will seek to cut workers if the deal is not passed. "People can't afford to be out of work."

Thompson emphasized that many workers are coming out vote in the support of the contract.

"People are voting to protect their jobs today," Thompson said.

About a mile away, at Local 869, there was little activity because members are voting inside the Warren Stamping plant rather than at their union hall. A worker at the hall said all officials were at the factory as of early afternoon.

Workers at Warren Stamping this afternoon said local UAW officials inside are encouraging workers to vote, but not pushing them for or against the contract.

Thelma Lutz, on her way into work, said today's choice gives her more angst than any other she's made in 30 years with the company.

"The contract is incomplete -- you wouldn't sign a contract for a new roof with this few details," she said. Her main concern is which jobs at her plant are non-core. She did not reveal how she plans to vote.

"Our leadership has pulled a dirty trick," she said. "They should have written those details into the contract."

Also voting at their plant today are members of Local 1700, which represents workers at Chrysler's Sterling Heights Assembly plant. Local 1700 is led by top dissident Bill Parker, who is chief of the UAW-Chrysler national negotiating committee.

Parker's minority report against the deal has become the platform for the large number of critics who are against ratification of the contract.

Over at Local 1264, which represents 1,800 employees of the automaker's Sterling Heights Stamping facility, it was clear that local officials were behind the deal. In late morning, a group of local officials flanked the front doors of the union hall, greeting workers as they arrived to vote.

A makeshift sign reading "Yes" adorned the door, along with a cardboard placard that said "Yes is the best." Officials said voter turnout was high even by noon.

"We are very confident that it will pass here," said LaShawn English, recording secretary for Local 1264.

Another local rep, Ken Gary, said "Ninety-five percent approval, baby!"

Several other rank-and-file members said they were OK with the deal.

"I trust our leadership. I think they worked hard for this deal. I'm comfortable with it," said Bob Demmers.

Voting at Local 1264 ends at 5 p.m.; workers at Sterling Heights Assembly can cast ballots until 9 p.m.

On Tuesday, at Local 685 of Kokomo Transmission, 72 percent of 3,150 voters rejected the deal, according to a local union steward. The plant represents 4,500. At nearby Kokomo Casting, 78 percent of 751 voters turned down the contract, a UAW official said. That local represents 800 workers.

With a large contingent of dissenters jeopardizing ratification of the tentative deal, United Auto Workers leaders intensified their push for passage Tuesday, including recruiting UAW retirees to help make their case at informational meetings at Sterling Heights Assembly and Stamping, both of which vote today.

The UAW's lobbying efforts -- including e-mail and memos to workers and visits to factories by top leaders -- have gained urgency as the final ratification votes are taken. Opponents of the deal scored early victories, with four large assembly plants rejecting the deal late last week and over the weekend. A two-tier wage and benefit system for new hires to non-core jobs (those not directly tied to the manufacture of vehicles or parts) and the lack of product commitments at Chrysler plants are the biggest complaints about the pact.

"It's shaping up to be Super Wednesday," said Parker of Local 1700

Nine locals -- representing nearly 16,400 workers -- have rejected the deal, while 17 locals -- representing about 11,500 workers -- have approved it. More than half the locals have reported results.

For the contract to pass, a simple majority of the 45,000 eligible voters must approve it.

Locals reporting results today include:

• Huntsville (Ala.) Electronics hourly, Local 1413: Approved by 87 percent of 90 voters Tuesday. Local represents 119.

• Orlando Parts Distribution Center, Local 1649: Approved by 87 percent Saturday. Local represents 150.

So far, nine local -- representing 16,500 workers -- have rejected the deal, while 19 locals -- representing 11,800 workers -- have accepted the pact.


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