RICO lawsuit stuns SEIU

Wackenhut Corp. filed a racketeering lawsuit against the Service Employees International Union over its attempts to organize the security company's 32,000 workers nationwide.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, alleges the union launched a "malicious, international corporate campaign" against Wackenhut in October 2003 after the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., company refused its organizing demands. The campaign is designed to "strong-arm" Wackenhut into signing labor agreements, the lawsuit says.

Wackenhut, a unit of London's Group 4 Securicor PLC, seeks an injunction and an award in the millions of dollars for damages.

The company, which provides security at many of the U.S.'s nuclear-power plants, says it has refused to recognize SEIU because it is a "mixed" union that admits janitors, hospital workers and other service workers in addition to security guards, according to the lawsuit. It said it recognizes and negotiates collective-bargaining agreements with "guard-only" unions, except for three situations in which Wackenhut obtained contracts at work sites where mixed unions were already in place.

Wackenhut and its subsidiaries are parties to about 35 collective-bargaining agreements with six guard-only unions, according to the complaint.

In a written release, Valarie Long, director of SEIU's property-services division, said that "in the last month alone, Wackenhut security lapses were confirmed at one nuclear-power plant and Wackenhut guards were caught sleeping on the job at another nuclear-power plant.

"Instead of addressing the problems that lead to security lapse after security lapse, Wackenhut fights its employees' efforts to improve security," Ms. Long said. "As long as Wackenhut continues to oversee lax security at nuclear-power plants and other sensitive sites and undermine efforts by SEIU and others to raise the standards of private security in America, SEIU will continue to tell the truth about Wackenhut's record."

Wackenhut and Group 4 Securicor representatives couldn't be reached for comment on Ms. Long's statement.


SEIU hit with RICO lawsuit

The Wackenhut Corporation ("Wackenhut" or "the Company") today filed a civil action against the Service Employees International Union ("SEIU" or "the Union"). The lawsuit is in response to the SEIU's malicious, four-year, international corporate campaign to force Wackenhut to recognize the Union as the employees' bargaining representative while denying the employees their federal rights to free choice and a secret ballot election.

The SEIU's top-down, wholesale, organizing attack also would compromise the quality of Wackenhut's services by forcing the Company to deal with a union that also represents workers other than guards which federal law specifically prohibits as an appropriate unit for representation and bargaining.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the lawsuit alleges violations of the federal Racketeering Influenced Corporations Act, 18 U.S.C. section 1961 et seq., and seeks injunctive relief, treble compensatory damages and costs.

The Wackenhut Corporation is the leading provider of security and security-related services in the U.S. Additional information about Wackenhut is available on its Internet site at http://www.Wackenhut.com.


State defends AFSCME against County taxpayers

Union workers have won an unfair labor practices case against Josephine County ... and may get re-hired with more than a year's back pay and benefits. The case involves more than 100 workers who lost their county jobs when Josephine County contracted out mental health services in July, 2006.

The state Employment Relations Board determined the privatization was in retaliation for a county workers' strike earlier in 2006.

The county has been told is has to re-hire the workers, and give them back pay and benefits ... minus what they've earned since they lost their county jobs. The union estimates the amount could range from $300,000 up to $1 million.

The county also has to pay their union, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, what it would have gotten in union dues... which AFSCME says is about $70,000 dollars... and pay the union a $1,000 civil penalty.

The county legal counsel, Steve Rich, says the county is still looking at the decision, and hasn't decided on a next step. The county could ask the decision be reconsidered, appeal it, or try to work with the union on a settlement.

County commissioners are holding an executive session tomorrow morning to talk about what they'll do.


Nurse files ULP against SEIU

A nurse with Pomona Valley (CA) Hospital Medical Center has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union representing hospital nurses saying it threatened nurses who did not participate in two recent labor actions.

Carole Jean Badertscher of Covina filed the complaint to the National Labor Relations Board with the help of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an organization in Virginia that assists workers.

In the complaint, Badertscher said last month the union put out information threatening nurses who cross picked lines. The charge follows months of tense relations between the Service Employees International Union Local 121RN, which represents 1,000 nurses at the hospital, and PVHMC. The two have been in negotiations since April.

Nurses carried out two labor actions, a 24-hour strike Sept. 6 and a five-day strike that began Sept. 26. Badertscher's complaint says union leaders allegedly gave out information that threatened nurses with fines and jail time if they crossed picket lines. They also circulated a flier saying the union could seek dues not paid during the period nurses have no contract with the hospital, the complaint said.

Badertscher said she wasn't the only nurse that was surprised by the information about fines and jail time.

In speaking with various nurses "every nurse asked me, 'Can they do this?'" she said.

Seeking to clear up the question, Badertscher said she sought the assistance of the right-to-work foundation and was told that couldn't be done.

Sue Weinstein, executive director of the Service Employees International Union, Local 121RN said there is no basis for the complaint by Badertscher.

"The charge is outrageous," Weinstein said.

The information regarding the fines was directed at the hospital administrators and was posted on the union's Web page after the end of the five-day strike.

The information indicates that state law makes it "illegal to hire replacement professional strike breakers," Weinstein said.

As for the dues, Weinstein said the local has a policy not to collect dues retroactively.

"They filed the charge, and we will defend the charge," she said.

The charge is coming from a nurse who is opposed to the union and who is on the side of hospital management which would like to see the union eliminated, Weinstein said. "We believe it's another attack on the union."

Hospital spokeswoman Kathy Roche said this is not the case.

"The hospital is not involved in any effort to eliminate the union," she said.

The hospital recently filed a similar complaint with the National Labor Relations Board but "they're two completely separate complaints though both are governed by the NLRB."

Badertscher said she is a member of the nurses' collective bargaining unit and added that although she is not a member of the union she pays service fees to union.

James Small, regional director of the NLRB, Region 21 in Los Angeles, said Thursday his office received Badertscher's paperwork this week.

The charge "seems to be a repeat" of a charge the hospital filed and will be investigated, he said.

Representatives for the nurses union and the hospital are expected to return to the bargaining table Nov. 13, Weinstein said.


Multiple unions strike against Ala. steelmaker

Union workers began manning picket lines at the gates of the Wise Alloys just after 3 p.m. Thursday, marking the first labor strike at the aluminum plant in nearly 15 years.

Members of the Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America were the first to begin the picketing when their contract expired.

Workers represented by the North Alabama Building Trades unions joined them one hour later.

"We'd much rather be in there making metal than standing out here holding signs, but they forced us into this situation," said Charles Lamon, assistant business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 558. He joined workers at the picket line in front of the Wise Alloys plant on Second Street. "People have to understand that we're just fighting for our jobs," he said. "We'd like to have a resolution tomorrow and put these people back in their jobs. There's nobody out here who wants to have a strike."

Wise officials had little to say Thursday other than noting that a contingency plan was in place should it be needed to keep the plant operating.

Workers at the plant, which was owned by Reynolds Aluminum at the time, had a one-day strike in June 1993 over insurance issues. Wise bought the plant on April 1, 1999.

Wise has nearly 1,000 workers, including hourly and salary workers. Maintenance workers, most of whom are represented by the building and trades union, consist of about 200 workers. They say they are striking because their jobs are being outsourced to other companies.

The local Steelworkers union joined the strike at midnight after negotiations with the company failed to produce a new contract. The Steelworkers represent most of the production workers at the plant and have 330 members. Negotiations were held throughout the day Thursday.

With an absence of a new contract or negotiations with Wise, Keith Huntley, vice president of the building and trades union, said members had no other alternative but to strike.

"We are calling this strike to get better working conditions and to get a contract signed to continue working with Wise Metals," Huntley said. "Up to this point, the company has shown little interest in realistic negotiations and even less interest in the livelihood of local workers and their families."

About 300 union members, family of employees and others gathered across the street from the Wise plant Thursday as the clock approached 3 p.m. Many were there to show their support for those who held signs across the street.

The strike appeared peaceful and orchestrated.

Most union members wore shirts identifying their respective union and some wore bright blue shirts with "Day of Action 2007 - Enough is Enough" printed on the front and back.

Some members wore stickers on their shirts that read "Union Solidarity," while others wore red bandannas around their necks as a message of support for one another.

Several motorists who passed the picket line on Second Street waved at the men and women and sounded their horns.

"We're 100 percent united with everyone out here," said Joe Gronek, business manager for the Teamsters Local 402. "We wish the company would come to the table and bargain in good faith with us."

Steve Crunk, president of the local IBEW union, said negotiations were not made with his union or any others that are part of the building and trades.

Wise has entered into a contract with ABB Inc. to outsource maintenance jobs at the plant.

Although the strike started Thursday afternoon, work at the plant continued into the night.

About 4:30 p.m. Thursday, with the picket line already in place, maintenance employees hired by ABB were brought to the plant on chartered buses. In single file and escorted by security, the buses maneuvered from the back of the plant in an apparent effort to avoid strikers.

A federal mediator has called a meeting at 9 a.m. today between union representatives and Wise officials for discussions.

Lamon said negotiations were not expected to take place during the meeting, though.

"I don't expect a lot to come from it," Lamon said. "It's just an opportunity to get things out in the open and to discuss what each side sees as happening."

Other union members remained skeptical.

"So far, we've heard nothing to give us any hope that the company might come around," said Gary Wills, business representative for the International Association of Machinists.

For now, the affected hourly workers do not have a contract or a job.

"Our guys are out of work at this point," Gronek said. "We're going to do everything we can to get them back to work."

Many of the people who gathered in support of the unions' actions said the plant has been a part of their family for years.

Michael Burbank, an IBEW member, said his father worked at Wise for 32 years and he has worked at the plant for five years as an electrician.

"This is a tough time for my family," he said. "This plant out here fed me as a kid. It was hard to walk out that gate today."

Burbank said he knows many families that have lengthy ties to the plant. He said many people are being affected tremendously.

"It's a sad day. We don't want to be out here," he said. "I've got three kids who just lost insurance today."

Wills said several generations in his family have worked at the plant since it was built in 1941, with its initial purpose of producing metal used in manufacturing airplanes for the World War II effort.

Crunk said the strike is based on the unions' hope to "maintain our members" dignity and pride as humans.

"These guys love this plant and have pride in what they do," he said. "We really hope our folks can just go back to work and be with their families. You hate to see negotiations get to this point."

The unions have said that they are planning to be outside the Wise plant as long as needed, manning the picket line 24 hours a day.

"This is a bad situation," Lamon said. "Hopefully this won't last long, but it's up to the company."


Teachers union buys local school board

A South Sound (WA) school board hopeful has received the biggest donation from the state teachers union's political arm of any candidate in Washington this year.

Olympia School Board candidate Frank Wilson, 42, recently received a $2,500 contribution from a regional chapter of the Washington Education Association's political action committee.

The donation to pay for a Wilson campaign mailer sent to about 14,000 homes comes on top of a prior $350 donation from the group, bringing the total to $2,850.

State law sets a $5,000 limit on how much money local candidates can receive from a single source during the 21 days before an election.

As of Monday, no other candidate in the state had received as much money from the WEA's political action committee this year, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission's Web site.

"That's probably higher than most," Rich Wood, a spokesman for the statewide WEA, said of the $2,500 donation. "Those are decisions that are made locally."

Coming close to Wilson's total are Gov. Chris Gregoire, who has received $2,000, and Amye Bronson-Doherty, a Federal Way School Board candidate who has received $2,200.

Wilson has raised $10,239 during his campaign, meaning the WEA donations make up about 28 percent of his total. He's one of four school board candidates statewide — outside the Seattle School District — to raise more than $10,000.

Wilson is seeking the District 1 seat occupied by Michelle Parvinen. Jeff Nejedly, 44, also is seeking the seat.

Nejedly said he was surprised the local teachers' union didn't endorse his campaign because he considers himself a strong supporter of teachers and once stood on teacher strike picket lines with his father, a former Wisconsin teacher.

The $2,500 donation came after Wilson approached the Olympia Education Association — the local WEA chapter — to ask if the association's regional political committee could help pay for his campaign mailer.

"Frank articulated a need, and we didn't want finances to be a hindrance" to his campaign, David Johnston, the Olympia association's president, said, adding that the move wasn't driven by concerns that the District 1 race is close.

"I don't know how close it is," Johnston said.

However, Nejedly said he suspects the $2,500 donation reflects some concern by local WEA members about how the votes will fall.

"They probably wouldn't do this if it wasn't close," he said. "It could be trying to counter the fact that I've been out there for three to four months connecting with people."

Wilson said he wasn't aware that his WEA contributions were higher than most.

"It makes me really think they believe in what I can offer on the board," he said.

Wilson said he sought the second donation because he wanted to inform voters who regularly cast ballots in school district elections about who has endorsed his campaign.

"I thought a mailer was the best way to get those names out there," said Wilson, who also wasn't sure how tight the race is.


Unions extract political payback in Ohio

A public employees' union that plowed millions into Democratic campaigns last year helped write a governor's executive order that has since allowed it to organize thousands of home health workers paid through state programs.

Similar orders have been signed in three other states - Illinois, Iowa and Michigan - also led by Democratic governors.

Staffers of Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, including his top lawyer, were coordinating efforts with the Service Employees International Union as they were writing the order, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request. Strickland's chief of staff, John Haseley, also had an e-mail from the union's regional political director, Gloria Fauss, asking for the latest draft.

Home health care workers covered by Strickland's order voted for SEIU representation late last month. The state is scheduled to begin negotiating their contract in February.

AFSCME, another public employee union generous to Democrats, was also included in the drafting process, records show. It asked for the order to apply to child care workers. The administration opted not to combine the two issues, but Strickland has said he intends to sign a second order regarding child care workers in the coming months.

SEIU donated $90,000 to Strickland's gubernatorial campaign last year, a portion of the $2 million it has given statewide to Democratic party committees and candidates since last year, campaign finance records show. AFSCME has given just more than $76,000 to Democratic candidates and committees since last year, including about $6,000 from its political action committee and executives to Strickland's campaign.


Texas #3 in business climate survey

In an annual comparison of each state's business climate, Texas has come in at No. 3, slipping down one notch from last year.

The rankings, released Thursday in Site Selection Magazine, showed that the South continues to dominate as the region most attractive to business leaders.

Magazine editor Mark Arend said the latest survey confirms the now well-established pattern of moving factories and offices to the less-unionized South, he said. The most popular sites "tend to be right-to-work states," he said.

For the third consecutive year - and the sixth time in seven years - North Carolina topped the list of states with the best business climate. Georgia came in No. 2.


Bakers union members go out on strike

Employees at Redco in Little Falls, NY were walking the picket lines today, hoping to reach an agreement with their employer. The workers' contract ran out on July 1, and according to union reps, they've been in negotiation with the company since then.

The strike is in regards to medical coverage ... and that some employees can't afford a 401 K. Now - they are asking for some sort of pension plan.

"These people come in to the lower paying jobs ... we're paying 25% medical ... can't afford the 401Ks, so they'll have no pension at all," said Joe Svingala, vice-president of Local 50 BCTGM Union. "They're taking vacation away from them. We have offered a lot of stuff to the company in all of those areas and they reufse to negotiate at all."

In the past, the union has always come to an agreement with the company, union reps said. But in this case, the company will not budge.


Ex-cop guilty of embezzlement

Former Salinas (CA) police officer Gilbert Bacis plead guilty to embezzling over $53,000 from a police organization that provides activities for young people, District Attorney Dean Flippo announced today. Officers are represented by the Salinas Police Officers Assocation.

Bacis admitted to taking the money from the Salinas Police Activities League, which is a nonprofit organization that supplies sports, social, recreational and educational activities for kids between ages 5 and 18.

Bacis was an officer in Salinas for almost 20 years and was the treasurer for PAL during the time he was stealing money. The embezzlement took place over 10 months beginning in September 2006. He resigned from the police department last month.

Bacis reportedly misused a PAL credit card, misappropriated cash and fraudulently withdrew cashier's checks from a PAL credit union account.

According to Bacis, he embezzled the money for medical bills, rent and car payments, to pay off a new boat purchased in 2004 and other financial complications.

He agreed to make full restitution to PAL within two weeks. Judge Timothy Roberts indicated he would place Bacis on formal felony probation with the possibility of one year in county jail.


AFSCME's controversial fox guards henhouse

Laurie Johnson again had to defend herself Thursday against accusations that her employment as a staff representative with AFSCME is a conflict of interest with her work as a city councilor.

An e-mail tipster sent a message Thursday to several news outlets pointing to an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Web site page listing Johnson as the business representative for the American Indian Community Housing Project and the YWCA.

Last month, Johnson was one of five city councilors who voted to take $600,000 from the city’s Community Investment Trust Fund to go toward building an American Indian Housing Center at the YWCA building on West Second Street.

If Johnson would have abstained, the controversial proposal would have failed.

Johnson’s First District opponent, Todd Fedora, has made Johnson’s perceived conflict of interest, as an AFSCME representative and a city councilor, a central theme of his campaign. He said Thursday that he was not the person behind tipping the media, and that he was flabbergasted by Johnson’s vote.

“This is why we have to have independent leadership,” he said.

Radio host Brad Bennett ripped Johnson during his Thursday morning program.

Johnson said that while she represents employees of both groups at the bargaining table, her vote to give them the $600,000 was not influenced by working with them.

“The decision that I made that evening was in the role of a city councilor, and it was in the best interest of a downtown area, that building and a project that was in the best interest of a community,” she said. “I certainly won’t apologize for being an advocate for women who need shelter.”

Johnson said that she did not financially benefit from the vote, and that when the renovations are done, layoffs will likely have to be made.

“It’s always disconcerting as to why is it always a claim of a conflict of interest

for someone who continues to advocate for working people,” she said. “I’ll continue to stand up, always, for the betterment of working people.”


Courthouse employees to strike Friday

Beaver County (PA) Courthouse employees are expected to hold a one-day strike today after contract talks ended late Thursday without an agreement. County Solicitor Myron Sainovich said the members of Service Employees International Union Local 668, who have been without a contract since Dec. 31, 2004, might picket in front of the courthouse from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Employees rejected a two-year proposal in August that county officials deemed their "best offer." At 10:40 p.m. Thursday, Commissioners Chairman Joe Spanik said he had yet to receive a definitive answer on a strike, though he also expected union members to be at the courthouse early today.

"I expect them to be here at seven o'clock to do something," he said. Both Spanik and Sainovich said the union had given assurances that essential departments, such as the county's emergency services center, would not be hampered by the strike.

"They don't want to see anybody harmed or injured because of a labor dispute," Sainovich said. SEIU business agent Al Smith didn't return a message left on his cell phone and further calls went unanswered.

Several people reported Thursday evening that only 12 out of about 100 people attending an SEIU meeting voted against striking.

Brian Hayden, the county's communications director, said county officials were "operating under the assumption something's going to happen" today because a strike was approved.

If a strike were to occur, Commissioner Dan Donatella said the courthouse would remain open with a "skeleton crew" if necessary.

"The courthouse will not be closed," he said. "The courthouse will be open."

Spanik also insisted that the county had enough staff to maintain operations in the courthouse. "We'll be functional," he said. "We'll be open."

Spanik said the two sides negotiated throughout the day before ending talks at around 9 p.m. Both sides were reviewing a proposal late Thursday.


Striking nurses threaten violence against scabs

Union nurses say they have strong feelings about anyone working as their replacements at Appalachian Regional Healthcare Hospitals. One nurse who crossed the picket line at the Harlan ARH says what's happened since then leaves her feeling threatened.

Union Nurse Pamela Pace crossed the picket line at the Harlan ARH one week after the strike began. "I need to work. I have a daughter in college. I'm a single mother," she said.

Since then, Pace says she's been the target of harassing phone calls and name calling on her way into work. Early Thursday morning, she says someone egged her truck outside her home and she doesn't think it was a Halloween prank.

"I can't prove that I was singled out, but I also checked every vehicle down this street and there was no other car egged but mine," Pace said.

Nurses on the picket line had their own opinions.

"I think they can expect whatever happens to them when they come up here and cross the picket line. I don't know why in the world they would be surprised that people would be upset about them crossing the picket line," said Crystal Eldridge.

The nurses here say they feel betrayed by anyone who's replaced them.

"Why didn't they come in and apply before the strike? Because they're getting paid big bucks to come in there and work right now," said Lisa Skidmore.

"We're putting our jobs on the line for our patients. We're out here to make sure that we are able to provide safe patient care, that we have safe nurse to patient ratios," Eldridge said.

As strikers fight for what they believe is right, Pace says it's her right to keep working.

"I'd like to be able to do it safely and feel secure and be able to come home and have peace at home," Pace said.

State police say they have no reports of violence on the picket lines during the strike.


Iowa Democrat lawmakers pan Right To Work repeal

Bipartisan solutions to issues facing Iowa, particularly rural areas of the state, will be necessary in the coming years, according to area legislators. Iowa Sens. Jack Kibbie, D-Emmetsburg, and Rich Olive, D-Story City, and Iowa Reps. McKinley Bailey, D-Webster City, and Dave Tjepkes, R-Gowrie, offered their insights at the 17th annual Mid Iowa Community Development Conference Thursday.

Approximately 50 people gathered at the Best Western Starlite Village northwest of Fort Dodge to share ideas on ways to improve life in their communities.

Each of the four participating legislators gave their answers to four preselected questions about issues deemed pertinent to the region. Three of the four voiced their reservations about so-called Fair Share legislation, which would require nonunion members in unionized businesses and agencies to pay for services provided by the representing union. A bill affecting only unionized public workers passed in the Iowa Senate 28-21 earlier this year.

"I voted against it," said Olive. "In my opinion it was a bad bill. ... It just doesn’t fit very well."

The bill was then sent to the Iowa House, where it remains to be considered.

"I do not believe right now that there are the votes behind it to pass it," said Bailey, who spoke in favor of "putting it behind us" and moving on to deal with other concerns. "There are some strong arguments for it, but I have issues with the way the bill was written," he said.

Bailey’s House colleague Tjepkes, the lone Republican at Thursday’s forum, called Fair Share a "downer" in trying to attract businesses to the state. "It’s a real discouragement, in my opinion, to economic development," Tjepkes said.

Kibbie, who voted in favor of the bill, defended his pro-Fair Share stance as a way to raise wages in what he called a "low-wage state," thereby attracting and retaining professionals. "In my opinion, it’s not the repeal of the Right to Work law," said Kibbie, referring to a law that allows nonunion members to work in unionized businesses.

Each of the legislators was asked about his thought on property tax reform in Iowa.

The property tax issue has been in every campaign since Kibbie was elected to the Senate 28 years ago, he said.

"There are so many exceptions in our tax code," Kibbie said.

Olive pushed for a floor on residential and agricultural property taxation "So we don’t keep rolling that back," he said.

"We should stop shifting from home and agriculture over to commercial property," he said.

Tjepkes spoke in favor of maintaining a "pro-business" attitude in the Legislative in regards to property taxation.

"There seems to be an attitude in a lot of legislators to ‘Just pass it on to businesses,’" Tjepkes said.

Bailey said that his hopes "aren’t real high" that meaningful legislation will be passed on the subject in the next session.

He called on both Republicans and Democrats to make the issue a priority, and urged voters to contact their legislators with their thoughts on the subject.

Responding to a query about how to repair and improve Iowa roads and bridges, Tjepkes spoke about TIME-21, a funding study committee that has discussed means by which more money can be raised for transportation in the face of predicted shortfalls in the coming years.

"I think that in this session, if there’s a major, major issue that has bipartisan support, it’s TIME-21," Tjepkes said.

Two means by which more transportation funding could be raised are increases to the state gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees.

"Iowa has more registered vehicles than people," Tjepkes said. "Our of the 3 million, 300,000 vehicles pay $28 or less in registration fees."

A modest increase in the gasoline tax would have a very small impact on the average motorist, Olive said.

"If we raise the gas tax a penny, the effect it will have on most of us is an annual increase in costs of $6.50," Olive said.

Additionally, 15 to 20 percent of gasoline sold in Iowa is purchased by people from out of state, Olive said.

Bailey said that educating people to "make them aware of how important this is" will be important.

"We need to make sure people know this money is not going into a slush fund for our pet projects," he said.

According to Kibbie, "There’s no reason we couldn’t get 30 votes in the Senate to pass TIME-21," he said.

When asked about an impending shortage of skilled workers in the state, Bailey highlighted the establishment of a commission that is touring the state to gather information about the concerns of younger Iowans, in an effort to make the state more hospitable to their needs.

"They will come back with recommendations in January," Bailey said.

In the last session, the Iowa legislature approved more funding for community colleges, many of which are partnering with employers to develop relevant training programs.

Olive spoke in favor of the potential of developing a tuition forgiveness program, through which students who attend college in Iowa could receive tax credits for remaining in the state for a certain period of time.

A similar program exists at Des Moines University, Tjepkes said.

"The results are encouraging and promising," he said.

Kibbie said he favors increased requirements for ethanol and biodiesel consumption.

"We’re not using any more ethanol today in Iowa than we used in 2005," Kibbie said. "This economy is great in Iowa because of renewable fuels."


Right To Work law good for business climate

In an annual comparison of each state's business climate, Georgia has come in at No. 2, moving up two notches from last year.

The rankings, released Thursday in Site Selection magazine, showed that the Southeast continues to dominate as the region most attractive to business leaders.

1. North Carolina
2. Georgia
3. Texas
4. Virginia
5. Alabama
6. Tennessee
7. Ohio
8. Kentucky
9. Florida
10. South Carolina
11. Indiana
12. Michigan
13. Illinois
14. Pennsylvania
15. Oklahoma
16. Iowa
17. Mississippi
18. Missouri
19. Nevada
19. New York (tie)
• Source: Site Selection magazine's 2007 Top 20 Business Climate Rankings

Magazine editor Mark Arend said the latest survey confirms the well-established pattern of moving factories and offices to the less-unionized South, he said. The most popular sites "tend to be right-to-work states," he said.

Also, Southern states "are the fastest-growing states, so they have a good supply of labor with the right skills," he said.

"And they have great logistical infrastructure, like state highways, ports and airports."

Moreover, the South has warmer weather, which many people prefer. "Quality of life factors in there," said the editor of the bimonthly magazine based in Norcross.

The magazine bases its annual rankings, released each November, on a survey of corporate real estate decision makers and data on projects announced or under construction.

The decision makers say their highest priority is the availability of workers with the right skills, Arend said. Second is the ease of permitting, and third is the level of state and local taxes. Other priorities include the availability of land and buildings at good prices and the quality of higher education, he said.

One state excels in all areas, he said. For the third straight year — and the sixth time in seven years — North Carolina topped the list.

Behind the Southeast, the Midwest is the No. 2 preferred region for new business sites.


Small business group joins Big Labor

Today, the nation's leading consumer, business and labor organizations have a new ally: America's small businesses.

Top executives of the groups that make up Divided We Fail--AARP, Business Roundtable and SEIU--announced today that the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) joined the effort to make access to quality, affordable health care and long-term financial security top issues in the national political debate.

"NFIB's alliance with Divided We Fail demonstrates that we are taking all the steps necessary to change the political climate to fix our nation's health-care system," said Todd Stottlemyer, President and CEO of NFIB. "Small business owners, their employees and dependents make up the largest segment of the uninsured population and we simply can't say that health care is our top priority and be content with the stalemate over reform. As a member of this coalition we plan to raise the national debate to a new level and get policymakers focused on providing solutions to address what has become a national crisis for America's job creators."

"Divided We Fail now represents more than 53 million Americans who are part of a movement to influence the political debate on critical domestic issues that affect their daily lives," said AARP CEO Bill Novelli. "We are leading a national push for solutions based on shared responsibility --- the role of the individual, government, and the private sector."

Divided We Fail launched nationally in January and has worked to engage the American people, elected officials and the business community to find broad-based, bi-partisan solutions to the most compelling domestic issues facing the nation -- health care and the long-term financial security of Americans.

"When business leaders, labor, and consumer advocates can set aside their differences and stand together to demand change, anything is possible," said Andy Stern, President of SEIU. "The health care movement continues to grow, and the people of this country have no more patience for partisan bickering and gridlock. It's time for Washington to act now."

"As the political season heats up, candidates, policymakers, and the administration need to continue finding bipartisan solutions to the nation's health care crisis," says John Castellani, president of Business Roundtable. "The inclusion of NFIB in our coalition illustrates that both large and small employers have a vested interest in reforming our health care system so it works for everyone in America."

To herald the announcement, Divided We Fail placed ads welcoming NFIB in the "Washington Post" and other Capitol Hill publications. The ad text reads:

Shouldn't the people who live in the strongest, greatest, wealthiest country in the world be able to enjoy access to quality affordable health care and long-term financial security? Shouldn't our leaders be able to work together to find solutions to the challenges that we all face?

We say "yes."

Everyone in America must have access to quality, affordable health care and long-term financial security. That's why AARP, Business Roundtable and the Service Employees International Union welcome the National Federation of Independent Business to Divided We Fail.

When small businesses, corporations, consumers, and organized labor come together for change, Washington needs to take action. We have lost our patience for partisan bickering and gridlock.

To learn more about Divided We Fail and what you can do to champion a secure future for generations to come, visit DividedWeFail.org.

Together we can do anything.

The national effort encompasses traditional grassroots work, speaking engagements, media events, private meetings with legislative leaders and opinion leaders, advertising in national outlets and in the primary states, and online activities which engage the public, business and elected officials in the debate, encouraging public leaders to offer solutions. Since the launch, the CEOs have worked together to support broad legislative ideas, including supporting SCHIP, health information technology, transparency in health care data, commented on federal pension regulations; and have appeared at various events including:

-- October 2007: the CEOs of AARP, Business Roundtable and SEIU spoke at the White House Fellows Annual Meeting; -- July 2007: the CEOs led a Capitol Hill rally with over 2,000 people, fanning out across the Hill to meet with their members of Congress about the Divided We Fail pledge; -- June 2007: the CEOs traveled to New Hampshire for the kickoff of Divided We Fail in the Granite State; -- Also in June, Divided We Fail hosted a pension conference geared toward identifying pension models that can work for individuals and business; -- April 2007: the CEOs began a series of joint meetings with Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle; -- February and March 2007: they addressed the AARP and Business Roundtable Board of Directors; -- In March, the three organizations hosted a 20/20 vision forum with leading pollsters on boomer views on health and financial security; -- Other senior representatives have attended meetings with the Business in Government Relations Council, National Partnership for Women and Families, the National Economic Council, the Democratic Leadership Council, members of the Senate Republican leadership, and Americans for Generational Equity to name a few.

With NFIB on board, Divided We Fail will be continuing to secure pledges from members of Congress and the presidential candidates in support of the effort. To date, 154 Members of Congress (41 Senators & 113 Representatives) have expressed support; 140 have signed the pledge and 14 have sent letters of support. Of the Presidential candidates, the following have either signed the pledge or sent a letter of support: Biden, Clinton, Dodd, Edwards, Gravel, Huckabee, McCain (sent letter of support), Obama and Richardson.

In the near future, members and representatives of Divided We Fail are planning appearances for top level speeches at economic clubs nationwide; activities in the early primary and caucus states; events throughout New York State; and co-sponsoring and speaking at a November Financial Security Pension Conference.

More information about Divided We Fail efforts can be found at http://www.dividedwefail.org/.


Right To Work law good for small business

Colorado is 11th on a lobbying group's annual ranking of the 50 states' climates for small business, based on tax and regulation policy. The rankings were released Thursday.

The Oakton, Va.-based Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council ranked the states according to 31 "major government-imposed or government-related costs" in its Small Business Survival Index for 2007.

The highest-ranking states on the council's list tend to be those with light taxes and business-friendly regulation. Among the factors evaluated are top corporate and personal tax rates, health insurance mandates, crime rate, power costs, "right to work" labor laws and state government spending.

South Dakota ranks No. 1, followed by Nevada, Wyoming, Washington, Florida, Michigan, Texas, South Carolina, Virginia, Alabama and Colorado.

New Jersey was ranked last among the 50 states, with California at No. 49, Rhode Island at No. 48 and Maine at No. 47.

"Some elected officials, policymakers and special interests believe that taxes, regulations and other governmental costs can be increased with impunity," said Karen Kerrigan, SBEC president/CEO, in a statement. "Economic reality tells a different story. Ever-mounting burdens placed on entrepreneurs and small businesses by government negatively affect economic opportunity."

Colorado was ranked No. 8 in the 2006 index and No. 10 in 2005.


Teamsters fully aligned with Clinton crony

Ron Burkle, the Clinton-crony billionaire who favors unions over shareholders, is roiling company management and giving creditors a chance of higher returns with his effort to rescue bankrupt Interstate Bakeries Corp.

Interstate, the maker of the once iconic and now nutritionally incorrect Twinkies and Wonder Bread, has become more than a food fight between a Burkle-Teamster alliance and company Chief Executive Officer Craig Jung. Traders say the battle between the 55-year-old Burkle and Jung, who is backed by hedge-fund manager Silver Point Capital LP, will sweeten returns for creditors owed almost $1 billion.

"Competition is great," said Kirk Ruddy, senior vice president and director of claims trading at Tejas Inc., an Austin, Texas, brokerage. "I think we are going in the right direction."

After three years of reorganization efforts, Interstate last month outlined a bankruptcy plan that would cancel the company's stock and pay creditors with new shares. The plan favors Interstate's bank lenders over unsecured bondholders and other creditors. Those groups are counting on Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. to make a better offer, sparking a bidding war for their support.

Prices on some of the Kansas City, Missouri-based company's unsecured debt have risen, indicating creditors are betting on higher recoveries.

Susan Watson, a bankruptcy adviser, said she recently sold a $10,000 claim that Eagle Food Centers held against Interstate for 77 cents on the dollar.

'On the Way Up'

"I think we got a price that was on the way up," said Watson, an adviser at the restructuring firm Walker, Truesdell & Associates. Watson said other claims had been selling for as little as 50 cents on the dollar.

Yucaipa is trying to repeat the success it had with bankrupt car-hauler Allied Holdings Inc. where a deal with the Teamsters gave it control of the company.

At Allied, Los Angeles-based Yucaipa negotiated concessions half the size managers said were necessary for the company to exit bankruptcy. As part of the deal Chairman Robert J. Rutland, grandson of the trucker's founder, was ousted, shareholders got nothing and creditors collected at least 50 cents on the dollar.

Yucaipa and the Teamsters "obviously have some sort of symbiotic relationship," said Peter Wolfson, a lawyer for Allied shareholders who currently represents a committee of Interstate equity owners. "I just don't think that it makes sense for Yucaipa to be meddling with the ongoing labor negotiations."

Teamster Concessions

After Allied's bankruptcy reorganization plan won approval, creditors were able to sell their debt for 60 to 70 cents on the dollar, said David Keisman, a senior vice president in corporate finance at Moody's Investors Service in New York. That means the market put a higher value on Allied, and its debt, than the 50 cents on the dollar Yucaipa and the Teamsters predicted.

At Interstate, the Teamsters are again key. Jung says without wage and benefit concessions from them, he may liquidate the company. The company's largest cost is labor, according to a regulatory filing.

Interstate opposes Yucaipa because it says a deal that is too generous to workers would reduce creditor recoveries.

Silver Point's proposal, which is backed by JPMorgan Chase Bank and other secured lenders, will be difficult for Yucaipa to top, said Ken Smalley, an analyst at Seaport Group LLC, which trades distressed debt.

The support of the lenders "makes it tough for a second bidder to come in," Smalley said.

Shares Fell

The day Interstate announced the Silver Point proposal the company's stock price fell 77 percent to 15 cents a share, indicating the plan erased any expectations shareholders might get something back from the reorganization. Interstate shares were little changed at 9 cents in over-the-counter trading today.

Burkle has become a white knight to other labor unions. He worked with newspaper employee groups on possible bids for Dow Jones Co. earlier this year and McClatchy Inc. papers in 2006.

Yucaipa spokesman Frank Quintero, who wouldn't comment directly on Interstate, said Burkle's involvement with organized labor goes back to his days as a 13-year-old packing groceries. Today, Burkle's private plane sports the tail number 770BB, which stands for local 770, box boy, Quintero said. Burkle declined to comment for this story.

With its union connections, Jung says Yucaipa is trying to gain an advantage over investors who might try to buy the baker.

20,000 Union Workers

"That's what I saw Yucaipa wanting to do," Jung said in an interview. Eighty percent of Interstate's 25,000 employees belong to either the Teamsters or a union representing bakery workers.

The Teamsters continue talking to Yucaipa about the future of Interstate largely because of the success they had on the Allied bankruptcy, union spokesman David White said.

Creditors, who typically vote on any reorganization plan, don't know how much they might receive from Yucaipa or Interstate because neither side has released enough details.

The fact that Yucaipa is involved in the case is good for creditors, said Duncan Yin, who covered Interstate as a distressed debt analyst until 2005.

"Any time you've got an investor interested in a plan of reorganization, that is good for people who own claims," said Yin, who currently manages a hedge fund affiliated with Capital Group LLC.

Yucaipa has said only that it wants the chance to negotiate with the Teamsters, something it is officially blocked from doing by Interstate's insistence on a confidentiality agreement.

In the Allied Case, Judge C. Ray Mullins rejected allegations Yucaipa conspired with the Teamsters to deny shareholders a recovery.


Former Allied Chairman Rutland lost the exclusive right to develop a bankruptcy plan, which gave Yucaipa an opening to file a proposal with the Teamsters. Jung is trying to avoid the fate of Rutland on Nov. 7 when Interstate asks U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jerry W. Venters for more time to exclusively file a plan.

The Teamsters oppose the company's exclusivity request. While Venters hasn't allowed Yucaipa to play an official role in the case, that could change if Interstate loses the exclusive right to file a reorganization plan.

Management's opposition to Burkle might not be solely based on concern for creditors, said claims broker Steven Klenda of APS Capital Corp.

"People who are most interested in a debtor's plan are often the people who are going to lose their jobs," Klenda said.


Hollywood strike set for Monday

The entire entertainment industry and the state of California must brace itself for a long hard fight to the finish between writers and producers. A group of scribes from the Writer’s Guild of America told the media tonight that President Patric Verrone announced via closed-door session that the strike is definitely on.

“There was a unified feeling in the room. I don’t think anyone wants the strike, but people are behind the negotiation committee,” said screen writer Dave Garrett of “Deuce Bigalow: Europen Gigolo” fame.

Hollywood Today was at the general strike meet conducting exit interviews and the mood was grim and determined. Writers that would go on the record were clear that while complex, a central concern was Internet income and the future royalties from new media. “Why shouldn’t we be paid the same for a DVD whether it’s a download or a disc?” asked a writer named Gavin. “This is about the new media and our future. Everything in the future will be on the Internet in one form or another, even if it’s ultimately seen on the TV set, and the producers won’t share that income.”

The TV and screen writers have not gone on strike in nearly 20 years. It’s a brand new experience for many in the guild who were too young to remember.

The main point of contention is the dispute over royalties regarding new media. New media would be anything like internet downloads, advertising on the internet and new areas that haven’t even been fully explored yet.

The board will meet Friday to make a formal announcement and give the specifics to guild members. All details will be laid out tomorrow.

President of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers Nick Counter said that the alliance was not surprised by the strike announcement. “We are ready to meet and are prepared to close this contract this weekend,” he said.

Many writers said there is more at stake than royalties, but respect for their craft is at stake too. They say they want some of the clout that is bestowed upon the actors and directors that has eluded some of them.

“I don’t think it’s something we can negotiate for,” said Paul Guay to AP, co-writer of the movies “Liar Liar” and “Heartbreakers.” What we can negotiate for is money. How we assess respect and worth in this town is money.”

The first entertainers to feel the pinch will be the late-night talk shows, which are entirely dependent on current events to fill well-timed monologues.

Primetime TV production will feel the pain immediately, but will surely suffer more than film. Many of the studios have already stockpiled stacks of movie scripts, while TV shows work more week to week. Of course, many knew this might be on the horizon and writers hurriedly worked around the clock to complete what they could.

The biggest sticking point in the negotiations involves the changing formula that determines the writer’s share of DVD revenue. Producers want to apply the same formula to money made from material offered over the internet and other digital platforms.


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