SEIU's RICO-inspired organizing tactics on display

More than five hundred attendees at the International Foundation Employee Benefits conference in Anaheim, CA., walked through the convention center in the opening hours of the convention on Sunday carrying bags that say: Trust Rite Aid? Think Twice! Most of the attendees are involved in administering union health care and pension trusts.

Their message is related to Rite Aid, the nation's third-largest drug chain and its attempt to boost its fledgling two-year old pharmacy benefits management company (Rite Aid Solutions) at the conference. Problems plague the company as they struggle with plummeting stock, a consumer fraud suit and escalating labor disputes. They are unsuccessfully trying to integrate 1,854 recently acquired Brooks and Eckerd stores. In addition, Rite Aid remains under the watchful eye of federal billing fraud monitors.

A labor coalition brought together 1199SEIU (Service Employees International Union), the nation's largest health care union; ILWU, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and UFCW, (United Food and Commercial Workers). At a packed reception at the conference Wendell Young, of UFCW said, "We're here with SEIU and the ILWU and we represent a lot of members between our unions. Rite Aid used to be the kind of company you could work with, but when they changed management their executive suite took an anti-union turn. This company has become a real problem."

Young is referring to the fact that Rite Aid is violating its contractual obligations and federal labor law and running aggressive anti-union campaigns on both coasts.

On the East Coast:

- The current UFCW and 1199SEIU contracts signed by the Rite Aid Corporation include legally binding language that directs Rite Aid's conduct when there is a merger or takeover like that of the Eckerd/Brooks stores. Rite Aid is required to recognize the union as the collective bargaining agent for, and apply the terms of the contract to, any acquired stores within the contract's geographic area when the union demonstrates majority support.

- The company has instructed Eckerd store managers to:
1) deny union organizers access to stores so that they cannot inform workers of their rights;
2) confiscate union literature;
3) interrogate and take other action intended to intimate workers.

- Rite Aid's management has publicly stated that they seek to "operate in a union-free environment."

On the West Coast:

- The ILWU is currently in a heated struggle with Rite Aid over union recognition for the workers at the company's distribution center in Southern California.

- When workers began to organize, Rite Aid launched an anti-union effort that included firings, suspension and arbitrary discipline of union supporters. The National Labor Relations Board found enough evidence to try Rite Aid on 49 violations of labor law. Rite Aid settled rather than face an NLRB judge. The Board is now investigating new charges.

Peter Olney, of the ILWU told conference attendees, "The workers at Rite Aid's distribution center came to us wanting to organize in March 2006. What followed from Rite Aid was something you'd expect from Wal-Mart, not from a company that's 40 percent unionized."

In the past two months, the Canadian and US media have reported that the new CEO of Jean Coutu Group Inc., who in June sold 1,800 U.S. Brooks and Eckerd stores to Rite Aid, is urging shareholders to be patient after earnings were eroded by $24.8 million from its interest in Rite Aid Corp. Jean Coutu stock has dropped by almost 20 per cent in the last three months, and Rite Aid is struggling to integrate the Canadian chain's former U.S. stores.

Many are concerned that at a time when industry analysts and institutional stockholders are watching Rite Aid closely to see whether it will be able to successfully pull off the integration of the Eckerd/Brooks chain, Rite Aid has made a choice to fight with workers and their unions and in doing so, risk losing business and spoiling the integration of the operations of the drug store chains.

Furthermore, several Rite Aid business practices have been questionable and the company has settled millions of dollars in lawsuits.

- Rite Aid is using the Eckerd/Brooks acquisition to create a second-tier, non-union workforce that will replace union workers. This will cost jobs and depress wages in the affected areas.

- Over the last 10 years, Rite Aid settled more than a half-dozen lawsuits alleging consumer fraud. The charges included selling expired goods, charging higher than the advertised prices at the checkout line and overcharging the elderly and uninsured.

- The most recent consumer fraud suit was filed a year ago by the state of New Jersey.

- The company paid $6.7 million to settle a class action by workers who alleged that Rite Aid forced their pension fund to buy overvalued company stock.

- The company paid $5.6 million to the government and $1.4 million to 28 states to settle charges of Medicaid fraud.

The conference will continue from Sunday through November 7 at the Anaheim Convention Center Yvonne Armstrong of 1199SEIU said, "We're asking all conference attendees to stop by Rite Aid's booth and tell them to think twice about trusting them with their business until they do the right thing."

http://www.riteaidinsider.com discusses issues of concern to investors,
consumers, and seniors.

http://www.riteaidworkerstogether.org discusses issues of concern to Rite
Aid, Eckerd and Brooks employees


A raft of labor-friendly laws for the U.S. economy

If the Democrats hold both houses of the U.S. Congress and take the White House in the 2008 elections, America's struggling unions plan to trade their political support for a raft of labor-friendly bills.

"It's early to say but if the Democrats were to take the presidency," as well as Congress, said Bill Samuel, legislation director of the AFL-CIO labor federation, "this could be an opportunity for historic change."

Analysts say Big Labor will push for legislation to make forming unions easier, restrict free-trade pacts, raise corporate taxes and reform the creaking health-care system.

"There is a real threat the Democrats may take the White House and extend their majorities in the House and Senate with the support of the unions," said Brian Darling, a congressional analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. "In return, the Democrats would push measures like another minimum wage hike or no new free trade agreements that would be bad for the U.S. economy," Darling said.

"We are at a pivotal moment where the American people want to provide security and jobs for the next generation," said Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union.

Like the 10-million-member AFL-CIO, the 1.9-million-member SEIU says it is planning the "biggest mobilization" in the U.S. labor movement's history ahead of the 2008 elections.


Falling membership is one of Big Labor's biggest worries. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that union membership - public and private unions - fell to 12.5 percent of the U.S. work force in 2005 from 20.1 percent in 1983.

Ken Goldstein, labor economist at The Conference Board, a corporate network, calls that downward trend irreversible.

"The days when the unions represented one in four or five American workers are gone for good," he said. "Legislation won't help. What the unions need is to overcome office workers' hostility to joining a union."

But unions cite evidence such as a December 2006 national survey by Peter Hart Research indicating that 53 percent of U.S. workers - 60 million - would join a union if they could.

Unions claim a big reason is a broken system for forming unions, which they say intimidates and discourages organizing.

The remedy, they say, has already been introduced - and is stuck - in Congress: the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

This bill would make it easier for workers to unionize using the "card check" system: they could form a union by signing a card rather than, as now, holding a vote.

Unions see EFCA as a difference-making tool to organize at high-profile companies like package delivery company FedEx Corp. FedEx competes with UPS, whose labor deal with more than 230,000 workers represented by the Teamsters union is the single largest U.S. private sector contract.

EFCA was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives with 241 votes in March and, on a procedural motion, garnered 51 votes in the Senate in June. But the White House has made it clear President George W. Bush will veto the legislation.


The 2006 elections swept Democrats into power in the 110th Congress. But on many issues, from Iraq to children's health care to the environment, simple Democratic majorities have been stymied by the congressional rules on vetoes and filibusters.

Two-thirds majorities are needed to overcome presidential vetoes - 290 votes in the House and 67 in the Senate. The Democrats control 233 votes in the House and 51 in Senate.

But analysts say even with a Democrat in the White House after 2008 and extended congressional majorities, the key roadblock for labor-friendly laws will remain the Senate.

Rules there allow only 41 members to prevent filibusters from ending, a keystone of minority power that, ironically, Republicans tried to cancel in 2005 amid Democratic opposition to Bush judicial nominations. Now the tables are turned.

"The Republicans have shown they can use the filibuster very effectively," said Jacob Hacker, a political science professor at Yale University. "The party will continue to do so when it comes to labor-friendly bills."

Economist Jared Bernstein at Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, said 2008 may help Democrats woo GOP lawmakers away from stances held by Bush ahead of elections.

"If they show a willingness to compromise on this and other bills they may be able to avoid a filibuster," he said.

But Hacker was not that optimistic.

"The Senate vastly over-represents union-unfriendly, rural states," he said. "Unions would be better off channeling energy into boosting membership on a local level than trying to surmount the legislative hurdle of the filibuster."


Union nod to Mrs. Clinton comes with mob link

Amid controversies of indicted fugitive donors, a Palestinian money trail and a corrupt presidential campaign co chair impeached as a federal judge, Hillary Clinton has proudly accepted the endorsement of a powerful union boss with documented mob ties and an upcoming bribery trial.

The corrupt union head, Michael Forde, supported Clinton during her 2000 Senate run and this week he announced the coveted backing of his 25,000-member New York District Council of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.

Forde faces a bribery trial next month in a corruption scandal with deep mob links. The union boss has been charged with taking bribes from contractors to allow nonunion, off-the-books labor on job sites. His ties to organized crime have been well-documented for almost a decade.

A few years ago Forde was actually convicted in a huge probe of mob influence in the construction industry. A jury found Forde guilty of taking bribes from a mob-run contractor to keep union workers off its projects, but a judge ruled that jurors improperly discussed the case before deliberating and tossed out the verdict.

The mob-linked endorsement is just the latest on Clinton’s lengthy presidential campaign list of shady supporters. She recently returned nearly $1 million in tainted campaign money from fugitive Chinese fundraiser Norman Hsu, has taken hefty contributions from a New York law firm indicted for fraud and bribery, a Texas oilman charged with bribing Iraqi officials as part of the corrupt United Nations’ oil-for-food program and a Pakistani businessman on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.

Clinton has also put aside her avid pro Israel stance to accept hefty donations from an influential Palestinian businessman (Hani Marsi) with close ties to a renowned Arab terrorist leader. Marsi is considered the most influential supporter of the Palestinian cause in Washington and he was very close to the late Yasser Arafat, an Arab terrorist icon who founded the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Fatah movement.

Additionally, Clinton has padded her 2008 presidential campaign with co chairs who are renowned leaders in the radical Mexican La Raza movement as well as a corrupt Florida congressman (Alcee Hastings) impeached as a federal judge for perjury and bribery.


Gov't workers thrive without collective bargaining

Colorado state workers last year made about 5.6 percent more on average than state workers nationwide, even without a collective-bargaining agreement.

That bucks the national trend, in which skilled state workers without collective-bargaining agreements make about 14.2 percent less per year on average than their counterparts in states with such agreements, according to a salary survey from the American Federation of Teachers.

Gov. Bill Ritter signed an executive order Friday allowing "employee partnerships," which lack binding arbitration clauses and the right to strike found in typical collective-bargaining agreements.

But the order still upset business leaders who fear stronger union influence in state
government. "Colorado's state employees are compensated on a par with other well-paying states, and for 131 years of our state's existence, public-employee compensation was never a real issue," said Tony Gagliardi, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Dan Murphy, spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in Douglas County, said that bargaining agreements, offered in 27 states, aren't about getting more pay and benefits.

"The primary benefit of collective bargaining is that it allows the employees and the state to have a structured conversation about everything," Murphy said. "That often leads to better delivery of public services," he said, reiterating a point Ritter made in announcing the change.

Colorado is among 23 states that didn't offer collective bargaining to their workers, but average wages don't appear to have suffered because of that.

A Denver Post review of wage data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that as a group, state workers in Colorado averaged annual salaries of $46,341 in 2006, compared with $43,875 for state workers across the U.S.

The AFT, a union within the AFL-CIO with a small Colorado presence, surveyed average salaries for 45 mostly professional positions in state government throughout the country.

State workers under collective-bargaining agreements on average earned $5,883 more in yearly salary than their counterparts in states without such agreements, according to the AFT survey.

Despite that, many of those positions still paid more in Colorado than elsewhere.

State transportation engineers, for example, averaged annual salaries close to $80,000 in Colorado, compared with the mid-$50,000 range found in other states.

One area where Colorado lagged other states in recent years is in pay increases for its workers.

State workers in Colorado saw their salaries increase on average 3 percent last year, less than the 3.8 percent increase recorded nationally for state employees and the 5 percent gain for private-sector workers in the state, according to the Quarterly Census on Employment and Wages.

The average annual salaries of state workers in Wyoming and Arizona jumped more than 7 percent last year, while workers in Nevada and New Mexico enjoyed 6 percent-plus gains.

Colorado state workers received gains in average annual salary of 1.2 percent in 2003, 2 percent in 2004 and 2.4 percent in 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In New Mexico, which offers collective bargaining, annual pay increases averaged 1.3 percent in 2003, 4.7 percent in 2004, 3.1 percent in 2005 and 6.8 percent in 2006.


Union delays, waits for politics to improve deal

It’s been more than two months since the city and its largest union announced they had reached a tentative deal on a contract. Now that deal may be at risk.

Duluth City Administrator John Hall said Friday hedidn’t know whether a deal was still in place and accused the union of dragging its feet by not putting the contact up for a vote by its members. He said he believes the union is waiting to see the results of the election. If enough American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers-supported City Council candidates win their races, Hall believes a new council will vote the contract down.

That will pave the way, Hall said, for the union to negotiate for a better contract that includes a bigger salary increase. “There is no other reason I can think of to continue or delay like this,” he said. “We still haven’t gotten an answer if they will take the contract to a vote or not.”

AFSCME spokeswoman Jennifer Munt said those charges are false and that a tentative deal was still in place. She said the delay was due to both the city and the union agreeing to change the language. Munt told the News Tribune last week that it was the city that had sought to “tweak” the language of the contract. “These aren’t showstoppers,” she said last week. “We need to agree with the tweaks.”

But Hall called that a lie. “We have avoided trying to change the language,” he said. “It is the union that has asked to have language added.”

Hall said that shortly after the tentative deal was reached on Sept. 18, the union wanted to add language that would have “negotiated away management’s right to organize and staff a workplace.”

He declined to elaborate on what that meant, saying he did not want to be accused of negotiating a deal through the press. He said the city initially didn’t want to agree to the language, but a mediator was able to come up with a compromise that the city agreed to.

Two weeks ago, Hall said the mediator called and told him that AFSCME agreed to the contract. However, two hours later, Hall said AFSCME representative Ken Loeffler Kemp called him and said he wanted to change the language again. Hall said he refused.

Hall then said he asked the mediator to force AFSCME to decide whether it will take the contract to a vote. Loeffler Kemp told the mediator that his schedule was too full until next Wednesday, the day after the election.

“I can’t take that as coincidence,” Hall said.

Munt said that AFSCME is working with the mediator and city toward reaching a deal. However, she said she didn’t know when the contract would be put to a vote, saying the city has not yet agreed on language.

“This is a customary procedure what’s happening right now,” she said.


Voters question high-cost public safety unions

As the city of Vallejo, CA awaits the outcome of protracted labor disputes - and long-stalled urban renewal projects aimed at pulling the city out of a decade-long slump - few would disagree that Tuesday's mayoral and City Council elections are the most critical in recent years.

Voters will elect a new mayor and three council members who could determine the city's direction in the coming decade. The election likely will decide whether the seven-member panel has a majority sympathetic or hostile to the unions - and from that vantage point, could determine how tax dollars are spent on public safety versus transportation, economic development and other services.

Four current or former office holders, including three with Vallejo council experience, are vying to succeed Mayor Tony Intintoli Jr., who is being termed out of office. Seven other candidates, including one incumbent, seek to win three of the remaining six council seats.

The three council members not up for re-election include two union supporters and one union critic. A win by two union candidates could reverse or relax the current 4-3 majority's firm hand against labor leaders whose critics say are defending contracts that are too costly.

The police and fire contracts, and the sway union leaders have over more than 70 percent of the $85 million budget, is not the only thing voters will have on their minds Tuesday. Questions about business growth, education, crime and services for seniors have also defined campaign forums. But the debate over whether to cut police and fire services in order to show that Vallejo can ill-afford its public safety contracts is the ultimate issue dominating this election.

Union critics hope to capitalize on what they see as a growing momentum for a tough stand against the union leaders. Those critics have cast the unions as bullies well-skilled at using the guise of heroism to extract contract extensions in exchange for salary concessions.

Union members and their supporters, however, hope voters see those critics as incapable of proposing new fiscal initiatives that might grow Vallejo's treasury so cutting vital services isn't necessary. Fueled partly by overtime pay, 70 police and firefighters earned more than $150,000 last year, according to city records. Critics point out that's nearly three times Vallejo's median annual income.

But union leaders say public safety employees are forced to work overtime because the city refuses to hire more police and firefighters to cover increasingly busy streets. Firefighters are routinely forced to be on duty for more than 90 hours at a time, they say, because Vallejo has cut the department's ranks to what firefighters say is an unsafe level.

Nearly a year ago, with a budget deficit looming, labor talks produced an agreement with the fire union that was unpalatable to three union critics on the council. Two other council members who helped craft the deal ended up joining them in voting for cuts last year instead of a contract extension in exchange for compensation concessions.

Then, in spring, when the new city manager announced Vallejo was facing a projected $9 million budget deficit, the five council members voted for even deeper cuts - this time in police ranks, too. The nearly $7 million in combined slashing has set off two arbitration battles that are not yet resolved.

To further complicate matters, City Manager Joe Tanner recently pressured Fire Chief Don Parker - seen by critics as the biggest fire union appeaser - to resign amid an investigation into the use of city payroll by fire union leaders. The union has already rejected what they suspect will be the investigation findings that several members inappropriately used union leave pay. (See related story)

Where they stand

Two mayoral contenders are polar opposites on the labor dispute, while the other two have been more temperate.

Three of the seven council candidates have been very vocal about the issue, while others, including those endorsed by the unions, have favored less strident remarks.

Vying to replace Intintoli are Councilman Gary Cloutier, former Solano County Supervisor Osby Davis, and former Councilmembers Pamela Pitts and Cris P. Villanueva.

Villanueva has raised the most cash, with about $58,000 in monetary contributions since January, according to the latest campaign reports. He and family members have loaned the campaign an added $51,000.

Cloutier has raised the second most, with nearly $55,000. Davis and Pitts reported raising about $51,000 and $49,000, respectively. None has outstanding campaign loans.

Cloutier, a lawyer once endorsed by the unions, is part of what the union perceives an enemy triangle that includes Councilmembers Tony Pearsall, who seeks re-election, and Stephanie Gomes.

Pitts, a businesswoman repeatedly endorsed by the police and fire unions, opposes the city's deep cuts and growing legal bills to enforce them. The three-time mayoral candidate has said Vallejo needs to focus on making money through attracting new business rather than reducing public service costs.

Davis and Villanueva are much less personally and politically involved in the dispute than Cloutier and Pitts. Though Davis, an attorney, has been more critical than Villanueva, an accountant, about the cost of public safety, both have talked about being a uniting force for changing the polarized political atmosphere.

Whoever takes the top council seat will mark a first for a Vallejo mayor, Cloutier its first openly gay, Davis or Pitts its first African-American, or Villanueva its first Filipino.

As for council candidates, Pearsall was joined by former Councilwoman Joanne Schivley and political freshman Lou Bordisso in dishing out tough talk about the unions.

During several public forums, the three have identified the safety service costs as why Vallejo can't pour more money into transportation, infrastructure and economic development.

Pearsall is a retired police captain seeking a second term, while Schivley, a one-time mayoral candidate and retired bank executive, is seeking a third term after being termed off the council for two years. Bordisso is a priest with the American Catholic Church.

The two union-endorsed candidates - insurance executive Erin Hannigan and downtown business leader Michael Wilson - have shied away from remarks critical of labor leaders, opting instead to stay positive about fulfilling Vallejo's potential as a leading Bay Area city that families should be proud to call home.

Still, both have acknowledged the city must strike a reasonable deal with the unions. The two say bringing new business to Vallejo is the key to rescuing its checkbook.

Hannigan, the daughter of former California lawmaker Tom Hannigan, and Wilson, an architectural firm's chief financial officer, have raised the most cash among competitors despite being first-time candidates. Wilson reported raising nearly $57,000, barely besting Hannigan's nearly $54,000, according to the most recent campaign figures.

The two more than doubled the cash taken in by their nearest competitors, the more experienced Schivley and Pearsall, who raised nearly $20,000 and $16,000 in cash, respectively. Bordisso came in last with less than $2,000 cash.

The final two council candidates - seniors advocate Darrell Edwards and Navy veteran Oscar Estioko - have been less forceful about the union issue, instead choosing to market themselves as unifiers focused on bringing business and development to Vallejo.

While Edwards, who has raised nearly $13,000 in campaign cash, has criticized the contracts as a drain on city finances, he and Estioko, who has raised nearly $6,400, have tried to stay above the fray.


Firefighters: The City is screwing with us

An investigator hired by the city of Vallejo, CA has found that union leaders took advantage of ousted Fire Chief Don Parker's "hands-off approach" to OK'ing business leave to go abalone diving as well as attend charitable and political events, and not return to work because they had traveled or drank alcohol.

City Manager Joe Tanner hired attorney Douglas N. Freifeld of Oakland several months ago to investigate whether members of the International Association of Firefighters 1186 had abused union business leave (UBL).

Tanner estimated the UBL investigation could cost the city $25,000. The city has already spent nearly $400,000 battling the union over $4 million in staffing cuts, which an arbitrator ruled the city can't make - a decision Vallejo plans to challenge in coming weeks.

Freifeld's Nov. 1 confidential report was circulated to the City Council and several city staff Friday afternoon. Tanner declined to release the report under advice from Vallejo's labor lawyers, but it was leaked to the Times-Herald and a Web site critical of the union just three days before Tuesday's mayoral and council election. The public safety unions and their tense relationship with the city council has been the hottest campaign issue.

IAFF leaders told Freifeld they properly used the leave, although the investigator found their reported union activities exceeded contract guidelines and included increased usage of 24-hour paid leaves. Backed by Parker, IAFF president Kurt Henke told Freifeld the city was "screwing with us."

Union attorney Alan C. Davis denounced the confidential report and its election-eve release. "This 11th hour report is simply dirty politics at its worst," Davis said. This report was not written by an impartial investigator, but instead by an attorney representing the City in an arbitration case against the fire fighters.

"This document is false in nearly every respect and was clearly leaked just three days before the election to distract Vallejoans from the real issue, which is the City's plan to lay off firefighters, close police substations and shut down drug busting teams.

"Our firefighters and police refused to engage in dirty politics this election season, and we wish the city had the same high standard. Apparently, they don't, and we hope voters remember that on Tuesday," Davis said.

Several weeks ago, Tanner pressured Parker to retire. Tanner has since acknowledged that the UBL controversy led to Parker's ouster, noting that Parker had failed to follow previous orders to rein in UBL spending.

"The fire chief's hands-off approach to UBL was taken advantage of by the union leadership to greatly, albeit not openly, expand the utilization of UBL," Freifeld wrote in his 25-page report to Tanner, that was marked "Confidential."

Freifeld said fire department records indicate UBL cost the city $200,000 during the past fiscal year, including $160,000 in overtime costs.

The total UBL hours used by Henke and union vice president Jon Riley has risen significantly in recent years, and in Henke's case was 70 hours over the 600 annual limit, the report says. Freifeld also said "the vast majority of UBL applications show vague or unspecified reasons for the leave."

Reached by phone Saturday, Tanner said the findings showed "abuse." He said it proved union leaders went fishing, sat in dunk tanks for community functions and took 24 hours of pay when they should have returned to work.

"Those days are gone," Tanner said. "That abuse is over."

Tanner said it was "not appropriate for me to comment on" whether anyone else will lose their jobs.

Tanner said he has ordered Interim Fire Chief Russ Sherman, seen as a political enemy of union leaders, to tightly regulate how UBL is used. The UBL policy can't be rewritten because it is part of the union's contract, which expires in 2010.

Sherman had told Freifeld that as IAFF president 15 years ago he had controlled UBL under other fire chiefs. However, he said, it increased under Parker because Henke and Riley "may have realized that Chief Parker would not ask any questions," according to the report.

Indeed, Freifeld said that Parker told him he believed the contract, as well as longtime UBL practice, dictated that "it is up to the union president" to determine who would use UBL and why. Parker said Oakland, where he worked for 33 years before taking Vallejo's top fire job eight years ago had a similar UBL policy.

Freifeld said Parker told him he believed his only obligation regarding UBL was to ensure that union members had enough UBL available and that firefighter coverage was adequate.

After the 2006 grand jury criticized the policy, then Interim City Manager John Thompson told Freifeld he asked Parker to regulate it more closely. Tanner says former City Manager Roger Kemp had also asked Parker to watch UBL use more closely.

Deputy Chief Michael Kirchner eventually created a new form "designed to solicit more specific information about the purpose of the leave, and also was intended better to ensure that the chief received the UBL application sufficiently in advance of the date of the leave to allow him to approve or deny," according to the report.

Still, the investigator found, UBL use actually "increased dramatically, far exceeding the average usage over the previous ten years."

Parker said the only time he questioned the use of UBL was when labor leaders went abalone diving, but "intimated" to the investigator that "he believes that the use of UBL for a charity event co-sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce is an appropriate use of UBL." Union leaders say the abalone was used as the union's contribution to the annual Seafood Extravaganza charity function.

The report said Thompson believes "that UBL was being pushed to greater usage by the union toward the end of his tenure" but also said, "he does not believe the union was increasing UBL to drive up overtime costs."

Freifeld said that Henke told him the only control the fire chief has over UBL is to control advance notice and decide whether to waive restrictions the number of IAFF members that can be off on UBL at a given time. The investigator, however, said Riley and several others interviewed believed the fire chief also had to OK the leave requests.

Henke said he believed he was within his rights to attend functions in American Canyon, Benicia and other cities where his union represents firefighters. Henke defended the use of 24-hour leave, saying union members would need to sleep after retreats, conferences or at events where they had consumed alcohol.

Henke said former City Manager Kemp gave him two memoranda from City Attorney Fred Soley that said Soley believed the union was not misusing UBL. The investigator notes that the city manager said that Soley "has no recollection or record of such memoranda."


Michigan looks to Right To Work for jobs

There was a time when folks in Northern states like Michigan thought of Alabama as impoverished and backward: "I heard Mr. Young sing about her, I heard ol' Neil put her down," as Lynyrd Skynyrd sang.

Neil Young had excellent reasons to be critical of Alabama back in the early 1970s, about the time that civil rights laws were starting to have an effect in the South. But if experts and political leaders in Michigan take pot shots at Alabama today, the words are bound to ring hollow, because Alabama's economy is poised to overtake Michigan's in the important task of providing opportunities for workers to find good jobs.

Those of us who live and work in Michigan might want to set aside our Northern pride and learn from Alabama's example.

In the Mackinac Center's recent report, "The Economic Effect of Right-to-Work Laws: 2007," we described the numerous advantages that right-to-work states like Alabama have over non-right-to-work states, Michigan in particular.

A state right-to-work law prevents workers from being forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment, while leaving the rest of the labor law -- including collective bargaining -- intact. Our research showed that the economies of right-to-work states grew faster and created jobs at more than twice the rate of states that allowed forced unionism.

Naturally, with so many jobs being created, right-to-work states had lower unemployment.

The one advantage that non-right-to-work states have held is in incomes.

The average per-capita personal income for right-to-work states is $2,400 lower than for states that allow forced dues. That has led union officials and other forced-union-dues advocates to deride right-to-work as "right-to-work-for-less."

But they neglect to mention that right-to-work states have been gaining over the last five years, especially when compared to Michigan. The right-to-work states of Florida, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming have higher disposable incomes than Michigan today.

If the trend of the last five years holds, a majority of right-to-work states will have higher per-capita personal incomes than Michigan by 2010, at which point Michigan will be the real right-to-work-for-less state.

Alabama could overtake Michigan in 2011.

Michigan no longer compares well with Alabama, "where the skies are so blue," according to Lynyrd Skynyrd -- and where the auto industry is flourishing. While General Motors and Ford slashed their payrolls, automakers in Alabama were building new plants and creating jobs.

According to the U.S. Census, between 2001 and 2006 employment in auto manufacturing in Alabama more than tripled and employment in parts manufacturing increased by more than a third.

But it isn't just cars. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2001 and 2006 Alabama added 73,000 jobs, increasing payrolls by 3.9 percent, while Michigan lost 220,000 jobs -- a loss of 4.8 percent.

Alabama's unemployment rate averaged 4.7 percent during that period, compared to 6.5 percent in Michigan.

In 2001, per-capita disposable income was $4,000 higher in Michigan than in Alabama, but by 2006 that advantage had shrunk to less than $2,000.

We should be prepared to learn from and even emulate Alabama. That means freeing up our workforce with reforms like a right-to-work law.

Repeal or reform of Michigan's strict prevailing-wage law, which requires the payment of union wages on state-financed construction, would also be helpful.

The prevailing wage adds 10 percent to the cost of construction, adding roughly $250 million to the cost of government. Prevailing wage also costs jobs.

Alabama, which does not have a restrictive prevailing-wage law, added 5,000 construction jobs between 2001 and 2006, while Michigan lost 26,000.

Finally, we should look at our tax burden. According to the Tax Foundation, state and local governments in Michigan take 11.2 percent of personal income.

Reducing the tax burden to Alabama's 8.8 percent could spur the creation of new businesses that create new jobs.

Above all else, if we are going to restore Michigan's economy, we will need to quit repeating our failures and start emulating successes. Michiganians might have been justified in looking down on Southern states once, but those days are over.

When it comes to solving Michigan's current economic crisis, "Sweet Home Alabama" is a good place to look for answers.


SEIU wants veto over Seattle mental heath providers

The King County (WA) Council is considering an ordinance to add yet another $0.01 per $10 to the sales tax "for the delivery of mental health and chemical dependency services, and therapeutic courts".

Councilmembers (including some fiscally conservative Republicans) argue that this program will be more cost-effective than keeping drug users and mentally ill people in the county jail [But if it saves money, why raise the sales tax?]

The scandal here is that under the ordinance the mental health services could only be provided through private employers that are pre-approved by a labor union. Thus granting to the SEIU a veto over the provision of pubic services and enormous license to extort concessions from service providers. This is unprecedented and astonishingly corrupt. But Ron Sims and the Council Democrats all approve.

Republicans who otherwise support the ordinance are disgusted by the proposed union veto, as is even the P-I.


Another East Bay garbage strike looms

Another East Bay garbage strike could be on the horizon. Representatives from Waste Management and the machinists union will meet again, today, in Oakland, CA to try to work it out.

Back in July, drivers for Waste Management found themselves locked out in a contract dispute. Trash piled up for four smelly weeks.

And now the machinists - who maintain the trucks - say they're close to striking, too. The truck drivers say they'll honor the picket line, because the machinists stood by them back in July.

If today's talks fail trash could start piling up as early as tomorrow morning. Pay and health insurance premiums are the main issues.


Socialists call for rejection of UAW-Ford deal

Auto workers should emphatically reject the surrender by the United Auto Workers union to Ford Motor Co. and mobilize their full strength to defend their jobs and living standards.

Like the contracts at GM and Chrysler, the UAW-Ford agreement gives the automaker a green light for more plant closings and mass layoffs. Ratification of the contracts at General Motors and Chrysler was followed within days by mass layoff announcements from both companies. The same will happen at Ford if this contract is passed.

The agreement cuts the wages of newly hired workers in half and sanctions the destruction of virtually all of the gains won by generations of auto workers. UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and Vice President Bob King have traded the jobs, wages, pensions and health benefits of UAW members for the right to control a multibillion-dollar health trust fund. The UAW will become a profit-making business and its top officials wealthy executives.

If accepted, the conditions of Ford workers will be rolled back to the days before the union was built in the mass struggles of the 1930s and 1940s. Such a defeat, however, will not be the product of an open battle, in which strikebreakers and thugs are used to smash the union. Ford no longer has to rely on gangsters like Harry Bennett and his Service men to beat up and terrorize workers. In the UAW, Ford has a ready-made structure to suppress the rank and file and impose the company’s dictates.

From the standpoint of the workers’ interests, the UAW is dead and cannot be revived. Auto workers should organize rank-and-file committees, independently of the UAW, to campaign for a rejection of the contract and monitor the ratification vote to prevent the union bureaucracy from intimidating opponents and manipulating the vote tally.

The contract fight must be taken out of the hands of the UAW and a campaign begun to unite all auto workers in an industrial and political struggle to defend jobs and living standards. Ford workers should organize an indefinite strike and fight to mobilize GM and Chrysler behind them. But this can be carried out only through a rebellion against the UAW and its army of bureaucrats.

The flag-waving nationalism of the UAW must be rejected and an appeal made to auto workers in Canada, Latin America, Asia and Europe to wage a common struggle against the global auto giants.

A new strategy is needed, above all, the building of a political movement of the working class, independent of the two parties of big business, to fight for a program that starts from the needs of working people, not the profits and stock portfolios of CEOs and Wall Street speculators.

Workers need their own party fighting for a socialist program, based on the principles of social equality and the defense and extension of democratic rights—including the democratic control of the workplace by the workers who produce the wealth.

Nothing the UAW or the news media says about the tentative agreement should be accepted at face value. The UAW is lying without shame, just as it did at GM and Chrysler, where it claimed workers had won “unprecedented job guarantees.”

Ford intends to eliminate thousands more jobs, in addition to the 33,000 it wiped out over the last two years. The union and the company are currently working out the terms of a new round of early retirements and buy-outs. By agreeing to gut the Jobs Bank and accept a two-tier wage system, the UAW is helping Ford purge the factories of higher-paid veteran workers and replace them with young workers making $14 an hour.

* Jobs

The UAW claims that up to six of 16 factories previously targeted for closure have been saved, including factories in suburban Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland. Even if this were true, it would mean the union had agreed to the closure of at least 10 factories, condemning working class communities in Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, Missouri, and Ontario, Canada to economic catastrophe, and ever greater numbers of home foreclosures, broken families and decaying public schools.

Under the terms of the new contract, negotiators told the Detroit Free Press, Ford will continue to “have the flexibility to idle plants later if business conditions necessitate their closure.” Another negotiator told the Wall Street Journal that Ford will be able to “make changes to staffing and shifts” at its factories.

Future product investment will be contingent on local agreements to impose speedup, “flexible” work rules and other cost-saving measures. The UAW has already pushed through “competitive operating agreements” at 31 of Ford’s 33 factories, saving the company $800 million a year.

* Two-tier wage system

The agreement stipulates wage cuts based on the Delphi model, with the pay of newly hired so-called “non-core” workers cut in half. The UAW says this is necessary to “save union jobs” by preventing the outsourcing of work to non-union factories. What this shows is that the UAW is concerned only with collecting dues from workers, not their wages and conditions, which will actually be below those of the average non-union manufacturing worker.

Several skilled trades positions, in addition to jobs that older workers seek off the assembly line, such as maintenance and material handling, will be redefined as non-core, increasing the pressure for higher-paid workers to leave and make room for a new cheap-labor force.

* Health benefits

By relieving Ford of $22 billion in long-term health care liabilities for retirees, the contract puts an end to the principle of company-paid benefits for retirees and their spouses—something that was won in the 1950s and 1960s.

Ford will contribute even a smaller proportion of cash than GM and Chrysler to the so-called “voluntary employees’ beneficiary association,” or VEBA trust—about 45 percent of the overall contribution as opposed to about 55 percent at GM and 50 percent at Chrysler—meaning the VEBA will be severely under-funded from the beginning. The UAW, in its corporate capacity as health insurance provider, will be responsible to cover any shortfalls by cutting benefits.

The VEBA will cover only currently employed workers. It will not cover anyone who is hired after the starting date of the contract. Within a few years, workers at Ford will have no medical coverage once they retire. They will have to rely on a meager 401(k) plan, subject to the ups and downs of the stock market, for their health benefits. These retirees will be stripped of any form of economic security.

The union also agreed to higher co-pays and other takeaways for current workers and retired workers, as well as greatly reduced health benefits for new-hires.

* Wage freeze

Base pay for current workers will be frozen. As a result, take-home pay will be ravaged by inflation. The Cost of Living Adjustment, won by UAW workers in the bitter 67-day GM strike in 1970, is being abandoned. A large portion of COLA increases will be diverted to bolster the VEBA and defray company health costs for current workers.

* Pensions

The pensions of current workers and retirees will also be undermined by the diversion of pension funds into the VEBA. New-hires will receive no employer-paid pension. Instead, they will be saddled with a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k). This is the first step in the elimination of pensions for all auto workers.

This betrayal must be rejected. Above all, the political lessons must be drawn. The transformation of the UAW into a profit-making business is the culmination of a long process in which the union has become increasingly antagonistic to the interests of the rank-and-file and ever more the instrument of a privileged bureaucracy that is unaccountable to the members.

This betrayal is rooted in the failure of the entire outlook and policy not only of the UAW, but of the official labor movement as a whole.

The leaders of the unions that emerged from the class battles of the 1930s rejected the building of a labor party and instead aligned the unions with the Democratic Party. This signified the subordination of workers’ interests to the profit system and the abandonment of any struggle for universal, government-run social programs, such as health care.

The UAW purged the union of the socialist and left-wing elements who had led the sit-down strikes of the 1930s and accepted the economic dictatorship exercised by American capital over the working class.

The union responded to the crisis of the US auto industry in the 1970s and 1980s by renouncing any form of class struggle and embracing national chauvinism and the corporatist policy of labor-management partnership. On this basis, it has collaborated in the destruction of 600,000 Big Three UAW jobs since 1978.

In an effort to provide a cover for its sellout of health benefits, the UAW appeals to the Democratic Party to institute national health care. This is a farce. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are funded by big business, including the health-care monopolies.

The Democratic Congress gives Bush hundreds of billions for the war in Iraq, which will soon consume $1 trillion in addition to the lives of thousands of American troops and over one million Iraqis. The full brunt of this tragic waste of blood and treasure is borne by the working class.

A political movement, independent of both corporate-controlled parties, must be built by the working class based on a fundamentally different social principle: Economic life must be organized not to serve corporate profit and private wealth, but rather the needs of working people and society as a whole.

The vast industries upon which modern society depends can no longer be the private domain of corporate executives and Wall Street speculators. The auto industry must be transformed into a public enterprise, democratically controlled by working people.

This is the policy advanced by the Socialist Equality Party and the World Socialist Web Site. We urge auto workers and other workers to contact the WSWS to discuss this program and the building of a new leadership of the working class.


Writers ignore time zones, fall back into strike

A last-gasp attempt to stave off a strike by the WGA failed Sunday, and Hollywood writers launched plans to mount picket lines at studios and networks on both coasts.

A federal mediator who recently joined talks between the guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers convened a hasty last bargaining session Sunday amid speculation the AMPTP would deliver a new proposal to the guild. But despite that marathon session lasting well into Sunday night, when the parties emerged from the Sofitel hotel in West Hollywood it was clear the talks had broken down again.

One flashpoint involved the WGA East's refusal to halt the start of its strike after East Coast clocks struck midnight. Negotiations were still in session at the time, and the WGA West wasn't scheduled to strike for another three hours.

"Notwithstanding the fact that negotiations were ongoing, the WGA decided to start their strike in New York," AMPTP president Nick Counter said. "When we asked if they would 'stop the clock' for the purpose of delaying the strike to allow negotiations to continue, they refused.

"We made an attempt at meeting them in a number of their key areas including Internet streaming and jurisdiction in new media," Counter said. "Ultimately, the guild was unwilling to compromise on most of their major demands. It is unfortunate that they choose to take this irresponsible action."

The WGA also issued a statement after the meeting broke up.

"Early today, the WGA completely withdrew its DVD proposal, which the companies said was a stumbling block," the guild said. "Yet the companies still insisted on ... no jurisdiction for most of new media writing, no economic proposal for the part of new media writing where they do propose to give coverage, Internet downloads at the DVD rate, no residual for streaming video of theatrical product, (and) a "promotional" proposal that allows them to reuse even complete movies or TV shows on any platform with no residual."

The WGA also slammed what it called a management proposal for a distribution window providing "free reuse on the Internet that makes a mockery of any residual."

The WGA and AMPTP have negotiated on and off since July 16, holding just 17 sessions through Sunday as they sought to replace a three-year film and TV contract that expired Wednesday. The most troublesome areas have been DVD and new-media residuals.

"Our position is simple and fair," WGA West president Patric Verrone said Friday after the WGAW board and WGA East Council voted to approve strike recommendations for 12:01 a.m. Monday. "When a writer's work generates revenue for the companies, that writer deserves to be paid."

On Saturday, Juan Carlos Gonzales of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service called the labor and management teams together for the Sunday session in an effort to forestall Monday's walkout.

It was also recently disclosed that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had connected with reps of the guild and the studio companies in an attempt to get talks back on track. The mayor met in person with Verrone and other labor execs Tuesday, and he subsequently discussed the situation with studios reps.

But it remains unclear how much muscle Villaraigosa might be willing to exert to force himself into the situation as an actual deal broker. For the present, any preliminary outreach involving the mayor's office appears to have fallen short.

One or more other interested parties also are serving as back-channel conduits for communications between the labor and management negotiators. It appears those include writer-producer John Wells, a former WGAW president who's well respected on both sides of the labor-management divide.

NBC chief Ben Silverman seemed to hint at just that Saturday when he introduced the "ER" executive producer at a party for the show's 300th episode by suggesting Wells "will save us all from the writers strike."

Asked about the reference later, Wells allowed, "It's not over yet."

He then huddled at length with "Law & Order" showrunner and former "ER" exec producer Neal Baer, who is a member of the WGA negotiating committee.

But for now, the immediate future will focus on the rollout of pickets.

Strike captains were coordinating teams to picket 14 sites throughout Los Angeles in shifts running 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 1 p.m.-5 p.m. PST.

In Manhattan, WGAE leadership was expected to join a picket set for 9 a.m.-5 p.m. EST at NBC's headquarters at Rockefeller Plaza. The WGAE has also set a membership meeting for Wednesday night to update East Coast rank and file on the strike and why it's being mounted.

On Thursday night, WGAW brass told 3,000 writers it was recommending a strike action to the board. The AMPTP responded by suggesting the WGA had distorted the facts about bargaining to date.

"The WGA leadership continues to mischaracterize the current provisions for compensation in new media," Counter said Friday. "When a consumer pays to view a TV program or a feature film for a limited period of time, the writer gets a residual. When the consumer pays for a permanent download of a TV program or feature film, the writer gets a residual."

Writers do not receive extra compensation when ad-supported programming is streamed over the Internet for free.

WGAE president Michael Winship said Friday the decision to strike was not one "we take lightly."

With the membership meeting set for Thursday and the board and council meetings Friday, guild brass decided it would be better to hold off picketing until Monday rather than to mount a strike action over the weekend.

The last major strike by Hollywood writers was in 1988, when a 22-week WGA work stoppage effectively shut down the town. Economic impact on the L.A. economy was estimated to run as high as $500 million.

"Our sense is we can do some economic damage immediately," WGA negotiating committee chair John Bowman said.

The point of the strike is to "inflict as much damage as quickly as possible" in order to bring about a resolution," Bowman added.

Picketing plans were disseminated to strike captains but details of timing and location were closely guarded over the weekend. Studio security was boosted at lots all around town as soon as the strike decision was announced.

Guild rank and file again distributed flyers at studio and networks sites Friday, following similar earlier "informational" efforts.

A WGAE flyer read in part: "The studios and networks make billions from the content we create. All we want is our fair share. They have refused. We don't want to strike, but we must defend the standards of our profession. We ask for your understanding and your support."

Meanwhile, with writers now setting up picket lines, some will start wondering anew what the DGA will do.

The DGA, like SAG, is under contract until June 30. But many expect the directors to start early talks with the AMPTP on its own new film and TV deal.

If successful in such talks, a DGA agreement could set a template that the other guilds are effectively forced to follow--perhaps including terms on DVD and the Internet. A well-placed source confirmed strategy meetings are afoot already at the DGA, which has formed a working negotiations committee.

One thing under discussion: whether to pick up the phone and ring the AMPTP about starting early contract talks. The source suggested that could happen sometime this month.


Colorado Gov. casts lot with gov't unions

Gov. Bill Ritter gave unions a stronger voice in state government Friday, nine months after angering them by vetoing a bill they wanted. He did it quietly, however, issuing an executive order at 3 p.m., hoping that it will preempt a full debate on the topic once the legislature convenes in January.

Republicans and business interests immediately lashed out against the eight-page, single-spaced document, calling it an arrogant payback to big labor for helping Ritter get elected.

But in an interview Friday evening, Ritter said the order, which now will go into effect without approval from the legislature, will empower state employees to improve government without tying his hands. "At the end of the day, this is not about labor," Ritter said. "This is about state employees. It's about the quality of the workplace and what they can expect from the workplace."

By prohibiting employees from striking, entering into binding arbitration or requiring nonunion members to pay fees, he said, the order hits the right balance.

A government first

The order formally recognizes unions in state government for the first time and allows union representatives to negotiate with department heads over "issues of mutual concern."

Ritter surprised many in the legislature's Democratic majority in February when he vetoed a bill that would have given unions easier access to the workplace.

Calling it "overheated politics at its worst," Ritter chastised both sides of the debate for digging in their heels and making the issue more partisan than it should have been.

Ritter has worked with union officials since then to craft what both have called a "partnership for the 21st century." He previously had said he did not know whether an employee partnership could be achieved without collective bargaining.

"This is not collective bargaining," he said Friday. "This is a partnership arrangement."

Joe Blake, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, disagreed.

"I have read this executive order, and I re-read it, and I think this is sort of a New Age version of collective bargaining," he said. "Even if you call it partnerships, I think the consequences are the same."

Blake said the chamber opposes collective bargaining for compensation and benefits because it has not worked in the private sector.

Officials from the two largest unions in state government praised Ritter's executive order as "a breakthrough to make government more accountable and reliable."

"You either treat employees as adversaries and allow them to contribute as little as possible or you treat them as people who make the agency successful," said Miller Hudson, director of the Colorado Association of Public Employees. "We want to ensure they have a voice."

No more 'deaf ears'

Unions maintain that improved morale could cut the cost of hiring and training workers, given the estimated 50 percent of new hires who leave in the first three years of service.

Unionized employees point to some foiled attempts by fellow workers to alert managers to potential problems with new information technology systems in several departments of state government in recent years.

"When employees raised the flag, it fell on deaf ears," said Dave Growley, a member of the Colorado Association of Public Employees who works in the Colorado Department of Public Administration's IT area.

While Growley and his co-workers have been able to join a union to advocate for them on topics such as health care, he said workers lack any formal representation.

"Right now, you can be part of a union, but you really have no partnership or ongoing relationship with the heads of government to make any difference," he said.

Opponents of collective bargaining and employee partnerships point out that Colorado state employees already are well-compensated, with the ninth-highest average salaries in the country.

"I believe the governor's executive order is, at best, counter-productive," said Colorado Attorney John Suthers. "It is a solution looking for a problem."

Suthers said employees may be falsely led into thinking the partnerships can negotiate higher salaries, creating bad feelings between employees and management. He also predicted that the proposed structure would "consume countless hours of employee productivity."

Ritter said that because he has to work within the limits of the budget structure, he won't have the power to give state employees significant raises. And because the partnership agreements are nonbinding, he will not have to fund compensation increases just because a good case has been made.

Ultimately, the legislature will continue to control state employee salaries, Ritter said.

"I can't speak for what legislators may decide to introduce," he said.


SEIU workers' County courthouse strike

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