SEIU's anti-Rite Aid racketeering continues

This week, thousands of Taft-Hartley and union health benefit and pension fund trustees and administrators are in Anaheim, California, for the annual International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans conference. The conference is considered a premier marketing opportunity for health and investment management vendors -- Rite Aid Health Solutions will be there along with Caremark, Medco and other PBMs competing for billions of dollars in union business.

While Rite Aid Health Solutions, the company's pharmacy benefit management unit, is looking to organized labor to expand business and help the company compete in the burgeoning mail order pharmaceutical sector, labor unions have big concerns. They expressed those concerns in the following letter that was sent to industry analysts across the USA and in Canada.

Here is the letter:

November 5, 2007

RE: Rite Aid Update To All Interested Parties:

In recent months, followers of Rite Aid's stock have watched its price reach lows for the year. While many analysts had anticipated the difficulties of the Eckerd/Brooks integration, most did not expect Rite Aid management would choose to exacerbate integration problems by escalating a fight with its unionized workforce.

At present, approximately 25,000 Rite Aid pharmacists, technicians, front- end, and warehouse workers have union representation. These unions - the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the International Brotherhood of Teamsters - collectively represent over 5 million U.S. workers.

Rite Aid Health Solutions, the company's pharmacy benefit management unit, is looking to organized labor to expand business and help the company compete in the burgeoning mail order pharmaceutical sector. This week, thousands of Taft-Hartley and union health and pension fund trustees and administrators are in Anaheim, California, for the annual International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans conference. This conference is considered a premier marketing opportunity for health and investment management vendors, and Rite Aid Health Solutions will be there along with Caremark, Medco and other PBMs competing for billions of dollars in union business.

Among conference participants, Rite Aid is sure to tout itself as a union- friendly company. However, our unions will be there in force to set the record straight on the company's recent assaults on workers' rights. For months, Rite Aid has failed to comply with legally-binding contractual language governing the rights of workers in newly acquired stores and has waged a union-avoidance campaign in California among warehouse workers seeking representation through the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU).

To get the word out about Rite Aid's recent anti-union actions, SEIU, UFCW and ILWU welcomed hundreds of trustees at a reception on the conference's opening night. Throughout the week, we are distributing information and encouraging union trustees and administrators to question Rite Aid's actions and encourage them to not do business with the company until it starts doing right by its workers.

Today, Rite Aid is at a critical juncture. The company's future is riding on the success of the acquisition, the growth of its PBM business, emergence from the scandals that plagued the company in the past, and improving same store sales during the upcoming holiday season. Rite Aid is already on thin ice; it can ill-afford to put it all at risk by antagonizing its workforce.

We are fully committed to upholding the legally-binding contractual rights of Rite Aid and Eckerd Brooks workers and will not stop until we are satisfied that Rite Aid is on the right track for its workers, and in turn, its customers.

Needless to say, if Rite Aid continues on its current course, investors may have legitimate concerns about further underperformance and deterioration of shareholder value.

If you have further questions on this matter or would like additional information, please feel free to contact Yvonne Armstrong, 1199SEIU Executive Vice President, 212-261-2311.

Sincerely, Yvonne Armstrong Executive Vice President 1199SEIU cc: Industry analysts; industry press

The conference will continue from Sunday through November 7 at the Anaheim Convention Center Yvonne Armstrong of 1199SEIU said, "We are 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


Striking writers haul out inflatable rat

As a precursor of what lies ahead for striking writers in New York as winter approaches, Day 2 of the walkout dawned on a cold, damp morning for about 25 picketers in an industrial section of Queens.

Tuesday's gathering at Silvercup Studios, organized by the Writers Guild of America East, was quite a contrast to the inaugural picket line at Rockefeller Plaza that drew hundreds of protesters and tons of attention from local and national media amid hundreds of onlookers.

There wasn't nearly as much activity on 22nd Street in the borough of Queens, where the protest set up with a big inflatable rat a few feet from Silvercup Studios' main entrance. Picketers showed up in the early going, and only a handful of reporters made the trek to Queens. There were few onlookers and only the occasional cab.

Things did get better as the skies cleared. By mid-afternoon, there were 75-80 picketers, joined by a dozen sympathizers from other unions during the day.

Unlike the high-traffic Rockefeller Plaza, which was more of a symbolic site for strikers as it houses only a couple of affected shows -- "Saturday Night Live" and "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" -- Silvercup is where a lot of the New York-based film and TV series production is done. NBC's "30 Rock" and the CW's "Gossip Girl" are filmed here.

"Long Island City has been called Hollywood East," WGA East president Michael Winship said Tuesday.

Despite the low temperatures and drizzle, he was encouraged by the writer turnout so far.

"It's very, very strong," Winship said. "We expect that to continue."

So, are the strikers digging in for a long, cold winter? None would discuss the possibility, saying instead that they were focusing on the day-to-day particulars of the strike and hoping that the stoppage would be settled long before that. But with the warm coffee flowing and a few raindrops falling, it couldn't have been far from their minds.

"Everybody knows, rain or shine, to come out," one official said.

The weather and lack of attention didn't seem to faze the strikers, who said that they were inspired by the solidarity of the union as well as the efforts of the West Coast writers who were picketing every Hollywood studio.

"The writers in L.A. are making some very inspirational stands, and we've got to match their commitment," said Bryan Goluboff, who carried a sign with a big picture of his three daughters, ages 22 months to 8 years old. "This is a truly righteous issue."


With strike failing, nurses look to decertify union

A big development in the nurse’s strike against Appalachian Regional Healthcare as nurses at one ARH hospital are asking to dissolve their local chapter of the Kentucky Nurses Association. The KNA chapter in question is in Hazard. 76 union nurses filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to dissolve the local chapter.

NLRB officials say their goal is to process the petition and hold an election on whether to dissolve the union within 42 days after it's filed but they say it's probably going to take longer than that because right now, officials are investigating allegations against both the union and ARH involving unfair labor practices and refusal to bargain.

"The nurses out here on our line wouldn't do that. Any of the nurses on any of the lines wouldn't do that. It's only the ones on the inside I'm sure and I don't know why," said striking nurse Kim Hurt.

"It's going to take some time so the immediate effect on the strike is probably uncertain at this point," said Rick King, General Counsel for ARH.

Nurses on the Hazard picket line say they don't think their KNA chapter is in jeopardy. Also, the AFL-CIO had added $20,000 to its efforts to aid the nurses on strike at Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) hospitals in Kentucky and West Virginia, Pres. John Sweeney announced at a rally here today, in addition to contributions of cash and food last week. Sweeney pledged that the 10 million members of the AFL-CIO would stand side by side with the nurses as they continue their struggle to provide better patient care.

"ARH forced 700 registered nurses out on strike in retaliation for their demands for safer staffing levels and higher patient care standards," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. "These nurses are our heroes because they've been walking picket lines for their patients, for our communities and all working families."

The fund will provide emergency financial support for the striking nurses, with assistance given to those needing help with basic necessities like heating bills and food. According to Sweeney, the fund will allow the nurses to continue their struggle without fear of losing their homes or declaring bankruptcy.

On Friday, Nov. 2, union members, led by Kentucky AFL-CIO Pres. Bill Londrigan, distributed $10,000 worth of food to the nurses at the Hazard hospital. AFSCME Pres. Gerald McEntee also delivered a $10,000 check to the nurses last week.

The nurses, members of the Kentucky Nurses Association and West Virginia Nurses Association and affiliated with the United American Nurses, have been on strike for five weeks. The nurses are calling on ARH to reduce unsafe staffing ratios to allow the nurses to provide the best possible patient care.


SEIU in long-running, divisive organizing fight

The battle between Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Service Employees International Union is not over. The union has taken the fight to Washington, where Democrats in the House passed a bill that would replace secret-ballot elections. Instead, when a union signs up a majority of eligible workers, the Employees Free Choice Act would require an employer to immediately begin contract negotiations with the union.

Stung by $4.5 million in fines from an independent arbitrator for violating rules regarding an election on unionization, Yale-New Haven and other employers may in the future stick to the more cumbersome process under the National Labor Relations Act.

By now, New Haven should be thoroughly disgusted with the SEIU's destructive tactics of trying to tarnish the hospital's reputation and attempting to pit the community against it. The SEIU is now playing the same game in Bridgeport, trying to kill a land disposition agreement for the $1.5 billion redevelopment of Steel Point because the developer rejected union demands.

In New Haven, the union has spent 10 years and almost $2.3 million trying to organize the Yale-New Haven's nonfood service workers. For all of that, it managed to collect the signatures of only 894 of the hospital's 1,736 nonfood service workers in support of a union. If the election process had proceeded, that thin majority would likely have shriveled under hospital challenges.

Yale-New Haven Hospital is a good place to work already, as attested by the number of workers who have been there 20 years or more. The hospital already has its own employee grievance procedures, educational benefits and training programs. Employees are allowed to complete courses for their high school diploma on hospital time.

Despite this record of good relations, the hospital systematically violated the election agreement it had reached with the SEIU. The arbitrator, accepted by the hospital and union, has held that the hospital must pay the union's organizing costs and compensate its workers. Add on to those costs the $2.22 million the hospital paid its labor consultants, and the union drive has cost it more than $6.7 million, roughly one-third of its operating income in its 2006 fiscal year.

From this costly shambles, there can only be hope that the city will not be plunged back into another divisive union organizing battle that stretches well beyond the hospital's doors.

Although the hospital says it is committed to a fair election on a union, it seems doubtful that the NLRB will grant its request for an election, given the hospital's past conduct. The hospital, however, faces sanctions now it did not before if it violates labor laws. A federal court has the NLRB's findings on the hospital's violations during the SEIU election drive. The court can impose fines if the hospital again violates labor laws.

There is a heavy burden on the hospital to show that its word can be believed.

Further, if the Democrats who are the union's allies - including the mayor and other local and state elected officials - would signal the SEIU that the city's interests, not the union's, come first, the union would be less emboldened to once again launch wholesale assaults on the hospital's reputation that, in turn, reflect poorly on the city.

The hospital is the city's second largest employer and a vital part of the regional economy. New Haven and the hospital should each be supporting the other for their futures to be as bright as possible.

There exists only a thin foundation on which to resolve once and for all the SEIU's desire to organize the hospital's service employees.

But, it is preferable to build on this foundation rather than return to strong-arm tactics from City Hall, broken pledges of the hospital and another union campaign attacking an outstanding health-care institution.


AFSCME embezzlement looks like inside job

Police are investigating a report that $28,000 has disappeared from the bank accounts of the Madison Heights (MI) Lamphere school district custodial workers union, allegedly embezzled over the past three years.

Lt. Corey Haines said the report came Monday from union board members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local No. 1434 that funds have been misappropriated from the union's checking, savings and money market accounts.

"They are missing funds and would like us to get to the bottom of it," said Haynes. "We are still trying to get some union officials to return our calls. We can't name a suspect, although we have been directed toward one individual believed to have handled, possibly embezzled the funds.

Haines said the discrepancy was apparently discovered when members recently determined that dues collected by the local hadn't been sent up the union chain, as they were supposed to be, dating back to October 2006.

Union officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

It may be the second case of embezzlement to surface recently in Madison Heights and the most recent of such crimes across Oakland County suburbs this past year.

Last week in Oakland Circuit Court, a business manager of the Mary Magdalen Catholic Church in Hazel Park was sentenced to three years probation in the theft of $83,000 from the church. Janice Ann Labroski, 52, avoided jail by paying $30,000 and promising to repay the balance.

In September, Dawn Marie Domangue, a former bookkeeper at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Madison Heights, was sentenced to one year probation and ordered to repay $43,616 in missing society funds.

Other embezzlers in recent months have included a PTO treasurer in Bloomfield Township ($36,000) and a treasurer of an Oxford gymnastics club ($109,000).


UAW decertification goes to ballot

While most of Michiana heads to the polls today, a group of workers and union members in Elkhart (IN) is preparing for a big vote tomorrow. Members of United Auto Workers Local 364 and workers inside Conn-Selmer's Vincent Bach musical instrument factory at 500 Industrial Parkway will vote Wednesday on whether to decertify the union.

Local 364 has been on strike at the plant since April 1, 2006. Wednesday's vote could mean an official end to the strike, which has dwindled in numbers and volume over the last several months.

The union has 159 members it says are eligible to vote, but expects that the company will challenge around 125 of those ballots, said Robert Allen, president of Local 364. "Then it will have to go downstate to hack it out," Allen said. Downstate is Indianapolis - where the National Labor Relations Board could hold a hearing to settle any disputed ballots.

The hearing will take place only if the number of challenged ballots exceeds the margin of victory, the company said in a statement.

A simple majority will be required for the union to keep its certification and in the event of a tie, the union loses, the company said.

The statement also said a hearing will likely be required.

"Accordingly, it is unlikely that we will have a definite result after the unchallenged ballots are counted on November 7th," the statement said.


Decertification means that the union no longer represents workers at that plant. If it's approved, the strike is over. If decertification is denied by the vote, the measure's proponents will have to wait another year to try again, and the strike will continue.

Union members had sought to block decertification by filing an unfair labor practices charge against the company. The National Labor Relations Board dismissed the charge, and an appeal upheld that decision.

Union members still sit on the picket line, though a court injunction last year limited their number and behavior.

Where early in the strike union members would hold signs and jeer at replacement workers as they came and went, now the activity is limited to a vigil of sorts -- union members in tents at plant entrances, mostly there quietly to show they're still on strike.

The union had about 230 members when it began the strike. About 120 people still collect weekly UAW strike pay of $200, Allen said. Others have found new work but remain members.

About 59 people have crossed the picket line and gone back to work inside the plant. Allen is confident that some of them will vote in the union's favor, despite having crossed the picket line.

"The majority of them are saying they wished they had a union," he said.

Allen said he believes there will be enough votes to avoid decertification, but that a hearing in Indianapolis is inevitable.


Strikers expect more from Eva Longoria

In a scene straight out of a Hollywood script, former "Seinfeld" star Julia Louis-Dreyfus led striking TV writers Tuesday as they picketed Eva Longoria for filming "Desperate Housewives."

Longoria, the sexy star of the ABC hit, was reduced to tears while the boisterous wordsmiths walked outside the Burbank set chanting, "We write the story-a, Eva Longoria!"

Louis-Dreyfus, whose CBS sitcom "The New Adventures of Old Christine" has been shut down due to the labor stoppage, implored Longoria to join her on the picket line. "I understand she is in a really tricky position, but it would be awfully nice if she'd said she wouldn't work today," Louis-Dreyfus said. "She's certainly in a financial position to be able to say that."

Longoria, the only top name on the star-studded cast filming yesterday, approached the writers just after noon bearing pizzas and a promise to join them today. "I absolutely support the writers," Longoria said. "Without writers, I wouldn't be who I am."

Her doe eyes welled with tears as the strikers grew louder, chanting, "We've got Julia, yes we do! Hey now, Eva, what about you?"

Longoria said she had to "honor my union and show up" to film the scene. "This show is shutting down," she said. "We're going to be on the lines. I care about people losing their homes, you know, my hair and makeup artists who can't make ends meet if they don't have a paycheck."

But Longoria's pizza pitch didn't pan out, as the chants changed to "No justice, no pizza!" and, "This isn't the piece of pie we meant!"

Comedian Wanda Sykes, who co-stars on Louis-Dreyfus' show, said Longoria had a lame excuse for working while other stars are walking. "I'm not working. She's working," Sykes said in defiance.

The standoff highlighted the second day of the strike that has turned late-night TV into reruns and shut down filming of most network shows.

No new talks have been scheduled to settle the walkout.

Writers want a share of what the big studios get from reselling shows on DVDs and on the Internet.

The coast-to-coast strike also brought out pickets at the Silvercup Studios in Queens yesterday. Stars such as Alec Baldwin of NBC's "30 Rock" brought doughnuts for the strikers, who vowed to walk for as long as it takes.

Chris Albers, a writer on NBC's "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," invited the viewing public to join the picket lines.

Tim Carvell, a writer on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," said it's been tough having to set aside his pen.

"It's hard to come home at night and watch the news knowing we can't write about it," said Carvell, who plans to join pickets at studios at Chelsea Piers Wednesday.

Bring soup, he asked supporters.


Celebrities in striker solidarity

No labor strike gets wall-to-wall media coverage like a show-biz strike.

Since the start of the WGA strike on Monday, there's been a smattering of reports on David Young and Mona Mangan, the respective West Coast and East Coast heads of the Writers Guild of America, weighing in on what exactly is at stake here: residuals and whether television episodes aired online are promotional or not.

But we have been up to our ears in news items about celebrities sending food to the picket lines. From Jay Leno and his dollars-to-doughnuts Krispy Kremes to Patricia Arquette and her pastries, plus Eva Longoria with her pizza and Jimmy Kimmel with his burritos on Tuesday.

With support from household names such as Alec Baldwin and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, you could argue that the WGA strike has absolutely nothing in common with other labor union strikes.

And because it's been 20 long years since the WGA last marched outside the studios, we thought it would be interesting to hear from non-Hollywood labor leaders about their recent tours of duty on picket lines.

Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Assn., who has seen her union through several successful strikes in the past few years, detailed the key to winning a strike. First, have the public on your side; second, there must be cohesion among members; third, gain political power; and fourth, have a righteous cause.

DeMoro is convinced that the writers have all these things going for them plus bonuses that other non-entertainment writing unions could only dream about.

"They have the power of the word," she said. "They can write and publish and they have enormous clout. And they have celebrity on their side."

Max Hechter, president of the Los Angeles University Professional and Technical Employees Union, said that the first thing a union needs for an effective picket line is for the entire membership to be on board with the aims and intentions of the strike.

And from where he's sitting, it looks like the WGA has that wrapped up. "They seem pretty unified if they are able to shut down every live show that depends on writers on a daily basis," he said.

Janet Bass, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Teachers, said that like the writers, the teachers only strike as a very last resort.

But if a labor group has explored every possible avenue to finding a solution and is still unable to negotiate an agreement on issues that are absolutely essential, then "you have to stand tough and strong on your issues."

"Nobody wants to go on strike," Bass said. "They know it's an inconvenience to the people they serve, so they will only go on strike when the benefits will outweigh the inconveniences."

As for all the food that the WGA strikers have been receiving, DeMoro said the only thing unusual about that is the big names doing the delivering.

"When we have picket lines, people bring so much food that we end up donating it to a food bank," she said.

But as anyone who has ever worked on a series knows, food is an essential perk for writers crammed in dark rooms for days on end.

At least now the writers can eat outdoors, on camera and with the stars shining.


UAW-Navistar strike enters week 3

As the United Auto Workers union strike against International Truck and Engine Corp. moves into its third week, there is no sign of movement toward renewed negotiations.

Last week, in what company spokesperson Roy Wiley called a "normal administrative process ... when people are on strike," the company recalled all laid-off UAW employees companywide and placed them back on active/strike status.

One major change resulting from the recall is the shift in health care coverage. UAW Local 402 president Charlie Hayden said union members have the option to remain on the company's insurance program, but all premiums must be paid out-of-pocket.

"For most families, that can be around $1,500 a month," he said. Jeff Bowen, International's vice president of human resources, said while the costs might come as a surprise to some employees, it "dramatically illustrates one point we've been discussing in negotiations."

Bowen said those costs are a major portion of the "non-competitive cost structure that exists under the expired contract with the UAW." Price sharing, he said, is essential for union and non-union companies to remain competitive.

To help its members retain health care coverage, the UAW is paying their premiums during the strike. "We've registered over 1,000 members since the company made the announcement," Hayden said.

The union will pay COBRA fees to keep someone on the company's plan or pay for UAW-sponsored health care, depending on individual needs, according to Hayden.

Bowen said the UAW has not contacted the company to restart talks, so International's "focus has shifted to our production continuation plants" in Garland, Tex. and Mexico.

He said there has been no impact on deliveries or quality, and any rumors suggesting such are "simply inaccurate. "


AFSCME's high-leverage mini-strike a success

Martins Ferry, WV employees are back on the job today after a labor dispute was resolved during the first day of a strike. Mayor Les Douglas and union President John Suriano confirmed an agreement was reached that involved a compromise over what had been the main sticking point in negotiations - health care.

Both sides ratified the tentative agreement unanimously.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1260 initiated a work stoppage Monday after weeks of talks had failed to produce a new contract agreement. AFSCME represents 49 city workers, including four police dispatchers; however, the dispatchers did not participate in the strike because they are considered public safety employees.

Pickets began to carry signs outside the street department building, the water department building and the city building at about 6:30 a.m. Monday. By 10 a.m., Suriano and Douglas said, representatives of both sides had started a fresh round of bargaining.

“We picketed in all three spots where we said we would and everything went fine,” Suriano said. “We met around 10 a.m. and were done around 2 p.m. — it was about four hours, and it was the smoothest things ran in any of our meetings.”

Suriano said he believed the participation of Councilman Doug Longenette helped the parties reach an agreement. He said Longenette acted as a sort of mediator and negotiator for the city.

Regarding the issue of health care, Suriano said it was resolved with “a little give and take on both sides.”

Douglas agreed that the matter was resolved to the satisfaction of both council and union members. He added that a committee will be formed to address health care.

Douglas said the committee would include three AFSCME members, two members of the Fraternal Order of Police and one member of a potential union for emergency medical service workers, if that union is formed. The city administration also would be represented.

Douglas said the committee’s purpose will be to examine health care options, seek ways to save money and attempt to improve benefits for city workers.


Teamster member takes union to federal court

A Whitefish man filed a federal lawsuit last week against a union he says is illegally threatening his job. Michael Weller, backed by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, alleges the Teamsters union Local 2 is forcing him to pay union dues without providing a breakdown of where that money is being spent.

And Weller isn't even a union member. In Montana, a state with no right-to-work law, non-union employees of a unionized workplace can be required to pay that portion of monthly union dues that pertains only to the cost of collective bargaining.

However, the union is required to provide the employee with a audited breakdown of how those dues are spent. Weller charges the union failed to provide him with those financial disclosures, and then threatened to terminate his job if he failed to pay the reduced rate. Union dues at Weller's workplace, a resin hauling company based out of Columbia Falls, are $39 a month. According to the union, the reduced rate is $38.31, a reduction of only 69 cents.

And the Teamsters now say Weller owes them almost $350 in back dues he stopped paying in February.

"The portion of dues not used for collective bargaining purposes could well amount to only 69 cents," said John Powell, a spokesman with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. "But since the union has failed to provide a full breakdown, we have no way of knowing if this is true."

The union is required by law to provide non-members with the financial disclosures Weller is asking for. In the U.S. Supreme Court case Communications Workers v. Beck, the court ruled that workers have a right to refrain from formal union membership and to reclaim the portion of union dues not spent on collective bargaining, such as political activities.

In that decision, the court also found that employees have a right to have an independent third party audit union expenditures to verify that the percentage of dues that non-members are forced to pay does not include political spending and other non-collective bargaining expenditures.

If his lawsuit is successful and he does receive an audited breakdown proving just how much of his monthly "objection fee" is spent on collective bargaining activities, Weller says he will pay the union for back dues.

"It has nothing to do with the money," he said. "It's the principle of the matter. What prompted this was them threatening my job. I'm not real big on people threatening me."

Union representatives did not return calls for comment.


Minn. voters deserve meaningful ballot questions

To the editor:

I read the three ballot questions in the legal notice for District 834. Why only three ballot questions? I would add a few more. For example:

4: Vote (yes or no] as to lowering wage and benefits of non-teaching staff/leadership (School Superintendent, etc.) by 16 percent (parallels in the opposite fiscal direction the increased tax burden the levy has on property taxes).

5: Vote (yes or no) as to public decertification of the Teachers Union (Rational: A unionized public sector work force creates an unfair competitive advantage against the private sector taxpayer, a double jeopardy, for public sector employees fund their union goals via the private sector wealth transfers (taxes).

6: Vote (yes or no) as to removing political biased education from private sector funded schools. Education should be based on world competition‚ not special-interest group’s political agendas. The effort of the School District should be applied to excellence in math, science, history, language(s)‚ pertinent technical studies‚ true “classical liberal studies.”

7: Vote (yes or no) as to allowing competition against the public school system; that is the voucher system applied to the “private schools.”

John A. Bohnhoff, Lake St. Croix Beach


Teamsters' Clinton-crony stymied by Twinkie-maker

Just days before a bankruptcy court showdown with its largest union, Interstate Bakeries Corp. has filed a reorganization plan for ending more than three years of bankruptcy.

The Kansas City-based maker of Hostess Twinkies and Wonder Bread filed the plan late Monday, saying it has lined up $400 million in financing from specialty lender Silver Point Finance LLC and has received initial approval from 95 percent of holders of the company's pre-petition debt.

The move, which still requires court approval, effectively stymies an attempt by Yucaipa Cos., the Los Angeles-based investment firm of supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle, to buy Interstate Bakeries. Burkle - a crony of Bill and Hillary Clinton - sought to buy the company with the help of the U.S. subsidiary of Mexican baking competitor Grupo Bimbo and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

That group made its proposal Friday, saying it would not require outside financing and would give creditors a better deal than the one Interstate Bakeries would offer.

Calls to Yucaipa and the Teamsters were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Interstate Bakeries now has until Jan. 7 to persuade its creditors to approve the plan. Meanwhile, unless the court rules otherwise, other parties can't offer their own plans.

A bankruptcy judge in Kansas City had given the company and the Teamsters until a hearing Wednesday to work out their disagreements over work and welfare concessions. The Teamsters, representing almost 10,000 of the company's 25,000 employees, claim the company's plan to restructure its distribution network will cost union member jobs.

Interstate Bakeries previously had said the Silver Point deal was contingent on gaining concessions from its unions. The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represents about 9,000 employees, already has largely approved the measures. Interstate Bakeries still has not reached a deal with the Teamsters.

On Monday, Chief Executive Officer Craig Jung said that although the company has filed the reorganization plan, it would invite alternative proposals.

"If Yucaipa or anyone else has a better idea about how to help this company emerge from Chapter 11, secure jobs and maximize value for creditors, we welcome the opportunity to review the details of their proposal," Jung said in a release.

Under the company's plan, it would exchange its pre-petition lenders' $450 million in debt for $250 million in second-lien notes, $165 million of convertible secured notes and $35 million in class A common stock, to be issued by the reorganized company.

Unsecured creditors would receive almost 30 percent of the outstanding shares of common stock and be able to participate in a rights offering of $50 million in class B common stock.

Current stockholders, whose shares lost a penny to 5.5 cents in trading Tuesday, would receive nothing.

Yucaipa surfaced as a potential suitor this summer, but has not had a chance to look at Interstate Bakeries' operations in depth after refusing to sign confidentiality agreements that would prevent it from sharing that information with the Teamsters.

Also on Tuesday, the company said it lost $7.7 million on $220.8 million in sales during the four-week period ending Sept. 22, an improvement from the $13.4 million it lost during the previous month on $228 million in sales.

The company filed for bankruptcy court protection in September 2004.


AFSCME creates turmoil, takes advantage

As Yankton (SD) voters prepare for a recall election, and city employees plan to unionize, a special investigator could be called in to sort it all out. It might cost taxpayers $25,000 for the investigator, a step rarely seen in South Dakota city politics. Critics say it might not even be legal.

The recall targets Mayor Curt Bernard and commissioner Dan Rupiper. Both men are accused of micromanaging city employees and forcing out department heads. "(They) really have not learned how the city manager form of government is supposed to work," said Ron Tappe, a former longtime city commissioner.

Bernard says he might be doing his job too well, "leaning" on economic developers who are stuck in their ways and asking questions that make people uncomfortable. "Sometimes there's some individual situations that create some friction," he said.

Citizens trying to remove the two elected local officials - Bernard after seven years and Rupiper after two - come from a variety of angles.

Some are upset that the city swimming pool is being repaired piecemeal rather than replaced; others charge that the mayor has intimidated the city's friends in economic development; and still others complain that the recall targets insist on telling city managers what to do.

Yankton has lost to resignation its directors of tourism, economic development, parks and recreation, and soon the downtown association. Last month, City Manager Jeff Weldon resigned under fire.

Recall proponents say the loss of Weldon, a likeable manager brought in to turn around sagging employee morale, was the last straw. It took less than three weeks to rally 1,400 signatures to put the two officials up for an early re-election, set for Dec. 18.

"The city manager issue bothered a lot of people," said Ben Hanten, a downtown businessman who organized the petition drive after the commissioners accepted Weldon's resignation in front of several dozen supporters. "These people were standing up for their boss."

Bernard and Rupiper make no apologies for Weldon's ouster. They say he got too close to his employees and failed to work toward a larger vision of what Yankton could be.

The mayor said he wants someone who does more than manage employees and make sure the city's basic needs are met.

Bernard made his living in Sioux Falls as a Citibank executive before moving to his wife's hometown of Yankton, where they purchased several buildings downtown. He is, literally and more than most anyone in Yankton, invested in the city.

Critics say that has gotten in the way of Bernard doing what is best for the city. He has been accused of directing city money toward tourism and downtown development and acknowledges having "leaned" on the people in positions that effect the city's economy.

In conversation, Bernard speaks often of "moving Yankton forward." With little actual power as one of nine commissioners in a city-manager government, what he can accomplish comes through talk and task forces.

"The only thing you can do is ask more questions," he said. "Sometimes, people don't like you asking questions."

The problem, as pool supporter Kevin Pons sees it, is Bernard's uncompromising stances, which are backed up by a bloc of four other commissioners.

Pons said he was taken off a pool task force and replaced with someone who agreed with the mayor's plan to repair the pool in phases. A successful recall election would alter the dynamics of the commission.

"I think that it will have a positive effect ... but it will never make up for the loss of those valuable employees," Pons said.

Hanten said frustration with the mayor has been growing for four years and was elevated when he achieved a consistent voting majority.

The city manager's resignation was the flashpoint. The attack on Weldon was seen as an attack on the city employees he defended in pay discussions.

Previous talk of employees organizing a union has turned to action as they seek to align themselves with AFSCME.

Amid all this, the mayor has proposed hiring an outside investigator for as much as $25,000 to lay out the facts for voters in advance of the election six weeks away.

The commissioners discussed the plan in a special meeting Monday but tabled a vote for a week while they try to limit the scope and determine who would do the job.

Still undecided is whether employees could speak anonymously and whose actions would be investigated.

Bernard wants three claims addressed: that commissioners bossed employees around; that department heads solicited votes for or against elected officials; and that special interest groups unduly influenced the ousted city manager.

The investigation, he said, should target all commissioners as well as city employees.

Most citizens who spoke at the meeting Monday said they supported an investigation.

"The people in this community need to know the truth," Larry Jones said. "It'll be the best money you'll ever spend."


Teamster official elected to City Council

Republicans didn't do much cheering at their downtown election-night gathering at Vera Mae's Bistro on Tuesday night. Democrats' 24-year control of Muncie (IN) City Council was extended for four more years during the municipal election. The names have changed, but Democrats emerged from the election with the same 7-2 majority of council seats they enjoyed before Tuesday.

Republicans cheered newcomer Mark Conatser, 28, 4110 W. Jackson St., to victory as district two city councilman. A supervisor at Conatser Heating and Cooling, which is owned by his family, Conatser told fellow Republicans: "I've never been this happy and this upset all at the same time."

He was referring to Republican mayoral nominee Sharon McShurley's nine-vote loss according to unofficial results.

Conatser joins four other new faces elected to city council Tuesday. One of them, branch bank manager Mike King, 32, 2900 W. Twickingham Drive, said, "We have some fresh ideas, and I think we're ready to move the city forward. The slogan all along has been we must do better."

Another new member of the council will be Teamsters union steward Jerry Dishman, 50, 2817 N. Reserve St., who defeated mortgage lender Dan Ridenour, 47, 4305 N. Glenwood Ave. Dishman called himself "a common man" who wants to help people in his district. "People know I'm a person for the people," he said.

Another incoming rookie member of the council, Linda Gregory, 63, 1321 W. University Ave., said, "I think they were looking for a change." A senior programmer/analyst at Saint-Gobain Containers, Gregory credited her victory to her stance on consolidating and streamlining government and cutting spending.

Democrats Gregory, King and Alison Quirk, 32, 2404 W. Purdue Ave., won the three at-large city council seats Tuesday. Gregory led the pack. Quirk is a stay-at-home mother and community volunteer elected to her second term.

"It's not over," Ridenour said of the Republican Party's campaign to improve Muncie. "We'll stay on them. Muncie has to get going in a positive direction."

The final new face on council, Bradley Polk, 42, a loan officer, who ran unopposed, also gave Republicans something to applaud Tuesday night.

"Muncie made some wrong choices tonight," Polk told supporters.

City fire Lt. Monte Murphy, 43, and Mary Jo Barton, 58, a clerk in the county auditor's office, were unopposed for re-election, and fellow Democrat Sam Marshall, 59, a supervisor at the city street department, faced token opposition for a fourth term.

The council is losing five longtime members. Dave Taylor, a Republican, and Chuck Leonard, a Democrat, are departing after waging unsuccessful campaigns to win the Republican and Democratic nominations, respectively, for mayor. Democrat William Shroyer was defeated in the primary. Republican John Isenbarger and Democrat Bruce Wiemer didn't seek re-election.

Like his fellow Republican Ridenour, Micah Maxwell, 28, 104 W. Charter Drive, said he planned to remain involved even though he finished out of the running for an at-large city council seat.

Maxwell said he would "make sure that the people who were elected are held accountable."


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