Gov't unions involved like never before

The powerful South Bay Labor Council has been rallying votes for two chosen candidates for the Palo Alto (CA) City Council with an intensity that is puzzling some officials, political observers and even the candidates themselves.

The council, an alliance of more than 70 unions, has organized phone drives, precinct walks and mailings of fliers on behalf of candidates Sid Espinosa and Yiaway Yeh, two of 11 candidates competing for four open seats on the City Council. "It's clearly playing a bigger role than has been the case in the past," Gary Fazzino, former longtime council member and unofficial city historian, said of the increased involvement.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Liz Kniss said she also is puzzled by the union push. "It's weird," she said. "I have never seen the union this involved with a Palo Alto election. I'm at a loss to explain why we have suddenly become that interesting." Kniss is a former member of both the City Council and Palo Alto Board of Education.

Fazzino said the local SEIU or the Palo Alto Fire Fighters (Local 1319 of the International Association of Firefighters) often weigh in, but the Labor Council usually focuses its efforts on the South County and San Jose.

But Labor Council Executive Officer Phaedra Ellis said labor's efforts in Palo Alto are not uncustomary. She said Palo Alto is one of the three cities, including Sunnyvale and Cupertino, that are receiving the bulk of the council's focus this year, however. "What we look for are cities that are important both locally and on regional issues," Ellis said. "Palo Alto is a key piece ... that fosters leaders that are important to the committee."

The Labor Council's Web site only listed opportunities to phone bank and walk precincts in Palo Alto, however.

Ellis said it might appear that labor's focus is greater this year because the election is dominated by local rather than state or national issues. In addition, Ellis said the council usually works with the Santa Clara County Democratic Party, but this election the two groups are campaigning independently.

Ellis said the council expects to spend about $9,000 on Palo Alto's campaign.

As of Oct. 20, Yeh had also received $500 in direct contributions from labor groups, while Espinosa had reported $700 in cash donations.

The Labor Council endorsed Espinosa and Yeh after interviewing five candidates, including Tim Gray, Bill Ross and Mark Nadim, according to Phil Plymale, chapter chair of the city's largest employee union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 521, a member of the Labor Council. The union invited all 11 candidates to participate, Plymale said.

"We're not trying to get people in our back pocket, we're just trying to get accessibility to people who are the real bosses of the city," Plymale said.

He said the SEIU wasn't responsible for an increased campaign effort this year, adding that it was "real involved" two years ago in support of then-candidates Peter Drekmeier and John Barton, both of whom were elected to the council.

But Ellis said Palo Alto has traditionally been a "valuable priority" for labor.

"It's not accurate to say Palo Alto is not important to us. We're proud of people elected to the Palo Alto City Council," such as State Sen. Joe Simitian, a former council member, Ellis said.

Other Palo Altans who believe labor's influence is greater this year also say they aren't sure why. Some speculate that perhaps it is the impending $80-million waste-hauling contract or the continuing pressure to shave benefits for city workers.

In September, labor leaders made an unconventional showing in the Palo Alto Council Chambers, protesting a routine pump-replacement project because it didn't guarantee "prevailing wages" for employees working for contractors.

Currently, charter cities such as Palo Alto aren't required to pay state-mandated prevailing wages for projects that are considered solely "municipal."

But law in that area is rapidly changing and City Attorney Gary Baum called the issue a "close call" in September.

The City Council decided to award the contract, after it received assurances the workers would be paid wages on par with the legally defined prevailing wages.

But council members agreed to discuss prevailing wages in the future, a move that could significantly increase the cost of some city contracts.

Juan Garza, a senior compliance officer with the Joint Electrical Industry Fund of Santa Clara County, who advocated for the prevailing-wage requirement, said the prevailing-wage debate did not motivate labor leaders to exert influence in Palo Alto's election.

"I don't think there's any correlation to that at all," Garza said Monday. "That's speculation and probably more anti-labor than anything else. Working people try to talk to people who are going to be elected all the time."

Yeh and Espinosa said they also aren't aware of the motivation, if any, behind the unions' efforts.

"I think the most important aspect I would want people to understand is that this isn't a coordinated effort -- this isn't part of the campaign," Espinosa said, adding he hasn't had conversations with labor leaders since the interview for the endorsement.

"It's all been a surprise, frankly."

"The reason why it's not troubling to me is that … these are individuals who are supporting somebody who believes in the same things they do and that's what democracy is about," Espinosa said.

Yeh said he appreciated the unions' efforts: "I'm very happy to have the support of working families."

But Yeh and Espinosa emphasized that the expenditures and campaign efforts don't mean they owe labor anything as council members.

"It doesn't influence any future decision-making," Yeh said.

Espinosa also said he has support from all segments of the community, including business.

Drekmeier, who received the support of the unions in 2005, said it hadn't affected his votes on the council although he is generally pro-union.

And he disputed whether the labor movement has been more influential this year.

"It seems to me it's probably about the same," he said.


UAW quits Kohler strike after 11 months

A National Labor Relations Board official says a strike at the Kohler sink plant in Searcy has been called off by the union.

The strike began Dec. 9, 2006. A meeting was held at the union hall on Sunday, then picketers were not at the plant Monday and Tuesday. The union had maintained pickets since stopping work in December.

But the plant says the work stoppage remains unchanged. The company wouldn't go into details, and the union also wouldn't discuss the matter.

Memphis, Tenn.-based NLRB regional director Ronald K. Hooks says the union made an unconditional offer to return to work. If that is indeed the case, Hooks says the company would have to put union workers in any unfilled positions at the plant. Hooks says the sides could settle or go to the NLRB with complaints.


Judge issues TRO against lingering strikers

A temporary restraining order was issued Wednesday against striking employees at Wise Alloys that prevents them from harassing workers as they come and go at the plant.

The injunction was issued by Colbert County Circuit Court Judge Hal Hughston Jr. It prevents striking employees from harassing or attempting to impede anyone from entering or leaving the company’s facilities.

Most employees who went on strike Thursday have since returned to work pending ratification of new labor contracts. Members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 320 returned to work at the reclamation facility on Ford Road. Members of the Steelworkers local, responsible for operating production jobs at the main plant on Second Street, and eight members of Carpenter’s Local 1209 have also agreed to return to work.

Maintenance and security employees who are members of North Alabama Building and Construction Trades Council and the International Association of Machinists and whose jobs are being outsourced, remained on strike Wednesday.

Company officials with Wise Alloys said after a tentative agreement between Wise management and the Steelworkers Local was reached Monday evening, the employees attempted to return to their jobs Tuesday morning. Wise officials said Steelworkers union employees were being intimidated at the employee entrance to the plant by employees who are still on strike.

Wise officials said several Steelworkers union employees, who were heading in to work at different shift times Tuesday, indicated they had been threatened with physical harm to them, their families and their property if they were to return to work.

Charles Lamon, assistant business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 558, scoffed at the company’s claims that union members are harassing and threatening people who were attempting to leave or enter Wise.

“We’re a peaceful group,” he said. “We don’t want any trouble.”

Wise officials reported that nearly all of the Steelworkers union employees who reported to work for the 8 a.m. shift Wednesday were able to cross the picket line.


UAW members decertify, vote goes to NLRB

The fate of a 19-month strike remains up in the air. Members of United Auto Workers Local 364, who have been on strike at Conn-Selmer's Vincent Bach plant in Elkhart (IN) since April 1, 2006, voted Wednesday on whether to decertify the union. Replacement workers inside the plant also voted on the measure at a separate polling location.

The cumulative results show that 63 people voted in favor of retaining the union and 105 people voted for decertification.

But 144 ballots, which could be either yes or no votes, were challenged in the election. Both Conn-Selmer officials and the UAW have the right to challenge ballots. Four of the challenges came from the union and the rest were the company's, union treasurer Connie Sanders said.

The disputed ballots were sealed up and will be sent to the National Labor Relations Board office in Indianapolis, where a hearing will be held in the next six to 10 weeks.


Right To Work law helps Nevada to #2 ranking

Nevada stands second-best in the nation for small business and entrepreneurship in a recent report on key factors that affect commerce. The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council's "Small Business Survival Index 2007" cites Nevada for its lack of personal and corporate income taxes and other costs as well as for being a right-to-work state.

Near the bottom, at No. 49, is California, whose tax, regulatory and other mandates on businesses have prompted many to flee to Nevada in recent years.

One of those was Michael Fite, president of Pacific Coast Flange Inc., who moved his company from Ukiah, Calif., to Mound House in 2004 to escape soaring job-injury insurance costs. On Tuesday, Fite said he does not regret the move; in fact, he's investing $1.7 million, including a new 10,000-square-foot building, to his business.

He applauds Nevada for its lack of corporate taxes and other challenges businesses face in California. "Those are great incentives in themselves," Fite said. "Workers' comp was the driving force for us to move. California has had some relief in that, but it's still not enough. Everything they've done is too little, too late."

Such contrasts are key to recruiting agencies' ongoing drive to lure commerce to Nevada, and California is a key target, said Chuck Alvey, CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.

Of the SBE Council's report, Alvey said, "That's exactly the thing that helps us. It's right on target. I'm thrilled to hear it."

The report attempts to show how state and local policymakers' decisions affect small business. And in Nevada, "Entrepreneurs and small businesses benefit enormously from there being no (taxes)," said Raymond Keating, chief economist at the Washington, D.C.-based SBE Council and author of the study.

The report cites several negatives, notably Nevada's high consumption-based gasoline and unemployment taxes, comparatively high crime rates and a sizable number of health-care mandates on businesses.

South Dakota took top honors in the ranking, followed by Nevada, Wyoming, Washington, Florida, Michigan, Texas, South Carolina, Virginia and Alabama.

Among other states surrounding Nevada, Arizona ranked 15th; Utah, 18th; Oregon, 34th; and Idaho, 36th.

The report can be found at www.sbecouncil.org


Carlyle Group chief questions SEIU motive

A large union's efforts at criticizing Carlyle Group and its purchase of nursing home Manor Care is aimed at unionizing employees and not improving patients' health care, Carlyle Co-Founder David Rubenstein said on Wednesday.

Rubenstein's comments will likely fan the flames between the private equity giant and the workers union, which have grown in recent weeks as the union steps up its protest of the firm and the entire private equity industry.

"The SEIU is not happy that 60,000 workers at the company aren't unionized. They're campaigning and saying the health care will not be adequate. That isn't true, in my view," Rubenstein said, speaking at The Deal's 2008 M&A Outlook conference in New York. "It's really an effort to increase unionization, and not so much to worry about patients' health care."

The 1.8 million-member Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, has taken aim at the private equity's corporate takeover wave on concerns about job cuts and workers' benefits. The union has made Rubenstein the symbol of what they believe is the buyout industry's massive wealth, thanks in part to favorable tax treatment. That tax treatment is currently under review by U.S. lawmakers.

In addition, the union has protested Carlyle's $4.9 billion purchase of Manor Care, saying the deal will negatively impact the care of patients there. Rubenstein said health care is not the focus of SEIU's protests.

The Manor Care deal has gotten further attention amid an inquiry by U.S. lawmakers into other nursing home deals where work forces were allegedly cut at the expense of patients after private equity firms took control.

SEIU spokesman Andrew McDonald said the union is focused on health care.

"Long before Carlyle chose to target nursing homes as their latest cash cow, SEIU has been fighting to improve care in nursing homes," McDonald said. "SEIU has fought for and won hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to improve care over last decade."

Rubenstein said on the sidelines of the conference that the Manor Care transaction is on track to close in the fourth quarter.

"There are a couple of regulatory approvals that are in the process of being obtained," Rubenstein told Reuters. "The deal will close in the near future, in my view."


Unions were pumped-up on Election Day

Michael K. Maloney, president of the Mercer County (NJ) Labor Union council, gave the troops their marching orders in the Colonial Firehouse in Hamilton on Election Day. "Do not come back till after six o'clock," he told the 300 union workers representing 22 locals who packed the tables in the hall and prepared to hit the streets to canvass for labor candidates here.

A few minutes later Maloney introduced Charlie Wowkanech, president of the state AFL-CIO, who jumped up onto the makeshift stage next to Maloney and stood above the workers. "I've just come back from Atlantic County," said the labor leader, who represents one million workers in New Jersey. "Our operations look good down there too. Statewide, we are running 51 union brothers and sisters in legislative races - that's the most we've run at any time."

Wowkanech says the AFL-CIO engaged its candidates' recruitment program mostly as part of an effort to protect the state protects workers' healthcare and pension benefits. The candidates come from both parties.

Republican John Amodeo is running for the Assembly in district 2. He's a crane operator who helped set the steel precast for the Borgata Casino. In district 14, Democrat Wayne DeAngelo is an electrical worker and business representative of his local.

In addition to other Democratic Party senate candidates, the AFL-CIO is backing three Republican candidates in key senate races: Senator Nick Asselta in the 1st, Assemblyman Bill Baroni in the 14th, Assemblyman Sean Kean in the 11th, and Burlington County Clerk Phil Haines in the 8th.

"People get nervous about our split endorsements," Wowkanech told PoliticsNJ.com. "But the fact is when someone has a record that supports our interests, we're going to be loyal to that person. What you see among the people we endorse is the diversity and quality of our union leadership, regardless of party."

Wowkanech said the AFL-CIO will have 10,000 workers statewide on the streets today.

As Maloney gave the final word and the workers headed for the tables to receive their canvassing information, the Mercer County AFL-CIO president said he'll have another 100 people pouring through the doors of the firehouse at around 4 p.m.

"That's when the buildings and trades get done with work," said Maloney.


Labor-Democrats should divorce the unions

Who wrote this? "The problem with Labor is that it's controlled, lock, stock and barrel by unions. One hundred per cent of power is in the hands of union leaders, state secretaries, and factions."

And this? "The ALP displays a startling lack of democratic process: the formal ALP-union link is characterised by the dominance of entrenched hierarchies." Joe Hockey? John Howard. No: the authors were, respectively, former NSW Minister Rodney Cavalier and ALP young gun Mark Foley (NSW Assistant General Secretary and National Executive member).

Critics have widely ridiculed Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey's claims that unions are both irrelevant and dangerous, saying they can't be both. They're wrong! Many unions -- broadly defined -- now do little good, but much harm. Just as workers unite to pursue their interests, so too do farmers, businesses and other groups. In the past, unions served valuable purposes. Labour unions helped workers obtain fair and safe working conditions. Farm and business unions pushed economic reforms. Outcomes in their interests were often in the public interest, too.

Unfortunately, institutions often outlive their usefulness and harm society. Farm and small business unions constantly demand special government treatment. Labour unions run scare campaigns and stymie sensible reforms (labour market flexibility, privatisation, tariff cuts) that challenge their raison d'etre or hurt their interests -- and meddle in party issues (stem cell policy, foreign affairs) that have nothing to do with their legitimate roles.

We can't blame unions for making demands. But political parties must show voters that they're genuinely committed to the public interest by eliminating arrangements that work against it. Both sides of politics have such arrangements. The Liberals' coalition with the Nationals and Labor's tolerance of union dominance of party decision-making both sacrifice public interest to narrow interests. They may rationalise such arrangements as necessities to win elections -- but that doesn't make them right.

Representative boards (AWB) don't work in the corporate world. Good boards choose directors without conflicts of interests and enforce governance policies centred on maximising shareholder value. Investors wouldn't believe a board works in all shareholders' interests if more than half of directors represent one sub-group. Yet Labor expects voters to stretch their beliefs further. Recent NSW numbers (cited by Foley) show that only 18.4 per cent of ALP members are also members of ALP-affiliated unions. Those members represent only 0.3 per cent of the voting public. Yet their unions have at least a 50 per cent say in ALP affairs!

Union/faction resistance to many party reviews have stifled change. Admirable reformers who dared advocate change were vilified and threatened. Whitlam was once almost expelled from the party. Then-leader Simon Crean led the last reform drive after Labor's disastrous 2001 election loss. Like-minded parliamentary colleagues Craig Emerson, Martin Ferguson, Joel Fitzgibbon, Kevin Rudd and Lindsay Tanner lent support. Union bosses threatened to pull their unions out of the party and threatened reformers. Transport Workers' Union NSW head Tony Sheldon ranted: "Simon Crean, if you don't tell them to shut up ... your days are numbered." Crean's weak electoral appeal meant his days were numbered anyway, but self-serving unions supported Beazley's challenge (knowing he wouldn't reform anything). When unions engineered payback -- a pre-selection fight for Crean last year -- Electrical Trades Union secretary Dean Mighell gloated: "Anybody who has worked actively to reduce union influence in the ALP we're no fan of."

Neither then-leader Beazley nor leadership-aspirant Rudd supported Crean -- each needed union favour to retain/win leadership. Fitzgibbon dubbed Crean's against-the-odds pre-selection win "a victory for those who want to empower people over those who simply seek power". Crean suffered greatly for little gain. The union vote at National Conference (the party's supreme policy-making forum) was cut from 60 to 50 per cent. But Cavalier called that "meaningless: whether it's 60 per cent or 30 per cent, it still leaves them with 100 per cent control".

Since becoming leader, Rudd has driven policy, not party reform. Yet he'd argued in 2001-02 that "Labor needs fundamental, not incremental, change across policy, organisational structure and culture" and advocated abolishing the "socialist objective" as an "important part of the modernisation process". It remains the very first objective in Labor's Constitution.

Rudd is smart: a union bun-fight is electoral suicide. Previous drives failed because leaders in opposition were too vulnerable to union pressure. The few election-winning leaders simply used their new-found power to override unions. This was less risky than permanent reform, but it did successors no favours. We can only hope Rudd leverages the power earned through electoral victory to drive reform. Tony Blair stared down union trogdolytes like Tony Benn to institute substantial (though still insufficient) reforms -- abolishing its socialist objective, cutting the union vote at National Conference and giving union bosses no say in pre-selections.

Rudd's smoke signals show promise. Statements such as "I respect the role of unions, but we will make the call always in the national interest" sound good, but any leader would say that. But, tellingly, he's stacked his front-bench with reformers: Crean, Emerson, Ferguson, Fitzgibbon and Tanner.

Union bosses' rationalisations of their privileged positions are inane. Emotive references to unions' fights over asbestos compensation may suggest they have some relevance to their members -- but not that union bosses should rule the ALP. Bill Shorten's response to Hockey's taunts was: "Two million people go to work every day and belong to unions. This doesn't make them second-class citizens." True -- if they're party members, they should have exactly the same say as any member -- but their bosses shouldn't have more. Julia Gillard claims that union involvement in the ALP didn't stop key Hawke/Keating reforms. But, as former Hawke Minister John Button says, "the government that reformed and deregulated the economy wasn't made up of political mandarins" -- union officials accounted for only 15-20 per cent of Hawke's first Ministry. While Hockey's claim that's it's now 70 per cent is debatable, it's at least tripled since Hawke. And massive union amalgamations mean few union bosses control union votes, easing their ability to fix deals.

A 1979 review noted that only four other genuine Labor parties existed on earth. Subsequently, two (Norway, Sweden) switched to social democracies while Blair cut union influence in British Labor. Australia and NZ remain laggards. Button recommended that Labor instigate a "friendly divorce" from unions in 2002.

Rudd should turn Labor into a social democracy. Individual union members would be welcome as party members. The pigs' proclamation in George Orwell's Animal Farm that "all are equal, but some are more equal than others" warned of hypocritical institutions that preach equality but practice privilege. Labor should stop treating rank-and-file members like second-class citizens.


Teachers strike, picketers block kids

After a week-long prelude, laden with press releases and statements from both sides of the fence, the teachers from the Edison (OH) Local School District have begun their strike.

Members of the Edison Local Education Association (ELEA) began picketing at 5 a.m. Wednesday, and formed lines at every school building in the district as well as the bus garage in Amsterdam. According to ELEA spokesperson Jamie Evans, 100 percent of the ELEA membership is involved in the strike, and the picketers have had supportive visitors throughout the day.

“We are united,” Evans said. “It’s a very negative situation, but we will be here until a settlement is reached.”

Evans said several people have tried to aggressively cross the picket line, and he commended the Jefferson County Sheriff Department for keeping the peace. Strikers attempted to stop a few school buses from trying to cross the picket line, according to Sheriff Fred Abdalla, but have otherwise acted in an orderly fashion.

Abdalla said the strikers are allowed to get vocal at the strike breakers, or “scabs,” but they cannot impede traffic. “We received several calls of strikers not letting buses in or out,” Abdalla said. He said his concern was for the children who might experience anxiety from such actions.

One of the strikers at Edison High School reportedly was struck by a bus when the driver was said to have attempted to aggressively cross the picket line. According to Evans, Larry Neptune was struck as the strikers got out of the way of the bus. He said security hired by International Management Assistance Corporation (IMAC) had to step in to keep the driver from doing further damage. Neptune filed a police report with Jefferson County Police, said Evans.

Strikers at Stanton Elementary also reported a vehicle incident, but said there was no aggressive action on the part of the driver. Spencer Bendle had reportedly tripped while security was trying to get strikers out of the vehicle’s path. When Bendle fell, his foot reportedly was caught by the car’s wheel.

Evans, who picketed outside Edison High School, estimated only 30 or so students attended school out of approximately 700 enrolled throughout the district. He added he had heard district administrators also kept their children from class.

“If the administrators don’t have to send their kids to school, there is no reason to send your kids to school,” Evans said.

Superintendent Lisa Carmichael said the 48 replacement teachers hired by IMAC have done very well and have been very professional. Of the children who came to class, she said the replacement teachers have reported good and respectful behavior.

Carmichael said the biggest concern from parents is when the strike will end.

“Nothing is scheduled right now for an end or renegotiation,” Carmichael said. “The board still feels the contract is a fair offer, and I am not willing to give up my management rights as superintendent.”

Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE), which includes school employees other than the teachers, accepted the contract and went to work Wednesday. Both Carmichael and Evans said they did not believe any tension between the ELEA and the OAPSE, but Evans does believe they have crossed the picket line in mass.

“They’ve shown their support by donating coffee and doughnuts, and we appreciate it,” Evans said. “But we’re still concerned that their union has crossed our picket line.”

According to Evans, the major issue behind the strike is the accusation that the board of education did not fully negotiate the contract, and instead imposed what they called their “last, best and final” offer. He added the proposed contract includes what appears to be a six percent raise, but would result in a pay cut.

Evans said that with health care revisions, the health care plan would impose a three year pay cut for a vast majority of the teachers in the district, and would only benefit those who are single and hold higher positions.

“Teachers with a Masters degree, 15 extra college credit hours and 28 years experience will get a raise that pays enough for one generic prescription,” Evans said.

“The board forced us into this situation,” he added. “We have to do this to defend our rights to good faith bargaining.”

Evans stressed the importance of community involvement, saying the fastest way to get the teachers back into the classrooms is for the residents to contact the administration. Evans said the community spoke loudly by not returning two incumbent board members to seats in Tuesday’s election, but now the community “must speak out and get the board back to the negotiation table.”


Striking teachers attempt to oust mediator

After more than three weeks of striking, Seneca Valley Teachers Union members said they want to negotiate with school board members without any outside negotiators beginning on Friday.

On Wednesday, the SVEA made an offer to the Seneca Valley School Board they believe will bring closure to the ongoing labor dispute. "We've listened to the concerns of the community and others and come to the conclusion that it's time that those elected to represent the community and those elected to represent the SVEA negotiate this dispute to resolution," said Pat Andrekovich of the teachers union.

"The SVEA sent a letter ... indicating an urgency for them to respond," Andrekovich continued. "No more game-playing, no more PR games, just representatives of the SVEA and the school board in a room with no outside intervention. We feel this is the only way this situation will be resolved. The board can speak for themselves and we can speak for ourselves."

Union leaders hope to have a proposal for the board to vote on during its Monday meeting and have students return to class by Tuesday.

Late Thursday the school board issued a response that stated, "The board is willing to agree to negotiate on the following conditions. The teachers return to work on Friday." The proposal also meant class would be held during the scheduled winter break. The union said they rejected the board's response.


Teamster embezzler makes political donation

A Massachusetts state representative running for the state Senate who recently got into a scrum with his opponent on the House floor was arrested after a scuffle with cops in 1988 and later unsuccessfully sued the town of Woburn for injuries he said he sustained in the fracas with police.

Rep. Patrick Natale, who is running for the seat vacated by former Sen. Robert Havern (D-Woburn), was arrested on charges of assault and battery on a police officer and disturbing the peace on May 24, 1988, outside his mother’s Woburn home. A Woburn District Court jury later found him not guilty.

The Herald also has learned that two of Natale’s opponents in Tuesday’s special Senate election, Rep. James Marzilli (D-Arlington) and Rep. Charles Murphy (D-Burlington), have received campaign contributions from convicted felons. Murphy and Natale (D-Woburn) got into a heated altercation over the race on the House floor last month, pushing and shoving each other.

Natale’s 1988 arrest occurred when police tried to pull him over for driving a car with an expired inspection sticker and a loud muffler. He later sued the Woburn Police Department, claiming cops used excessive force during the arrest that led to $17,000 in medical bills for a back injury.

He also claimed he “suffered extreme fear, rage, shame and humiliation” as a result of the bust, according to the suit. Police denied the charges and a jury tossed out the suit in 1995.

In an interview last night, Natale said he was “protecting” his mother from the officers during the incident and stood by the suit.

“I think I was right,” he said.

A member of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue, Natale also has had financial woes, reportedly defaulting on $9,000 in credit card debt in 2001 and 2003 and failing to file income taxes in 2005. Nevertheless, he managed to loan his campaign $25,000 in 2004.

Natale said he fell behind on his bills after the arrest because he was injured and out of work. He later finished law school and paid off the debts.

“Look, I had some problems but I think I’ve gotten things together,” he said. “I like to think I’m a success story.”

As for Marzilli, records show he accepted a maximum $500 donation last month from Michael Ansara, a Democratic operative from Carlisle who pleaded guilty to a federal fraud, conspiracy and embezzlement rap in 1997. He was put on two years probation for his role in a scheme to illegally divert Teamsters Union funds.

Marzilli (D-Arlington) said he will not return the contribution. “Michael pled guilty and served his sentence. I think it’s time to move on,” he said.

Murphy, meanwhile, accepted a $50 campaign donation from former state Sen. Ronald MacKenzie, who served federal jail time in the 1970s for extorting money from a New York consulting firm. Murphy said he, too, will not return the contribution.

“Ron is a friend who has paid his debt to society,” Murphy said.


Politicians back strikers in month 5

Leaders representing the county of Alameda and the State of California gathered on the picket lines at Valley Power in San Leandro on Monday to show their support to striking workers.

Workers of Valley Power in San Leandro went on strike on July 10 in protest of unfair labor practices they say the company engaged in. When the company took over Stewart and Stevenson in 2005 they revoked workers’ pension plans, health, and fringe benefits. Workers still walk the line shouting their mantra “What we want is what we had,” and on Monday they used their bullhorns to educate the greater bay area of what they say are safety hazards.

The strike has now become an opportunity for workers to bring light to their concerns about public safety. Striking workers say that in their absence, Valley Power has been using uncertified replacement workers to do repairs on dozens of ferries, fire trucks and buses.

Upon servicing a Vallejo ferry, the new Valley Power workers took three times as long, and the repairs resulted in a catastrophic failure, says Operating Engineers District 3 (OE3) representative Pete Figuredo.

“We took a stand as a government agency and are not sending busses to this facility,” said Alameda County Transit Director at large Rebecca Kaplan. “We need training and consistency. Someone with real experience will do a better job.”

John Hanley, president of the San Francisco Firefighters Department said he came to support the striking workers and help bring light to this injustice.

In the five months that the strike has endured, workers have taken part-time jobs to support themselves while they wait for a response from Valley Power. Despite letters from Mayor Santos and other civic leaders, Valley Power has not commented on the strike or discussed their plans for a resolution.

Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the California Labor Federation, Art Pulaski admonished Valley Power’s business practices which he says are a violation of federal law.

Before everyone retired back to the picket lines, California State Assembly Member Lonie Hancock shared a most passionate message of support to the crowd.

“You’re fighting for one of the hallmarks of civilization, the ability to retire with a pension and with dignity,” said Hancock. “We want to ensure safety for the people who wait for that fire truck or bus.”

Valley Power did not return phone calls by the time the Times went to press on Wednesday.


Militant UFCW local authorizes strike

Grocery and Meat workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 555 are fighting back against Safeway, Supervalu (Albertsons), and Kroger (Fred Meyer) for their bargaining tactics. These companies just don't seem to care about what employees need to provide for themselves and their families, and are forcing them to the brink of a strike - all to justify greedy demands at the bargaining table and in the community.

UFCW Local 555 represents about 1,200 workers in the Eugene / Springfield (OR) area.
On Tuesday, November 6, 2007 the membership gathered to hear the latest update on bargaining from their committee. When the votes were counted; 96% of grocery and 100% meat workers voted to authorize a strike.

"It's time for these companies to get serious about their workers," said Jeff McDonald, Secretary Treasurer of Local 555. "We have been bargaining for over eight months now and our members, the committee, and the community are getting tired of these companies' games. The lack of respect these companies are showing their employees have forced workers to take drastic action and vote for this strike authorization."

The issues for the workers center around wages?many have seen little increase in the last five years?and maintaining meaningful and affordable health and welfare as employers attempt to shift costs to workers and their communities.

"It's time that these companies realize that it's our hard work making them record profits," said UFCW 555 member and Fred Meyer employee, Tracy Painter. "It's our sweat and tears. It's our sacrifices. And it's time that we get a 'Piece of the Pie!'"


Iron Workers v. Carpenters

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