Union extortion calls for RICO 2.0

Welcome to the modern world of labor warfare. Call it RICO 2.0. For the second time in as many weeks, an employer has filed a civil-racketeering case against a major union, opening a new battleground in the fight over how unions get (and keep) members.

For decades, employers, government officials and honest union members used RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) lawsuits to fight mob influence in the labor movement. It was "On the Waterfront" in real life. Some people got killed, some things fell off the back of trucks, and some businessmen were muscled into toeing the union line.

But as times have changed, so has the style of union extortion.

These days, it's less about how a company unloads goods at a port than it is about how the company is perceived in the world of the Internet. With competitors and customers just a click away, billion-dollar brands can be shattered overnight. As older and slower union officials stalked their prey in mature heavy industries, their younger counterparts began devising ways to use leverage in the new world of business by exposing companies to new electronic-harassment campaigns.

Union officials have set up Web sites mocking company names, and blogs regurgitate any blip of bad news. They use social-networking sites and text messages to coordinate demonstrations. They plaster YouTube with one-sided, and often misleading, videos of their protests and complaints.

The latest RICO cases, filed recently by the Wackenhut Corporation and Smithfield Foods, allege that union bosses have used new media tools to carry out a new style of attack: multiyear, multimillion-dollar campaigns targeting company brands and causing a steady stream of trouble for employees and shareholders alike.

Ironically, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the target of Smithfield's suit, has a record of attacking companies in cases where the union itself is on weak moral ground. The union has rejected a petition of 3,000 Smithfield employees in North Carolina who simply want the right to vote on whether they become members. The union hired non-union picketers to stand outside a Nevada Wal-Mart for only $6 an hour in the blazing sun. To pressure a local retailer, it has made highly dubious claims about outdated baby food sold at grocery stores in Arizona.

Its ally, UNITE HERE, has been ordered to pay $17 million after being found guilty of "fraud, malice and oppression" during a smear campaign against medical professionals in California. It has also been found guilty of invading employees' privacy in Pennsylvania by illegally accessing motor-vehicle records to get home addresses for unannounced visits.

The union targeted in the Wackenhut suit, the Service Employees International Union, has worked with its allies to intentionally overload emergency rooms with the poor and uninsured to pressure hospitals in the labor group's crosshairs. That puts everyone in danger, and it makes everyone a potential victim of the union's tactics.

All these campaigns rely on attacking a company's reputation. Labor officials know business leaders are used to facing financial pressures, not PR pressures. So they keep up the daily dribble of negative news, a form of political Chinese water torture. As UNITE HERE president Bruce Raynor said, "We're not businessmen, and at the end of the day they are. If we're willing to cost them enough, they'll give in."

Until now, business leaders have either hoped their problems would disappear or resigned themselves to permanently "managing" the problem. But rope-a-dope isn't a winning strategy with an adversary that has more money than moral fiber. The only option left is to hit back hard.

The Wackenhut and Smithfield RICO litigation will land serious blows against tactics no honest observer can support. These cases mark a turning point for business; they show the way to fight back.

To be clear, employers aren't alleging kneecapping or horse heads in beds. But when organized labor starts to look more like organized crime, additional suits can be expected.


Writers strike good for scabs

The entertainment industry is in the grips of a strike by the Writers Guild of America, the union for television and movie writers. Why is it called a guild and not a union? Because screenplays are hammered into shape out of molten iron by stout men in leather aprons. It’s hard, grueling work, which is why the writers are demanding greater royalties from DVD and Internet sales.

The management, however, says they need that money for their sick grandmother’s operation, plus they’re not even sure there is any money now that they think about it, hey, what’s that over there? While the writers are looking behind themselves, the management drives away, which is why it’s been difficult to forge a compromise.

As a full-time employee and part-time citizen of television, I support the strike. Not just because it would benefit people I care about, but because I’m finally in a prime position to achieve a lifelong dream — being a scab. From the fun of stealing someone else’s livelihood to the thrill of being compared to dried blood, everything about scabbing screams “glamour!” Whenever I try my hand at scabbing, however, something gets in my way. During the steelworkers strike, it was my ignorance of welding. During the lion tamers strike, it was my cat allergy. I tried scabbing during the Thieves Guild strike, but when it turned out there actually isn’t a Thieves Guild, I spent seven months in jail.

I’d love to scab as a TV writer, but unfortunately my TV producing job’s long hours mean I don’t have time to watch TV. As a result, I don’t know what the top shows are about. I assumed “Grey’s Anatomy” is based on the book of the same name, so I started reading that. I’m also pretty sure that “Heroes” is about a struggling New York sandwich shop, “24” stars a wise-cracking clock, and “Desperate Housewives” is porn. I can definitely write that.

Hopefully, the strike won’t last long. After all, I don’t want to make a career out of this. Sure, Shakespeare got his start as a scab for the hit play “The Illustriouƒ Dr. Houƒe, Physick” during the 1584 strike, but I’m not in it for the writing. I’m in it for the scabbing. I’m already ready for the next strike, and a new chance to make an entire industry despise me. The life of a scab is an exciting one!


SEIU preps massive SF-LA security guard strike

The union representing about 5,500 security guards in the Bay Area said members are planning a second strike after contract negotiations broke down this week amid acrimonious exchanges.

A three-day strike in September called by the union, Service Employees International Union Local 24/7, targeted several San Francisco Financial District office buildings, and about 200 workers participated.

The next strike will be larger and coincide with a strike in Los Angeles, where similarly troubled contract negotiations are under way, said Mike Garcia, a vice president of SEIU who oversees property services issues in the Western region.

He said the strikes will occur before month's end. The security companies involved in the negotiations include ABM Security Services, AlliedBarton Security Services, Securitas Security Services USA and Universal Protection Service.

The Bay Area security officers' contract expired on June 30. It became effective in July 2003. It covers about 5,500 security guards in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties who work in office buildings, shopping centers and malls, manufacturing facilities, hotels, hospitals, airports, financial institutions, schools, government agencies and other sites.

In 2003, the contract set hourly wages at $11.30 in San Francisco and $9.55 in the East Bay. The union says it is seeking a pay increase and benefits that will make the guards equal to other union-represented workers in office buildings - such as janitors, window cleaners, operating engineers and parking attendants.

Guy Thomas, a spokesman for the security companies, said the employers have presented union leaders with an offer that would increase wages by 20 percent during the next five years, and provide improved health care and pension benefits. He said all non-economic issues have been agreed upon.

Negotiations between Local 24/7 and security companies that hire the guards broke down Monday when the employers were unable to give the union specifics about rates that Kaiser Permanente would be charging the employers in the health care plan they are offering the workers.

The two sides told conflicting stories about why the information was not available, while Gerri Ginsburg, a spokeswoman for Kaiser, said: "We provide rate quotes to both parties without preference when given sufficient information. If we are unable to provide a quote due to insufficient or unclear information, we ask for clarification and continue to work with the parties to resolve any question."


Special Ed teachers set to strike

Workers at the Belleville (IL) Area Special Services Cooperative said they will strike if a new contract agreement isn't reached before Nov. 27.

The cooperative serves 23 school districts in St. Clair County and offers an education to people with disabilities including autism, vision and hearing impairments, behavioral and emotional disorders and severe or profound mental impairments. About 250 students go to the center for instruction.

Jaye Smith, co-president of the negotiating team for Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 6143, one of two unions that represent about 85 workers at the school, said employees have tried to work out a contract for six months, and they can't wait anymore.

"It's not fair that this has drug out so long," Smith said. "It's not right. All we want is some respect and a fair contract."

Cooperative director Christy Magnusen said Thursday that she had not heard that the union had set a strike date.

"All I can say is that we have a meeting scheduled for Nov. 12 and we're looking forward to a resolution," Magnusen said. "We're hopeful this will be worked out."

Paula Bartok, president of Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 6003, which represents aides, interpreters and teachers' assistants, said continuing education, safety concerns for students and employees, and pay are issues that remain to be decided.

Smith said a second bargaining session was set for Nov. 20, but that was canceled by administrators. The unions chose Nov. 27 as its strike date to give both sides enough time to work out an agreement before employees walk off the job.

In addition to teachers at the cooperative, psychologists, physical, occupational and speech therapists are available to students as well as social workers, audiologists, music therapists, and transportation, orientation and mobility trainers.


Police closing in on AFSCME embezzler

Police are investigating allegations that an estimated $28,000 in union dues have been stolen by a worker connected to the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees local 1434 in the Lamphere (MI) School District.

"A union member is a suspect," said Madison Heights Detective Lt. Corey Haines. "We did make contact with the union president to determine how we will proceed. "We received word from AFSCME that dues have not been paid since October of 2006. Further investigation shows it goes back even further."

Haines said the union has turned over an accounting history for a year or more to police. He said the suspect is a female connected to AFSCME Local 1434 representing Lamphere School District custodial workers. She has worked in the district for 22 years and apparently has been a union representative the past seven years, police reports said.

The reports indicate the woman has made admissions to taking the money and has offered to pay it back once she determines the exact amount owed. No motive has been determined for the theft, Haines said. The AFSCME representative to local 1434 couldn't be reached for comment.

Lamphere School District spokeswoman Rita Lewis said the missing money isn't considered part of the district's cash.

"Union dues are deducted from workers' paychecks and deposited in a union bank account," she said. Twenty-six district workers are members of the AFSCME local, she added.

AFSCME officials contacted police on Monday and reported $28,000 is missing from the union's checking, savings and money market accounts over the past three years, reports said.

Haines said the union will play a big role in the investigation.

"We now want to see how the union wants to proceed," said Haines, adding the union will help determine if criminal charges and/or restitution will be sought.

Revelation of the union embezzlement comes on the heels of an $83,000 embezzlement by a former St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Church business manager in Hazel Park.

The former business manager, Janice Ann Labroski, 52, avoided going to prison Oct. 30 by providing $30,000 in restitution at her sentencing with promises to repay the remainder of the money on a monthly basis. In addition to the restitution, Oakland County Circuit Judge Rae Lee Chabot sentenced Labroski to three years probation. Labroski worked for the church for more than six years and rubber-stamped signatures of the church pastor on checks she wrote to herself and businesses, authorities said.

Oakland County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Jason Pernick handled the Labroski case and many others involving embezzlements.

At the time of the Labroski case, Pernick noted people often don't start out to become embezzlers.

"Circumstances present themselves allowing them to start stealing small amounts," he said. "When they find they can get away with it they start stealing larger and larger amounts."

Many embezzlers are women, Pernick said, who are controllers of businesses or handle the finances of charity and community groups. It could be the "sheer numbers" of women offering or volunteering their services in such groups, he said.


Strikers gladhand at plant-opening ceremony

Officials at Amylin Pharmaceuticals' dedication ceremony were not the only people seeking an audience with Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland on Monday afternoon in West Chester Twp.

A group of about 30 striking employees from OPW Fueling Systems' West Chester Twp. facility, corporate headquarters for the international fuel pump component manufacturer, moved their picket line from the company's location on Princeton-Glendale Road to Amylin's nearby location on Trade Port Drive in an effort to get the governor's attention.

"Our concerns are wages, retirement, health care," said striking employee Ed Chaney. Union workers took to the picket line Sept. 17, and Rick Kline, director of communications for the Glass Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers international union, confirmed that a wage freeze proposed by the company is central to the workers' complaint.

"The company is refusing to raise wages, and our folks feel it's due because of increasing health care costs," said Kline. He did not specify the size of the wage increase the workers hope to receive. "The company's position is there will be no raise," he said. "That kind of moots out what the employees are asking for."

Striking employee and local shop chairman Jim Miller said talks have not progressed over the past eight weeks.

"It's only been a couple hours every week," he said of the negotiations, adding the next meeting was scheduled to take place Tuesday.

OPW officials declined to comment for this story, but strikers said the company has hired temporary workers to replace them, and that their concerns now include ensuring they retain their jobs and seniority when the strike ends.

"A major issue is the hiring of replacement workers," said Kline.

"We're a little concerned about the quality of work being done there with temporary workers," said Miller.

Strickland and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher talked with the picketers after the Amylin ceremony was finished. Chaney and Miller explained their concerns to both officials, who then went down the line of picketers, shaking hands and talking briefly with each person. They commented to Chaney and Miller as they left.

"We'll see what we can do about it," said Strickland.

"We'll get on it, guys," said Fisher.


Teamsters push union-friendly AG for Governor

Supporters of Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon described him as a friend to labor at a rally, where the Teamsters union endorsed his candidacy for governor.

Teamsters President Jim Hoffa visited suburban St. Louis for the announcement Wednesday, where hundreds rallied on behalf of the Democratic candidate.

'He has worked night and day to make sure working people are protected,' said Hoffa. There are roughly 65,000 active and retired members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Missouri, the union said. Teamster workers include long-haul drivers, grocery, bakery and warehouse workers, petroleum workers, auto dealers and others.

The endorsement isn't simply a show of support, Hoffa said following his remarks. 'It's going to mean boots on the ground, from St. Louis to Kansas City,' he said. The union encourages its members to the polls, through get out the vote programs, mailings and phone calls to encourage their participation, he said.

Nixon noted that he was a member of the Laborers' Union for seven years. His union membership began in 1973, while he was working summer construction jobs during college and law school.

He has pursued more than 100 prevailing wage enforcement actions against companies, involving $2.7 million in back wages to employees, his campaign said. Prevailing wage is the minimum wage amount that workers on Missouri public works construction projects must be paid.

He also has taken action against employers who violated state law by not carrying workers' compensation insurance for their employees, collecting about $1.8 million in the past three years.

Nixon, who told audience members about his family and stories growing up in De Soto in Jefferson County, said he was taught at home not to start fights when he was in school, but, 'If someone else starts a fight, it's OK to finish one.'

He cited a number of issues he disagrees with Gov. Matt Blunt on, saying the governor has cut or reduced health insurance benefits to about 400,000 Missourians.

'It's a fight I cannot finish alone. I need your help,' he said.

Blunt campaign spokesman John Hancock called the Teamsters' endorsement for Nixon 'a non-event,' saying it's no surprise Nixon got their endorsement.

But, he said, 'I'm quite convinced thousands of rank-and-file Teamsters will vote for Matt Blunt next November.' The Republican governor has not officially announced his candidacy yet, but has been raising millions toward his run.

Hancock disagreed with the figure offered by Nixon on numbers of Missourians with cut or reduced health insurance, saying he thought Nixon's campaign was adding different or dissimilar items together.

Nixon's campaign stood by the figure, saying it was from two Medicaid-related documents from 2005 and 2006.

Hancock said Blunt has fostered entrepreneurship, created a business friendly environment in Missouri, in part through litigation reform, and sponsored the Quality Jobs Act, resulting in 'thousands of good-paying jobs with health insurance in Missouri.'

He said Blunt's 'Insure Missouri' program is part of an effort to reform and revitalize health care.

The plan to subsidize private health insurance for lower-income Missourians is projected over the next five years to gradually extend health care coverage to about 190,000 people at an ultimate annual cost of $952 million.

Peggy Hediger, 67, a retired nurse from Wentzville and Nixon supporter at the Teamsters rally, said she doesn't see Blunt as a reformer when it comes to health insurance. 'I think he's a day late and a dollar short. He shouldn't have cut that in the first place,' she said.


Judge monkey-wrenches SEIU-happy Governor

Maryland GOP lawmakers on Monday reveled in a Cecil County Circuit Court decision that struck down an executive order signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley to allow child care providers to unionize.

The order, signed in August, allowed the Service Employees International Union to hold a mail-in election on unionizing in-home child care providers who receive reimbursement through the state Purchase of Care program. Nearly 1,700 of the 5,800 eligible providers voted in the election, with 1,357 voting for unionization and 330 voting against. The order did not affect child care centers.

On Friday, Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Dexter M. Thompson Jr. issued a preliminary injunction barring the O'Malley administration from enforcing the order.

The objective of unionization was not "wrongful," Thompson wrote, but should not have been done by an executive order.

"On its face it appears to be a very rational, logical approach to deal with POC providers scattered all over the state and something with which either the executive or legislative branch, or both, should be concerned," he wrote.

However, Thompson wrote, "the public interest is best served when representatives and agencies of the state are operating under lawful orders and by lawful means. The public interest is not served when a state agency or unit operates, at least in part, pursuant to an invalid rule or order."

Thompson found that the executive order did not violate the separation of powers, but that it should have been done under the state’s Administrative Procedure Act.

Thompson had already issued a temporary restraining order on Sept. 24 after the Maryland State Family Child Care Association and others, including Senate Minority Whip Allan H. Kittleman and Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr. (R-Dist. 36) of Elkton, filed suit against O’Malley (D). Kittleman and Smigiel are members of the Administrative Executive Legislative Review Committee, which would have reviewed O’Malley’s action had it been in the form of a regulation.

"This case is about whether the governor by executive order can choose to do this, something the legislature has clearly not chosen to do so far," Mark L. Rosenberg, a lawyer for the association, said at a Monday news conference.

Bills allowing the POC providers to unionize have died in General Assembly committees in 2006 and 2007.

The Court of Special Appeals on Oct. 3 granted a stay of the temporary restraining order pending an appeal before the appeals court.

Union representatives said they expect the court will do the same with the preliminary injunction.

"Providers worked together for three years to win the right to vote and form our union to improve child care," Madie Green, a child care provider in District Heights who helped lead the effort to form a union with SEIU Kids First, said in a statement. "It's disappointing that a few people are still trying to keep our votes from counting."

The Attorney General's Office will request a stay pending appeal of the preliminary injunction, said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman.

The executive order is part of a larger trend of "usurpation of legislative prerogative" by O’Malley, said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) of Lusby.

"We don't live in a dictatorship," said Kittleman (R-Dist. 9) of West Friendship. "We shouldn't have the governor rule be fiat."

On Oct. 1, O’Donnell and House Minority Whip Christopher B. Shank (R-Dist. 2B) of Hagerstown had letters hand-delivered to O’Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Dist. 27) of Chesapeake Beach and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis.

The letters expressed "great concern" about O’Malley's executive orders allowing in-home health care workers and child care providers to unionize and the fact that the O’Malley administration has yet to write lethal injection regulations that would allow the state to resume executions.

O'Malley testified in February in favor of a bill to repeal the death penalty. The bill died in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

By issuing the orders and failing to issue the death penalty regulations "the governor continues to make egregious incursions as to the legislative authority as delineated in our constitution," O'Donnell said.

"We have yet to receive a response [to the letters]," he said.

O'Malley is delaying the regulations until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the spring on a lethal injection case in Kentucky, said Rick Abbruzzese, the governor's spokesman. The case could decide how the court evaluates what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The legislature has not shown the political will to approve the regulations or to ban the death penalty outright, Abbruzzese said.

Del. Anne Healey (D-Dist. 22) of Hyattsville, House chairwoman of the AELR Committee, which would review the regulations, is an ardent death penalty opponent.

"The governor has also said he would like to see the General Assembly take it up one more time before moving forward," Abbruzzese said.


Celebs bring striking writers plenty of snacks

Like everybody, we've been enchanted with the Norma Rae-esque details of the WGA strike—catchy chants, oversize signs, shiftless teamsters, and blowup rats—it's just all so ... real.

And while we're getting somewhat jealous watching Hollywood's underclass shake their collective fists at corporate overlords (bringing back "scab" as a legitimate insult), we can't help but think that the constant care-package deliveries to the striking writers are hurting their attempts to turn Studio City into a West Coast version of Pennsylvania coal country.

Obviously, there's nothing wrong with food on the picket line, but ideally it should be a batch of tinfoil-wrapped cheese sandwiches delivered by the shift supervisor's stern-eyed, salt-of-the-earth-type wife. Coffee shouldn't be brought in from non-union places like Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf—it should be delivered in a thermos by the striking floor foreman's sad-eyed, conflicted blonde with dreams of breaking out of this one-horse town, who ultimately decides to walk the line with her husband, even though the factory owner's handsome young son wants to run away with her.

Sadly, these simple archetypes of American determination are absent from the WGA strike, replaced by an Arquette sister bearing Starbucks. With a tip of the hat to the reporting of L.A. Weekly's Nikki Finke, Defamer, and the L.A. Times, Radar runs down the picket line cuisine and swag deliveries ...

• Jay Leno: Krispy Kreme donuts

• Patricia Arquette: Starbucks coffee and pastries

• Rachel Griffiths: Starbucks

• Eva Longoria: Domino's Pizza (but she only brought two—not everyone weighs 95 pounds, Eva)

• Danny Bonaduce: Girl Scout cookies

• Marc Cherry: Pizza

• Eddie Izzard: "blue wristbands that say 'All for One and One for All'" (no word yet on how to feed a family on blue wristbands)

• Jimmy Kimmel: "tasty grub from a great Mexican place in the farmers market"

• Defamer staffers: Donuts and beer

• Tom Bergeron: Starbucks gift cards

• Ahmet Zappa: "coffee drinks"

• Teamsters: Dove bars

• Joss Whedon fan boys: pizza

• Endeavor agents Matt Solo and Thomas Wellington: cookies

• Jon Stewart: two weeks pay ... maybe

• Kaplan Stahler agents: Dr. Scholls footpads


Federal charges filed against Teamsters

A Kalispell timber trucker has filed federal charges against the Butte-based Teamsters, saying the union threatened his job illegally and demanded dues without adequately providing information about the union’s expenses, as required by law.

Michael Weller, an employee of Hanson Trucking and Resin Haulers Inc. in Columbia Falls, is not a member of the Teamsters Local 2 union, but said he was being over-charged for the dues he must pay as a nonmember, and provided several letters from the union saying it would request that he be fired if he did not pay the requested amounts.

“The union thinks they can get away with anything,” Weller said. “They’re ripping me off somewhere.”

Weller filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a federal agency that governs relations between unions and employers in the private sector.

As a non-union member in an industry where many of his colleagues join the union, Weller receives the benefits of increased pay when wage agreements are worked out through collective bargaining by the union. As such, he is required to pay reduced union dues to cover only his portion of collective bargaining, but he is not required to pay for expenses like union political activities.

These rights – called Beck rights after the U.S. Supreme Court case which affirmed them – also entitle non-union workers like Weller to a third-party audit of union expenditures to prove that he is not being charged for services from which he does not benefit.

After learning of his right to pay reduced dues, Weller wrote to the union electing to do so. Mark Brandt, Secretary and Treasurer for the Teamsters Local 2 union replied in two letters that reduced Weller’s monthly dues by 69 cents, from $39 to $38.31. In a Sept. 13 letter, Brandt also informed Weller he would have to pay a $150 objector fee and that if he didn’t, the union would request his termination. Reached last week in Great Falls, Brandt said the union has just been served with the charges and it was too early to comment.

Weller paid the charges out of fear of losing his job, and is now seeking financial disclosure documents from the union that break down whether he is paying the correct amount.

“He could be paying more, and we have no idea because the right financial disclosure documents have not been provided,” said John Powell, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRWLDF), which is handling the case. “In the event we find he is paying more than is required by law, then he could be seeking back charges as well.”

The case now goes before the NLRB’s regional board, which will investigate the charges and decide whether to issue a formal complaint against the union.

Weller, a 10-year trucker, emphasized that he enjoys his work at Hanson, where he has been employed for about a year and a half, and has a positive relationship with his employer. The dispute, he added, is between him and the union.

“I just want them to prove that they’re spending the money, and that it’s legal,” Weller said. “I don’t expect to gain anything out of it, I just want them to abide by the rules that they set.”

A similar case was settled last month in favor of the workers, when two employees of Safeway in Polson filed charges against the Butte-based United Food and Commercial Workers Local 4 union. The two employees said the union inadequately informed them of their rights to be nonmembers or to pay reduced membership fees. The case, also handled by the NRWLDF, ended with the union agreeing to reimburse the workers a portion of their dues and honor their resignations from membership. While agreeing to the settlement, the union did not admit any wrongdoing.


Police union demands double-digit pay hike

Fort Lauderdale, FL police officers want more than twice the pay raises the city is offering, officials revealed in contract negotiations Wednesday. Sgt. Mike Tucker, a union representative, had declined at a rally Tuesday night to say how much officers were seeking in pay raises. But at a public meeting for contract negotiations Wednesday morning, the details of the debate came out:

The city is offering police 5 percent raises for each year of the contract, but only if the union agrees to give up the existing city pension system for new employees, sending incoming officers to the Florida Retirement System.

On the other side, the police officers want 10.5 percent pay raises each of the three years, as well as a cost of living increase every year for retired officers, and no switch to a state pension program.

At Wednesday's face-off, neither side budged. "The problem," said Fraternal Order of Police local President Jack Lokeinsky, a Fort Lauderdale officer, "is that the pledge you put on the table puts us in the middle" compared to other area law enforcement agencies. "Our officers deserve to be more than in the middle."

In an interview after the meeting, Lokeinsky gave the reasoning behind the raise request. "The [city] manager got a 21 percent increase over 2 years. So we asked for the same thing he got."

City Manager George Gretsas' salary increased from $180,000 in 2004 to $219,000 two years later, a 21.7 percent increase.

More than 200 officers protested outside City Hall on Tuesday night that the department is losing employees because of low pay and pensions, compared to other local agencies.

City officials countered, saying that crime is down, and that the contract must be fair not just to officers, but to taxpayers.

Talks between the two sides have dragged on for months.

The contract expired at the end of September. Meanwhile, the city came to terms with its largest union, the general employees.

The general employees agreed to give up a government pension for new workers. They'll have a 401(k) plan instead, with the city contributing an amount equal to 9 percent of each employee's salary each year.

Fort Lauderdale's officers pay 7 percent of their salary into the pension investment fund, but the city's portion is much higher: 49 percent. Then when officers retire, they can receive a maximum of 81 percent of their salary as a retirement benefit until they die.

But Wednesday, Lokeinsky told the city's negotiators, including police Chief Bruce Roberts, that abandoning the city pension system isn't the answer.

"If someone has some idea to fix the plan, we're willing to consider it," said Pete Sampo, the labor attorney representing the city.

The pension board will discuss the issues its meeting Wednesday.


Feds bust PA union embezzler

A Leechburg (PA) woman was indicted Wednesday on charges of embezzling union funds and making false entries in union financial records.

Deborah Anthony, 42, of Campbell Avenue, is the sole defendant in the nine-count indictment, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan's office.

According to the release, Anthony wrote unauthorized union checks to herself and third-party vendors for her personal use. In addition, she made false entries in union books, according to the release.

The release did not say which union that Anthony worked for.


Scofflaw union wants forced dues flow restored

On Dec. 1, at 12 noon, Transit Workers Union Local 100 will hold a “Save Our Union” mass membership meeting at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in this city for all members in good standing.

The TWU, which represents subway and bus workers in New York, has been the target of a concerted government attack since it went on strike for three days in December 2005, defying the state’s anti-labor Taylor Law. In retaliation, then-State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer went into Brooklyn Supreme Court to try to force the union to end the strike. Judge Theodore Jones fined the union $2.5 million, jailed TWU 100 President Roger Toussaint, suspended dues checkoff for the union, and fined every union member five days’ pay.

This Oct. 4, TWU Local 100 filed papers in Brooklyn Supreme Court seeking restoration of dues checkoff. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, at the behest of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, representing Spitzer who is now governor of the state, immediately responded with motions opposing the union’s filing.

The MTA proposed a “conditional” restoration of the union’s right to collect dues via checkoff, which could be revoked the instant the union threatened a strike. The MTA wants to use the dues—the lifeblood of the union—as a hammer against it in upcoming negotiations over the current contract, which ends in December 2008.

On Nov. 1 Mayor Bloomberg went one step further and had the New York City Law Department file papers with the Brooklyn Supreme Court opposing any restoration of dues checkoff, be it “full” or “conditional,” without an explicit promise never to strike against any government.

This is why TWU Local 100 has instituted a “Save Our Union” campaign. Some 23,642 members—76 percent of TWU membership—have voluntarily paid their dues. But collecting dues “by hand” forces the administration of the union to use much of its people power to chase after each member for the money, reducing the union’s ability to fight management. In addition, the failure to collect from the 24 percent who don’t voluntarily pay their dues forces the union to lay off staff needed to defend the membership.

Despite all the pressure put on the TWU Local 100 leadership, the union has not capitulated. It even provided office space to the Taxi Workers Alliance during their recent strike.

All this is happening at the same time that the MTA is considering a transit fare hike that will hurt working people.

Where are the other city unions? Where is the Central Labor Council?

TWU Local 100 is the most powerful union in the city due to its ability to shut down the financial center of the capitalist world. The failure of the other city unions to go out on strike in 2005, or even to threaten a strike in support of the TWU, allowed Spitzer to go to court and demand draconian penalties.

The lack of support from other city unions was the single most important reason why the Brooklyn Supreme Court was able to impose fines, jail Toussaint, suspend the dues check-off and dock the workers five days’ pay. The other city unions failed to show real solidarity and allowed the most strategic and powerful union in New York to be isolated.

The result is a weakened labor movement in New York City.

The next TWU Local 100 contract negotiations will take place in 2008. Other city unions, such as District Council 37 AFSCME, have already begun negotiations on new contracts with the city.

New York is the financial and banking center of the capitalist system. The current capitalist economic crisis will hit the city workers very hard. Already Mayor Bloomberg has ordered cuts in city agency budgets and a job freeze that will lead to layoffs and cuts in services, which will hit the oppressed communities hardest.

Union solidarity during this crisis would make it possible for the TWU to raise the workers’ basic right to strike if necessary and challenge the punitive measures of the Taylor Law. Will the labor leadership continue to waste millions of dollars on the fraudulent 2008 election campaigns—or will they change their strategy and pin their hopes on the only real solution: mobilizing the union rank and file in a united front of public sector unions and the community?


State law encourages long teacher strikes

The PA Department of Education determined teachers could strike from Oct. 15 through Nov. 8 and still get the required 180 days of instruction in by June 15. The state’s final deadline is June 30.

When the department calculated the strike end date, all but federally mandated holidays — Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and Memorial Day — were considered potential make-up days.

When district officials remade the school calendar, which will be distributed to students today, they left Christmas break in, Superintendent James McGovern said after Thursday’s school board meeting. The calendar also contains a spring break that could be used for snow days, he said.

Instead of taking away all the vacation days, the end of the school year was pushed back from Friday, June 13, to Friday, June 27.

Although concerned about lost instructional time before students take the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests in April, McGovern said, “Right now I think it is more important to preserve the continuity of families’ holidays and graduation.”

Since the strike lasted until the state deadline, teachers contract negotiations, at a standstill, will resume under state-mandated non-binding arbitration.

Lake-Lehman Education Association Vice President Phil Lipski is hopeful that with a neutral third party guiding negotiations, progress can be made on the three main sticking points: health care, tuition reimbursement and salary increases.

Teachers and taxpayers

Clashes between board and union negotiating teams led to five write-in candidates trying — unsuccessfully, as it turned out — to wrest four of the open school board seats from two incumbents and two official candidates.

“In this election, the people of this school district sent a message they don’t like what’s going on,” said Ed Kern.

He was one of about 12 residents counter-protesting near the approximately 60 teachers picketing in front of the junior-senior high school prior to Thursday’s board meeting.

“We are still confident we have five or six board members that are reasonable, and that do want what’s best for families at Lake-Lehman,” LLEA Second Vice President Rich Cronin said.

“We’re excited to be going back to school, and to have open, frank discussion with parents about what happened. We look forward to a successful academic year,” he said.

The teachers stayed outside, not wanting to cross their own picket line.

Inside, Harveys Lake resident Michelle Boice told the board, “I think (teachers’ lead negotiator John) Holland has held up as hostage the education of our children long enough, and the ransom he’s asking from the taxpayers can’t be raised.”

Resident John Yogodzinski, supporting the teachers, said the district’s financial problems were brought on by current and previous boards.


Eisner directs strikers to attack Jobs, Apple

In terms of hyperbolic CEO sound bites, Christmas has come early this year. Just last week NBC Universal exec Jeff Zucker was claiming that Apple "destroyed the music business," and now former Disney CEO Michael Eisner is taking a similar swing at Cupertino.

While discussing the Writer's Guild of America strike on stage at the Media and Money Conference, Eisner said the following according to CNet: "[The studios] make deals with Steve Jobs, who takes them to the cleaners. They make all these kinds of things, and who's making money? Apple! They should get a piece of Apple. If I was a union, I'd be striking up wherever he is."

It's clear that dumping on Apple really is becoming the new black. But what complicates Eisner's assertion is that he insists earlier in the conversation that the revenue stream from digital content is a mere trickle. From there, he posits that writers shouldn't even be striking now because they are ultimately asking for "a piece of a nonexistent flow, which won't be nonexistent, but it will be nonexistent for the next three years."

If Eisner's argument is even taken seriously, it's obvious who the culprit is -- media executives like Eisner and Zucker. Hardware sales are Apple's bread and butter when it comes to revenue, so the idea that the Cupertino company is amassing wealth through selling digital content is absurd.

Furthermore, the only reason Apple would be in a position to profit off digital content is because it worked to establish a proprietary distribution method (iTunes) to support its hardware sales. Had companies like Disney and NBC Universal had the foresight to develop their own distribution models for digital content, then bowing to Apple wouldn't have to be a deal breaker in the digital space.

Of course, had that have happened, we could also be paying $4.99 for episodes of The Office


A Carpenters Union 'conversation'

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