Striking writers take the weekend off

Talk show host Ellen Degeneres is under fire from some striking writers for yukking it up on air, as a strike by the Writers Guild of America ends its first week.

Negotiations between the guild and major studios deadlocked six days ago, and no new talks are scheduled.

The East Coast arm of the writer's guild blasted Degeneres this week for undermining the walkout after the Burbank-based show returned to NBC's Burbank studios to tape live shows. Although Degeneres' morning gabfest went dark Monday as a show of support for striking writers, she resumed taping on Tuesday. As a show of solidarity she said she would not be doing an opening monologue.

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists stuck up for Degeneres' decision to return to the air. AFTRA criticized the Guild for publicly lashing out at the talk show host, the trade magazine Broadcasting and Cable reported. An AFTRA spokeswoman issued a statement saying that as a member of the actors' union, Degeneres and others on her show were legally bound by a no-strike contract to report to work.

Late night talk show host Jay Leno is also feeling the heat from the strike as studio heads weigh whether to replace the funnyman with someone who will cross the picket line, the Los Angeles Times reported. "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" has been in reruns since the six-day strike began Monday as Leno halted taping in support of his striking writers. But NBC is now said to be weighing the idea of replacing Leno with a fill-in host, The Times reported.

David Wyatt, an L.A.-based comedy writer who's written for "The Cosby Show," "Whoopi," and "Martin," said support is growing for striking writers, as evidenced by the large turnout Friday outside the offices of Fox Studios in Century City.

"The support has been well, we've gotten more and more people out there each day," said Wyatt, a union strike captain. "On Friday we had 4,000-5,000 people."

"We're ready to sit out for however long it takes to get a fair deal," added Wyatt.

Talks between writers and major studios broke off Sunday, mainly over payments for shows that are rerun on the Internet and other new media. Negotiations have not resumed.

Daily TV talk shows have been hit hard by the strike, with many being forced into showing reruns as comedy writers walked off the job. Workers at TV shows that have shut down production since the strike could soon face layoffs.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has urged both sides to settle their differences quickly. He said the strike was already having a major impact on the state's economy.

No strike actions are scheduled for this weekend but writers will be manning the picket lines again on Monday outside several major studios, according to the strike schedule posted on the WGA Web site.


SEIU's RICO-inspired tactics advance via MSM

Two unions representing workers at some Rite Aid stores along the East Coast accuse the drugstore chain of interfering with their efforts to organize.

The issue involves workers at the recently acquired Eckerd and Brooks drugstores. Last week, Mary F. Sammons, Rite Aid Corp. chairman, president and CEO, said integration of the Eckerd and Brooks stores "is going very well for us."

The unions disagree, contending that the company's opposition to union efforts is a change from past practice whenever Rite Aid acquired stores.

East Pennsboro Twp.-based Rite Aid argues that it wants the employees of the affected stores to determine for themselves whether they want to organize.

"It's not fair for us to decide for our associates," company spokeswoman Karen Rugen said. "If they want to be represented by a union, they have the right to vote by secret ballot in an election administered by the National Labor Relations Board. The associates at these stores have not chosen to be represented by [the unions] and we're not going to force a union or union dues on them."

The unions challenging Rite Aid are United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 and Service Employees International Union Local 1199.

UFCW represents about 3,000 Rite Aid employees at stores in eastern Pennsylvania, from Philadelphia north to Scranton and west to Lancaster and Reading.

The SEIU Local 1199 represents about 5,000 workers at more than 400 Rite Aid stores in the New York City area and northern New Jersey.

For years, representatives of the unions said, they were able to represent workers in those regions whenever Rite Aid acquired a store or a company.

UFCW Local 1776 President Wendell W. Young IV said the union was able to represent workers automatically whenever Rite Aid made an acquisition within UFCW territory.

Mindy Berman, a spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1199, said the union was able to represent workers after demonstrating majority support through union card signings.

Now, both claim, Rite Aid has changed the rules. The unions have filed grievances.

Both unions said this behavior will have a negative impact on Rite Aid and its relationship with not just the two unions, but organized labor in general.

During the past week, more than 5,000 people -- including many union members -- attended the 53rd annual International Foundation Employee Benefits conference in California, where Rite Aid tried to drum up business for its pharmacy benefits management operation.

"They have not gotten a warm reception," Young said Wednesday on the last day of the conference.

Berman asked, "Why should we do that at the same time when they're treating our workers so badly?"

Young said the approach by Rite Aid is a big difference from past practice. He noted that Rite Aid has generally been regarded as a union-friendly company.

But with the completed Eckerd/Brooks acquisition, Rite Aid has taken "a different approach to labor issues," he said.

Rugen said the unions have their own agenda and are referring to an agreement that expired before the current management team took over eight years ago.

She said the unions are attempting to pressure the company so they can represent the Eckerd/Brooks employees "without giving those associates a chance to vote on whether they want a union or want to pay union dues."

But Berman and Young said Rite Aid is exerting pressure on the workers. Berman said Rite Aid has instructed Eckerd store managers to deny union organizers access to stores, has confiscated union literature, and has interrogated and intimidated workers.

Rugen said Rite Aid has a no-solicitation policy that "we enforce unilaterally."

"That means soliciting is not allowed by anybody in the store, nor is the distribution of literature," she said.

Young said he has had meetings with Rite Aid management, but "their position hasn't changed." He said he hopes the unions and management can eventually resolve the issue.

"I want the company to be successful because I want my workers to be successful," Young said.

The two unions have joined with another union on the West Coast to protest Rite Aid's labor position. International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 26 has tried to organize 600 employees at the company's Lancaster, Calif., distribution facility.

The ILWU said it was called in to help organize in March 2006 over issues such as mandatory overtime, working conditions and job security. The union said Rite Aid responded with a "nasty, aggressive anti-union campaign" that resulted in accusations of 49 violations of federal labor law by the National Labor Relations Board.

The union said Rite Aid agreed to settle rather than have an NLRB hearing. The settlement required the rehiring of two workers and the payment of $40,000 in back wages and interest, ILWU said.

Jeannine Rudolph of LRA Consulting, which provides advice to unions, said "picking this fight with the unions is counterproductive."

She noted that Rite Aid's stock is at an 18-month low and its sales have been relatively flat. She said it was "foolish" for Rite Aid to be taking this action with its unions as it enters the holiday shopping season.


ULP charges prolong UAW-Navistar strike

Two weeks into the United Auto Workers strike against International Truck and Engine Corp., both sides were waiting for the other to resume negotiations and for the National Labor Relations Board to respond to complaints filed by the union.

Operations continued without most union members at the Truck Development and Technology Center and the Truck Reliability Center in Fort Wayne after the UAW called a strike and set up pickets at the facilities Oct. 23.

The International facilities employ about 1,000 workers, including close to 300 represented by UAW Local 2911. Members of the local have been carrying signs at entrances of the facilities to call attention to the strike.

Local 2911 reports most of its members are participating in the strike.

“We are getting the work done. We have employees who are coming across the line and working, as well. That’s a good sign that they’re concerned about making sure the job gets done,” said Jeff Benzing, communications manager for International in Fort Wayne. “Do we want our co-workers back? Yes, we want them back. But at the same time, things will be completed and we’ll get the job done,” he said.

As area temperatures dropped during the two weeks members have been out, Local 2911 has set up a heated shelter at the front gate of the Truck Development and Technology Center.

In a message to members, Tom Burkholder, president of the local, said strike captains will work out shifts, if needed, to send people on the picket line to the shelter to warm up.

The message said the union didn’t expect to hear from the National Labor Relations Board for at least 13 to 23 days.

“Everything’s going along pretty much as it was; we’re sort of waiting on them (at the NLRB) to make some decision on the charges we’ve got against the company,” he said in a phone interview.

On the matter of members returning to work during the strike, Burkholder said it is “always a concern when they start going over.”

“Right now, it’s probably less than 20, but I’d have rather not seen them go across. It’s something that … doesn’t surprise me that some went across. And there were some who went across who did surprise me. Life itself is a surprise sometimes.”

Local and national union officials said the action is not an economic strike but an unfair labor practices strike. The UAW has charged the company with contract negotiation interference.

International is owned by Warrenville, Ill.-based Navistar International Corp., which has been pushing for cost reductions from the union.


County Democrats choose non-union contractor

Franklin County commissioners moved yesterday to end a lawsuit that threatened to delay construction of their new baseball stadium. In a special session, commissioners voted 2-0 to award Lithko Contracting Inc. a $5.9 million contract to pour concrete for Huntington Park.

Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy abstained, saying she's seeking an opinion from the Ohio Ethics Commission over a potential conflict of interest. At issue, she said, was whether Lithko might buy supplies from Anderson Concrete, which has a relationship with the Teamsters Union, which her husband's law firm represents.

Lithko, of Hamilton, Ohio, and recommended by the county's bid review panel, was $17,500 cheaper than its competitor. But commissioners placed on their agenda a week ago plans to approve a contract for Baker Construction of Monroe, Ohio.

The vote never actually occurred because Lithko sued the commissioners on Monday in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. The company said the county was skirting its own bidding rules to curry favor with labor unions. All three commissioners are Democrats. Baker uses union labor; Lithko is non-union.

Lithko and Baker were started by the same family, although they now are separate companies, a spokeswoman for Baker said. She said Baker had no comment on losing the contract.

Commissioners gave no official reason at their meeting yesterday for awarding Lithko the contract. But later, Commissioner Paula Brooks said they had never had a chance as a board to debate passing either contract and needed to act quickly to avoid construction delays.

"I am worried about our construction schedule; we've got to get this stadium built on time and on budget," Brooks said. The $55 million ballpark is to open in the Arena District for the 2009 baseball season.

Lithko will drop its lawsuit when courts reopen Tuesday, said attorney David S. Timms, of Mason Law Firm, which is representing Lithko.

"We appreciate the commissioners' hard work and due diligence in reviewing additional information and awarding the concrete contract to Lithko," Timms said.

Judge Richard S. Sheward had blocked commissioners from giving Baker the job until a Nov. 16 hearing.

But Nationwide Realty Investors, which is donating its services to the county as the owner's representative, had warned that every day the concrete being poured was delayed would stop construction of the ballpark by a day.

A $3.3 million contract with Marysville Steel can't go forward until the concrete bid is settled.

Commissioners earlier this week defended Baker as a better fit for the job, saying that contractor had more experience in building sports venues. But Lithko, which poured the concrete for Miranova, argued it is currently building a football stadium at Oklahoma State University.


SEIU organizing goals: Dues and Political Clout

A little more than a year ago, Linda Etherton accepted a new job caring for her ailing mother-in-law in Etherton's Aumsville home.

Etherton works at least eight hours every day and is on call around the clock. In September, she drove her mother-in-law to Portland nine times for doctor's appointments.

Under Oregon's relative adult foster-care program, 71-year-old Sylvia Etherton gets to remain in a home setting with care provided by loved ones. The state and the federal Medicaid program save a bundle of money by keeping Sylvia out of a costly nursing home.

Linda Etherton gets paid $740 per month. "Most people in society don't consider it a job," she said. "They have no idea."

But changes are on the way. Service Employees International Union Local 503 recently scored another in a string of union-organizing victories when it convinced a majority of the state's 1,628 relative adult foster-care providers to sign union-authorization cards. That, combined with a new executive order by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, enables SEIU to commence bargaining a union contract on behalf of the care providers, said Danica Finley, SEIU Local 503 organizing director.

"The relative providers are doing it because of a special relationship with an individual or individuals," Finley said. But they desire better pay, more training and other benefits that joining together in a union can secure, she said.

Etherton hopes for all that and more. She wants some respect for her work, and to break out of her isolation.

"I've never attended a training," Etherton said. "I don't know other adult foster care people my area."

Etherton said she gets "run-around after run-around" when advocating for her mother-in-law's services.

"We're all being told different things, or we're not being told things we should know," she said.

Etherton worked a year before learning she was eligible for a mileage reimbursement.

Earlier this year, Oregon became the first state in the nation to see unionization of adult foster-care workers, Finley said. That was when SEIU organized another group of about 2,000 commercial providers. They care for up to five frail seniors or disabled people in their homes, providing nursing care around the clock.

The commercial providers operate more as in-home businesses, while the relative foster-care providers get into it for different reasons, and usually have one or two people in their homes.

Both face some similar issues, Finley said.

Unionizing the two sectors of adult foster-care providers comes a few years after SEIU unionized home-care workers. Those workers come into the homes of frail seniors and disabled people to tend to their personal needs, which allows those people to remain in their homes and neighborhoods.

In the past year or two, SEIU, along with its rival, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 75, unionized home day-care operators who get state payments to serve low-income families.

Organizing such "caring professions" has expanded the notion of unionism, said Bob Bussel, director of the Labor Research and Education Center at the University of Oregon, and a labor historian. It's also helping propel SEIU to rapid growth in Oregon and nationally, he said.

It's too soon to say if the labor movement is reviving in this country, Bussel said, but he sees some trends akin to the "stirring period in labor history," when big industrial unions were forged in the 1930s.

The new union drives also give public employees unions, especially SEIU, more political clout in Oregon, Bussel said.

One sign of that: SEIU this year became the largest union in Oregon, surpassing the Oregon Education Association.


Broadway on strike, theaters go dark

The drama was on the streets and not on stage for disappointed theatergoers as striking stagehands picketed behind barricades in the Times Square area.

From "Wicked" to "The Phantom of the Opera," from "Mamma Mia!" to "Rent," most shows did not go on Saturday as Broadway stagehands walked off the job, shutting down more than two dozen plays and musicals.

The IATSE Local One union had no official comment on the walkout and no new negotiations have been scheduled with the League of American Theatres and Producers. So the outlook for a quick settlement looks murky.

The two sides have been in contentious negotiations for more than three months. Much of their disagreements involve work rules and staffing requirements, particularly rules governing the expensive process of loading in and setting up a show. The producers want more flexibility in hiring; the union bosses don't want to give up what they say are hard-won benefits without something in return.

"We must remain committed to achieving a fair contract," Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of the league, said. "Our goal is simple: to pay for workers we need and for work that is actually performed."

City officials said Saturday that it was too early to estimate the economic impact of the strike. Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed disappointment that the two sides couldn't settle their differences without a strike, but reiterated, "The city continues to stand ready to help in any way we can."

The work stoppage first affected "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical," a holiday attraction for families that had an early 11 a.m. matinee.

School counselor Vicki Michel, with teacher husband Pat, came to New York from their home in Puyallup, Wash., for a weekend of Broadway shows. The three shows they intended to see were all canceled: "Grinch," "Hairspray" and "Mamma Mia!" They managed to nab tickets to "Young Frankenstein" (which was not affected by the walkout) and the "Radio City Christmas Spectacular," and were headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday instead of the "Grinch."

Outside the Gershwin Theatre where "Wicked" plays, Wanda Antonetti, of DuBois, Pa., and her daughter, Sherry Antonetti, of Dover, Del., contemplated where to shop. They arrived Saturday morning to celebrate Wanda Antonetti's 70th birthday and did not know about the strike until they arrived at the theater. "We came a long way for lunch," Wanda Antonetti said.

Patrons will be able to get refunds for tickets to canceled shows or exchange the tickets for the next available date, the league said. At "Wicked," several received pamphlets for "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," which was playing next door and was open for business.

On West 52nd Street, where Tony Award-winning musicals "Jersey Boys" and "Hairspray" play on either side of the street, pickets stood behind police barricades as theatergoers received directions on how to get their refunds. The stagehands carried signs reading, "Our families are No. 1."


Writers have marginalized themselves

Although he certainly could not have imagined DVDs, streaming video, the iPhone and the Internet at the time, the novelist and screenwriter James M. Cain decided in 1947 that Hollywood studios had too much power over writers. He thought screenwriters should retain the copyright to their work (as had historically been the rule with novelists and playwrights), and he proposed a plan under which writers would lease their work to the studios and share in all resales and remakes.

Edna Ferber, the Michigan-born novelist and playwright, had managed to pull off such a deal two years earlier by leasing -- rather than selling -- the rights to her novel "Saratoga Trunk" to Warner Bros. But the Ferber example turned out to be an aberration, and Cain, the author of "Double Indemnity" and "The Postman Always Rings Twice," was branded a communist by other members of the Writers Guild and his "radical" idea run out of town. So much for the solidarity of writers -- at least at the time.

It's sometimes forgotten now how such attempts at organizing writers in Hollywood were so often rebuffed by the Red-baiting politics of the 1930s and '40s, as if unions and the whole idea of collective bargaining were anathema to the American way of life. Back when the Writers Guild was first struggling to win recognition in the late 1930s, newspaper czar Roy Howard (of Scripps-Howard fame) worried that having all those writers working together under one banner would mean the creation of "a writers soviet."

Around the same time, Jack Warner, president of the studio that he and his brothers founded, warned screenwriters that their efforts to win expanded rights would not be tolerated. He and his fellow movie moguls wanted no part of the theater's artistic and legal model, which was based on the premise that the playwright owns his own work and retains copyright and, in theory, artistic control. Under the Dramatists Guild contract for playwrights (first agreed to in 1919 and largely unchanged to this day), no changes can be made to a script without the consent of the author, who must also be involved in selecting the cast and director.

The studio bosses insisted, however, that the process of creating movies was fundamentally different and more like an industrial assembly line designed to maximize profits (this predated the notion of film as art). The way they saw it, a playwright sold a product while a screenwriter sold a service.

Not surprisingly, it was the studio bosses' vision that carried the day. They divided and conquered the writers in the 1930s by making special deals with certain favored screenwriters, by threatening to fire any others who sided with the guild -- and perhaps most significantly, by paying enough money that writers could not bear to walk away. As Nancy Lynn Schwartz recounted in her 1982 book, "The Hollywood Writers' Wars," the producers knew that "an insurrection of this sort had to be stopped."

The agreement reached with the newly founded Writers Guild in 1942 contained the defining clause that survives to this day: "The studio, hereinafter, referred to as the author . . ." making it clear where the writer stood after the sale of his work -- or service, as it were.

Today, as writers walk picket lines in an effort to persuade the studios to compensate them fairly for their work in newly emerging profit centers such as the Internet, it's instructive to remember that their predecessors long ago surrendered the fundamental principle of copyright and that they are unlikely ever to get it back.

That's why the copyright to NBC's hit series "Heroes" does not belong to Tim Kring, who created it and oversees it as executive producer, but to NBC Universal, the corporation that airs and distributes it (after having invested in its development and production).

Some would say that's not a bad deal for writer-producers like Kring who, after all, don't have to put up their own money to develop an idea and who are often handsomely rewarded for their efforts. Writers can earn millions of dollars for a movie script, and in the world of television, those who are perceived as successful can often achieve something close to authorial control.

Yet even they ultimately must bow to the directives of the network or studio and answer to executives who have created no characters or stories. Regardless of the head-turning sums they can make, screenwriters are often treated like second-class Hollywood citizens, routinely replaced by other writers and often not even invited to the set of a movie they've written.

Writers made this uneasy bargain decades ago, choosing, as humans often do, money over principle. The first playwrights and authors who came west in the 1920s, answering the demand for scripts, discovered that in Hollywood they could make five to 10 times what they could earn for a play or a novel. Who cared about ownership or copyright protection?

As long as there's enough money to go around, writers can afford to forget what they gave up in the way of artistic rights and can live well while working within the system. It's only when some new studio math or unforeseen media expansion alters the financial equation, as is happening now, that their relative powerlessness is again exposed -- to their understandable consternation.

The impotence of Hollywood writers has been compounded over the years in feature films by the rise of the French-born "auteur theory" that unofficially assigns the authorship of a film to the director rather than the writer -- another diminution of status that the guild has tacitly and uncomfortably accepted. "With everything people are talking about in the strike, nobody is talking about that," Millard Kauffman, the 90-year-old author of "Bad Day at Black Rock," said last week. "I believe the Writers Guild is in trouble as long as the auteur theory exists."

Everyone who works in Hollywood knows and has always known that there is nothing without the writer, and that all stories (possibly excluding "reality TV," but probably not even that) take shape on the page. But this common knowledge has not been accurately reflected in credit, remuneration or clout. Everybody knows that Steven Spielberg directed "E.T.," one of the most successful films of all time, but how many of us can name its screenwriter, Melissa Mathison?

DVD percentages aside, it's hard to imagine how this awkward reality is going to change any time soon based on the historical record and hegemony of big media.

At the Academy Awards ceremony in 1936, the award for best screenplay went to Dudley Nichols for his adaptation of "The Informer." Nichols, however, did not show up to get his prize because he was boycotting the ceremony in solidarity with 1,000 members of the fledgling screenwriters guild then struggling to win their first independent contract. Nichols earned a place of honor among writers in Hollywood for this noble gesture, but one can't help but wonder if, were he alive today, he would be able to look back and say it was truly worth it.


Colo. Governor compared to Hoffa

To some in Colorado, "union" is a four-letter word. To others, it's a beacon of light.

Business groups and Republicans say the state shouldn't kowtow to labor bosses and make it more expensive to live and work in the state by allowing unions to actively recruit workers.

Meanwhile, Democrats and labor groups say workers would have better health care benefits, salaries and other job securities - which leads to greater services for customers - when they can bargain as a group and leverage their necessity to a company or government entity.

The virtual Continental Divide on this issue was especially evident in recent days, after Gov. Bill Ritter quietly signed an executive order allowing state workers to join unions. Republicans were apopleptic and promised legislation. Democrats said they supported Ritter's decision and that it would help save taxpayers money. The Denver Post, in a rare front-page editorial that apparently surprised even some newsroom employees, called Ritter a latter-day Jimmy Hoffa.

The rhetoric was reminiscent of the other time the words "Ritter" and "unions" were on Republican lips - earlier this spring, before the governor vetoed a labor bill called House Bill 1072.

The measure would have changed a 1943 state law that dictates how unions form - employees vote first for whether there will be a union at their workplace. If that vote passes, a second vote then determines if the business will be a closed shop; that is, whether all employees must pay dues to the union regardless of membership.

HB1072 would have eliminated that second vote, putting the question of a closed shop in the hands of the unions to use as a bargaining tool when negotiating labor contracts with employers. Ritter said the whole debate was conducted poorly and that he agreed with the sentiment, but not the procedure, so he vetoed it.

In his veto message, he told the Democratically controlled state Legislature that he worried the change would affect Colorado's ability to attract new business.

That move almost cost Denver the Democratic National Convention, after union leaders - who are almost always pro-Democratic - cried foul. But Republicans were somewhat mollified, and the issue went to sleep for the rest of the legislative session.

Now Ritter has brought it back onto the table by allowing state workers to organize.

They will not be allowed to go on strike, and they will not be required to join a union or pay union dues, but they will be able to negotiate as a group when it comes to health benefits and salary. Republicans said that would drive up the cost of government, a bad move in a state facing a massive budget crunch. But Democrats countered that it might save money, by bringing workers to the table and seeking common goals.

The announcement came in the form of a press release at Friday afternoon, which Republicans said was designed to stem any controversy. If that's true, it didn't work, because GOP leaders took the stage on Tuesday to denounce Ritter.

State Sen. Shawn Mitchell said Ritter's move was "naked political abuse."

The political flame-throwing will calm down in coming weeks, but what remains to be seen in the long term is how this will affect unions in places other than state government.

Unions are already feeling emboldened - they passed out victorious handbills at the Capitol after Ritter's order - so it's possible that they'll start recruiting from the rank and file who don't get a state paycheck.

In Fort Collins, city employees have been courted for the past couple months by at least one union that wants to represent utilities workers.

The future of unions after Ritter's order will be the real measure of the political divide over this issue.


Ohio politics trend to Labor-Democrats

Tuesday wasn't the worst day Ohio Republicans have seen - those were likely in 1958 (when a right-to-work ballot issue brought Democrats out in full force) and 1964 (when GOP nominee Barry Goldwater did the same) - but Democrats made real gains, setting the table for 2008.

As Democratic State Chairman Chris Redfern notes, Democratic mayors will lead Ohio's 10 largest cities. And while municipal elections may or may not be a test of general statewide trends, they are the latest official measure of Ohio voters' mood.

In Canton - Republican President William McKinley's home - Democratic state Rep. William J. Healey II unseated GOP Mayor Janet Weir Creighton. Stark County, which includes Canton, is sometimes offered as a bellwether of Ohio's presidential sentiment. If so, that sentiment may be Democratic.

In Ohio's largest city, Columbus, Democratic Mayor Michael B. Coleman crushed an energetic (if at times quixotic) challenge from the GOP's William Todd. And while the Northwest Ohio damage to the GOP may not be totaled until next month, state Rep. Robert E. Latta emerged, in a special congressional primary, as the Republican nominee to succeed U.S. Rep. Paul E. Gillmor, who died in September. Latta will vie for Mr. Gillmor's seat Dec. 11 with Democratic nominee Robin Weirauch.

To win the GOP nomination, Latta bested state Sen. Steve Buehrer in a no-holds-barred chair-throw. If Republicans next year cut themselves up statewide the way they just did in the Maumee Valley, Ohio Democrats may see happy days again.

Washington's Republican-rightist Club for Growth backed Todd in Columbus and Latta for Congress and, last year for governor, Cincinnati's J. Kenneth Blackwell. Blackwell made the worst GOP gubernatorial showing since 1912. If these bad calls keep up, the Washingtonians could consider a name change: to the Club for Democratic Growth.

True to form, Redfern puffed his party's gains, while Republican State Chairman Robert T. Bennett understated GOP losses. Bennett conceded Democratic advances, but said Democratic mayors "have the obligation and opportunity to address growing concerns over crime, education and decaying infrastructure." Arguably, though, that's an admission that the GOP left messes to be cleaned up.

In contrast, said Redfern, "What we've witnessed [Tuesday] . . . is the transfer of Ohio from a red state to a blue state."

Actually, it's way too soon for anyone to grab the Crayolas. Let's see whether the Democrats can win back the Ohio House - and who, this time next November, is measuring the White House for curtains.


SEIU protesters hunger for Houston union dues

About 250 workers, union members and elected officials rallied downtown Saturday in an effort to organize workers at some of the city's larger employers — the University of Houston, University of St. Thomas, Reliant Park and the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Service Employees International Union's effort follows its success last year bargaining a contract that improved pay and benefits for workers at four janitorial contracting firms. The union's target this time is an estimated 1,000-plus employees of Aramark, the Philadelphia-based food service and facilities service giant, at the four locations.

Dan Schlademan, vice president of SEIU's Local 1 in Chicago, drew applause from those gathered in Jones Plaza. He said union workers in Chicago's McCormick Place, a convention center similar to the George R. Brown, "make $16.40 an hour plus health care and paid vacation," compared to "as little as $6.30 an hour" for their counterparts here.

Aramark spokeswoman Kristine Grow noted that costs of living differ between the two cities and that the cited figure of $6.30 is "extraordinarily low" among hourly wages for the company's employees in Houston.

City Councilmen Adrian Garcia and M.J. Khan, and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee received cheers for their support from the largely Hispanic audience.

"This is a service industry campaign, and they're under the same circumstances that the janitors were — subpar pay, the same working hours and conditions," said Garcia, whose mother was a janitor.

"If I put in a hard day's work," Khan told the crowd, "I need to receive decent pay so I can support my family and I deserve to get benefits like health insurance. If I believe that for myself, I believe it for everybody else."


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