Iowa hospital slaps SEIU with ULP

Finley Hospital has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union representing its nurses, claiming it is engaging in unfair bargaining.

The Dubuque hospital and member of Iowa Health System accused the Service Employees International Union of increasing its contract language and wage demands in its most recent set of contract proposals. "The hospital feels that this represents regressive bargaining and has filed an unfair labor practice against the union with the National Labor Relations Board," the hospital said in a prepared statement.

Nurses at Finley Hospital have been without a contract since June 30, 2006. They have won NLRB decisions on several of their own charges against Finley, including a charge under appeal had their share of success in filing unfair labor practice charges in the hospital, getting one set of charges to a full hearing before a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge.

In October, the union filed a new set of unfair labor charges claiming that the hospital unfairly required the nurses to disclose non-essential personal medical information and conducted unlawful surveillance on nurses.

The timing of Finley's charge was interesting, coming just as Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was visiting an informational picket line Wednesday to show support for the nurses. It also followed by one week a hearing on several unfair labor practice charges against the hospital.

"I think they're desperate," said Linda Merfeld, a Finley nurse and leader of the bargaining unit.

Finley Hospital also aired complaints the nurses has been "disruptive to the community and damaging to the hospital" by conducting two previous strikes and rallying the community and media against the hospital. It said the tactics will not sway the hospital's bargaining position.


Union money overwhelms election, draws complaints

The elections board in Gaithersburg (MD) is being called to service like never before in the wake of this year’s campaign season, which witnessed unprecedented involvement in a city election by a coalition of political action committees.

Four complaints about campaign spending and reporting have been filed with the Board of Supervisors of Elections since Thursday, and Assistant City Manager Fred Felton said he expects the board will be reviewing reporting requirements in the weeks to come.

Largely at issue is the spending of the coalition One Gaithersburg, supported by several labor unions, immigrant groups and other political action committees, on behalf of three candidates — Ryan Spiegel, Carlos Solis and Ahmed Ali. Only Spiegel won a seat in Tuesday’s race.

This year’s election marks the first time a PAC that has not previously been involved in city business has played a role in a Gaithersburg election, Felton said. Under city law, an individual or group can spend up to $500 on behalf of a single candidate.

One Gaithersburg initially listed four supporting groups on its Web site and literature – the Service Employees International Union Local 500, the Montgomery County Government Employees Organization (an affiliate of the UFCW and AFL-CIO), the Coalition of Asian-Pacific Americans Club and Progressive Maryland – representing a total of $6,000 that could be spent.

In financial accounting filed on behalf of One Gaithersburg Tuesday afternoon, seven supporting groups are listed and the commensurate $10,500 in allowed spending is reported.

Spending complaints

Three city residents skeptical of the coalition’s activity filed complaints against One Gaithersburg with the election board last week citing a lack of financial reporting. But Gaithersburg has no reporting requirements for political action committees, Felton said.

Essentially, PAC spending operates on an honor system in Gaithersburg.

‘‘That’s one of the problems with our code,” Felton said. ‘‘While there’s a limitation on what the organizations can spend, there are no reporting requirements.”

Maryland election law does not regulate municipal elections, except in Baltimore City.

The financial accounting of One Gaithersburg provided Tuesday by Solis’ campaign manager was made voluntarily in response to a request from Felton for the group to address the complaint allegations.

The complainants — Olde Towne residents Michael Stumborg and Edward Richley and Kentlands resident Richard Arkin — allege One Gaithersburg was spending more than the $500 per candidate allowed. They also complained that candidates endorsed by the group have not listed the coalition’s contributions on their own financial disclosures.

Disclosures filed by Spiegel, Solis and Ahmed Ali on Thursday do not list any funds received from One Gaithersburg.

The fourth complaint was filed by Olde Towne resident David Savage against the Campaign for Ryan Spiegel. He questions whether the candidate’s costs for brochures and mailings have exceeded what Spiegel disclosed in his latest financial reporting.

‘‘If anyone has a complaint with One Gaithersburg, they should address it with the organization,” Jason Waskey, Spiegel’s volunteer campaign manager, said Monday. ‘‘Ryan has completely followed all the City of Gaithersburg’s campaign finance laws.”

City code defines a political action committee as ‘‘any combination of two or more persons formed in any manner, which has a principal purpose to assist in the promotion of the success or defeat of any candidate or proposition submitted to a vote of any election.” It also imposes $1,000 sanctions on any individual or group that exceeds a $500 contribution limit per candidate.

‘‘I can tell you that we are following the letter of the law,” SEIU Local 500’s Political Director Jaclyn Richter said Monday. And as for the candidates not reporting the in-kind donations of One Gaithersburg groups, she said SEIU Local 500 had not yet disclosed its spending to the candidates, so the candidates would not yet be required by law to report the funds.

The financial accounting made public Tuesday showed $1,500 — or $500 each for three candidates — was spent by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27 Political Action Committee; the UFCW Local 400 ABC Political Action Committee, the Mid-Atlantic Political Action Committee, the SEIU Local 500 PAC and the SEIU Maryland⁄District of Columbia State Council PAC, in addition to the Montgomery County Government Employee Organization UFCW Local 1994 Active Ballot and Progressive Maryland. Each had a treasurer or president listed.

The Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans Club, listed among the original four One Gaithersburg groups, is not mentioned.

The accounting was made in a letter to Felton from Cezar B. Lopez, Solis’ friend and campaign manager. He said One Gaithersburg is not officially a PAC, noting the group has no treasurer or bank account.

‘‘One Gaithersburg is a coalition that is made up of several groups, businesses, individuals and hundreds of residents of the City of Gaithersburg,” Lopez wrote. ‘‘One Gaithersburg has no financial resources to make donations and has not made any expenditures on behalf of a candidate.

He said that groups and individuals supporting One Gaithersburg had communicated with the city manager’s office and understood the $500 limit per candidate.

Committee participation

There is also some question as to the legitimacy of having a PAC participate in a municipal election.

State law states that ‘‘a campaign finance entity established under Maryland law may not be used to support a municipal candidate.”

Some, like Game Preserve Road resident Daniel Reeder who is supporting the Cathy Drzyzgula and Jud Ashman campaigns and has been a campaign manager in past City Council elections, interpret the statute to mean that PACs may not participate in municipal elections, except in the City of Baltimore.

The state law advises contacting the municipality for applicable reporting and registration requirements, and in Gaithersburg, there are none.

The City of Rockville reports one political action group called Real Rockville, which identifies itself on an online blog as ‘‘an organization of concerned citizens” alarmed about the growth rate and density of the city.

‘‘We don’t call them PACs, We call them campaign committees, for legal purposes,” said Claire Funkhouser, Rockville’s city clerk. Her office coordinates elections with the city’s Board of Supervisors of Elections.

‘‘We treat them just like a candidate,” she said. ‘‘They have to file and they have to adhere to the same filing requirements for identifying their contributions and expenditures just like a candidate does.”

Still, some in Gaithersburg believe something just doesn’t seem right with the situation there.

‘‘We may find at the end of the day that these candidates obeyed the letter of the law, but they have clearly, clearly violated the spirit of the law,” Stumborg said Sunday. ‘‘At the end of the day, any candidate is allowed to bring in outside money, but there needs to be some transparency so that people know it is happening.”

Stumborg and his wife Lauren and 10 friends blanketed the city this weekend with notices asking residents to vote only for candidates not affiliated with One Gaithersburg.

And also over the weekend, city staff removed roughly 100 signs — endorsing the three One Gaithersburg candidates — illegally placed along roadways, Felton said.

Some were removed by city staff only to reappear the next day, he said.


Unions want paid sick-days - sick or not

The Service Employees International Union wants the West Virginia Legislature to consider mandating employers to provide paid sick days for their workers. The international health care union, which represents 4,000 West Virginia workers, and others are gathering support for legislation dubbed the West Virginia Healthy Families Act.

The act will require employers with 25 or more employees to give full-time workers up to seven paid sick days per year. Part-time workers can earn paid sick days too, based on the number of hours worked.

These sick days can be used for oneself, a child or aging relative, according to the proposed legislation. The days accrued can carry over from year to year, but an employer is required only to give seven days per year, which includes days that are carried, according to the legislation.

More than 282,000 West Virginia workers have no paid sick leave, said Sherri McKinney of SEIU Local 1199, which serves 27,000 health care and social service workers across West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

“Considering West Virginia’s population, that’s a lot of people without paid sick time,” she said. “For some, missing one day’s pay can make the difference in keeping the electricity on.”

While the majority (86 percent) of West Virginia businesses have fewer than 20 employees, nearly 80 percent of the state’s workers are employed by business with more than 20 employees, according to 2004 census data.

In a poll conducted by the SEIU within the last six months, 81 percent of West Virginians supported the proposal, McKinney said. This is the first time such legislation has been proposed, McKinney said.

Along with the local SEIU chapter, other groups have given their support, including the AFSC-WV Economic Justice Project, Mountain State Education and Research, the South Western District Labor Council, West Virginia AFL-CIO, West Virginia Citizens Action, the West Virginia Council of Churches and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

The SEIU also has talked to legislators for their sponsorship, including Delegates Doug Reynolds and Dale Stephens, both D-Cabell; Don Perdue, D-Wayne; House Speaker Richard Thompson, D-Wayne; House Majority Leader Joe DeLong, D-Hancock; and Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, McKinney said.

Still lacking is the support of local businesses and their organizations, she conceded. However, McKinney said the SEIU has been concentrating on likely supporters so far.

Nationwide, the push for paid sick time is prevalent, said Jennifer Farmer of the SEIU in Columbus, Ohio.

Nearly half of all full-time workers in the U.S. have no paid sick days, Farmer said, referring to data from the National Partnership for Women and Families. Of these workers, half are taking care of children or the elderly, she said.

Lower-wage workers are hit the hardest, with three out of four having no paid sick days, she said.

Currently, only San Francisco has passed such provisions, she said. A city ordinance requires employers to provide sick leave (up to 72 hours for companies with 11 or more employees) to both full-time and part-time employees.

Other policies are proposed in Ohio, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., Farmer said.

So far, opposition to proposed paid sick day legislations has come primarily from the National Federation of Independent Business, Farmer said.

The NFIB has said people are going to cheat and take days when they or their families are not ill and that the bill takes away a business’ flexibility to offer sick days to employees, Farmer said.

Both Farmer and McKinney said similar criticisms could be made of the West Virginia act, but they have yet to hear any local rumblings.

Overall, the legislation could help some low-wage workers keep their heads above water.

“This [legislation] provides a way for families to take care of themselves,” Farmer said.


Candidate ripped over Right To Work

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) has made support for and from organized labor one of the centerpieces of his 2008 presidential campaign, but some labor officials say Edwards is new to their cause and the former senator’s rhetoric is at odds with his record.

With the Democratic candidates set to debate Thursday night in Nevada, a state where labor still carries considerable clout, Edwards’s rivals and the unions backing them are criticizing the former senator’s past support for issues that are anathema to the labor community.

Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), in a speech to the United Auto Workers (UAW) in Iowa this week, aimed at both of his chief rivals. After hitting Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) for her past support of NAFTA, he took an indirect shot at Edwards, saying: “When a candidate says he opposes right-to-work laws or trade rules that hurt workers today, ask him where he’s been before.”

In 1998, while running for the Senate, Edwards did not come out in favor of repealing right-to-work laws in North Carolina, and he has only opposed a national right-to-work law. While North Carolina is hardly considered to be a labor stronghold, the former senator’s record and his relationship with some unions in the state were used by some unions to judge him as unworthy of an endorsement.

The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), which endorsed Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), said Edwards’s unwillingness to advocate a repeal of the right-to-work measure was a sticking point for the membership when it was seriously considering supporting the former senator’s bid.

“How do you walk picket lines and be for right-to-work?” Jeffrey Zack, an IAFF official, said. “It’s surprising that it wasn’t disconcerting to more people.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s results. It’s not what you say. It’s results.”

Edwards has also come under fire for his support for normalizing trade relations with China after he was elected to the Senate and for voting for fast-track authority for the president. Edwards has said since that he regrets both votes, and Wednesday he told the UAW in Iowa that he would reverse trade policies.

Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) were clearly impressed with Edwards when he addressed the group this summer, but members from North Carolina and his past positions on trade and right-to-work were ultimately what led them to endorse Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) instead, officials said.

“He walked out of there completely convinced he had our endorsement,” IAM official Rick Sloan said. “What he failed to realize was the jury was still out.

“I think he makes an exceptional closing argument. If that was all the jury ever heard, he’d win every time. But it’s not.”

Sloan said Edwards appeared to be “the natural for us,” but the former senator made some missteps with the North Carolina IAM members who worked to elect him, and his support for normalizing trade with China and right-to-work in his home state cost him.

“These days he’s sounding like Johnny Tremain helping a modern-day Paul Revere going around saying, ‘The Chinese are coming, the Chinese are coming,’ ” Sloan said. “Well, they are — by his gold-plated invitation.”

Sloan added that in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, IAM members who worked for U.S. Air in Charlotte, N.C., were losing their jobs in the wake of lost revenues and corporate cutbacks.

“When our guys were getting laid off after 9/11, he came down and met with the company” instead of the workers, Sloan said.

“Our guys in North Carolina worked really hard to get him there and then didn’t see much of him,” Sloan said, adding that the right-to-work issue is “the highest priority for the labor movement.”

It’s hardly unusual for campaign surrogates, labor officials included, to hit rival candidates for their past records, and a senior adviser to the Edwards campaign says this is a clear example of distorting Edwards’s record.

The senior adviser, familiar with Edwards’s labor outreach, said the former senator’s opposition to right-to-work, while “factually correct,” doesn’t take into account the state’s political atmosphere. North Carolina is a state with a small union presence, and Edwards served at a time the adviser described as “the Jesse Helms era.”

“The reality was it was just accepted fact, accepted by Democrats and accepted by labor, that that law could not be challenged [then and there],” the official said. “If you can find me a different answer from a Democrat on that issue [from that time], I’d really like to meet them.”

On the China issue, the adviser said Edwards was facing a lot of pressure from both the agricultural and technology sectors after the state’s manufacturing base had been shattered by NAFTA. Edwards acknowledged at the time, “There are people who might be hurt by this,” according to a report in his home-state newspaper, and early this year he said he would not support the same policy he voted for in 2000.

The adviser went on to say that Edwards continues to enjoy good relationships with labor groups in North Carolina, and “it’s almost surreal” that some of the same groups that were punished by NAFTA during and since the Clinton administration are supporting Sen. Clinton’s bid.

“[President Clinton] drove the train on NAFTA and China,” the adviser said.

Sen. Clinton has said she thinks NAFTA and other trade agreements should be revisited, but she has repeatedly come under fire for supporting them in the past.

Obama has also received some criticism from the IAM, and has lagged far behind his top rivals in union endorsements.

All of the leading Democratic challengers have received high ratings from labor groups through their time in the Senate, and unions have been divided in their endorsements.

Edwards is currently leading the way, as the national and state unions that have endorsed him represent more than 3.1 million members. He scored a big win by picking up the support of several state chapters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), including the all-important first state of Iowa.

Clinton has also received some significant national endorsements, including most recently the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Obama has not received as much support, but he has picked up the backing of some state chapters of the SEIU.


Unions cited in decert election irregularities

The Princeville Resort in Kauai has until Thursday to appeal an investigation declaring a September union vote aboveboard, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

The hotel contested the election, which gave no clear majority, on multiple counts, all of which were overruled by the labor board’s San Francisco office.

On Sept. 24, about 260 Princeville Resort workers cast their votes in the highly anticipated election between two unions and the hotel. Unite Here! Local 5 received the least number of votes and was eliminated, forcing a runoff between Local 142 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the hotel, or no union.

According to the board’s Nov. 1 report, the hotel disputed two specific issues, saying both violated the employees’ rights to a fair and reasonable choice.

In its first objection, the hotel said the National Labor Relations Board agent running the election arrived 10 to 12 minutes late to the final voting session, depriving employees of their right to vote. The agent did, in fact, arrive a “few minutes late,” according to election observers and the agent himself, though the parties disagreed on the exact time frame. However, the three waiting voters who left before the agent showed up later returned to cast ballots, multiple witnesses said.

According to the report filed by the board’s San Francisco regional director, Joseph Norelli, a 10-minute delay amounted to 2 percent of the total polling time, and “there is no evidence that this delay discouraged or disenfranchised a single voter.”

In its second objection, the hotel said there was electioneering by the ILWU observer at the polling site in the form of “prolonged conversation with (a) voter, knuckle handshakes and giving the ‘thumbs-up’ sign,” which the hotel said was an integral part of the ILWU’s campaign. But according to the witnesses, the ILWU observer “did nothing and said nothing to influence anyone’s vote.”

Citing a similar case when the thumbs-up sign was used at a polling site, Norelli stated that there was no evidence that the observer crossed the line or engaged in “impermissible electioneering.”

Norelli said that while the vote was not a “textbook example of perfection,” the objections did not warrant a recommendation to set aside the election or raise any issues that warrant a hearing.

Should the hotel choose to appeal, the claims and Norelli’s report will be reviewed by the labor board’s Washington, D.C., office. If not, the Honolulu office will schedule a runoff between the hotel and the ILWU.

Tom Cestare, officer-in-charge of the Honolulu NLRB office, could not specify how long either outcome would take.

Representatives from the Princeville Resort declined to comment via e-mail: “Our priority has always been, and continues to be the well-being of our associates. Hotel policy protects the privacy and confidentiality of associates in hotel-related issues and we have no comment at this time.”


Union embezzler busted only after feds loomed

A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a longtime union official to two years in prison for stealing nearly $275,000 from his union. Alan Raines, 61, who was financial secretary of the United Steelworkers of America Local 1358, pleaded guilty in July to embezzlement.

"We can't have union officials stealing from their members," U.S. District Judge Sean Cox told Raines. "This is a small local and this is a lot of money."

Under federal guidelines, Raines, who was a crane operator, faced a sentencing range of 18 to 24 months. Cox sentenced him at the top of that range.

The judge also ordered Raines to pay about $145,000 in restitution to the local, which has fewer than 300 members. The court was told Raines earlier repaid over $100,000 of the money he stole.

"I would like to apologize to the court, my family who is sitting here, and to the union," Raines told the judge. "I'm really sorry."

Ronald R. Gold of Southfield, Raines' attorney, said Raines always intended to repay the money, which he stole between 1999 and 2006.

He came forward and confessed when he learned the U.S. Department of Labor planned an audit of union funds that would expose the thefts, Gold said.

Twice divorced and bankrupt once, Raines was under financial duress but did not live extravagantly, Gold told the court.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeanine Jones said the crime was one of opportunity and greed.

"He took an exorbitant amount of money from this union," Jones said.


Teamsters still crossing WGA picket lines

Striking television and film writers got some support on the picket lines Tuesday from a variety of television stars as the labor dispute went into its eighth day.

Hundreds of members of the Writers Guild of America and other picketers marched in front of Universal Studios, wearing red shirts and toting signs. Tuesday’s picket was dubbed "Picketing with the Stars," as actors and actresses joined in the march.

"Every time a writer writes a book, they get a little piece," actress Camryn Manheim told KCAL9. "Every time a musician writes a song, they get a little piece. Every time a writer writes a script, they ought to get a little piece."

The WGA is on strike in a dispute over future revenue from shows distributed over the Internet and other new media.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers on Monday took out ads in Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter headlined "Setting the Record Straight ..."

The ads asserted that the WGA knows, and its own records prove, that writers are already paid residuals on permanent digital downloads and pay-per-view digital downloads, and that "this additional compensation was part of more than $260,000,000 in record-breaking residuals paid to WGAW members in 2006."

The ad went on to state that, "when the WGA went on strike, an offer to pay writers for Internet streaming was on the table."

The WGA responded with a statement claiming the producers are trying to roll back benefits to writers regarding new media.

"The AMPTP told us in negotiations that new media was going to cannibalize traditional media," Neal Sacharow, WGAW director of communications, said in the statement. "Therefore, writers need a fair residual formula just to keep up. The proposals the companies brought to the table would decimate writers' incomes."

Picketers took the weekend off, but met to discuss strategy.

Teamsters, who drive the trucks that haul all the equipment needed for on-location shoots, have been crossing picket lines. Local union leaders have told drivers it's up to them to back the writers or not, according to the Los Angeles Times.

One Paramount Studios driver, however, told the newspaper that he got a memo saying that he would go to work or be fired.

The strike started Oct. 5 after the WGA contract expired and negotiations stalled. No new talks are scheduled.

Over the weekend, the writers expressed solidarity for striking stagehands in New York City, offering their assistance and support. Members of International Association of Theater and Stage Employees Local 1 went on strike against the League of American Theatres and Producers, and Broadway stages were dark Saturday.

Daily TV talk shows have been hit hard by the strike, and many other programs have also stopped production without writers to provide dialogue. Actor James Denton of ABC's "Desperate Housewives" noted that the Screen Actors Guild union will be going through contract negotiations of its own next year, and the outcome of the WGA strike could impact those talks.

"We're all going to be fighting the same battle," Denton told ABC7.

"With 'Housewives,' we've been together for four years," he said. "We're all a really close family, and the sooner it's over the better. For our crew, we've got lots of guys that get hurt a lot worse than we do a lot quicker."

Actor Jason Alexander told ABC7 that the issues being debated "are not easy."

"I think you're looking at a good six to eight weeks of concerted effort once they get back to the bargaining table," he said.


Union boss and wife quit politics in disgust

Union boss Kevin Reynolds has quit the Labor party over its treatment of his wife, Labor MP Shelley Archer, who also resigned before she could be expelled.

By quitting the ALP, Ms Archer pre-empted moves by West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter to expel her from the party over confidential leaks to her mentor, lobbyist and disgraced former premier Brian Burke. She faces possible criminal charges for also giving false information to a state parliamentary inquiry.

Ms Archer said eight months ago it would take a "sledgehammer" to get her out of the ALP.

Standing by her side as she quit on Thursday, Mr Reynolds, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union's WA secretary, accused Mr Carpenter of running a vendetta against his wife for her lifelong friendship with Mr Burke.

"She's just being persecuted left, right and centre because she knows Brian Burke," said Mr Reynolds, who has been an ALP member for 30 years.

"God forbid, he's not an axe murderer or a paedophile or anything.

"I've got no intention of staying in the party, the way they treated my wife."

Mr Carpenter welcomed Ms Archer's resignation and denied he had an axe to grind.

"I'm not a dictator, but I am the premier and I've got certain standards that I want to see upheld ... and when there has been such a gross breach of appropriate behaviour I feel duty bound to act," Mr Carpenter said.

Contacted by AAP overnight, Mr Burke said he had no interest in making any comment.

Ms Archer is the latest in a string of political figures tainted by their links to Mr Burke and his lobbying partners.

Mr Carpenter has already sacked three WA government ministers over improper dealings with Mr Burke and his partner, Julian Grill, after the pair's lobbying activities were examined by the state's Corruption and Crime Commission.

The premier's move against Ms Archer came in the wake of a parliamentary report on Tuesday that recommended criminal prosecutions be considered against the Labor MP and against upper house Liberal MP, Anthony Fels.

Mr Carpenter said Ms Archer and Mr Fels should be kicked out of parliament for their "grossly inappropriate" behaviour.

But Mr Reynolds slammed the ALP over its unfair treatment of his wife, and others.

The union heavyweight recently vowed to fight the ALP's expulsion of his union deputy Joe McDonald, who has been the target of Liberal party advertising during the election campaign.

Mr Reynolds said the CFMEU may now reconsider its ties to the Labor party.

"We may have a plebiscite of our members to see whether they want to be in the Labor party or not."

Opposition Leader Paul Omodei on Wednesday moved to expel Mr Fels but may not have the success Mr Carpenter enjoyed.

Mr Fels says he has received a lot of support, including from former Liberal leader Matt Birney.

"When I see a clear injustice committed, you'll hear from me," Mr Birney said.


ALPA responds to members' decert campaign

The elected leaders of the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA), and of the two pilot groups who fly for US Airways made it clear today that they will resist all efforts to remove ALPA as the collective bargaining agent for US Airways pilots.

"Today, a group of US Airways pilots filed cards with the National Mediation Board (NMB) for an election to change their union representation," said ALPA President Capt. John Prater. "While I understand the frustration felt by all US Airways pilots who have endured bankruptcy, furloughs, and pension loss, I believe that belonging to ALPA offers them the best chance of bargaining a progressive contract that delivers significant improvements in pay, work rules, and benefits."

Before May 3, 2007, pilots who flew for the former America West and US Airways were working together to support bargaining a new contract for the combined pilot group. Those efforts were delayed after a neutral arbitrator - chosen by the pilots' representatives as prescribed in ALPA Merger Policy - issued an award combining the pilots' seniority lists. Pilots who were unhappy with the award began an effort to undermine it, ultimately leading to the filing of cards by a group calling itself the US Airline Pilots Association (USAPA).

"USAPA has no plan, no funding, and no interest in representing all US Airways pilots," said Capt. John McIlvenna, chairman of the America West pilot group. "The so-called leaders of USAPA have virtually no hope of overturning the final and binding arbitrated seniority award. The only guarantee USAPA has is that its brand of proposed representation will result in endless litigation from the America West pilots, a general breakdown in labor relations, and the continued pain of two bankruptcy-era contracts."

The leaders of the two pilot groups continue to work to coordinate their strategy to negotiate with US Airways management. While pilots and management have already tentatively agreed to several positive contract provisions, significant contract improvements will be finalized in further negotiations.

"The answers to the problems facing the pilots whom I represent do not reside with another union," said Capt. Jack Stephan, chairman of the US Airways pilot group. "Our best hope for solving our seniority and contractual issues is within ALPA, through the continued support of our current elected ALPA leaders at US Airways."


Stagehand strike boss lashes out at striking writers

With his rank and file workers losing their pay checks by the thousands, the head of Hollywood’s largest crafts workers union, representing everyone from grips to cameramen, angrily charged Wednesday that the Writer’s Guild always intended to bring on this strike.

“It now seems that you were intending that there be a strike no matter what you were offered or what conditions the industry faced when your contract expired at the end of October,” International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees President Thomas Short wrote to WGA President Patrick Verrone on Wednesday.

The latest salvo from Short lobbed at the WGA isn’t a surprise; they have been in a war of words for months. However, it is another indication of the spreading pain being caused by the strike. . “Thousands are losing their jobs every day,” wrote Short. “The IATSE alone has over 50,000 members working in motion picture, television and broadcasting and tens of thousands more are losing jobs in related fields.”

While the WGA has gotten strong support from the Screen Actors Guild, surprising support from the Teamsters, watered down support from AFTRA and a limp handshake from the Director’s Guild of America, it has been blasted by Short and IATSE for being an elite group that does not care how many other people it puts out of work.

The animosity between the two groups goes even deeper. The WGA has been trying to organize animation writers. Based on past history, in some cases, the IA considers that its territory; and there has been sparring over jurisdiction. In some cases the threat to organize by WGA has led to IA signing a company. The IA contract is far less expensive and easier to manage for the companies and unlike the WGA, doesn’t require the same schedule of residuals.

Short made his case that the WGA planned to strike all along by noting he had called Verrone in November 2006, after the writers guild said it would not hold early talks with management. Short now says that was a mistake, and an indication that Verrone had a closed mind.

“Ever since late last year when the WGAw announced withdrawal from its own proposed negotiating date in January 2007, I have warned you and predicted the devastation that would come from your actions,” wrote Short. “Those predictions have now come true.”

Short predicted the strike will cost the movie and TV industry over $1 billion and result in “the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

He charged that WGA Executive Director David Young is inexperienced and that “his incompetence and inexperience are causing irreparable damage to the industry at a time when “we can all ill afford to ignore the worsening national economy, the unstable international climate and the crises in health care and the housing market that are affecting many of our working families.”

Short quotes Young in the L.A. Times saying, “I just lay back and look at the havoc I’ve wreaked…I’m not going to apologize for that.” Short says “This is hardly the point of view of a responsible labor leader, someone dedicated to the preservation of an industry that has supported the economies of several major cities for decades.”

Verrone responded with his own letter to Short, also made public Wednesday, asking for solidarity, but not addressing Short’s barbed comments directly: “As I’m sure you know, for every four cents writers receive in theatrical residuals, directors receive four cents, actors receive 12 cents, and the members of your union receive 20 cents in contributions to their health fund,” wrote Verrone. “To put it simply, our fight should be your fight. We’ve received support from the Teamsters, the actors, many IATSE members, and unions throughout the world.”

Verrone said the WGA wants to come back to the table and work out a deal. “Despite the fact that the AMPTP conceded progress was being made on November 4th, the last day of negotiations,” wrote Verrone, “they walked out and have not returned.”

Verrone signed his letter, “In solidarity.”

Despite rumors of more back channel talks trying t bring the two sides together, the picture for negotiations remains dark. The AMPTP continues to put on a PR campaign to convince the public that it is being fair. In ads in the Hollywood trades and some newspapers this week, the AMPTP said writers are already paid for downloads on the Internet, which is true. What the ad did not say is that writers are not paid for streaming video over the web, and that they feel cheated by the small payment they receive for downloads that do pay something.

At this point, it appears the WGA strike will drag on for weeks, even months, into the new year when writers will be joined by actors in their negotiations for a new contract. Together the writers and actor are expected to have more clout. It remains clear where the directors will fall in this; as rumors they will start their own separate talks with management continue to percolate.

Ironically, earlier this week Verrone pointedly sent a letter to IATSE officials supporting the strike in New York by Broadway stage hands, who fall under Short’s unions jurisdiction. Verrone said that they all need to work together.


Writers claim victory over DeGeneres

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres has cancelled plans to tape her show next week in New York City after striking members of the Writers Guild East protested.

"She knows that the Writers Guild East would have been there to protest her lack of solidarity, not only with her Guild writing staff but all the striking members of the Writers Guild, of which she is a member," said Michael Winship, president of the East Coast chapter of the Writers Guild, which went on strike Nov. 5.

Laura Mandel, a spokesperson for the show, refused to confirm whether the cancellation was due to the strike. "We make changes all of the time. Our schedule is always fluid."

Winship's chapter has been critical of the comedian, who continues to produce her show out of Los Angeles despite a walkout by writers. DeGeneres has done away with her opening monologue but has continued with the chat part of her show.

That's in contrast to several stars such as Steve Carell of The Office and Tina Fey of 30 Rock, who have refused to cross picket lines, thus shuttering their shows. As well, many talk shows are off the air, including The Late Show with David Letterman, The Daily Show and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

DeGeneres told her studio audience last week that while she supported the striking writers, she had contractual obligations to continue her hosting duties.

Talks broke off between the union and Hollywood producers over one main issue: compensation for digital content. The writers want a larger piece of the pie when their material is shown on the internet, over cellphones as well as DVDs.


Barrister: Avoid wall-to-wall Labor

Good management has produced a tremendous economy for Australia, with consistent growth and stability. The longer that goes on, the easier it is to take it for granted and to believe that it’s the natural state of affairs - but it ain’t necessarily so.

Everyone knows where the Howard-Costello Government stands, and how it performs. That’s not true of Labor. You would think that this would mean that we would have more information from them, rather than less. Kevin Rudd’s continued refusal to provide a detailed plan to keep inflation and interest rates under control emphasises the risk a Labor government would pose to Australia’s economy.

On the other hand, there has been some criticism of the government over the most recent interest rate rise, and those that have preceded it. None of us like interest rate rises and they can certainly lead to difficulties. But what some people don’t seem to appreciate is that these rises are: (a) occurring in an extremely successful economic environment, and (b) have been small each time. To put them in perspective, over the course of three years under the Howard-Costello Government, there has been a 1.5 per cent increase in interest rates. Under Labor there was a 2.75 per cent increase in 4 months - try budgeting for that. The Prime Minister has been lampooned by the media on interest rates - but the question he has frequently asked: "who do you trust more to keep interest rates low?" - is nevertheless the right one, and one that is met with answers favourable for the Coalition.

One of the frustrating things about politics is an all-too-common unwillingness to acknowledge good work. Hawke and Keating were both good for Australia - and that should be acknowledged. But contrariwise, in some quarters the merits of the Howard-Costello team go unjustly unacknowledged. We are in the midst of an election campaign in which the media seems remarkably reluctant to acknowledge the unprecedented positive state of the nation’s finances, restored from a near-$100 billion debt under Labor (likewise, enormous debts are now on the balance books of the Labor-run state governments).

That disconnect between action and attitude is sometimes prevalent amongst voters, too. Let’s take an example from my current home state, Victoria. Unemployment in the Batman electorate when the Coalition came to power was 13.7 per cent. Unemployment in Batman now is 6.2 per cent. Yet Batman is amongst the safest ALP seats in the country. The decline in Bob Hawke’s old seat, Wills, is even more remarkable - 14.1 per cent to 4.4 per cent. But like Batman, this electorate which has benefited greatly from the Coalition’s strong governance, has returned an ALP representative by significant margins for the last decade. People often don’t make the connection, but there are real and tangible effects from good government on our lives and the lives of our families and friends. That record shouldn’t be sniffed at.

Of course, people vote on many issues, not just the economy, and rightly so. But without a solid economic performance, action on all of the things we care about - health, education, law and order, transport, the environment, aged care and so forth - become so much more difficult to provide. The economy is central to everything.

Sometimes the Coalition is accused of focusing too much on the past. Certainly, there’s a record to be proud of. But that record helps us when we weigh up the merits of the respective sides and try to predict what will happen in the future. If the Coalition is re-elected, things will carry on much as they are. That prospect will please some and displease others. In light of the tremendous improvement in Australia’s fortunes, one hopes that the majority plump for no change. "More of the same" may not be the rallying cry that attracts fervent support, but government shouldn’t be changed on a whim. Things are good in Australia - voters shouldn’t risk Rudd.

And it’s not just Rudd that one risks. The deeply strange Peter Garrett must be considered, and Julia Gillard’s far-left background means that she commands a position from which she might topple her glorious leader. Union influence under Labor is alarmingly high. Famously, 70 per cent of all of Labor’s front bench are former union bosses. Finally, even Rudd himself, upon whom all Labor’s hopes depend, is hardly the ideal candidate. Behind the confidence and the oft-repeated lines, I think there’s something a bit, well, not quite right about him.

Finally, I would point to the risk of wall-to-wall Labor. There will be nobody to say "No" to the states’ absurd plans and to their frequent negligence and common incompetence.

At a Federal level, the Australian electorate has always got it right. The voters were right to abandon McMahon, to throw out Gough (which, let us remember, was done by the electorate), to keep and then abandon Fraser, to sustain a long Hawke and Keating period and to judge its usefulness to be at an end. And it’s been right to keep the Howard-Costello government for four terms. It will be right to keep it for a fifth.


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