WGA strike gets more political

According to The Hollywood Reporter, US Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards will make an appearance at the Burbank, California Writers Guild of America (WGA) picket line to address strikers.

Guild writers have been on strike since 5 November concerning residuals pertaining to DVD sales and Internet downloads. The strike has crippled Hollywood with many studios having had to shut down production.

Other Democratic hopefuls, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have already backed the WGA cause, while California’s Republican Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been trying to get the WGA to re-negotiate with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

Other Democratic hopefuls, Senators Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, have already backed the WGA cause, while California’s Republican Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been trying to get the WGA to re-negotiate with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). As to the effect of the strike on US television viewers, a study conducted by Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, indicates that 84% of Americans are aware of the current writers’ strike. Reporting on the study, the Washington Post states that viewers are “not very concerned” about how the strike will affect their TV viewing. Some respondents to the study said they will watch reruns, while others said they will read more. Younger viewers are likely to play more video games or rent DVDs.


NLRB chief responds to union protesters

The following is a statement by Robert J. Battista, Chairman, National Labor Relations Board:

I regret that certain groups have chosen the path of shrill political rhetoric over reasoned debate. The demonstrations today were mostly about presidential politics in 2008. If these groups truly believe that our recent decisions are not consistent with the National Labor Relations Act, they are free to challenge those decisions in court -- either directly in those cases in which they are a party, or they can assist in such a challenge in those cases where they are not a party.

I am confident that our decisions will be upheld on review. I would note, however, that the Board's current enforcement rate in the Courts of Appeals is the highest in the history of the agency. This is the best evidence that our decisions are faithful to the Act.

Our decisions speak for themselves. Since these cases are considered to be in active litigation until the cases are closed upon compliance or final review, I cannot comment on the substance of any case beyond that which is contained in the written decision. I can say that in the majority of the unfair labor practice cases issued in September, we found one or more violations of the Act against the employer involved.


SEIU gets 33 ULPs for RICO-style organizing

An Indianapolis-based commercial cleaning company is standing up to a national union, alleging unfair labor practices in claims filed Wednesday with the National Labor Relations Board.

Indianapolis-based Executive Management Services said it has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board in response to what it considers a campaign of harassment and intimidation by the Service Employees International Union against EMS and its customers. Some of its allegations are that SEIU:

• Offered to pay workers premium wages not to go to work for EMS.

• Threatened and intimidated workers who chose not to support the union.

• Engaged in mass picketing and protests against EMS that interfered with building tenants, including blocking streets and building doors and elevator and escalator entries.

• Released hundreds of helium-filled balloons in the atrium of a Downtown office building during the business day.

• Threatened to interfere with business investors unless customers agreed to use a union contractor.

• Went "trick or treating" at the home of an EMS customer and passed out union flyers, which criticized that person's business, in residential neighborhoods.

• Sent numerous letters to building owners and tenants that made maliciously false and misleading statements about EMS and its employment practices.

• Conducted multiple protests and rallies against EMS without filing a petition for an NLRB election as required by federal law.

Executive Management Services said it filed 33 unfair labor practice charges against the Service Employees International Union that challenge tactics the union uses to organize janitors in an effort to improve their wages and benefits.

The charges were filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

EMS said the union has gone too far with its mass pickets, protests against the cleaning company's clients and recruiting gimmicks. EMS alleged that at least one union representative paid a visit to the home of an EMS customer and passed out flyers, which attacked that person's business, in residential neighborhoods. EMS also said the union offered to pay EMS' workers premium wages not to go to work for EMS.
"The union's claim that EMS keeps janitors in poverty is absurd," said Dave Bego, president of EMS, in a statement.

Meanwhile, the SEIU held a lunchtime rally Wednesday on Monument Circle to cheer about pending negotiations with at least five companies it hopes to begin after Thankgiving.

The union said it recently won citywide contracts for janitors in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, and would like to see pay in the Indianapolis area rise from its current average of $6 to $7.50 per hour. It also aims for more working hours in a day for those janitors and to get them access to affordable health care.

Wages for blue-collar workers need to be improved, said Rebecca Maran, campaign coordinator with SEIU. She said that while she couldn't comment on the specific allegations made by EMS, the union feels it has to demonstrate publicly how dire the issue of pay and benefits is to working people who still live at the poverty level.
"What EMS is charging . . . some of those things are probably truthful, but they are not illegal in terms of publicizing how they (janitors) get treated," she said.
Indianapolis clergy and State Rep. David Orentlicher, D-Indianapolis, participated in the union's noontime rally. The companies SEIU plans to negotiate with, which are either based in Indianapolis or have operations here, include GSF, ABM, OneSource, SBM and Mitch Murch's Maintenance Methods, Maran said.

Marcia Tyson, who said she is employed as a janitor at GSF, told the crowd at the rally that she is paid $6.50 per hour after working three years. On its Web site, GSF says its wages are "above standard pay rates."

"This is going to bring out a big change," she said. "I'm very happy about what's happening. It's been a long time coming."

Last December, Simon Property Group became the fifth Indianapolis company to back the service union's policy of work conditions for janitors. Other local companies that have signed on are health benefits giant WellPoint, real estate developers Duke Realty Corp. and Kite Realty Group, and drug maker Eli Lilly and Co., which generally contract out their cleaning.


Carpenters employ 'Shame On Sign' intimidation tactic

They've almost become a permanent fixture around Bakersfield (CA), the Shame on Signs targeting local businesses for so-called labor disputes.

Eyewitness News first started looking into the labor dispute last November when we found out the local Carpenter's Union 1506 was and continues to be behind the protests. They are trying to influence contractors and businesses to use union laborers for construction jobs.

But Eyewitness News wanted to know if the protests are really having the affect the union wants or are they backfiring?

NUSIL Technology on Pegasus Drive remodeled their labs back in February and used non-union dry-wallers. That brought out the Shame on Signs. Vice President Jim Yabsley says the sign holders themselves were annoying and downright nasty. He went outside to take their pictures.

Jim Yabsley of NUSIL Silicone Technology, "Very rude, they said I had no business here and I shouldn't be here and I had no right to take their picture. And they got mad because we turn on our sprinklers on our lawn out here. And very rude." Yabsley took one picture with a sign holder giving him the 'one-finger salute'.

Patrick Wade owns Precision Pharmacy on Empire Drive. The shame on signs went up outside his business shortly after he opened because the owner of the building hired a non-union subcontractor to do the drywall, a decision Wade had nothing to do with. So he called the Carpenters Union to talk about it.

"In fact, when I told the rep of the Carpenters Union that, he told me Well, we're just gonna make an example out of you."
Q: "Example of what?"
A: "I don't know, good question. I don't see how we're connected to their cause. I don't think they cared who they were gonna trample on as long as it made more money for their constituents."

And money is the union's concern. The carpenters union claims using non-union workers has the ultimate effect of lower community standards through lower pay and encourages crime and other social ills.

Mark Lamas owns Panache Salon right next door to Precision Pharmacy. The shame on people showed up the very day he opened. Lamas admits he was nervous about it at first, but the nerves quickly went away when people seemed to say "shame" on the shame on campaign. "I think people even pulled over and stopped by when they saw the sign and came in and bought stuff just to support us, because they know that it like a black ball, this big sign out there. I mean it almost operated backwards, They didn't get the results they wanted from Panache."

Lamas continues, "And if they're concerned with really providing good jobs for people with good wages and insurance, they wouldn't be concerned with putting a company like ours out of business that does provide insurance or does provide a good wage. It just shows really it's about greed more than anything else."

Putting small businesses out of business, some would argue that seems to be the goal of the shame on campaigns. But for people like Wade and Lamas, were the signs bad for business or a blessing in disguise? "Instead, what they ended up doing was advertising for us. We were a new business and we needed to be recognized, and they did that for us," said Lamas

Shame on Panache "It benefited my company. We're a new full-service salon and I needed the business. I actually thought it would affect me. I did affect me in a good way," said Wade.

The Carpenters Union has the legal right to mount its shame on campaigns. As for Yabsley, here's how he chose to deal with it. "We've gone to the national labor review board with it and we have a case against them right now. They actually recommended that we contact you guys because we've heard that when the news gets involved they hightail it out of here. So that's what we're hoping."

The ironic part of the shame on campaigns is the fact that the majority of the businesses we spoke to have nothing to do with hiring the contractors. That's the landlord's decision. But the business owners bear the brunt of the campaigns anyway.

Eyewitness News spoke with a union rep in Los Angeles who helps coordinate the shame on campaigns. He agreed to a phone interview to tell the union's side of the story, but when I repeatedly called for the interview his phone went to voice mail.


Actors face a force to be reckoned with

Ten days into the writers strike, the most dreaded phrase in Hollywood, force majeure, is a reality.

Universal Media Studios on Thursday began notifying the regulars on NBC's "Bionic Woman," "The Office" and "30 Rock" that the studio is suspending them, citing the force majeure provisions in their SAG contracts.

While deals with actors allow for the force majeure -- or "greater force" -- option right after production is suspended, such a contract clause could be invoked for writers very soon if the strike continues. Most overall writer deals trigger the termination clause four to six weeks into a stoppage, but in some, the cushion is said to be only two weeks.

That means that as of Monday, studios could start terminating their overall pacts with writers.

Since the beginning of the strike, TV studios have been debating how to deal with series regulars -- whether to invoke the force majeure clause that allows studios to terminate actors for unanticipated or uncontrollable reasons put them on hiatus or do something else.

On Friday, Sony Pictures TV took a different tack, notifying the regulars on two of its sitcoms -- " 'Til Death" and "Rules of Engagement" -- that they are being put on unpaid hiatus, remaining exclusive to the studio.

That move didn't sit well with AFTRA, which represents the two shows, or with SAG.

Both unions called putting actors on unpaid hiatus a violation of the SAG-AFTRA joint TV contract, which expires June 30, and vowed to take action against it.

According to SAG's interpretation of Section 61 of its collective bargaining agreement, the studios have three options in case of a strike: put series regulars on hold at full salary, suspend them for a period of up to five weeks at half-pay or terminate them.

If, like Universal, the studios opt for suspension, the performers themselves, according to SAG, can terminate their deals at the end of the five-week period. If they don't do that, the studios can choose to keep the regulars with full pay or end their deals.

Upon termination, actors are no longer paid and are free to do other projects. When production on the shows resumes, they are guaranteed to be rehired by the studios under the original terms of their deals.

The actors have to make an effort to accommodate the series, but their new projects are in first position. That would work well for in-demand-actors like "The Office" star Steve Carell, who can go off to do a movie without having to worry that an end of the strike would cut short his shoot.

During hiatus, however, actors must drop whatever they might be doing and report to their series immediately if those shows resume.

At least two other TV studios have been toying with the idea of putting actors on hiatus, but none has triggered that option since SAG and AFTRA's stern reaction to Sony's letters.

Meanwhile, a letter sent earlier this week by Hank Lachmund, senior vp labor relations at Warner Bros. TV, to production employees in the TV group and all studio facility employees was making the rounds Thursday. It estimates that, if the writers strike continues, all of its series will shut down production in the next six to seven weeks, possibly leading to loss of jobs within the studio.

"We currently anticipate that such layoffs, if they occur, will be temporary and that many employees will be recalled to work at some point after the WGA work stoppage ends," Lachmund wrote.


AFL-CIO nurses unit quits organizing campaign

The Michigan Nurses Association has withdrawn its petition to unionize registered nurses at two Detroit Medical Center hospitals, the National Labor Relations Board confirmed Wednesday.

The association said it withdrew its petition to unionize at Harper University and Hutzel Women's hospitals because the DMC was dragging out hearings before the board and setting the stage for future litigation and appeals that could have taken years to resolve.

"When we got into those hearings it became real evident that the (DMC) lawyer had every intention to raise every issue that they could to drag them out," said John Karebian, co-executive director of the Lansing-based nurses association.

The DMC claimed instead that association pulled its petition because it didn't have the votes to win an election, which the health system last week proposed to hold in December.

"They canceled the election to keep from being embarrassed," said Mike Duggan, president and CEO of the DMC.

A hearing had been ongoing before the NLRB since last month to determine which nurses would be eligible to vote (those considered supervisors cannot) and if the vote would encompass nurses at additional DMC hospitals. But agreement between the union and DMC on those key issues has been elusive.

The association asked to withdraw its petition on Friday, and the request was approved, said Stephen Glasser, the board's regional director.

But the association is pursuing unfair labor practices claims against the DMC that the union filed in October. Among other things, the charges claim that the health system unlawfully surveilled union activities and made threats to nurses in retaliation for promoting a union.

The association believes it still has the votes to unionize, and said it will now pursue what is called a consent election agreement with the DMC. That agreement would involve resolving the outstanding issues, and then again approaching NLRB to hold an election. The union's national affiliate, the United American Nurses, has come to such agreements with hospitals in other states, Karebian said.

The association filed a petition with the board on Oct. 1 seeking a union election involving about 800 nurses at Harper University and Hutzel Women's hospitals.

Nurses driving the effort said they are put in charge of too many patients at once, which endangers patient care. They want nurse-to-patient ratios reduced and a greater voice in decisions that affect patient care.

The DMC has said its nurse-to-patient ratios are within established guidelines for the health-care industry, but it's working to hire more nurses.

During the past months, nurses on both sides of the issue have rallied to drum up support.

Those opposed say they don't believe that a union would solve a nursing shortage hurting the whole region, and that they feel their voices are adequately heard by DMC management.


Labor-Democrats turn against workers, middle class

The open border Democratic leadership's sanctuary city policy and the politically correct government regulations of Washington is killing the American union. The liberal leadership is clearly outside of bounds of main stream America. Just as they have turned on our soldiers on the battlefield of Iraq, the Democrats have turned on the American working man.

Numerous political defeats have shown that the Democratic party is clearly outside of mainstream America. With Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) leading the way to defeat in every significant political battle, the left has shown that they are out of touch with American citizens.

No finer example of Democratic failure was the recent debate in which Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) espoused two widely differing positions, within minutes of each other, on the immigration debate. First, agreeing with N.Y. Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer's decision to issue drivers license and the rights that go with them, to illegal aliens and then trying to defend a position quite opposite of that.

In a recent Opinion Dynamics poll, 91% of Americans find that illegal immigration is a “very” or “somewhat” serious problem for America. Another interesting fact, was that 67% of Americans support protecting the U.S. border with the U.S. Military, a significant statement in itself and a clear warning to President Bush and the Democrats. With the two embarrassing defeat of Sen. Dick Durbin's “Dream Act”one can conclude that the Democrats are willing to bring this subject up again if they ever regain power in Washington.

Historically, the Democratic party has represented the American working man. However, since Democrat President Bill Clinton signed NAFTA into law , the union worker has not been represented well by the Democrat party. It was the Clinton administration that almost regulated the coal mining industry into history books. With the new open border Democratic policies, union member have been stab in the back by a previous trusted friend.

I had an interesting conversation with a union carpenter this weekend. “Dave” is a member of the carpenter local in San Francisco. As he describe how his union had been broken by illegals willing to work for less money, he described how every contractor that went to the local Home Depot for supplies would be surrounded by 100-150 illegals aliens looking for work. Union labor has been under attack by Democrats in every major city across America as many are pro immigration or sanctuary cities. These policies do not allow for deportation of criminals, visa violations, or illegal entry. As more Democrat strongholds like New York City, San Fransisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago pass laws to protect illegals, know these same laws separate American workers from their jobs.

The most recent facts are: (laborpains.org)

Union membership is down to 7.4% of private sector employees and down to 12 percent overall (government employees are highly unionized, at a rate of 36.2 percent) – that’s down from a high of 20.1 percent in 1983.

Adding insult to the Union membership is that the oil and gas industry has been regulated from expanding in Alaska, off shore, and in the continental United States. Not only is it political incorrect to drill for oil, it is almost impossible to meet lengthy government regulations to build refineries. This entire industry works hand and hand with union membership. The Democrats have regulated the end of good union jobs in an all important industry that needs to expand for the security of the United States. It is this writers opinion that America would be more secure without funding terror states that use American dollars to buy military weapons and fund terrorists. So as the Democrats regulations have killed union jobs their sanctuary city policies have replaced the hardworking Union member. The open border Democrats are working with President Bush to allow Mexican truckers into these United States without meeting US safety standards. If the Democrats have their way, clearly the end is near for Teamsters and every AFL-CIO job.

It is amazing that the Democratic party could maintain any credibility on the domestic front. With Rep. Charlie Rangel's (D-NY) billion dollar tax increases targeting America's hardest working individuals, the small businessman, know that these taxes will end up in the hands of citizens of countries other than America. Added to this troubling fact is that the Democratic policy of giving illegals welfare, health care, food stamps and housing paid for by the American worker, in many cases the union member.

With Democrat strongholds such as San Francisco passing laws to give illegals American jobs and welfare benefits know that the Democratic party has made their choice. When you hear senators Harry Reid (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Barak Obama (D-IL) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speak of rights for illegals, sanctuary cities or open borders know that they are twisting the knife deeper in the back of every American working man, union or not.


AFSCME livid as Gov. sends layoff notices

Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri executed the first step in a sweeping plan to cut state jobs yesterday, telling dozens of state workers they were out of a job and notifying hundreds more that they may be laid off in the coming months.

Carcieri refused yesterday to identify the targeted jobs, promising to do so today.

But information that bubbled to the surface from upset state employees, and their union representatives, indicated the potential job cuts go well beyond the “lawyers and back office” workers Carcieri had previously identified as targets.

Copies of layoff and warning notices provided by union officials yesterday show cuts largely targeted at jobs in the state’s welfare and hospital arenas, including interpreters who work with poor immigrants, and workers in one of the last psychiatric units at Eleanor Slater Hospital. The governor also laid the groundwork for closing the West Warwick branch of the Division of Motor Vehicles by putting its staff on notice that their jobs, too, are on the chopping block.

While it could not be determined how many layoff notices actually went out yesterday in Carcieri’s continuing effort to plug a budget hole that may run as high as $450 million next year, top aides said a day earlier that 157 state workers would receive actual layoff notices, and 379 more would get warnings that their jobs may also be eliminated in the future, an approach that spawned anger and fear.

“To do what they did to these people on the so-called ‘B-list’ is nothing other than, I think, showing off to the public and trying to make it seem like we’re laying off more people than he truly is. That upsets me,” said J. Michael Downey, president of Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees.

Molly Soum was among those whose fears were confirmed yesterday.

The 37-year-old Providence woman has spent the last 10 years working with Southeast Asian communities for the state Department of Human Services. She spends every Thursday helping Cambodian speakers fill out forms for housing and health care, among other things.

“It’s embarrassing for my family and the communities I represent,” Soum said of her layoff notice. “The governor talks about the financial crisis for the state. What about the financial crisis for my family? What about the financial crisis for my four kids?”

Soum, whose husband died nine months ago, is one of at least four interpreters who will lose their jobs. Both of the state’s Cambodian interpreters were laid off yesterday, as was one Portuguese interpreter and another who works with the Laotian and Hmong communities.

The governor’s office said Spanish interpreters were spared from this round of job cuts and the state will depend on private companies to provide translators for the Asian communities.

Across state government yesterday, nervous state employees waited to hear from their supervisors whether their names, too, were on the list.

Glenn Dusalbon, president of AFSCME Local 2869, waited with a 69-year-old data entry clerk at the Department of Labor and Training until she got the call to go to the department director’s office.

“It was almost like going to an execution,” Dusalbon said. “It was a long, long walk.”

“I had to sit there with a 69-year-old woman crying her eyes out saying, ‘After 32 years of service, this is all I get?’ ”

While some went home in tears, others left “embarrassed.”

As AFSCME Local 2884 president Salvatore Lombardi explained: “It’s embarrassing because ... it’s like they’ve done something wrong. You know, people who do things wrong lose their job ... Not people who come to work everyday, put in their 7, 8 hours like they are supposed to, feed their family. “I mean the big shots up there on Capitol Hill, they are still eating steak and the people that are eating hot dogs every night are being punished. It’s horrible.”

Eventually news of who had been targeted filtered out, along with the text of letters that said: “Due to the severe financial crisis affecting our state, it has been determined that a layoff is required. Regrettably, I must advise you that effective Friday, Nov. 30, you will be placed on layoff status from your position.”

Others got variations on this letter telling them their jobs may or may not be in jeopardy: “As you know, a severe shortage of funds in the state budget has made it necessary to reduce the state workforce. The state has notified Council 94 that it is exploring the possibility of subcontracting or eliminating the West Warwick branch of the DMV ... If it occurs, the subcontracting or elimination of the West Warwick branch of the DMV may not result in your separation from state service, as your status, length of service and qualifications may enable you to obtain another position.”

Chuck Hollis, assistant administrator of the DMV, said the West Warwick branch was the only one recommended for closing because construction “cut the parking down to practically nothing.” Confirming the closure plan, Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal cited other reasons: the West Warwick registry is in “poor physical condition” and is within minutes of the Registry Express office in the Rhode Island Mall, which has evening and weekend hours.

Union president Maureen Tripp noted that the mall registry is not currently staffed or equipped for new licenses or car registrations. There are currently seven employees at the West Warwick site, all of whom received letters telling them their jobs may be abolished.

Other letters that went out yesterday reflected Carcieri’s continued interest in “privatizing” dietary services at the state hospital, hiring a private Massachusetts company, Hurley of America Inc., to replace scores of housekeeping employees at Eleanor Slater Hospital and closing “Virks 3,” the last psychiatric unit in the Virks building on the hospital campus.

A letter from Ellen Nelson, director of the Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, to Council 94 executive director Dennis Grilli mentions the potential elimination or subcontracting of “hospital tracheotomy functions.” Citing the “huge list” of CNAs getting the notices, Grilli said the drive “goes well beyond the original privatization attitude that they’ve had. Now they are digging deeper into direct patient care areas.”

Council 94 represents about 5,000 state workers. By the union’s count, 311 of the notices that went out yesterday were aimed at its members.

The letters reflect a meld of new and old Carcieri ideas.

For example, the governor proposed the privatization of housekeeping services at the state hospital complex last winter to save a suggested $13 million over the life of the five-year contract. He backed off in June after state lawmakers passed a law requiring the state to produce verifiable evidence of potential savings and proof that present state employees cannot perform the service just as efficiently. In late-August, Carcieri announced plans to push ahead regardless amid assertions — disputed by key lawmakers — that the new law didn’t apply. While Hurley has been awarded the temporary contract, at this point, Neal said, the state is still negotiating the exact terms.

In all, Nelson, of the MHRH, estimated her department alone accounted for “in excess of 250” of the notices that went out in recent days. About 67 were actual layoff notices, the others described by a staffer as “deferred potential displacements.”

For those facing actual layoff, union contracts trigger complicated “bumping” rules that allow targeted employees to displace less senior workers.

Council 94’s Downey was upset by the administration’s decision to send warning letters to hundreds of people — not targeted for immediate layoff — that their jobs may be eliminated in the future. When told of the plan the night before, Downey said he begged the governor and his staff not to. “There was no need. None,” he said. “It’s the worst I’ve seen him do to us. I mean, he’s done some pretty mean things. This is the worst thing I’ve seen done to workers in 27 years ... It truly is.”

In response, Neal said the governor “recognizes that this is a very difficult process” for the employees. “Nobody, including the governor, wanted to take this step. From the governor’s point of view, reducing the size of the state workforce in this fashion was the last, least-desirable option.”

But “with regard to the positions targeted for elimination before the end of the current fiscal year,” he said, Carcieri “believed that it was better to inform the affected employees now, rather than withhold that information from them. The governor felt it was important to give affected employees as much information as we can.”

Meanwhile, Soum, with her specialized skills, has little hope that “bumping” will save her job.

“Our governor, he’s doing this just before Thanksgiving. How’s my Christmas now? My husband got sick last year for Christmas,” she said. “I hope [the governor] will enjoy his Thanksgiving dinner and enjoys his Christmas, opening his gifts while my kids don’t have any.”


Unions make sweet music to organize gov't workers

Three of the largest public employee unions in Colorado announced today they are forming a coalition to woo state workers in the wake of Gov. Bill Ritter's executive order granting those workers certain bargaining powers.

Calling itself Colorado WINS, the group is made up of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the Colorado Association of Public Employees/Service Employees International Union; and the American Federation of Teachers.

Combined, those three groups already claim about 4,500 state workers as members and about 17,000 active members overall in Colorado.

Group leaders said they hope the coalition will provide a more unified voice for workers and eliminate some of the competitive scramble expected to take place among various unions for state workers' support in the coming weeks and months.

"It makes a lot of sense to be the most effective voice we can be for state workers," said Dave Paladino, spokesman for AFSCME.

"Nobody at the state wanted to enter into some kind of labor union battle," said Dave Growley, a member of CAPE/SEIU who works in the state's information technology department. "The whole idea on this thing is to work together so all of our voices are blended together and we're all on the same page of music."

Earlier this month, Ritter signed a controversial executive order granting about 32,000 state workers the right to form bargaining groups. The Ritter administration has stopped short of calling them employee unions because the executive order seeks to prohibit the groups from striking or seeking binding arbitration.

Prior to the order, state employees had been able to join and pay dues to unions, but the groups' bargaining authority was much more limited.

Colorado WINS leaders said they are in the infancy of promoting the group to state workers. But already reports of union lobbying are starting to emerge.

At a Joint Budget Committee hearing yesterday, Attorney General John Suthers said he has received several calls from state department heads asking how to handle union promotion in the workplace. In one instance, he said, an official with the Department of Corrections asked whether the department could remove a union representative who was putting fliers on cars in a prison parking lot.

Ritter is on a trade mission in Canada and is unavailable to comment on today's announcement. Ritter's spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said each state department has discretion on how to handle union presence in the workplace. He said department heads are currently formulating their plans.

"From the governor's standpoint, the first priority is to maintain the integrity of the workplace, that the people's business is conducted without disruption," Dreyer said.

Under Ritter's executive order, eligible state employees are broken into eight job categories. Employees of those units can petition to have a particular union represent them.

Once a union gets petitions from 30 percent of the employees in a unit, there will be a vote of all the unit's employees. Other unions have a short time frame to gather petitions to also appear on the ballot, and employees have the option of voting for no representation.

A union must receive a majority vote of the employees in the unit to be designated the official representative. A series of run-off elections will occur if no choice receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

It is unclear when the first vote for union representation may take place.


Democrat politicos bow to gov't union bosses

Gov. Bill Ritter has nudged Colorado one step closer to a collective bargaining compact with unions representing government employees. Rather than a payoff to big labor for their moral and financial support during his campaign, the governor creatively terms this a "partnership" with dedicated and conscientious government workers.

That Ritter implemented this new policy through the back door by executive order rather than asking the legislature to address it by law is a measure of how controversial he recognizes this to be.

The last thing Democrats wanted was an open debate in the next legislative session. The governor got them off the hook, saving them from going on record with a party line, pro-union vote.

In an e-mail to all state employees, Ritter treaded oh so carefully, emphasizing the limited nature of this new arrangement regarding strikes, agency fees and binding arbitration - all the things it doesn't allow ... yet! Knowing this letter would be made public, it might have appeared unseemly to be verbally popping champagne corks with union leaders and their new recruits.

No one who understands the quid pro quo of politics can be surprised by this move. As I've explained many times, party trumps person. Bill Ritter is no left-wing radical but he is a Democrat, and big labor is a powerful force in his party's coalition. Unions opened their wallets and labored mightily to help Democrats win the governorship and majorities in both houses of the state legislature it was inevitable that the favor would be returned - especially to public-sector unions whose membership votes overwhelmingly for Democrats and whose power has been growing while private-sector unions have been in decline for decades.

Pay, benefits, job security and a fabulous PERA pension plan have Colorado's state workers living relatively high off the hog compared to their counterparts in neighboring states and the national average. That's why the Rocky Mountain News called Ritter's new policy "a solution in search of a problem."

No one opposes productive cooperation with state workers, but they don't have to be union members for that to happen. Many civil servants are diligent and creative individuals, but government unions act collectively. And, like any union, their first priority is what's good for the rank and file, not customers, employers, taxpayers or "partners."

Unions discourage competition among their members. Individual excellence that might show up less-motivated workers is frowned upon. Unions promote work rules that undermine productivity. Elections for union leadership positions favor firebrands and demagogues who exaggerate grievances and outbid rivals in an auction for better pay and conditions. Job security and tenure take precedence over customer service. Think of that grump behind the counter at the motor vehicle office. As Winston Churchill noted, after awhile civil servants tend to become no longer servants and no longer civil.

In areas where government enjoys a monopoly, public-sector unions are worse than unnecessary, they're dangerous. When they strike, they can hold the public hostage, shutting down entire sectors. Private-sector unions are constrained by a company's ability to recover its costs from customers who are free to take their business to a competitor. Public-sector unions have no such constraint, knowing government can't go out of business and has the power to tax its "customers."

That's why Margaret Thatcher denationalized industries in Britain in the '70s and '80s. Newly-elected French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, seeking to rein in arrogant government employee unions, is already being threatened with massive strikes.

There's a lesson here for us. Ritter's assurance that state workers will be prohibited from striking is unassuring. New Yorkers have been often afflicted by illegal public employee strikes, slowdowns or sickouts, followed by union demands for amnesty.

The governor's executive order is the first stage of bad public policy that, if not reversed, Coloradans will come to sorely regret.


NPR exposes non-union Carpenters Union picketers

About 30 people picket in front of a bank in downtown Washington, D.C., wearing big yellow signs that read: "Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters."

They shuffle about in circles, many wearing hooded sweatshirts and jeans. Their coats are draped over parking meters; their belongings sit in plastic grocery bags on the sidewalk. I ask a protester named Mike Hodge why he's there.

"We're protesting, we're protesting…" Then the energy leaves his voice and he concedes, "I don't know."

No wonder. Hodge isn't a carpenter; he's a rent-a-picket.

Solidarity at $8 an Hour

The regional carpenters' union has hired Hodge for $8 an hour, essentially outsourcing protest work that union members traditionally do themselves. And many of the demonstrators are homeless people, according to people familiar with the union and its practices.

Rick Hatcher, who works as a monitor in a homeless shelter and was once an apprentice carpenter, says the union often recruits from shelters.

"Most of these people are very much unemployed," said Hatcher, as he watched the marchers in front of the bank. "They're homeless. Trust me. A majority of these people come from the shelters."

One of the marchers, Roger Washington, who lives in a shelter, recalled the carpenters descending on a meal for the homeless and hiring 140 people in one fell swoop.

The union hires them to work on what's called an "informational" picket.

The assignment: Protest a construction firm that the union says is paying below the prevailing wage to workers renovating the bank.

On this day, the protesters chant in a sluggish tone that sounds as if they recently woke up: "Low pay! No way! Fair pay! American way!"

In the past couple of years, the carpenters' union has hired the homeless to picket in Washington and other cities, according to news reports. The logic is economic. The union pays homeless people $8 an hour to picket so real carpenters can continue to make $24 an hour doing their jobs.

People who follow the labor movement say the carpenters' union is the only one they know of in the country that uses the homeless to picket. Some in organized labor say they find the practice embarrassing, even if they are loath to criticize a fellow union in public.

Gary Chaison, who teaches industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said renting pickets sends a bad message.

"It's essentially saying that our own members don't have the time, the inclination — or the spirit — to walk picket lines and protect their jobs," Chaison said.

And if actual carpenters don't care enough about companies paying lower wages, Chaison said, why should anyone else?

"I'm trying to imagine what the civil rights movement would have been like if, in fact, they had hired demonstrators to walk down South," Chaison said.

'It's Pretty Good'

Getting the carpenters to talk about using the homeless is tough. George Eisner, the lead organizer for the mid-Atlantic regional office of the union, won't discuss it.

"It's always twisted around and used in the wrong context," Eisner said in a telephone interview.

And it's not much easier getting the homeless protesters to talk about it. Union organizers have ordered them not to talk to reporters. Away from their minders, though, a few explain how they came to be rent-a-pickets.

They say the union began recruiting them from homeless shelters and soup kitchens two years ago. They work up to 20 hours a week and use their wages to pay for things such as aspirin and laundry.

"As a part-time job, it's pretty good," said a man who only gives his first name, John.

Most people who pass the picket line don't look closely at the protesters. Diego Castaneda, a doctoral student from California, snaps a picture of a marcher and gives her a thumbs up.

"I just like seeing people demonstrating and standing up for their rights," Castaneda said.

But when I tell him the protesters are actually homeless people, his face falls.

"Are you serious?" he says in disbelief. "It's pretty disingenuous of the union to hire people who aren't carpenters."

But that doesn't mean it's likely to change. As long as the union can hire low-wage workers to do the job for its members, it makes good business sense. After all, that's the genius of outsourcing.


Teachers use kids to protest pay raise, bonus

Teachers aren’t accepting the Collier County (FL) School district’s offer of a 1 percent bonus lying down.

More than 300 teachers, most dressed in red, turned out for Thursday’s Collier County School Board meeting to protest the district’s offer of a 1 percent bonus on top of their step increase, which is measured by years of experience.

The teachers rallied in the parking lot prior to the meeting. Many held signs with messages such as, “If we were truly paid by the hour, the School Board still owes me $12,000.” Some of their children toted signs that read “Show mommy the money.”

“We have to show the community that we are insulted,” said Emily Larson, first vice president of the Collier County Education Association and the media specialist at Naples Park Elementary School. “We have the highest cost of living in the state and the lowest percentage of increase of any district in the state. You have got to wonder how other counties are doing better.”

After the district made the offer to the teachers last week, the CCEA, which represents 80 percent of the district’s teachers, and the district are at an impasse. Because public sector employees like teachers cannot strike, they have to declare an impasse. In an impasse, the district notifies the Public Employees Relation Commission (PERC) and they send a panel of special magistrates that conduct a hearing, much like a jury trial, said Allun Hamblett, executive director of human resources for the district. The panel issues a finding of fact, which it sends to both groups and both decide whether they want to accept or reject the magistrates’ decision.

If either side rejects it, the School Board would convene and determine whether to impose the magistrates’ decision, Hamblett said.

The decision came after the district offered the teachers $5.69 million in compensation increases for the CCEA. The money included $3.6 million in step increases; $1.8 million for a 1 percent bonus for all teachers; $175,000 in middle school athletic supplements; $42,000 in increased compensation for class coverage and $35,000 in Webmaster supplement increases.

Teachers said the offer was insulting.

“I am frustrated,” said Claudia Simmons, a Naples Park Elementary teacher with 35 years of experience in Collier County. “We’re not in this career to make money, but we do have to live.’’

A 1 percent bonus would add up to $668 for Simmons, she said. “That is not a lot, especially because I am beyond the point where I get a step increase,” she said.

Superintendent Dennis Thompson said most of the teachers didn’t understand the reasons behind why the district could not give the teachers an offer of more than their step increase and a 1 percent bonus. Thompson made the offer to the standing-room only crowd Thursday to explain it to them, but most of the teachers on the advice of union leaders, left the School Board chambers.

“They have been blessed with huge economic growth and unlimited resources,” he said. “They are angry, and they have a right to be. We should be able to keep up with the cost of living.”

Thompson said several factors have contributed to the district not being able to offer more. He said the district lost $1.3 million more in per student funding from the state because the district underestimated how many students the district would lose.

“I have been alerted those numbers are declining each week,” he said. “If this continues to our February county, we may have to make up another shortfall.”

Thompson said he is “scared to death” about more budget cuts coming from the state next year.

“We have heard the words ‘train wreck’ and we have heard ‘unchartered waters.’ There is nothing we can do. This is not unwillingness on the board’s part,” he said. “There is nothing we can do.”

Von Jeffers, president of CCEA, said Thursday that beginning Monday, teachers in the district will “work to rule.” That means, they will come in at the contract-approved time and leave at the contract-approved time. Teachers, he said, would not be doing anything above and beyond the 7.5 hour day.

Pine Ridge Middle School teacher Tricia Ray said it was sad it had to come to this.

“I was just crushed,” she said when she heard about the proposed bonus. “I love my job. It is my gift. But I am a single mom with two kids in college. It’s not fair. It is a lack of respect.”


Union boss - Mayor's brother - arrested

Police arrested Tony J. Ardis, president of the Peoria (IL) Firefighters Union Local 50, on a charge of aggravated battery early Sunday.

Details about his arrest and the events leading to it were not immediately available late Wednesday and a message left seeking comment from Ardis, 40, was not returned. Ardis is the brother of Mayor Jim Ardis.

The crime occurred between 1:15 and 1:20 a.m. in the 2300 block of West Newman Parkway. The victim, Dany Sarraf, 25, of the 2700 block of West Wardcliffe Avenue received minor injuries and was found by police on the corner of North Sterling Avenue and Newman Parkway, according to a police report. All other information about the incident was contained in supplemental reports, which were not made available.

When reached by telephone Wednesday night, Sarraf declined to comment but stated he likely wouldn't seek to press charges against Ardis.


Week 7: Nurse-strikers replaced, pickets linger

Jerry Blevins has stood for weeks on a picket line with his fellow nurses, thinking about his mortgage, his tearful wife, his four children.

It‘s been a stressful seven weeks for the 750 registered nurses at Appalachian Regional Healthcare, the region‘s largest hospital system, which has nine facilities in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. Six hundred nurses have refused to cross the picket line.

After weeks of stalemate, negotiators on both sides of the bargaining table indicated this week that some progress has come from talks with a federal mediator and state officials. Negotiations were to resume Friday and continue through the weekend.

However, the strike has taken an emotional and financial toll on his family, he said.

ARH President and CEO Jerry Haynes, a native of the Harlan County mountain region, said he appreciates the conviction of those on the line.

Labor strife is as familiar in these Appalachian hills as poverty and poor health. Blevin‘s own Harlan County, home to several century-old coal-mining communities, has a history of violent labor fights. Attempts to organize miners in the 1930s drew national attention to "Bloody Harlan."

"In most rural areas, the hospitals tend to be the largest employer in the area," said Kenneth Troske, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Kentucky. "Unfortunately, that gives the hospital more power than in other places, especially in the labor market.

So far, about 125 positions vacated by striking nurses have been filled and nearly 175 nurses have crossed the picket line. ARH is relying on nursing supervisors, temporary nurses, licensed practical nurses and nurses‘ aides to fill the gaps.

The pay range for ARH nurses is $47,000 to $65,000 — far above the $39,000 median household income in Kentucky. In Appalachia, more than a quarter of the population lives below the federal poverty level. Few other jobs, beyond coal mining, offer better wages or compensation, Troske said.

Haynes denied the claims, saying federal and state regulators have never cited ARH for poor care or staffing ratios. Payroll documents offered by ARH show that nurses on average worked 2.5 hours mandatory overtime a week.

"Do I think we have a problem sometimes? Yes. Are we perfect? Absolutely not," Haynes said. "Is it management‘s intent to work short and not provide care to our patients? No."


Restoring balance to labor law in Michigan

Contracts play a pivotal role in a free economy. Every time we buy or sell something, whether it is a home or a cup of coffee, there’s a contract. Sometimes these contracts are long, complicated things that are the product of weeks of bargaining, like the contract that the UAW just agreed to with GM. Sometimes they are informal things that are made and expire so quickly we hardly notice them. You grab a table at the local diner and the waitress takes your order. You’ve just made a contract. After you’ve finished your meal and you pay the bill, the contract is done.

For a majority of Americans, the most important contracts we’ll ever agree to are the ones that we make with our employers. Those are the contracts that govern how we’ll spend 40 or more hours a week and how we’ll fund nearly all of our purchases. Depending on the specific terms, these contracts may also play a large role in how we finance our retirement or receive health insurance.

But the laws that govern these contracts get little attention considering just how important they are. That applies in particular to the laws that govern union representation, which is unfortunate because Michigan is at a point where it needs to re-evaluate the role that unions play in the state’s economy and government.

Union membership has been dropping for decades. Between 1986 and 2006, unions lost 1.6 million members and saw their percentage of the workforce decline from 17.5 percent to 12 percent. Michigan unions are somewhat stronger but they’ve been losing members here as well, losing 275,000 members between 1986 and 2006 and seeing their share of the workforce drop from 28.3 to 19.6.

But unions remain very influential in the political realm, and they can be counted on to oppose a wide range of free-market solutions to the state’s problems. Meanwhile, the core of our labor law dates back to the 1930s, when the economy and society and most of the jobs themselves were very different.

At the top of this page you’ll find an illustration of where labor law has been, where it is now, and where it really ought to go. Labor law has swung wildly from periods where unions were subject to needless restrictions that shortchanged workers to the current day where unions are protected to the point that they are unaccountable to the people they are supposed to represent. Union officials will often claim that free-market ideas are anti-labor. Mackinac Center scholars have been critical of a lot of things that union officials have done, but also complimentary when intelligent union leadership presents itself. A look at the larger picture will show that the restoration of balance and accountability that will enhance worker rights.

The labor law structure of today has been in effect for more than 70 years. An entire generation of union leaders, lawyers, economists and policymakers has grown up, been educated and worked through their careers without seeing any major change in how relations between workers, unions and employers are governed. One effect of this lack of change is that few people grasp the extent to which the government interferes in this important area of the economy.

Relatively modest changes, like a state right-to-work law, seem radical, but if one takes a slightly longer view of history they are anything but.

In the late 1800s, as industry began to take hold in the U.S., workers began to see value in banding together to present a united front to employers. Early labor unions such as the National Labor Union, the Knights of Labor and the Industrial Workers of the World rose and fell, but eventually the American Federation of Labor found lasting success by focusing on "bread and butter unionism" that improved wages and conditions in the workplace while placing a lower emphasis on political activism.

The AFL prospered in spite of the lack of supportive legislation, but the judiciary of that period was prone to take sides against unions. Looking at the pendulum above, labor law tended to tilt to the left side, towards restricting unions. Many of these decisions gave short shrift to the fundamental rights of workers. To give just a couple of examples, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts arguably barred peaceful picketing in one case. One New York court enjoined a strike because the union’s demands included limits on working hours designed to increase employment opportunities. In addition, the courts were prone to use the Sherman Act, which Congress passed in response to the perceived threat of industrial monopolies, against unions on the grounds that unions tended to act "in restraint of trade."

The early to mid-1930s saw the passage of federal legislation that swung that pendulum in the opposite direction. The keystone was the Wagner Act, now known as the National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRA gave unions remarkable prerogatives. Where union recognition had been at the discretion of employers, it was now mandatory, and where union membership for workers was optional, it could be compelled. The natural sympathies for working men and women, combined with a history in which unions had been treated unfairly in the courts, tended to obscure the dramatic shift in power, but as Friedrich Hayek observed in the "Constitution of Liberty,"

"...any union effectively controlling all potential workers of a firm or industry can exercise almost unlimited pressure on the employer … where a great amount of capital has been invested in specialized equipment, such a union can practically expropriate the owner and command nearly the whole return of his enterprise."

To Hayek, control over workers was the key to control over enterprises:

"...the coercion which unions have been permitted to exercise contrary to all principles of freedom under the law is primarily the coercion of fellow workers. Whatever true coercive power unions may hold over employers is a consequence of this primary power of coercing other workers..."

And that’s where we stand today. In Michigan we have recently been treated to the drama of negotiations — and a pair of short strikes — in which the main issue was whether or not Detroit’s automakers would be able to restructure its workforce and compensation in such a way as to make the company competitive. In these negotiations the actual workers were largely bit players and the critical role was played by UAW President Ron Gettelfinger.

As things stand now it appears that the UAW and the companies were able to work out an agreement that will make Detroit rolling iron much more competitive, but a miscalculation on the part of Gettelfinger and those close to him might have denied Detroit’s automakers the ability to make the necessary changes, with catastrophic consequences for tens of thousands of autoworkers, not to mention a state where automobiles are the state’s signature industry.

Gettelfinger has this power because one cannot legally work in most blue-collar jobs at GM, Ford or Chrysler without accepting the UAW’s representation. The companies cannot go around the UAW to deal with their employees directly, and as a practical matter it has become nearly impossible for workers at these companies to remove the UAW. We in Michigan are fortunate that this time the union’s leadership has exhibited some understanding of the economy. They have not always done so. If they had acted rashly neither the workers nor management nor the residents of Michigan would have had any effective remedies. As it is, a lot of Michiganians are left wondering if the concessions might have been less sharp, and the job losses and economic distress suffered throughout Michigan less severe, if the UAW had been willing to make concessions earlier.

Which leaves the people of Michigan with an important question: Was it wise to put so much economic power in the hands of one organization?

The National Labor Relations Act works in many ways to empower union officials and shield them from accountability to the workers that they are supposed to represent:

* Mandatory recognition by employers is perpetual. Once a union is installed an employer must continue to treat that union as its workers’ representative unless it has remarkably strong evidence that the union has lost the support of its employees.

* An individual worker in a union-represented bargaining unit may not declare himself independent and bargain on his own behalf, but rather must accept what the union negotiates for him or find work somewhere else. This in turn makes it much more difficult for the workforce to know whether or not the union is securing them adequate benefits, there being no non-union coworkers of similar job classifications against whom to make a comparison.

* If a majority of workers are inclined to remove the union it is possible to do so, but the process is difficult and seldom attempted. Workers typically must wait until a collective bargaining agreement is near its end to start the process, which requires the collection of signatures from 30 percent of the workforce (a daunting task in a large company with thousands of workers scattered at several plants) in order to set up a worker vote to remove the union. Just collecting the signatures is bound to attract the attention of union officials, who understandably will not look kindly on those who lead the petition-gathering effort.

In most states (those without a right-to-work law, like Michigan) a union can ask the employer for a contract clause stating that all workers covered by that contract must either join the union or pay an agency fee in lieu of dues. There being no financial incentive for the employer to refuse, the union almost always gets this in the contract. Union coffers are thus enlarged by membership dues extracted from workers who are indifferent towards or even opposed to the union. This money can come in handy for, among other things, fighting off petition drives to remove the union.

The result of all this is that rather than acting as a representative for workers — closely accountable and subject to replacement if they fail to meet employee expectations — unions are prone to become a third force in the workplace, largely free to pursue their own interests in all too many cases. This sort of thing would be rare in a real free market, where workers would quickly abandon a union that was not pursuing their best interests if they had the freedom to do so.

The extent to which compulsory unionism distorts the employment market and hampers economic growth is difficult to calculate, but a hint can be found in the record of states with right-to-work laws. Right-to-work is a relatively modest step but it does restore some worker freedom and restraint over union activity by prohibiting agency fees and allowing individual workers to decide whether or not the union has earned their financial support.

Under right-to-work, union officials must persuade workers to pay dues, rather than simply negotiate for them with employers. It may seem ironic, but this law empowering workers has proved to be a powerful magnet for employers, who given the choice tend to prefer to start or expand their businesses in states with right-to-work laws. This increases the demand for labor in right-to-work states, creating jobs and boosting wages.

There are a number of reasons why this is so, but they boil down to one thing: It is better to have unions that are accountable to the men and women they represent than it is to have unions that are accountable to nobody.

As our recent report on the economic effects of right-to-work laws shows, right-to-work states have noticeably higher rates of economic growth, have added jobs at twice the rate of non-right-to-work states, and have higher rates of disposable per-capita income growth as well. Michigan has historically prided itself on being a high-wage state, but we estimate that by 2010 most right-to-work states will have disposable per capita income that is higher than Michigan

Just as important, Michigan has extended this same sort of mandatory unionism law to government employees — all the requirements of mandatory recognition, forced membership and forced dues with all the inflexibility that the federal government imposes on unionized workplaces in the private sector.

The results of this have been fairly clear. Government employee unions in particular are one of the most stubborn obstacles we face to enacting rational policies such as privatization, educational choice and balancing government budgets with spending reductions rather than tax increases that choke off economic growth. We estimate that in Michigan alone government employee unions receive more than $150 million annually from state and local governments in the form of union dues. Court cases on the use of union dues have found that little of this money, perhaps as little as 10 percent, is used for workplace representation. The work rules and job guarantees found in collective bargaining agreements can hamper a wide range of reforms or innovations that might otherwise make government less expensive and more effective.

With millions of dollars in mandatory membership dues and the authority to negotiate collective bargaining agreements on behalf of workers with little regard to those workers’ individual preferences, government employee union officials have tremendous power — far more power than they would likely have if membership dues and representation authority were limited to those workers who joined voluntarily.

Again, recent drama from Michigan illustrates the problem. Last September the Legislature, confronted with an overspending crisis of nearly $2 billion dollars, faced a possible government shutdown because of its inability to pass a budget. (In fact the government was shut down for about four hours early in the morning of Oct. 1.) One would think that a state with a stalled economy — real GDP had actually declined from 2002 to 2006 and the state has lost both jobs and taxpayers at an alarming rate — might want to hold the line on taxes as much as possible and give employers a chance to recover. But a governor who had been elected with heavy support from government employee unions, especially the powerful Michigan Education Association, insisted that the gap be made up almost entirely with tax increases. In the end she got her way. Instead of controlling expenses, Michigan increased taxes by $1.5 billion.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Unions are not inherently evil, and there are many decent men and women in the union movement today. Union critics should keep in mind that leading a union can be hard work, especially in the midst of the one-state recession we have in Michigan. But the labor law we have today has created perverse incentives and allowed union officials to lose touch with who they represent. Forgotten is their proper role in our society — representing workers in the workplace rather than influencing government. If the union movement is to be a strong and positive force in Michigan and the country as a whole, the lines of accountability between union officials and the rank-and file will need to be strengthened, and the best way to the that would be to give individual workers the freedom to break away from forced representation and forced dues.

Over the last 70 years we have had a union law in which the main features have been forced representation of workers, forced recognition by employers and forced dues from opponents. The result is a union movement that is associated with declining industries, overgrown and inefficient governments, and sluggish economies.

Prior to that we had courts that placed unions under severe and unfair restrictions that hampered working men and women in their efforts to get the best wages they can for their labor. Our state economy and workers themselves would benefit if we were to bring the pendulum back to center: genuine government neutrality towards unions, with no special favor and no unnecessary restrictions. Where unions have been allowed to resort to legal mandates, they should now rely on persuasion. While legislators at the federal and state level will need to work out details, the following principles should act as a guide:

* Voluntary membership: workers decide whether or not to join a union.

* Voluntary representation: a union represents its own members and does not bear the burden or the authority to represent anyone else.

* Freedom of action: a union and its members may take any action they deem necessary, including strikes (except for essential government employees), picketing and boycotts, subject only to the requirement that they honor contracts in force and refrain from violence or threats. The same goes for management.

In the meantime, Michigan in particular would benefit greatly from enacting a state right-to-work law. The power wielded by unaccountable unions creates a burden that our economy can no longer bear. Right-to-work would restore some semblance of balance and freedom to labor relations in Michigan, and make the state much more attractive to employers. Right-to-work is not a cure all; Michigan faces lean years in any event, but right to work would make the current slump less severe and hasten the day of Michigan’s recovery.

Unions can and have played a valuable role in a modern economy by providing workers with expert representation and the ability to present a united front to management where it’s called for. It was a trade union, Solidarity, which triggered a chain of events leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire. Today, unions make up much of the opposition to Islamic totalitarianism in Iran. There should always be effective unions and workers should always be free to turn to them for help.

But unions must be fully accountable to the people they represent and workers should have broad freedom to either negotiate for themselves or choose who will represent them. Achieving this will require a remarkable shift in attitudes, and the shift away from an unaccountable union movement has been underway for decades, both in Michigan (where unions lost 275,000 members over the last 20 years) and across the country.

The question before the people of Michigan is: What will be our next step? We can leave things as they are and continue to have a union movement that serves fewer and fewer workers but also continues to use agency fee money to fight needed reforms in state government, or we can move our labor law back towards balance with a right-to-work law, with unions that are more accountable to the men and women they represent and a state that is more attractive to business and industry. The choice is up to us.


UMW boss Cecil Roberts on the NLRB

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