Power-grabbing unions trample workers' rights

Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney leaves out a lot of important facts in his Nov. 16 "Labor Voices" column ("Bush labor panel guts workers rights").

For instance, while he is correct that the National Labor Relations Board has the duty to protect workers' rights to organize, he forgets to mention that workers have a right to decline organization if they don't believe it's in their best interests. It has long been the NLRB's position that the best way for workers to decide on union representation is through a secret-ballot election.

Gaffney complains that the NLRB has stripped unions of the power to represent workers via what he calls "majority sign-up," better known as card check. But Gaffney doesn't address the increasing union reliance on corporate campaigns, a comprehensive public relations strategy designed to damage an employer's reputation among its customers and the larger community.

The goal is to force the company to remain silent during an organizing drive and to accept the unreliable card-check process, which strips employees of their privacy and leaves them vulnerable to deception or intimidation at the hand of union organizers. Corporate campaigns and card check combined meant that workers were in danger of being cut out of making the final decision.

The NLRB's ruling does not eliminate the card check, but it does allow workers to act on their own to set up a secret-ballot vote to decide whether the union truly has their support. This is a fair decision that restores workers' rights. And that's the rest of the story.

Paul Kersey, Director of Labor Policy
Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Midland, MI


SEIU rejected by majority of health care workers

A vote to organize a union at one of Orange County's biggest nonprofits failed last week. The Service Employees International Union Local 200 United held a vote at Orange County (CA) Association for the Help of Retarded Citizens, the county's eighth-largest employer.

Out of 498 eligible voters, 203 employees voted against forming a union, while 158 voted for it. The SEIU has been trying to organize a union at AHRC — which serves 1,700 people with 700 employees — since at least 2004. The effort has contributed to conflict at the agency, at least among the board of directors.

In a memo to employees after the union vote, acting executive director Henry Vriesema urged workers to "move past whatever differences may have arisen during the union campaign."

"The employees voted to not have a union. We certainly support their wishes either way," Vriesema said in an interview this week. "The fact that they don't feel they need a union is an indication of their confidence in the administration and board of directors."

The National Labor Relations Board, which oversees all votes to form unions, said several objections had been filed to the election, which might delay an official certification.

The board hiked annual membership fees in the organization from $100 to $1,000 in 2004 in an effort to thwart the union, at least one former director has said. That fee hike led to a disputed board election that had to be resolved by a court-appointed referee.

The new board that took power in November recently fired longtime executive director Steve McLaughlin, who had served in the position for 24 years. McLaughlin has filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination, breach of contract and slander by board members.


Teamsters want gov't waste & abuse, not GPS

GPS tracking devices installed on government-issue vehicles are helping communities around the country reduce waste and abuse, in part by catching employees shopping, working out at the gym or otherwise loafing while on the clock.

The use of GPS has led to firings, stoking complaints from employees and unions that the devices are intrusive, Big Brother technology. But city officials say that monitoring employees' movements has deterred abuses, saving the taxpayers money in gasoline and lost productivity.

"We can't have public resources being used on private activities. That's Management 101," said Phil Nolan, supervisor of the Long Island, NY town of Islip.

Islip saved nearly 14,000 gallons of gas over a three-month period from the previous year after GPS devices were installed. Nolan said that shows that employees know they are being watched and are no longer using Islip's 614 official vehicles for personal business.

Some administrators around the country emphasized that the primary purpose of the GPS devices is not to catch people goofing off but to improve the maintenance and operation of the vehicles and to design more efficient bus, snowplow and trash-pickup routes. Among other things, the devices can be used to alert mechanics that a car's engine is operating inefficiently.

Still, in Indiana, six employees of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department lost their jobs last year after an administrator bought three Global Positioning Satellite devices out of her own pocket and switched them in and out of 12 department vehicles to nail health inspectors running personal errands on the job.

Employees were found going to stores, gyms, restaurants, churches and their homes. (And the administrator was reimbursed the $750 she spent.)

One of those who got in trouble, 27-year employee Elaine Pruitt, decried what she called "sneaky" methods. She said she had fallen ill and stopped at her home for a long lunch break, returning to work just 38 minutes late.

Previously, "as long as we got our work done, there was never any problem," she said.

"All of a sudden, it became wrong if you stopped at a grocery store for some gum," she added.

In Boston two years ago, a snowplow driver was accused of hiding his GPS device in a snowbank and then going off to do some private plowing. The driver pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor larceny charge and was fined $300.

In Denver, 76 vehicles equipped with GPS this year were driven 5,000 fewer miles than the unequipped fleet had during the same period the year before. Denver plans to outfit police cars, snowplows and trash trucks with GPS soon.

"It's growing by leaps and bounds," said Chris Ransom of Networkcar, one of the country's leading providers of GPS systems. "I'd say we're seeing double-digit growth among the municipalities, whether it's statewide or down to the local county."

In Delaware, GPS was used to confirm two employees using state vehicles were going home early, said Terry Barton Jr., fleet administrator for the state. He would not say what action, if any, was taken against the employees.

"If they're in charge of the car and they decide to go visit their Aunt Mary, we'll know that they went someplace they weren't supposed to. It has a chilling effect," he said.

Barton said Delaware paid $425 per unit for the GPS devices, as well as $24.99 a month per vehicle for tracking services. Information from each car is sent back to a central location, where things like fuel consumption and speed are recorded. He estimated the investment will be recouped in 3 1/2 years.

"If we're getting fuel reduction, less accidents and have our people slowing down, it more than pays for itself," Barton said.

The Teamsters are negotiating more contracts that protect workers from being spied on or punished as a result of the devices, union spokeswoman Leslie Miller said. She said the union's tentative contract with United Parcel Service prevents the company from firing any employee for a first offense uncovered by GPS unless there is proof of intent to defraud.

Sean Thomas, chief of staff for the Manchester, N.H., Mayor's Office, said a plan to use GPS units on garbage trucks was scrapped after "some union push-back."

"They said, 'You are watching us like Big Brother,'" Thomas said.

GPS is helping improve efficiency in other ways.

Houston officials say they have used GPS on garbage trucks to design more efficient trash-collection routes, reducing fuel costs and other expenses.

Come winter, the New Hampshire Transportation Department will begin testing GPS devices in some sand spreaders.

"It's so when Mrs. Smith on Warren Street calls and says we haven't plowed her street, we can say, 'Yes, we have,'" said Phil Bilodeau, Concord, N.H., deputy director of general services. "It's not to check up on drivers, although they would say it is for that purpose."

Boston's school system uses GPS devices on its buses - technology that proves useful when worried parents call because a bus is late.

"It's hugely helpful for us to say, 'The bus is five blocks away,'" schools spokesman Jonathan Palumbo said.


Anti-strike group - Beloved Liberty - draws 8,000

Thousands of people demonstrated Sunday against transport strikes that unions said would continue for a sixth day despite signs the movement was losing steam and heading toward negotiations.

The strike over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal to scrap early retirement benefits has shuttered subway stations and tangled the nationwide train network since Tuesday night. Unions planned to keep up the walkout Monday.

Facing a second week of strikes, a group calling itself Beloved Liberty staged a "Stop the Strike" demonstration in eastern Paris, drawing about 8,000 supporters.

"Liberate the Metro!" chanted the marchers, a mix of students and middle–aged Sarkozy supporters bundled against a damp, biting cold. The gathering drew fewer people than the pro–union demonstrations, but polls show most French are siding with Sarkozy over pension reform.

A victory over the unions would further Sarkozy’s goal of making France more competitive and would enact reforms that eluded former President Jacques Chirac, who proposed pension reform in 1995, but backed down amid weeks of paralyzing strikes.

Sarkozy’s leftist opponents feel the retirement reform is a symbol of a greater threat to the social and labor protections that have underpinned France’s economy for decades.

At a meeting Sunday, six leading unions agreed in principle to a proposal by the national rail operator’s management for talks Wednesday on the pension reform. The train drivers themselves – who have been tougher than the union leadership – will consider the proposal Monday morning.

There were lingering questions about whether the government would join Wednesday’s talks. Labor Minister Xavier Bertrand praised the unions for agreeing to talks, but reiterated calls for strikers to return to work before negotiations can begin.

’’There are things that are moving, that are unlocking, but not fast enough for my taste,’’ he said after a meeting with Sarkozy.

Train service has been gradually increasing, and on Monday about 300 high–speed trains out of a usual 700 were expected to run, the SNCF rail authority said.

On the Paris Metro, just one train in five was expected to be running, with some subway lines and commuter train lines shut entirely and just 40 percent of buses in circulation.

One union, CFDT, has already called for its members to return to work, and another, CFTC, suggested Sunday that it could soon do the same. The larger unions, however, were holding out.

Some unions members are hoping to carry their momentum until Tuesday, when hospital, school and other public sector workers have proposed strikes over planned job cuts.


Ground Zero will have anti-worker mob imprint

A contractor that prosecutors say made regular payments to a mob-infiltrated labor union will pour the foundations of two World Trade Center towers.

Developer Larry Silverstein has tapped Yonkers Contracting Co. to create the 85-foot-deep foundations for Towers 3 and 4 on the west side of Church St. The $40 million job is expected to get underway in January and take six months.

In 2004, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said the company had for years paid off corrupt officials of Local 15 of the Operating Engineers and that the union had long been linked to the Colombo crime family. Yonkers was never charged with a crime, vigorously denies any mob taint and says it's proud of other work at Ground Zero, including removing contaminated materials and rebuilding the PATH station. "This is really old news," said John Kolaya, the firm's executive vice president. "The allegations were found to be without merit, we were never charged with anything and the investigation was dropped."

Prosecutors had said in court filings that Yonkers paid $50,000 a year to Local 15 for "union favors," meaning the union would look the other way if nonunion workers were used on a union job.

Yonkers also has been hit with safety issues. In 2000, a nonunion Yonkers employee plunged to his death in the East River after heavy winds blew him off a Manhattan Bridge catwalk. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration faulted the company for failing to train the worker and allowing him to work without a harness.

Asked about Yonkers, Silverstein spokesman Bud Perrone said, "We're confident that Yonkers will perform their work to the highest standards of professionalism," as they have on the WTC site, the Van Wyck Expressway and other jobs.


Cesar Chavez Blvd. renamed SW Fourth Ave.

The Portland (OR) City Council pulled the plug on the entire Cesar Chavez street renaming debacle this morning.

"I can see no good reason to put the community through any more of what has become a dysfunctional debate," Commissioner Randy Leonard said.

The council voted unanimously to overturn its decision last week to rename Fourth Avenue in downtown for the farm labor leader and to take off the table a proposal to change the way the council makes street name changes.

The council also voted 3-to-2 to reject Mayor Potter's earlier plan to rename North Interstate Avenue for Chavez.

The council replaced Interstate with Fourth last week in the wake of fierce North Portland opposition. But the idea of renaming Fourth didn't sit well either.

Council members said it was time to heal and to talk about race relations in the city -- but probably not street renaming in the near future.

"I certainly don't want to be launching any name changes any time soon," Commissioner Dan Saltzman said.

Potter said the city's demographics are changing to become more diverse, and the community has to start having real conversations about race.

"Race is an everyday fact," the mayor said.

Representatives of the Chinese American community said they were glad the council heard their objections to renaming Fourth. The committee that had been pursuing the Interstate renaming said they would take a break and figure out what to do next.


Writers' strike: Smug takes timeout

The baseball strike of 1994 was particularly devastating for a chubby kid like me whose life revolved (revolves) around the Chicago Cubs, baseball cards, the prehistoric chewing gum in packs of baseball cards, and Dairy Queen. (Honestly, how good does a Dilly Bar sound right now?) Some say the sport has never recovered, and that our National Pastime will never be the same again.

But just this month, in the epicenter of American morality, an even more crippling labor strike has left "we the people" hopeless, forced to wander in a desert of our own imaginations.

Demanding an increase in wages, and a cut of the DVD action currently padding Hollywood producer's and Studio executive's bank accounts, back-room writers on the sets of everything from The View to Late Night with Conan O'Brien to Dancing with the Stars to LOST are currently withholding their talents from desperate housewives and obsessive fans everywhere.

Dancing with the Stars, even? Really? Come on, I thought Reality TV was all off-the-cuff? Please don't tell me this means Bob Sagat wasn't ad-libbing all those hilarious commentaries on America's Funniest Home Videos, because I'd have to rethink my entire childhood.

I'd like to make a few observations regarding the situation that the picketing Writers' Guild has left the rest of us in.

First off, it has become abundantly clear that the writers of your favorite show are a substantial (sometimes sole) source of its alleged genius. I think of Larry David writing for Seinfeld all of those years in relative anonymity before landing his own show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, on HBO. Since Curb began in 2000, it becomes more and more apparent each week that it was Larry more than Jerry that made Seinfeld the legend it turned out to be. Of course every successful show needs proper casting, acting, and directing, but the reality is, performance entertainers (like politicians) are typically one-dimensional (e.g. every person associated with Friends).

Which leads right into my second point: it is much more difficult to write a good script than it is to satisfactorily act one out. Extrapolated out into the world of politics and government, this reality is noteworthy when considering our criticisms for current leaders. The reason liberalism continues to fail isn't simply the less-than-convincing leaders who espouse it (or, act it out), but that their script (ideology) is so full of holes and intellectually unsettling as to make one wonder if the writing team from Dude, Where's My Car? had had their hands in its conception.

Third: even I forget sometimes that the thoughts and views expressed and disseminated by the talking heads on television and the Silver Screen are rarely their own. The "talent" and message behind our beloved films and programming emanates from a source deep in the bowels of Tinsel-town. Sometimes, as in the case of Conan O'Brien, a writer gets his chance to live every Wizard of Oz's fantasy by being granted a spot in the limelight to show the world what well-rounded talent they really have. But, this is rare for a reason.

Like a great English teacher who can tactfully offer insight on War and Peace, yet is incapable of penning even a moderately interesting email, actors, performers and talk show hosts possess abilities that, if all writers on the planet were to crash and remain LOST on an island with Others and black smoke monsters, would be rendered as inconsequential as a life-insurance salesmen in Heaven. For every one Dostoevsky there are thousands of 9th grade-teaching "Mr. Curry's". (Do you have any idea what that "B-" on my To Kill a Mockingbird paper did to my GPA, Mr. C?)

Writing, and the power that ideas "put to paper" can have are largely lost on our visually stimulated culture. Reading the newspaper or a (gasp!) book is archaic in the land of Cable News and Wikipedia. However, a quick peak at history (that thing your public school teacher claims to be teaching you) offers a few important examples of just how powerful the written word can be compared to those spoken (or acted out).

Thomas Paine's Common Sense was the fuel needed for a patriotic fire that would consume the colonies for war with Britain. Karl Marx's Manifesto spawned countless revolutions and prompted countless revolutionaries to (misguided) action. Uncle Tom's Cabin brought slavery to the forefront of American's consciousnesses, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle exposed the dark side of industrialization, and George Orwell's Animal Farm satirically depicted the reasons why Marx and his communistic legions ultimately failed (and will continue to fail, despite what Hillary promises in her latest stump speech).

Which brings me to my fourth and final point: we've always been more influenced by the writer than the actor. We've just forgotten it. We keep telling each other how busy we are, so pre-packaged worldviews courtesy of people with a microphone or behind a camera or in front of an audience seem deceptively more appealing than actually getting our own hands dirty with details.

Al Gore wins every award on the globally-warmed planet (except the highly-coveted "Participation Prize" given at my elementary school to make the uncoordinated and untalented dopes in my grade feel better after yours truly trounced them in every competition on the docket at Field Day), and for what? Reading cue cards off a power point presentation someone else wrote. Why is it that Comrade Gore refuses to debate any other public figure regarding global warming if it is truly his message and he believes in it deeply enough to accept a Nobel Peace Prize for it?

The best example of what I'm getting at here can be seen nightly on The Daily Show with John Stewart. Because his team of more than 15 writers are on strike, the supposed expert on everything from foreign policy to social security reform is currently sitting at home twiddling his smug. Recent polls show a significant number of people under the age of 30 claim to get their news from Rolling Stone (wow!), The Colbert Report (funny), and John Stewart (bad).

I'm in no way insinuating that there is no place for political satire, or that the politicians and pundits I agree with are off-limits from criticism. Important to recognize is the fact that the likes of John Stewart (and yes, even my beloved Stephen Colbert), while funny and camera-friendly, are not the ones coming up with the decidedly Left message propagated on such shows each night.

The people I get my news from (i.e. Michael Medved, Charles Krauthammer, Hugh Hewitt, Rush Limbaugh, and Robert Novak, etc.) not only acknowledge their conservative "tendencies", but also create their own commentaries, cite their work, and are willing to engage in public, open debates on a daily basis to defend their positions. Say what you want about any of my guys, but they are not afraid to debate and defend their side like the cowards on Late Night tv who love to use their platform to hurl verbal bombs at the Right, but then are safe and free to walk away with a wink-and-a-nod from their brain-dead guest and the approving liberal media.

The writers' strike has exposed even my own assumption that Stewart and Colbert might actually know what they are talking about.

Similar to the awkward feeling you get when another walks in on you and a group of young kids arguing over who gets the last Popsicle, the strike has revealed the voices we take many of our political cues from to be frauds (or at least puppets). If we don't feel silly for caring so much about what stand-up comics and people who pretend for a living think about the War in Iraq or Healthcare Reform, we should.

When conservatives, like yours truly, point out the danger a society can find itself in when its most respected voices are its also its most misinformed, we are arded with accusations of "taking too seriously" what "some dumb actors or comedians say."

But what are we on the Right to think when the same anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Capitalism sentiments that get such raucous applause on Comedy Central and at the Oscars are being taught in public school classrooms, or can be found on the front pages of most major American newspapers, or are heard on Capitol Hill from the lips of Congressional leaders in the Democratic Party?


Unions make mountain out of NLRB molehill

When workers marched recently on the National Labor Relations Board in Washington and 19 regional offices to demand the board "close down for renovations," it appeared to some a frivolous exercise. Labor board Chairman Robert Battista said the protests were little more than "shrill political rhetoric" aimed at presidential politics next year.

But to a labor movement still reeling from decades of decline but now trying to flex its muscles again, the protests late last week were quite serious.

Union leaders believe that many of their problems result from restrictions on the formation of unions because of NLRB rulings during the Bush administration. Their ire reached the boiling point this fall, when the board handed down 61 decisions. Unions say three of the worst rulings would:

— Make it easier to disband a union in a workplace.

— Allow employers to discriminate against union supporters in hiring.

— Let companies avoid giving back pay to workers who were fired illegally for trying to form a union.

"The NLRB has absolutely rolled back workers' rights at every turn," says Lane Windham, chief spokeswoman for the 10 million-member AFL-CIO.

Labor's foes don't buy it.

Unions ought to look within to understand their declining membership, contends Randy Johnson, vice president for labor at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has 3 million member businesses.

"They ought to be looking at whether their message really appeals to workers or not," Johnson says. "The National Labor Relations Act has been unchanged basically since 1947. … These few decisions the unions look at are making a mountain out of a molehill."

The National Labor Relations Board is important because its rulings set precedents and the tone for labor-management relations on disputes over discipline, firings, attempts to form unions and other issues.

Next month, the terms of three of the board's five members will expire, and labor is pushing for Congress to reject any appointments President George W. Bush makes. Bush will never allow a "balanced" board, labor says, and a non-functioning board would do less harm. The unionized portion of the work force has plummeted from 35 percent in the mid-1950s to 12 percent now, and in the private sector stands below 8 percent.

Bob Soutier was among about 50 union advocates who rallied outside the NLRB office in St. Louis last week. He was elected this week to a new four-year term as president of the 100,000-member St. Louis Labor Council. Union representation in the St. Louis area has remained steady at about 22 percent, double the national average, but Soutier worries about the national trends that have hurt labor's clout and numbers.

"I'm especially troubled by the rulings," Soutier said. "The NLRB for years has been slanted in the employers' interests, but never as much as it is now."

Jerry Hunter, a law partner at Bryan Cave in St. Louis and the former general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board under the first President George Bush, doesn't agree that the board is the source of labor's woes.

"Part of this is the frustration by the unions over the whole issue of how do they increase their representation in the private sector workplace," he said.

Labor has been stung by globalization and by the ability of companies to outsource work to third world countries where there is a lack of unions. At the same time, many experts say, practices of American employers and policies of the U.S. government have made it harder for unions to organize.

"The intensity of opposition to unionization which is exhibited by American employers has no parallel in the western industrial world," says Theodore St. Antoine, law professor and former dean of the University of Michigan Law School. Antoine also served as president of the National Academy of Arbitrators.


Others see the NLRB rulings as a natural part of the nation's political ebb and flow.

"You're going to have periods of time when it's going to be perceived that the board is more pro-union, and there's going to be times that the board is going to be perceived as less union-friendly," said Brad Jones, state director for Missouri of the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation's largest group for small and medium businesses with 10,000 member businesses in Missouri. "Perhaps it's more of a pro-business NLRB now, but that pendulum swings back and forth all the time."

Kim Maisch, state director in Illinois for the National Federation of Independent Business, with 11,000 member firms, says labor's strength in the state makes her unsympathetic to the national complaints.

"We're in a state right now controlled by one party that favors labor," she said. "And so here in Illinois, they're busting down the workplace door and trying to take over."

Beth Spencer, spokeswoman for the one million-member Illinois AFL-CIO, accepts only a fraction of that reasoning.

"Certainly here in Illinois we do have a labor-friendly General Assembly and governor," he said. "But this is a national issue and a federal agency. And the fact of the matter is this board is favorable toward the Republicans and big business."


Strikers snarl traffic, citizens snarl at strikers

France has been crippled for more than a week by a wave of strikes against President Nicolas Sarkozy's economic reforms. The labor unrest has come from public-transit workers, civil servants, teachers, nurses, tobacco-shop owners, air traffic controllers, fishermen, even opera stagehands.

On Thursday, nearly half of France's universities were shut down by protests. Soon, lawyers and judges will walk out over their own grievances. The traffic chaos and street demonstrations stir up memories of a France that is fond of revolution. But this time, something has changed: The public has had it with strikes.

From stranded commuters to students missing exams, there is frustration and anger at those striking in the name of leftist ideology or to preserve special privileges such as early retirement on a full pension. By Thursday, evidence that the unions had run into a determined president and his supportive public was accumulating as major rail unions voted to return to work while negotiations continued, easing the transit calamity.

For all the talk about the strength of the French labor movement, only 7 percent of workers are union members, fewer than in the United States. In the ranks of those who are striking, there are now divisions as well as solidarity. On Wednesday, some unions were forced to disown saboteurs who set fire to high-speed train tracks, further delaying a stalled system.

And some students were working against the strike plans of other students. Take, for example, Julie Coudry, president of the Student Confederation, a national organization that split four years ago from the main students union.

"They were living in the past, fighting the same old ideological fights with the government," Coudry says.

Coudry, 28, is an economics major at the Sorbonne, the starting point of the 1968 student uprisings. She has supported herself by working as a barmaid and for trade unions over the past nine years for an education prolonged by leading student strikes and involvement in national elections.

Coudry persuaded the main presidential candidates to back a "third mission" for French universities — to prepare students to find jobs, as well as to provide education and promote research. The business world, Coudry argued, disregards university graduates who "don't know about work, who don't know about the economy, who don't know the codes and ethics on the job. We want to change that."

This summer, the government approved a sweeping law that allows universities more autonomy to manage their budgets, recruit staff and design courses, create partnerships with business and seek additional private funding. It also included Coudry's notion of a "third mission."

The "Black November" of rolling strikes and general turmoil replays the perennial French cycle of a government seeking change, unions taking to the streets, the public rallying around the unions, and the government caving in to demands. This has guided national policy for decades.

Sarkozy, elected earlier in 2007, has picked a fight over special pensions that let railway workers and select groups retire after 37 ½ years, or as young as age 50. These pensions cost the government more than $10 billion a year.

Sarkozy has expressed willingness to negotiate with trade union leaders but has made it clear he will insist on workers paying into the pension system for at least 40 years.

As of last weekend, 66 percent of the French people polled, an increase of 10 percentage points from the previous weekend, were behind Sarkozy's pension reform.


WGA strike day 19: 'Showrunners' call the shots

When the dust settles on the strike of '07 - now 19 days old - we'll probably see it as a Hollywood turning point. No, not in the history of the Writers Guild of America, or of the studios and networks. It's a critical and historic shift for TV show runners.

The guild and the studios return to the bargaining table Monday, and there's probably a long road of negotiation still ahead, with the strong likelihood that, as in past writers' work stoppages, no clear "winner" will emerge. But when assessing the eventual outcome, look at the show runners, the executive producers who are in charge of television series. These are the writer-producers who are emerging as the dominant force of a fragmented and slowly recombining TV industry. It's a business that's tilting -- or maybe more accurately, groping -- its way toward the Internet and other new media. And show runners are at the center of it all.

Show runners are "hyphenates," a curious hybrid of starry-eyed artists and tough-as-nails operational managers. They're not just writers; they're not just producers. They hire and fire writers and crew members, develop story lines, write scripts, cast actors, mind budgets and run interference with studio and network bosses. It's one of the most unusual and demanding, right-brain/left-brain job descriptions in the entertainment world.

Sure, show runners have always had power that often extends well beyond their own shows. That's especially true of the industrious few who at one time or another have had multiple series on the air simultaneously: David E. Kelley, Dick Wolf, John Wells, J.J. Abrams, Shonda Rhimes, Shawn Ryan, Seth MacFarlane and others.

But the strike is proving that show runners are beginning to call the industry's shots in ways that other traditional power sources - trade unions, studio bosses, network executives, agents - either cannot or will not do. Indeed, The Times and other outlets have reported that TV writer-producers, along with agents and a few influential screenwriters, played a crucial back-channel role in pressuring the studios and the guild to come back to the bargaining table.

During the early days of the strike, show runners separated into two camps, so-called hawks and moderates. The hawks are sticking by the guild's ultra-strict, nine-page list of strike rules, which forbid writers from even entering the gates of a struck company. The hawk position has found an emissary in Ryan, of "The Shield" and "The Unit," who is a member of the guild's negotiating committee. In a militant, widely circulated Nov. 5 e-mail, he said he would "do nothing" on his shows throughout the strike.

"I obviously will not write on my shows," Ryan wrote. "But I also will not edit, I will not cast, I will not look at location photos, I will not get on the phone with the network and studio, I will not prep directors, I will not review mixes."

The moderates have a prominent voice in Carlton Cuse, executive producer of "Lost" and also on the guild's negotiating committee, who said that to protect his series he would do postproduction work on eight episodes already filmed before the strike (although this may be moot, as production has been shuttered indefinitely on this season's eight remaining episodes and ABC may not want to run a partial helping of such a heavily serialized show).

"I strongly believe that each show runner should make a decision based on his own conscience and circumstance," Cuse was quoted saying in the Wall Street Journal. (Through representatives, Cuse declined to comment for this column, citing a desire not to short-circuit next week's resumption of talks, and Ryan did not return phone calls.)

It's tempting to view the existence of the two camps as a sign of writers' disunity. It's obvious that the studios could try to exploit any disagreement among the writers. The very existence of a moderate camp, in fact, could be construed as a sign of weakness. After all, many nonwriters are bitterly griping that the strike is costing them jobs, and it's possible that more than a few show runners have been spooked by the studios' "you better live by your contract" letters.

On the other hand, show runners have more power than they did in past strikes. That's because TV, like every other media business (yes, including newspapers), is in the midst of truly earth-shattering change.

As the industry hunkered down for the strike, many observers longed out loud for a figure like the late Lew Wasserman, the agent-turned-mogul - "The Last Mogul," according to the title of author Dennis McDougal's critical biography - who often played a central role in negotiating labor unrest. But a palace-chamber virtuoso of Wasserman's bent couldn't govern Hollywood today. Too many competing interests, too many distribution methods, too much uncertainty.

That reality has the studio bosses freaked. All of them see what's happened to the music business over the last few years, and it scares the bejesus out of them. CD sales are plummeting, piracy is rampant, fans gripe that the music stinks, artists like Madonna are going off and signing giant deals with promoters, Steve Jobs keeps telling the record labels how they don't get it. The whole thing is a nightmare. With many analysts predicting some form of mass-market "on demand" model coming soon, the TV business could be similarly up for grabs.

As for the guild, the pickets carrying funny signs and yukking it up with A-list stars make for great news video and copy. But everybody knows that the WGA - or any other union - doesn't decide what goes down in Hollywood and never did. The guilds are merely the tools that talent and management use to fine-tune and formalize their endlessly shifting relationship. Hollywood is the ultimate star system; it was ever thus.

Which leaves us with the show runners, the one force in town whose power is unquestionably on the ascendancy. Why is that? Because show runners make - and often create - the shows, and now more than ever, shows are the only things that matter. In the "long tail" entertainment economy, viewers don't watch networks. They don't even care about networks. They watch shows. And they don't care how they get them.

That takes a lot of power from the networks. And it hands it to show runners. True, the studios still own the shows, and always will. But in the new economy, show runners have extra leverage - perhaps more than even they realize.

Ninety percent of guild members may have authorized this strike, but you can be sure it would never have started without at least a wink and nudge from the few dozen show runners who matter.

And you know what? It's a safe bet it won't end until the show runners sign off on a deal.


Anatomy of the IATSE Broadway strike

As the holiday weekend is upon us with most theatres dark due to the stagehands strike, Playbill.com offers a time line tracking the progress and key points of the ongoing labor dispute between Local One, the stagehands union, and the League of American Theatres and Producers.

On July 31, Local One contracts, issued in 2004, expired with the Shubert Organization, Jujamcyn Theaters and the Nederlander Organizations. Local One members continued to report to work without a contract with the League.

Only the Shubert and Jujamcyn camps were permitted to negotiate with Local One. The Nederlander organization, whose contract with Local One also expired, was denied by Local One the permission to bargain collectively with the League in the negotiations. The Nederlander Organization was permitted to sit at the table as a silent observer. The Nederlanders and the union did reach an agreement that said their contract would more or less refelect the same terms agreed upon by Local One and the League.

July 13
Local One and the League of American Theatres and Producers meet for the first time to negotiate a new contract in anticipation of the July 31 expiration date.

July 30
Talks resume between both parties.

July 31
The Local One contract with the League of American Theatres and Producers officially expires. Talks continue.

August 2
The League and Local One meet to hammer out the details of a new work agreement. This will be the only meeting between the two parties to take place in August.

September 6-28
Talks between Local One and the League officially reconvene.

Sept. 30
After a month of talks, the League of American Theatres and Producers sets a deadline for its final offer to Local One. In the event talks should collapse, Broadway begins bracing for a possible Oct. 1 lockout of the stagehands union by the League.

Oct. 1
The League states Broadway will not be affected by a lockout of the stagehands union by theatre owners and producers. Further talks are requested with Local One for Oct. 2 and Oct. 4.

Oct. 4
Unable to reach an agreement, talks between Local One and the League of American Theatres and Producers continue into Oct. 5. Negotiations are scheduled to reconvene following the holiday weekend on Oct. 9.

Oct. 9
At 7 PM the League of American Theatres and Producers makes its final offer to Local One, offering what it describes as "a 16% wage increase over five years; a separate one-time 10% wage increase for the period when shows are loaded in, above and beyond the yearly wage increase; an additional increase for the lowest paid stagehands; a new sick pay provision; and more than a dozen other contract improvements sought by the Union," in exchange for flexibility and streamlining of Local One duties, according to League executive director Charlotte St. Martin.

At 10:10 PM, Local One returned with a "best final offer" of its own. "The union addressed nearly every item on the producers' list and offered imaginative solutions that met the producers' requests. What the producers failed to do was recognize our suggestions with exchanges of its own… Local One is open to exchanges on work rules and other areas, but would not make a concessionary agreement of any kind," Local One president James Claffey Jr. stated in response to the League's "best final offer."

Oct. 10
Negotiations collapse after both sides reject the proposed final offers. St. Martin stated, "In response to our final offer, the Union gave us what they called its final offer, which made no progress on any of the issues we have identified as crucial to these negotiations. In fact, the Union's offer has made the situation worse for all productions, particularly dramatic productions."

The two parties left the table with no further talks scheduled.

Oct. 12
Following an informal meeting of both sides on Oct. 11, the League issued word that there will be no lockout and that shows would go on for the weekend of Oct. 12-14.

Local One president James Claffey Jr. issues word that Local One will convene on Oct. 21 to vote for strike authorization from union members, kicking off a ten-day authorization notice to allow union members to weigh the implications of their actions.

Oct. 16
With talks at a standstill, the League of American Theatres and Producers announced that it will begin implementing the provisions of its final offer. An implementation date of Oct. 23 is set for theatres within the League.

Oct. 17
Local One declines New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's offer to mediate negotiations between the League and the Union. Bloomberg was key in ending the 2003 Broadway musician's strike.

Oct. 18
The Nederlander Organization, which has been a silent observer at the table with the Shubert and Jujamcyn camps, announces that it will not implement the terms of the League's proposed contract within its theatres.

Oct. 19
Herschel Waxman, Vice President of Labor Relations of the Nederlander Organization, sends word to Local One president James Claffey, Jr. urging him to accept the League's final offer, stating that should Local One go on strike, it would be in the best interest of the Nederlander Organization to lockout Local One members in solidarity with the League bargaining unit.

Oct. 21
Local One president Claffey declares, "No work in December without a deal." Local One members vote unanimously in favor of strike action against League productions. Union members also vote in favor of allocating $1 million from the union's general fund to help other unions who may be financially affected by the strike. A strike date is not set, but Local One states it will issue notice: "The union will not blind side Broadway theater-goers."

Oct. 23
The League begins implementing terms of its final, rejected offer. The League issues an 11-page summary of its final offer, including withdrawn provisions, and a list of provisions scheduled to take effect. Areas affected include overtime hiring requirements, setting of a production's run crew, meal breaks, premium pay for 7th day or 9th performances, canceled performances, as well as rehearsal, performance, continuity and work calls.

Oct. 24
James Claffey Jr. issues a statement to members of Broadway's stagehands union commending them for working temporarily under the new rules from the League of American Theatres and Producers. He encourages his members to continue their work in order to "convince our co-workers and the public that this Union did all we could for a reasonable period of time before we were pushed and shoved into defending our families and ourselves."

Oct. 29
League issues word that they will reconvene with Local One on Nov. 7, 8 and 9. I.A.T.S.E. president Thomas C. Short will be in attendance. His presence is a necessary component of the Local One constitution requiring an I.A.T.S.E. official to be present for at least one round of negotiations prior to authorizing strike action.

Nov. 7-8
Claffey reports to union members that little-to-no progress has been made during the ongoing negotiations with the League of American Theatres and Producers. At 7:30 PM on Nov. 8, following the latest offer from the League, I.A.T.S.E. president Thomas C. Short grants strike authorization to members of Local One.

Nov. 10
For the first time in the history of the 121-year-old union, Local One issues official word that Broadway stagehands will go on strike at 10 AM "against all theatres governed under the expired collective bargaining agreements of the Shubert, Jujamcyn and Nederlander organizations" – darkening 27 of the 35 productions on Broadway. The first show affected by the strike is the 11 AM performance of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas – catching theatregoers and the League off guard.

Other Broadway union members, including actors, musicians, box-office representatives, ushers, wardrobe, hair and make-up personnel honor Local One picket lines. Most Broadway unions release public statements of solidarity with Local One members.

The League of American Theatres and Producers holds a press conference responding to the Broadway stagehands strike. Shubert president Phil Smith, producing director for Jujamcyn Theaters Paul Libin as well as producer and general manager Richard Frankel are among those who joined Charlotte St. Martin for the news conference.

When asked how long she believed the strike will last, St. Martin answered, "As we've never had a strike with Local One, we don't know the answer to that. I have to believe that there will be pressure from the men to come back to work. We are ready to negotiate. We're sending that message as loud and clear as we can send it."

Nov. 11
Local One holds a press conference with Local One president James Claffey Jr.; Bill Dennison, the recording vice-president of Local 802 (the musicians union); and the executive director of Actors' Equity, John Connelly.

Local One, which remained mostly silent during negotiations, offered insight into the bargaining procedures. Claffey said that the union has agreed to some concessions. "We have made compromises. It's just never enough. We've granted 9 or 10 things. They want 30 or 40. They cannot go through our contract after 121 years in one negotiation and just annihilate us."

AEA and Local 802 said it would stand firm with Local One members. Dennison stated, "Unions on Broadway, all of us, are going to stand side by side with the stagehands until this is solved in a way that the members of that proud union are satisfied with, and we will continue to be there with them."

Nov. 12
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's offer to provide a neutral space for negotiations is again respectfully declined by Local One.

Nov. 14
The League cancels performances for the Wednesday matinee and evening Broadway performances due to the strike. Aaron Sorkin's The Farnsworth Invention postpones its opening night.

The League issues word that talks will renew with Local One Nov. 17, stating that neither party will issue a public statement until that time.

Nov. 15
The Seafarer, Conor McPherson's latest play scheduled to open Nov. 15 at the Booth Theatre, postpones its opening night after League cancels performances through Nov. 18 due to the strike.

Other productions begin to feel the pinch – both Jersey Boys and Wicked, which usually lead in Broadway grosses, were down nearly half-a-million dollars apiece without their lucrative weekend performances. The picture was grimmer for shows already struggling before the work stoppage.

Nov. 17
The League and Local One return to the bargaining table Saturday morning, Nov. 17 at 10 AM at the Westin Hotel. On hand is Robert W. Johnson, a Disney labor relations executive, hoping to expedite talks between the two parties, as well as I.A.T.S.E. president Tom Short.

Nov. 18
After two days of negotiations at the Westin Hotel, talks between Local One and the League of American Theatres and Producers again end without a new contract for Broadway stagehands.

"Just before the talks broke off, the producers informed Local One that what Local One had offered was simply not enough. The producers then walked out," according to Claffey.

The League commented, "We are profoundly disappointed to have to tell you that talks broke off tonight, and that no further negotiations are scheduled." The League subsequently canceled performances through Nov. 25 for all Broadway productions affected by the strike.

Nov. 19
Local One orders picket lines to come down in front of the St. James Theatre, home of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This production negotiated its own contract with Local One in August, separate from the League. Grinch general manager Waggett informed Playbill.com, "Our point of view is that our contract is, in fact, still in effect." Claffey thought so, too, informing Grinch producers that the union would allow performances to resume contingent upon approval from Jujamcyn, owner of the St. James Theatre.

At 3 PM Jujamcyn released word that Local One members would not be permitted to return to work at the Grinch until the 26 other theatres darkened by the strike also resumed business.

Nov. 20
The highly anticipated Steppenwolf transfer of August: Osage County misses its opening night due to the Broadway work stoppage, but announces it will extend its engagement through March 9, 2008. The Little Mermaid also announces that it has postponed its opening, originally scheduled for Dec. 6 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, until further notice.

Producers of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas go to court seeking an injunction requiring Jujamcyn to reopen the St. James theatre for performances.

Local One requests further talks with the League for the coming weekend. "Local One has only asked the League to meet on Sunday, but we've heard no reply," Claffey has commented.

Alan Cohen, spokesperson for the League, responded that discussions were underway to resume talks, but dates had not been confirmed.

The Nederlander Organization, which owns nine of the 27 Broadway theatres that are currently dark, file a lawsuit against the union. Producers of the seven shows in those darkened theatres have also joined in the suit, which claims the union has been striking the Nederlander houses only to pressure the League of American Theatres and Producers to make a settlement with the union, which makes the strike "an unlawful secondary boycott."

Nov. 21
The producers of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas presented their case against Jujamcyn Theaters in front of State Supreme Court Judge Helen E. Freedman. The producers had filed an injunction Nov. 20 to force Jujamcyn Theaters, who own the St. James, to allow the musical to resume performances.

Judge Freedman grants the injunction filed by The Grinch producers. Jujamcyn plans to appeal the decision; however, the motion has been tabled until Tuesday, Nov. 27. The Grinch will therefore play this holiday weekend: Nov. 23-25.

Nov. 23
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas reopens at least for the holiday weekend.

New York City estimates losing $2 million per day because of the drop-off in business in theatre-district hotels, bars and restaurants, gift shops, taxis, and pedicabs. The fundraising efforts of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS are also suffering, as the strike hits during one of the organization's most lucrative fundraising periods. BC/EFA estimates a loss of $350,000 per week that Broadway is darkened.

Only nine Broadway shows are currently running: Xanadu, The Ritz, Mauritius, Cymbeline, Pygmalion, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Young Frankenstein, Mary Poppins and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas.


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