SEIU members disgusted by political corruption

The New Hampshire State Employees' Association has created a committee to consider whether it should pull out of its national union, the Service Employees International Union.

The SEA pays $1.6 million a year to be in the SEIU, according to the resolution passed to create the committee. At the same time, the resolution says, the SEIU's 2005 split from the AFL-CIO has sparked a "loss of solidarity" with other unions in New Hampshire.

"The real question is why are we spending that much money and what are we getting out of it," said former SEA president Tim Decker, a co-sponsor of the resolution. After the split with the AFL-CIO, Decker said, the competition for fragments of the SEA grew fierce. "That means they can't really protect us from other unions raiding us, other AFL-CIO unions," he said.

The committee was created by vote of the SEA convention last weekend. It will report back to the full convention next year. The resolution calls for the committee to look into what the SEA gains from the SEIU, the steps necessary to pull out and whether the SEA should affiliate with another union.

What happened? Some SEA members had fixed for a ruckus last weekend over the union's endorsement, which went to John Edwards - after the board first voted to endorse Barack Obama. A few of Obama's partisans sported purple and yellow buttons, saying: "What happened? Ask Gary" - a reference to Gary Smith, the SEA president.

But according to one meeting-goer, the commotion was minor. One member asked if the convention could overturn the board's endorsement. The answer was yes. Then someone else moved to adjourn, that was seconded, and the meeting was finito.

From down under

We heard this week from an Australian couple billing themselves the first-ever presidential campaign managers from Down Under. Frank Scaysbrook, 64, says he's managing the campaign of ex-nun Caroline Killeen, 82, known as the Hemp Lady, along with his wife, Janet Seath, 68.

This is their first political campaign, Scaysbrook said, and they'll be managing it from their home in Buttaba, Australia. "It'll be a remote thing," he said. "But we're quick learners."

The threesome met at a hostel in Assisi, Italy, where Killeen is now, Scaysbrook said.

Killeen filed her candidacy with the secretary of state's office by mail in a letter explaining that she wasn't sure she'd be able to scrape together enough money to return to New Hampshire from Assisi. Eventually, however, Killeen procured a ticket and arrived in New Hampshire last week. (A Catholic charity is footing the bill, Scaysbrook said.)

Killeen's primo issue this time will be global warming and, in particular, encouraging people to dry clothes on a line outside rather than using clothes dryer. "Caroline the woman wants to address women," she said, according to a statement. "Women have a special place in society. They are the bearers of the next generation, the nurturers, and through this intergenerational bonding are the ones globally in tune with the need for the safety of future generations; they are generally not risk takers."

Gambling update

Looks like a decision on whether to legalize slot machines in the state will be postponed at least a year.

A subcommittee studying the possibility of legalizing gambling recommended that the relevant bill (House Bill 886, which deals with funding an adequate education) go to an interim study committee. Earlier this month, the full committee agreed to that recommendation.

And that's not all

As for the amount of money video slot machines would generate, Rep. Michael Marsh doesn't agree with Millennium Gaming's numbers. According to Millennium (which has an option to purchase Salem's Rockingham Park), installing 3,000 slot machines at the park would generate $403 million in its first year of operation. Using that estimate, each machine would take in nearly $370 a day.

The best guess for New Hampshire machines, Marsh told lawmakers earlier this month, is a daily take of between $200 and $250. If the state taxed the machines at 40 percent, the best possible scenario for state earnings would be $160 to $200 million annually, Marsh said.

Delegate search

The New Hampshire Democratic Party has put out a call for people to run for delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

The delegate selection process is essentially a caucus that happens on a candidate-by-candidate. If you win a delegate's spot for, say, Joe Biden, and Biden then wins 15 percent of the primary vote, then you could have a chance to represent your guy at the convention in Denver next year.

The party is going out of its way to ensure diversity and has created an affirmative action board consisting of Democrats who are gay or lesbian, Hispanic, Asian, black, young, retired or who have disabilities.

Anyone can apply to run. Registration must be filed by Dec. 5, and the caucuses are Dec. 15. For more information, visit nhdp.org.


Gargantuan gov't embezzlement revealed in D.C.

The recently exposed embezzlement of at least $30 million from the coffers of the District of Columbia represents another humiliation for a city whose public corruption is legendary.

Starting in 2004, two long-term employees of the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR), Harriette Walters and Diane Gustus, allegedly issued millions of dollars worth of phony tax refunds to front businesses owned by friends and relatives.

Those two employees clearly did not act alone. Three other alleged co-conspirators — friends and relatives of the suspects — have been arrested. Worse, many more city employees were likely involved. Individual government workers cannot issue tax refund checks without a series of overlapping authorizations and signatures designed to prevent exactly this kind of crime.

Court papers filed by law enforcement officials allege that Ms. Walters and Ms. Gustus showered their colleagues with gifts and cash, and that at least five other, as-yet-uncharged, OTR employees approved scores of phony checks. Common sense suggests that these individuals were guilty of more than mere incompetence.

Such corruption is unacceptable, especially in our nation's capital. The United States' calls for transparency and the rule of law look hypocritical when government employees blocks away from the White House steal millions. Prosecuting individuals is not enough. As staunch supporters of the federal legislation that established an independent Office of the Chief Financial Officer, we are dismayed that CFO Natwar Gandhi failed to notice that $20 million had disappeared. But prosecutors need to attack the very culture of corruption that has too long permeated D.C. government. Accordingly, they should charge Ms. Gustus, Ms. Walters (who reportedly wants a plea deal) and all other D.C. employees implicated in the fraud under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

To bring a successful RICO prosecution, the government must prove the existence of an "enterprise"; that defendants were associated with that enterprise; that the defendants participated in the conduct of affairs of the enterprise; and that they did so through a pattern of "racketeering activity." A RICO conviction carries a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison and allows the government to rapidly recover illegally acquired assets through forfeiture proceedings.

Over the long term, convicting the individual defendants would be the least significant result of such a prosecution. More important would be a court's formal determination that the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue was a RICO "enterprise," that it was rotten with corruption and misconduct. Indeed, courts presiding over public corruption trials routinely declare government agencies — townships, police departments, schools, other courts, and even the revenue departments of other states — to be RICO "enterprises." The rest of the case would be straightforward. That the defendants were associated with and participated in the conduct of the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue is evident. Showing a pattern of "racketeering activity" would also be easy: Ms. Walters and Ms. Gustus are already charged with mail fraud, bank fraud, money laundering and interstate transportation of stolen property, all "predicate offenses" for showing "racketeering activity" under RICO.

Endemic corruption flourishes when government employees come to expect that society will tolerate a certain level of misconduct. They think that society will, at most, punish individual wrongdoers, without attempting serious reform. Helping oneself and looking the other way become business as usual — as they clearly did at OTR. A court's labeling OTR as a racketeer-influenced and corrupt organization would shake these expectations. It would name and shame, and would represent a step in the right direction for the District of Columbia.


SEIU organizers flirt with RICO violations

The financial picture for the NCH Healthcare System is far from bleak, despite what hospital executives portrayed to employees a few months ago, according to SEIU Florida Healthcare, the union aiming to represent NCH registered nurses.

The union is circulating a controversial new flier headlined, “Priorities at NCH: The $110 Million Question,” and states NCH’s two hospitals made $110 million collectively in profits from 2003 through 2006. The hospitals’ profit margin ranged from 4.7 percent to as much as 9.8 percent in 2005, which was double the national average in 2005, according to the flier.

The financial figures were derived from 990’s, the form that all nonprofit groups must furnish annually to the IRS. The union examined the documents for Naples Community Hospital Inc. and not the 990s for the broader NCH Healthcare System, which includes outpatient programs.

Registered nurses at NCH who support the union are angered that hospital executives spoke earlier in the year about losses and how cutbacks were necessary.

“They have the nerve to say we must tighten our belts and we may lose jobs,” said Ann Anderson, a registered nurse in the emergency room at North Naples Hospital. “It’s a complete lack of respect.”

The flier also states that compensation for the chief executive officer went up 248 percent from 2003 through 2006. At the same time, the share of NCH’s budget for staff pay and benefits went down from 2005 to 2006.

“Many of us believe that NCH could do more to staff units and recruit and retain nurses,” the flier states. “Imagine what we can achieve when we unite and gain more say on how the hospital allocates resources.”

A union election may take place in December. At present all parties are waiting for a decision from the National Labor Relations Board in Tampa about the pool of registered nurse who would be eligible to vote.

Mary Beth Karish, a registered nurse in the recovery room at North Naples, said she was surprised by NCH’s profit margin and overall financial picture, given that she and other employees were told the situation was bad this past spring with a $10 million deficit.

She and other nurses in her unit planned to rotate working night shifts voluntarily to compensate for being short of staff. That plan was dropped when they learned of 19 percent bonuses awarded to senior management this past summer, she said.

“I can’t believe it, I can’t believe they have that much of a profit,” she said. “We just feel like we were deceived. The least they could have done is not to say we were in the hole.”

Dr. Allen Weiss, president and chief executive officer of NCH, said the union isn’t telling the full picture by the selective numbers reported on the flier.

“I don’t dispute them (the financials) per se but our profit margin is reasonable for a not-for-profit,” he said. “The bottom line is since I’ve been (in charge) in 2006 we went from 15 executives to eight. Executive compensation decreased from $5.7 million to $2.3 million, a savings of $3.4 million.”

Weiss said NCH was facing a $10-million deficit earlier in the year so there was no deception.

“For a while that is where the numbers were going and at the end of the year, when all is said and done, we will break even,” he said.

As promised by the NCH board of trustees, registered nurses earlier this month received 10 percent raises and all other employees received 8 percent raises.

“Next week we are distributing 3 percent bonuses for all employees,” he said, referring to a previously announced discretionary bonus approved by the board.

The bonus will cost about $5 million for the hospital system’s nearly 4,000 employees.

“We are rewarding our staff as a clear priority,” Weiss said, adding that the SEIU flier doesn’t refer to the number of senior executives being reduced for a savings of $3.4 million. “That is the rest of the story and SEIU is ignoring this and we did that in anticipation of tough economic times.”

Likewise, the union fails to mention that 1.5 percent of salaries of union members would go out of town, he said.


'Financial core status' unopposed by 59% in survey

As the WGA strike begins its fourth week, the outcome of Hollywood's first significant labor crisis in 20 years is anything but certain.

But one aspect of the walkout that is clear is that the scribes are, thus far, winning their case in the court of public opinion - even as many biz insiders predict the strike will ultimately be settled in a way that favors the major studios, according to a survey of nearly 1,000 Variety subscribers conducted by Frank N. Magid Associates.

More than two-thirds of survey respondents stated the Writers Guild of America is representing its side of the battle more forcefully and more clearly than the studios under the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers umbrella org. And more than two-thirds of respondents agreed that the scribes are being "more honest and forthright" than the majors in their discussion of the key issues, chiefly increased residuals for homevid sales and for digital distribution of movies and TV shows.

But while the writers may have broad industry support, survey respondents are mindful of the realpolitik of Hollywood. Survey found that 44% of respondents believe that the strike will be resolved "in favor of the companies," while 37% feel it will be settled in a way that is "mostly fair" to both sides, and only 20% feel it will be resolved in the favor of the writers. What's more, survey respondents predict dire consequences for the industry, particularly in the TV realm, if the strike continues past December.

As for the WGA's decision to strike, more than half, or 54%, of respondents said that they believed the strike "was necessary at this time," compared to 36% who disagreed and 10% who said they didn't have enough information to answer, according to the online survey of 999 Variety subscribers conducted Nov. 16-21 to gauge industry perceptions of the strike.

Of the survey respondents, 15% identified themselves as WGA members, while 10% were SAG members, 9% were DGA and 7% were IATSE. The survey included a classification for "AMPTP" but did not receive enough responses in that category to be statistically valid.

Tactically a mistake?

When asked if they felt the strike was "tactically a mistake," 57% of all respondents said no; 31% said yes and 12% said they didn't know. And opinions of the strike tactic varied significantly according to union affiliation and job category.

Support for the WGA's action is not surprisingly running very high among SAG member respondents, who face their own tough contract talks with AMPTP next year, but less so among DGA and IATSE members, who have been among those to feel the immediate effects of the WGA walkout.

Nearly half, or 47%, of the IATSE members who responded to the survey said that the strike was "tactically a mistake"; only 34% of DGA member respondents felt the strike has been a mistake, compared to 16% of WGA members and 15% of SAG members. On the broader question of whether the strike "was necessary," regardless of timing, 61% of all respondents said yes; 29% said no and 10% said they didn't have enough info to answer. Some 84% of WGA members said yes, compared to 78% of SAG members, 63% of DGA members and 49% of IATSE members.

Among respondents who work in the creative sector of the biz, 73% agreed that the "strike was necessary" at this time, compared to 45% of those who work in media (chiefly marketing and advertising) sector and only 30% of those who work in the financial sector.

On the question of which side was "representing their side more forcefully," 67% of respondents cited the writers; 21% said it was equal between the writers and the companies; while 12% of respondents cited the companies.

Some 68% of respondents said the writers were repping their side "more clearly," compared to the 20% who said it was equal among both sides and the 11% who said the companies. Asked "which side do you feel is being more honest and forthright," 69% of respondents cited the writers; 16% said "neither"; 8% said the veracity level was equal on both sides; and 8% cited the companies.

Who prevails?

At the same time, more respondents believe the strike will ultimately be "resolved in favor of the companies" than the scribes, with 44% saying it will be resolved in companies' favor, compared to 37% who think it will be settled in a way that is "mostly fair" to both sides and 20% saying it will be resolved in favor of the writers.

As for the length of the walkout, 30% of respondents believe the strike will continue for another four to eight weeks, while 22% believe it will go for another two to three months. Another 22% of respondents believe it will continue for another three to six months; 19% think it will last "less than another month; while 7% see it enduring for six months to a year.

On the issue of who was to blame for the job losses resulting from the strike for production staffers and below the line crew members, a majority (52%) of respondents pointed to the AMPTP, while 25% blamed the WGA and 16% said blame was shared equally by the guild and studios.

Variety subscribers generally fear that the strike will cause them some financial pain; 58% said they expect to face a financial loss as a result of the strike, while 38% predicted they'd see "no change" and 4% believe they will see a financial gain from the strike. Career-wise, however, readers see less of a long-term impact from the strike. Only 36% of respondents said they expect the strike to hurt their career, while 58% predict it will result in no change and 6% see their careers benefiting from the strike.

Hyphenates' dilemma

There was greater division on the questions of whether hyphenate scribes should continue performing non-writing duties during the strike; 49% of respondents said yes, 45% said no and 6% said they didn't know. On the issue of whether WGA members "are justified in taking financial core status" to continue writing during the strike (aka giving up guild privileges other than health and pension benefits), 41% of respondents said no; 40% said yes while 20% said they didn't know.

On the subject of whether individuals should report strike-breaking activities, opinions varied widely. Among all respondents, 47% said individuals should report strike-breaking activities while 31% said no and 22% said they didn't know. Among WGA member respondents, 65% said such activities should be reported; even more SAG members (68%) agreed, but only 50% of DGA members and 47% of IATSE members concurred.

Survey respondents also seem to think that non-pros are taking a dim view of showbiz's labor-management strife. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they believe the strike will give the general public a "less favorable" view of the entertainment industry, while 39% said there will be no change and only 4% said the strike will give non-pros are "more favorable" view of the biz.

The consensus is that the strike will have a much bigger impact on the general public's TV watching habits than their movie-watching habits. Some 77% of respondents said the strike would result in the public watching less TV; 68% of respondents said the strike would cause no change in the public's movie-watching habits "both at home and in theaters."

Among other behavioral changes, 48% of respondents believe that if the strike lasts past December, viewers will watch more content online; and 32% of respondents believe that if the strike runs in to 2008, "scripted series will never regain the same foothold in broadcast TV."

Blame game

Broken down by job categories, the survey results reveal intriguing divisions in the biz. For example, among respondents who said they work in the creative sector, 68% blame the AMPTP for job losses as a result of the strike, while 15% say blame is equal on both sides and 11% blame WGA. Among those who work in the financial sector, 45% blame WGA for job losses; 34% point the finger at the AMPTP and 14% say it's equal.

Among WGA respondents, support is very high for the decision to go strike as well as the belief that the guild has been more "honest and forthright" in presenting the issues. But even among WGA member respondents, 42% believe that the strike will be resolved "in the favor of the companies," while 36% believe it will be "mostly fair" to both sides and only 22% believe it will be resolved in the writers' favor. Among DGA member respondents, 52% think the strike will be resolved in favor of the companies; 36% think it will be mostly fair. Among IATSE members, 49% believe it'll end in the companies favor; 44% of SAG members also see it ending in the companies favor.

WGA member respondents generally concur with the opinions of all survey respondents on how much longer the strike will last. Twenty-seven percent of WGA respondents see the strike running another four to eight weeks; 25% think it will end in less than another month; 22% see it going another two to three months; 15% say it will continue for three to six months and 10% predict six months to a year.


Striking Broadway union sued by theaters

The Nederlander Organization, which owns nine of the 27 Broadway theatres that are currently dark because of the strike by Local One, the stagehands union, has filed a lawsuit against the union, according to The New York Times.

Producers of the seven shows in those darkened theatres — the Brooks Atkinson, Gershwin, Lunt-Fontanne, Marquis, Minskoff, Nederlander, Neil Simon, Palace and Richard Rodgers — 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."

The Nederlander Organization is suing the union for $35 million in damages, reports the New York daily.

The Nederlanders had been observers in the lengthy pre-strike negotiations between Local One and the League. Although the Nederlander Organization is a member of the League, the company had its own (also-expired) contract with the union. The Nederlanders and the union had agreed that they would more or less abide by whatever contract the League and the union eventually agreed upon.

Because of that agreement, the Nederlanders did not begin implementing rules from the rejected contract on the union last month when the other theatre owners did.

The Nederlanders did, however, send a letter to the union prior to the union's Oct. 21 strike authorization vote. Hershel Waxman, Vice President of Labor Relations of the Nederlander Organization, sent the hand-delivered letter to Local One President James Claffey Jr., which read, "Should Local One engage in a strike against the League, it would be in Nederlander's best interest to lock out the Local One bargaining unit so that the entire theatre industry achieves the best possible terms in any new agreement with Local One."

In the end the Nederlanders did not lock out the union, but the union did — and continues to — strike the nine Nederlander theatres.


NLRB begins to protect workers from union abuse

The recent AFL-CIO-led protests against the National Labor Relations Board highlighted dozens of rulings that undermine the rights of people on the job.

The demonstrations, which included more than 1,000 people marching through downtown Washington to NLRB headquarters on Nov. 15 - and thousands more descending on agency offices in 25 other cities nationwide - were based on a catalog of heavily anti-worker rulings the labor federation says pervert both the agency's mission and the intent of U.S. labor law.

What the AFL-CIO calls "The September Steamroller" is so bad that the 61 rulings it cited led protesters to demand the board shut down until a new president is elected and names a new board.

The cases run the gamut from making it harder to win back pay from labor law- breaking firms to making it easier for thinly disguised company-run 'decertification" campaigns to throw unions out of workplaces, to letting firms sue unions in retaliation for virtually anything and get away with it, to letting employers threaten workers with dire consequences should they unionize.

"In case after case, these decisions reverse the course" of the National Labor Relations Act, the federation said. The board's Bush-named GOP majority is turning labor law "away from its original purposes of fostering workplace democracy and redressing economic inequality and towards a regulatory regimen that protects employer prerogatives instead of workers."

"This board is resolving the doubts in borderline cases in the wrong direction," the federation quoted former University of Michigan law school dean Theodore St. Antoine as saying. Among the key cases that not only drove the unionists into the streets but also drove the AFL-CIO to file a formal complaint against the Bush board with the International Labour Organization are:

* The Dana and Metaldyne cases, involving the Auto Workers and two firms that voluntarily agreed to recognize UAW at their plants after a majority of all workers signed union election authorization cards--the "card-check" process. Normally, when unions are recognized, they have a year of being free from challenge by dissenters, called "decertification." And decertification needs signatures from only 30% of workers.

The Bush board, by a party-line vote on Sept. 29, said that if the union wins recognition by card-check, the board would send the firm a notice--which the company must post--telling dissenters that if they file a decert petition with enough signatures within 45 days of card-check recognition, it's valid. Then the board holds a decert election. Often, bargaining hasn't even started within 45 days of recognition.

In other rulings that same day, the Bush majority accepted something less than cards--signed slips of paper--as a decertification petition, and said that if an absolute majority of workers signed cards calling for a decertification election, the company could immediately dump the union, without a vote.

* In an 8-year-old case, St. George Warehouse, from Kearney, Neb., the Bush majority reversed more than 40 years of prior rulings--as it did in the UAW cases--and cut the amount of back pay workers are owed once the board finds they were illegally fired. It did so by saying workers must prove they are owed back pay for all the time they were out after the firings--by proving they sought work. The precedents told firms to prove fired workers were not seeking work, in order to cut the back pay.

* In a related case, the Bush board majority also said workers who stalled for two weeks seeking interim work--in hopes the employer would come back to bargaining and settle--would get nothing for those weeks. The board's dissenting Democrats said "requiring this search for 'interim interim' employment is entirely without precedent.'"

* Again overturning previous precedents, the Bush board majority ordered that all a Wisconsin employer had to do to remedy its continuous and outrageous labor law-breaking was hold a second election. The employer, Intermet Stevensville, threatened to close the plant, threatened to eliminate jobs, made "widespread statements about the futility of selecting" the Auto Workers, demoted and cut the pay of a pro-union worker, confiscated literature, removed bulletin boards and committed other violations.

"This is conduct of a type that the board and the courts have previously found is likely to have a long-lasting impact on the workplace, creating an atmosphere of fear in which there is little or no possibility of a fair election," the AFL-CIO said. The normal remedy for that in the past has been to order the firm to immediately recognize and bargain with the union, here the UAW. The Bush board instead ordered a rerun vote.

* The AFL-CIO pointed out the long delays in many of the rulings. "Of the 61 decisions…a total of 33 decisions-- more than half of those issued--had been pending more than 4 years," it said. One case from Brooklyn, where 202 workers were illegally fired, stretched back to 1989. Those workers have yet to receive any back pay.

* The board majority gave employers far more leeway to threaten workers, in a Sept. 20 ruling involving Suburban Electrical Contractors of Appleton, Wis., and IBEW supporter Randy Reinders. As two supervisors walked near Reinders, one asked "'Well, Dave, did you 'take care of' our union problem yet?" The other, pointing to Reinders, replied: "What, you mean Randy?" The board's administrative law judge called the exchange "an unlawful threat of adverse consequences" for Reinders. The Bush majority called it "ambiguous" and threw out the case.

* Even temporary replacement workers can become permanent--and workers forced to strike are out of jobs. In a case involving Jones Plastic & Engineering of Camden, N.J., the 3-man Bush-named majority said that "replacement workers can be treated as permanent and given preference over strikers even if they were informed" when they were hired that they would be working at the employer's discretion and could be let go for any reason--including taking returning strikers back.

The 61 rulings are not the only problems workers face, the fed noted. It also pointed out a consistent pattern by the Bush-named majority of the board to shrink the numbers and kinds of workers covered by labor law's incomplete protections. And in a case the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago later overturned, the Bush majority allowed a company to lock out strikers who offered to return to work--overturning 40 years of precedents--while still employing those who crossed picket lines.

"Instead of shrinking the (National Labor Relations) act's coverage, protections and remedies, the board should be trying to figure out why virulent anti-union campaigns are still the norm, why workers ace such fear and intimidation when they try to form an union, why so many organizing campaigns still involve so many violations of workers' rights and why the rights guaranteed by the act are still outside the grasp of so many workers," the federation concluded.


Foxwoods not ready to concede to UAW

Dealers voted in the United Auto Workers union at Foxwoods Resort Casino Saturday by a vote of 1,289 to 852, but the fight - tense for some, enthralling for others - isn't over yet.

In a historic election expected to bring in organized labor for the first time at one of the world's largest Indian-owned casinos, dealers cast a total of 2,177 ballots, but 36 were challenged by the union or the company and thrown out. The overall vote was 60 percent in favor of the UAW.

The count overseen by the National Labor Relations Board was completed at about 2 a.m. this morning.

A total of 2,640 dealers were initially eligible, said Foxwoods Spokesman Saverio Mancini, but 25 were disqualified before voting and another five ballots were filled out wrong and voided, and some just didn't show up, he said.

Despite the win by the UAW, Foxwoods President John O'Brien said this morning that the company and its owners, the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, would examine all their options, including a legal fight, before letting the UAW in the door.

“We are disappointed with the preliminary tally, however, these results will not be official until all legal issues, including jurisdiction, are resolved,” O'Brien in a statement. “We continue to believe as we have from the very beginning that the labor board lacked jurisdiction and that any election should have been governed by tribal laws. We have made our position clear to the NLRB and will continue to do so in the future.”

A statement from the union was not available today.

Since spring, the UAW has been waging a battle to organize at Foxwoods. Dealers petitioned the NLRB for an election in September, and the Mashantucket Pequots challenged the right, claiming a union should only form under tribal, not federal law. Both the regional and the Washington, D.C.- based NLRB rejected that notion twice.

Wages, benefits and working conditions were at issue.

“We're looking forward to having a union and working with management to solve a lot of the problems we have,” said Mary Johnson, a Foxwoods blackjack dealer for 14 years, in a phone interview late Saturday night.

Throughout the day on Saturday, dealers voted behind closed doors at Foxwoods, one of two gaming empires run by Native Americans in Connecticut. To date, there is no evidence of a union forming at Foxwoods' rival, Mohegan Sun in Uncasville.

A dozen agents and officials from NLRB conducted the voting Saturday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. in Foxwoods Sunset Ballroom to determine whether the dealers would join the UAW. A short distance away, festive Nutcracker figures stood guarding an escalator, and Christmas trees with blue lights twinkled near the food court and casino.

On pillars beside the closed doors of the ballroom, multiple signs warned that loitering or interfering with the election would result in a $5,000 fine.

At employee parking lots on Saturday, workers expressed everything from support to disgust at both the union effort and management's attempts to cut it short.

Katherine Reyes of New London, a poker cashier, said she observed strong debate and tension firsthand in the poker room over the past few days. She said she's even witnessed people who supported the union changing their minds after meetings with company officials.

Throughout the day, a couple of miles east of Foxwoods, at Employee Lot 78, shuttle buses ran in 20-minute intervals, dropping off and picking up dealers, bartenders, food-and-beverage workers and others. Before boarding the buses, a few dealers reluctantly shared how they planned to vote once they arrived at work for their shift, which began at 5 or 6 p.m. for some.

Aryna Veramei of New London said she would mark her ballot with a “yes” when she voted. “I think we'll be better” off with a union, she said.

Veramei, a poker dealer who came here from Russia a year ago, said she's tried to listen to both management and the union's points of view before making up her mind.

Late this past week, Foxwoods President John O'Brien urged dealers to “Get the Facts” in a DVD of the same name, in English and translated into Chinese, Spanish and Creole languages. The UAW put its own video, “Time for a Change,” on YouTube, interviewing Foxwoods workers as well as workers at other UAW-organized casinos in Detroit and New Jersey.

“I voted for the union, proudly, first thing in the morning, 8 o'clock,” Johnson said. “There was quite a line at that time. Emotionally I was numb. The emotions just range from the excitement of being nervous to ... I was all over the place this morning. There was a lot of excitement there today.”

And at Lot 78, employees who are not dealers also showed a wide range of emotions.

“I think people complain too much. You can write that down,” said one manager who asked not to be identified and said she did not support the union.

Nate Loftis of Groton, who is a security officer, and Robert Dady of Warwick, R.I., a bartender, said they were not affected by the union drive and hadn't paid much attention to it.

Others who refused to give their names said the whole affair has been “ugly” and “tense” and that the tribe brought the situation on itself. Handwritten on glass in the bus stop shelter at Lot 78, beside Foxwoods posters criticizing the UAW, were the words, “Foxwoods lies.”

Right up until nearly 10 a.m. on Saturday, O'Brien continued to put out statements saying Foxwoods management believes a union is not in employees' best interest.

“We provide some of the best jobs in Connecticut. The dealers at Foxwoods are among the highest-paid employees in the entire state of Connecticut. Their average annual earnings are $45,000 to $50,000 ... In the unlikely event that a union gets in, all of the wages and benefits that our dealers currently enjoy become negotiable.

“They could lose some of what they currently take for granted as easily as they could gain,” he stated.

The media were originally allowed in Employee Lot 10 near the new MGM-Grand at Foxwoods casino due to open in May, but Mancini said some employees complained about the attention from reporters and television journalists, so Foxwoods escorted media off the property.


Dems target Virginia's Right To Work law

As a young lieutenant in the Army, I loved early mornings on the artillery firing range at Grafenwoehr, Germany. Often daybreak was greeted by a low-hanging fog over the impact area. But the fog would lift and the target would be crystal clear. It's also true of elections.

On the morning of Nov. 7, we Republicans awoke to see an erosion of our numbers in the Virginia General Assembly. Pundits are already suggesting why. And of course editors and opinion authors will offer insight. Here is mine. Republicans have wandered from the winning path ably blazed by Ronald Reagan and have paid a price.

Mr. Reagan understood America. He knew that we can do anything we put our minds to. He appreciated that the average person wanted limited government, more freedom and greater opportunity. And he saw clearly that a coalition of conservative Republicans, Democrats and independents would give him the majority he needed to attain those goals.

To that end, he proposed a clear conservative course: a strong defense to protect America from our adversaries, a less burdensome government so free enterprise could thrive and lower taxes so that families could have a higher standard of living within a robust economy. In the wake of his success, the conservative coalition he built went on to elect Republican majorities in state legislatures around the country, including here in Virginia.

To be sure, Republicans have made real progress on a reform agenda through the House of Delegates Reform Initiatives advanced by House Speaker Bill Howell. Those good efforts aside, when our party failed to stop the huge spending increases in the late 1990s and caved in to Democrat Gov. Mark Warner's huge tax increases of 2004, many grass-roots Republicans and conservatives began to question what we stood for.

By failing to constrain government spending, we lost our opportunity to compel a re-prioritization of spending for things like transportation. When high-profile Senate Republicans (now in the minority) and a small group in the House joined Democrats in supporting the Warner tax increases, we surrendered to the notion that there was not enough money in Richmond to meet our core needs. The result? Spending has blossomed. It took more than 200 years for Virginia to get to a $38 billion budget in 1996 and only a decade for it to almost double to $74 billion. Like outgoing House Appropriations Committee Chairman Vince Callahan, Fairfax Republican, used to say: "If you send it, we will spend it." And we did, present pundit included.

This attitude has demoralized and angered the conservative coalition "the Gipper" assembled. Indeed, many voters reason if Republicans are going to act like Democrats, you might as well vote for Democrats. Yet a Democratic majority will not produce the results conservative voters seek. As Democratic Delegate Brian Moran of Alexandria said the day after the election, "The lesson learned from [Tuesday's] election is to govern from the middle." To be sure, his slate of candidates in some cases successfully disguised themselves as centrists. But the reality of the Democrats' agenda will soon be apparent.

In January, you will see them advocating universal pre-kindergarten at huge costs to taxpayers; a rollback of Virginia's right-to-work laws; more nanny-state bills designed to tell you how to raise your family and live your life; and, of course, higher taxes. In the end, Democrats will be more concerned with the level of trans fats in your body than they are with the level of fat in your government.

But we can reassemble the conservative team Mr. Reagan crafted if Republicans act now. First, we must constrain the burgeoning budget in Virginia. We can start with a programmatic and performance audit of state government by a private audit firm. There are no self-butchering hogs. Using government agencies or "blue ribbon" commissions produces nothing.

Second, we must reform our property-based 19th-century tax code to be more in line with a service economy. In the process, we might be able to actually lower rates while ending confiscatory taxes on all vehicles, machinery and small businesses.

Third, we need to seek free-market solutions to address our transportation infrastructure while containing costs and ending abuse in our health care system.

Finally, with the exception of law enforcement and first responders, we need to contract out to private industry — where it is feasible and economically wise — every government service we logically can to meet the needs of our citizens.

When we take these steps, we will be back on the Reagan path and in a position to reassemble his coalition. The fog has lifted, the guns are primed. The question is: Will Republicans hit the target? Stand by.


Disruptive, aggressive IBEW hauls out inflatable rat

A jumbo inflatable rat outside the Danvers branch of Beverly (MA) Hospital isn't an escapee from a local "Nutcracker" performance. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 103, hopes the oversized rat shows its distaste for the hospital's choice of contractor at its recently opened Route 62 facility.

Three union representatives were handing out pamphlets Monday in Danvers and another three were in Beverly, said Rich Antonellis, the union's business agent. The handouts say "BEWARE" in bold print and on the back list 16 physicians who, according to the union, have paid malpractice claims.

Hospital leaders found the tactic disappointing, spokeswoman Heather Jones said in a statement this week. They also said they were saddened by the union's "recent and aggressive actions" and "their attempts to disrupt our patients' access to care at our new, state-of-the-art health care facility in Danvers."

The IBEW local's pamphlets also said that the contractor had "working conditions that are below community standards." Antonellis said the electricians hired by Beverly Hospital were not offered health care.

"We feel it's a slap in the face to all the contractors that do provide health care," he said.

Eddie Zinck of project contractor Interstate Electrical Services said Antonellis' claim that the company didn't provide health care was a "misstatement."

"We have a comprehensive benefits program," said Zinck, the company's human resources manager.

Interstate, however, is not affiliated with the union, he said.

"We're a merit shop," Zinck said.

Antonellis did say Beverly Hospital has a right to hire the contractor it prefers. However, he thought the hospital was more interested in profit over the well-being of workers or residents.

"Beverly Hospital would rather take the cheap way out for them rather than doing it the right way," he said.

Union leaders said their tactics are fair and that they're fighting to keep their presence in the area, he said.

"We're going to hit them with everything we can hit them with," Antonellis said. "And basically everything's fair game as far as we're concerned."

The union representatives arrived last Wednesday and will be outside the hospitals indefinitely, Antonellis said.


Fearful Teamster boss raps FedEx

Teamsters Local 170 just won a big victory in Northborough (MA). The National Labor Relations Board found that FedEx Home Delivery harassed or fired six drivers who wanted to join the Worcester-based union. It ordered the company to pay the truckers a total of more than $253,000 and set a February date for a union election.

So why is Michael P. Hogan, the secretary-treasurer of the union local, not smiling? Well, he expects the company to do a good job making sure the drivers don't end up holding union cards.

"We're pretty fearful, just based on their past actions," he said.

Hogan said the company's response to unionizing drives is typically to hold mandatory anti-union meetings, and that the firing of four drivers that helped get them in trouble with the NLRB is not unusual either. "They'll do it again," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind."

Hard-Driving Bargain

Meanwhile, FedEx spokesman Robert Boulware doesn't want to discuss how the company communicates with drivers regarding unionizing, but he thinks the whole discussion is missing the point.

To FedEx, drivers are not employees but independent contractors, so it makes no sense to talk about them joining a union. The NLRB has disagreed with that analysis, accepting the union argument that the Northborough drivers receive too much direction from the company to be considered anything except employees, but Boulware thinks it may end up changing its mind.

"The findings were inconsistent with previous decisions by state and federal agencies regarding independent contractors," he said.

Even if the drivers vote in favor of a union, Hogan expects FedEx to refuse to sit down and negotiate a contract. He said that's what they've done after truckers unionized in Wilmington and Hartford, Conn.

Boulware said the company's refusal to negotiate is simply a legal necessity.

"Refusing to bargain is the only legal way for the company to get a court review of the NLRB's decision," he said.

But to Hogan, the company's actions reflect the near impossibility of making a deep-pocketed company accept a union that it really wants to avoid.
"Sadly our country is very, very weak when it comes to standing up for the hardworking men and women," he said.

Hogan said he sees little hope for unionization efforts at companies like FedEx without federal legislation to make organizing simpler. And that's not likely under the current president.

Still, Hogan argues he's not the least bit pessimistic. He says the difficult situation labor finds itself in could be just the spark that's needed to change the political climate.

"Thank God we have an election in 2008," he said. "The future has never been brighter for labor. The middle class and working men and women have never needed unions more than today."


Unionized sanitation mechanics strike in El Paso

Claiming illegal tactics and unfair labor practices by their employer, all but two mechanics with El Paso Disposal are now on strike, said Victor Aguirre, business representative for the group Local 351 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. “All we want is a fair deal,” he said.

Holding signs reading -- "We demand dignity and respect for workers" and "Somos Hombres con Familias!" (We’re men with families) -- members of Local 351 picketed the street in front of the maintenance yard where they work. The union officially struck work at midnight; in addition to the 70 mechanics, 28 of the drivers employed by the company also walked out, according to Aguirre.

Negotiations between the union and El Paso Disposal broke down Nov. 13, after which the union voted to strike, said Aguirre. Representatives of the company did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Aguirre, the mechanics were organized into a union a year ago and have been negotiating for a contract ever since. He claims that the company asked workers to get rid of the union, after which they would be given better terms.

“The union is asking for a contract with both economic and non economic benefits and the right to arbitration,” Aguirre said.

Pointing to a sign advertising employment with the company, Aguirre also claimed that the workers were told that they would be fired if they went on strike. The company also came out and filmed the workers protesting and called out the police in a move to intimidate them he added.

El Paso Disposal picks up about 2,000 tons of trash in El Paso each day. Mechanics with the company are organized into two different categories, those who work in the shop and those who work in the yard. Shop mechanics fix trucks and replace parts while yard mechanics primarily repair containers.


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