NLRB discovers right to not associate

During the week of November 15, thousands of union members and their allies marched, rallied, handbilled, phoned in, did street theater and otherwise raised hell at the offices of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in more than 20 cities across the the United States.

One thousand people rallied at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington on November 15 and marched to the national headquarters of the NLRB, where they rallied again and demanded that the Labor Board be closed for renovations until a new governing board could be appointed by a new president.

That demand was echoed vigorously from Albuquerque to Albany and from Nashville to Denver. What caused the uproar?

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is charged with administering the National Labor Relations Act. That act, passed in 1935, regulates workers' rights and labor relations in most of America's private sector. According to its preamble, the act was passed to encourage collective bargaining, freedom of association and worker organization.

Yet during the last half of September and the first half of October, the NLRB handed down 61 decisions that further restrict and weaken already shamefully weak and ineffective workers rights in America.

First, the decisions make it harder for workers to form a union through a majority sign up. Most workers who form a union in this country these days do so through a majority sign up process. That is because the NLRB elections system is so broken that workers avoid it when they can. The Chamber of Commerce and Big Business are at war against workers' freedom to form unions through majority sign up, and it looks like they have successfully enlisted the Board on their side. Second, the decisions make it harder for workers who are illegally fired to recover back pay. Third, for workers who come to a job intending to try to form a union, these decisions have created a legalized form of job discrimination. Union supporters who are illegally denied employment are treated as second-class workers.

Finally, Justice delayed is justice denied. The language used by this Labor Board in the Dana decision will be used by the corrupt corporate and radical right-wing forces as arguments against passage of the fair and urgently needed so-called Employee Free Choice Act.

But this is not the first time the Bush Labor Board has gone out of its way to weaken workers' rights, especially the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively. Since Bush was inaugurated, his board has acted regularly to deny collective bargaining and organizing protection to millions of workers across our country and throughout our economy. They took away Labor Board coverage from many disabled workers, university and graduate employees, and others. Then last year, in the infamous Kentucky River and Oakwood cases, they caused as many as 8 million non-supervisory, non-management workers to be inaccurately labeled as supervisors so that they would be denied collective bargaining coverage and any opportunity to form a union?and so that many who had already organized could have their union busted.

It is now obvious what the Bush board has done and is doing. It is an open and naked power grab.

Knowing that unions, the labor movement and organized workers are the most effective counterweight to corrupt corporate power, they are determined to weaken that counterweight as much as possible?even as the American people are more distrustful of right-wing than ever.

Knowing that union members regardless of race, gender, region or ethnicity are amongst the most active and loyal voters for progressive politicians, this Bush Labor Board is determined to deny union membership to as many workers as possible.

They realize that absent the union vote the 2006 Congressional landslide would have been dead even.

This Labor Board has consistently reversed 70 years of precedent and established law to make a joke and a mockery of the National Labor Relations Act.

It should not be a surprise to any of us. Radical right-wing Republicans stole the 2000 election. They stole votes from African-Americans in 2004 and they attempted to steal votes in 2006. In tax breaks, single-source contracts, and defense spending they have stolen the Nation?s Treasury to give to the wealthy all over the world.

America needs a strong and vibrant Labor Movement. Workers forming unions in the 20 years after the passage of the National Labor Relations Act from 1935 to 1955 that created the broad and deep middle class that is America's greatest strength.

It is our Labor Movement that is the most effective counterweight to corrupt corporate power.

It is this Labor Movement and the Labor Movement around the world that is the most vigorous and effective opponent of right-wing ideology and its logical end of fascism.

For the United States to have a strong Labor Movement, average workers must be free to join it and to establish new unions in workplaces without unions.

That is not the case today. Though the Bush Labor Board has greatly accelerated the assault, workers' rights in America have been weakened steadily since the Reagan Administration. For at least 25 years workers in America have been routinely fired and retaliated against for trying to form unions and bargain collectively. Human Rights Watch has documented the assault. Dr. Kate Brofenbrenner has documented the assault. American Rights at Work have documented it.

All this is why our country so desperately needs the worker protection that will be provided by the so-called Employee Free Choice Act. During both House and Senate votes in March and June of this year, the legislation won majority support. But we need a Senate that can win 60 votes to break a corrupt corporate backed Republican filibuster and a Democratic President who will sign it -- and use some political capital to pass it in the Senate.

So with December 10, International Human Rights Day, approaching, please remember that they key to our prosperity lies in our most fundamental right -- the right to freely associate, to speak out, and to organize.


Teamsters take aim at Saginaw casino

Teamsters Local 486 announced Wednesday that members of the housekeeping staff will have the opportunity to vote that day on whether to be represented by the Teamsters union.

About 300 people are members of the Soaring Eagle's housekeeping staff. The vote will be conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, and is to take place in the Three Fires Room of the Soaring Eagle conference center.

Polls will be open from 5 to 10 a.m., and again from 3 to 8 p.m. The Teamsters say they expect the ballots will be counted immediately after the polls close at 8 p.m.

The vote comes despite the quiet adoption of an ordinance by the Saginaw (MI) Chippewa Indian Tribal Council that claims Tribal sovereignty in matters of labor relations, and effectively outlaws collective bargaining by employees of Tribal-owned enterprises.

The Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort is the largest Tribal-owned enterprise, generating millions of dollars in revenue for the Tribe and its members. NLRB documents say about 90 percent of Tribal revenue is generated by the Soaring Eagle.

The NLRB has long held that employees of Native-owned casinos have a right to organize. Tribes, including the Saginaw Chippewa, argue that's a violation of Tribal sovereignty, and the Tribes themselves should set the rules for labor relations.

But a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that a California Tribe that employed predominately non-Native workers in its casino, and paid Tribal members shares of casino profits, had to allow workers to unionize.

NLRB documents say about 221 of the Soaring Eagle's approximately 3,000 employees are Tribal members; about 65 of those Tribal members are in management positions. The Saginaw Chippewas have long paid its members per-capita payments based on casino profits.

The Michigan union vote comes in the wake of a vote over the weekend at the Native-owned Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Conn., owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. There, dealers voted overwhelmingly to ask the United Auto Workers union to represent them.

Published reports say other unions, including the Operating Engineers and the United Food and Commercial Workers union also are seeking to represent other workers.

But that Tribe is expected to launch a court battle based on the sovereignty issue, to block the union effort. The Saginaw Chippewas have given no indication of how they might respond to a union vote.


Unions and Democrats in shocking Maryland feud

Under pressure from union workers and elected officials, Democratic Party leaders in Prince George’s County passed several resolutions supporting organized labor.

But union members said the measures passed last week, which included a pledge to add six pro-union women to the party’s central committee, have not eased the tensions sparked by committee Chairman Terry Speigner and Vice Chairman Arthur Turner earlier this fall by several e-mail messages.

"We were hoping to get on a path to reconciliation," said Mark Federici, spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400. "Obviously, they did not do that."

The crowd of about 30 union workers and officials attending the Nov. 20 meeting booed Speigner as he held up his gavel and tried to assert that he supported the trade groups. "I don’t know who that was meant for," Speigner told the crowd after the jeers. "But I went to vocational school. I work for myself."

Officials for both the committee and unions stayed late after the meeting in Suitland, arguing in the hallways about whether anything had been improved that night.

Elected in primaries by party voters, the central committee interviews candidates, raises funds and handles voter registration efforts for the Democratic Party in Prince George’s County.

The tensions between the party group and the union have even resulted in an eviction notice. Officials for the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Local 100 have told the central committee to relocate their offices from the union’s Suitland hall by Jan. 31. The central committee has used the space for more than a decade.

It all started when Turner sent an e-mail in September to more than 500 people criticizing the UFCW’s opposition to the Woodmore Town Center project in Landover, where the much-touted, but non-union Wegmans grocery store is planning to locate.

Turner’s mass e-mail criticized the zoning appeal the union filed against the Town Center and in particular Tony Perez, the UFCW Local 400 government affairs specialist who filed it.

"Why is Mr. Perez fighting against those who live, work, play and pray in our beloved Prince George’s County? Why is he acting to keep us in a subservient, second-class, substandard, marginal state?" Turner wrote. "I am prayerful that his intentions are noble and just and not part of some less than honorable scheme."

But the e-mails have sparked outrage among the unions, who have demanded that Turner and Speigner apologize for alleging that they were trying to prevent economic development opportunities in the county.

"I was shocked," said Rick Powell, political and legislative director for the AFL-CIO, an umbrella group that includes more than 100 unions in the D.C. area, including UFCW. "I’ve never seen a Democratic Party in this area say the things they said about organized labor."

Last week’s meeting was intended to ease the tensions. Central committee members met for an hour in private, arguing about what to do as union members waited in the hall and continued to express anger about the remarks.

"They’ve insulted the community as far as I’m concerned," said Susan Flashman, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 26, who knit a sweater as she waited for the committee to come back. "Somebody should apologize."

While some members had called for a removal vote to replace Speigner and Turner’s leadership of the committee, the two resolutions were all that came out of the closed session.

One stated that the central committee would support "hiring agreements that set a standard for hiring county residents for jobs with family sustaining wages and health insurance benefits" in future economic development projects.

The other affirmed the right of employees to form and join labor unions "without the fear of intimidation or retaliation."

But both measures seemed hollow from the moment they went before the crowd. A key committee member, retired union worker James Allen, voted against both, citing the fact that Turner and Speigner made no apology for the e-mails during the closed meeting.

"It’s a good resolution, but I don’t think it will be abided by our leadership," Allen told the crowd. "I’m the old union. You can’t sit here and talk about me and my [union] family."

Speigner and Turner declined to comment on the e-mails after the meeting. Perez also declined to comment at the meeting, sending questions to fellow union official Federici.

Speigner, whom union members say helped distribute Turner’s remarks, dismissed the eviction notice from the Sheet Metal Workers.

"It’s not a problem," Speigner said. "We have plenty of vacant space in Prince George’s County."

The remark raised ire from Federici.

"That’s what I would expect from the Republican Party," he said.

The dispute has begun to affect relations at the state level as well. Local delegates Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Dist. 25) of Mitchellville and Dereck E. Davis (D-Dist. 25) of Upper Marlboro attended the committee meeting, where both called for unity.

"We’ve got to put this behind us," Davis said. "We’ve got to move on."


UAW-Navistar strike has no impact on operations

Navistar International Corp. and the United Auto Workers resumed contract talks Monday outside Chicago as a month-long strike continues.

The UAW represents about 1,125 striking production, maintenance and office workers at the Warrenville, Ill.-based company's Springfield mid-sized truck plant, Navistar spokesman Roy Wiley said. The strike, called Oct. 23, has had no impact on operations as the company shifted work to non-union plants in Texas and Mexico.

Navistar shifted the work on Oct. 1 in anticipation of the six-state strike, which covers 4,000 UAW members.

The union continues to clash with the company on job security and health-care costs, said Charlie Hayden, president of UAW Local 402 in Springfield. Wiley said the company is asking for more flexibility in work rules.

"We have said all along we have a great plant, great workers," Wiley said of the Springfield operation. "We need to be more competitive so the plant can live up to its (potential). Hopefully we can get a deal."

A decade ago, Navistar's Springfield plant had nearly 5,000 workers before layoffs resulting from work being sent to other plants, a trend the union said it has been hoping to halt.

Navistar has 16,000 workers nationwide and is the parent company of International Truck and Engine Corp. International accounts for about half of sales for Columbus-based Core Molding Technologies Inc. through a supply agreement that runs through 2011.


New AFL-CIO boss takes on Burger King

Arlene Holt Baker, the newly-elected Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO, will march and speak on behalf of the country’s largest labor federation at the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW') March on Burger King Nov. 30. She will be joined by the AFL-CIO’s Director of Organizing, Stewart Acuff, and union members from across Florida and the country.

Eliseo Medina, Executive Vice President of SEIU and a leader of the Change to Win coalition of unions, will also be joining the march and speaking at the rally outside Burger King’s corporate headquarters. Change to Win affiliated unions in Miami - including SEIU 11 and UNITE HERE Local 355 - have long been close CIW allies, an alliance forged over years of fighting together for workers' rights on picket lines, marches, and in hunger strikes, bridging the divide between Miami and Immokalee.

The march will begin in downtown Miami at the offices of Goldman Sachs -- one of three multi-billion dollar private equity firms that own a controlling share of Burger King's stock -- and pass several Burger King restaurants along the way to Burger King's corporate headquarters near Miami's airport. Equipped with signs, art, puppets, banners and even marching musicians with their instruments in tow, marchers will deliver their message, that “Fair Food Will Reign," directly to Burger King’s doorstep.

The “Fair Food Will Reign” march follows an honored tradition of CIW marches for justice. In Miami, the CIW will be accompanied by both first-timers as well as longtime Florida allies with a history of walking shoulder to shoulder with Immokalee farm workers for human rights in the fields. Some are veterans of the 230-mile “March for Dignity, Dialogue and a Fair Wage”, from Ft Myers, to Orlando in 2000, and the 34-mile “Root Cause People’s March” to the Free Trade Area of the Americas meetings in 2003, the CIW’s first foray by foot into Miami’s streets.

The March on Burger King comes in the wake of precedent-setting agreements with Yum Brands, the world’s largest restaurant company, and McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain, to address farm worker poverty, labor abuses and modern-day slavery. The CIW is calling on Burger King to come to a similar agreement to increase the farm workers wages by one penny per pound of tomatoes picked.


Open records reveal union-friendly Governor

On the day he issued his executive order making unions a bigger player in state government, Gov. Bill Ritter and union representatives assured Coloradans they weren't going to rock the boat. But behind the scenes, the waters were anything but calm, e-mails and other documents provided by Ritter's office in response to a Rocky Mountain News open records request show.

Ritter's senior staff scrambled in the hours leading up to his announcement to deal with what they accurately predicted would be "a good deal of backlash." And a group representing seven Colorado unions rushed Ritter a "personal and confidential" letter urging him not to sign the order because it did not go far enough.

Four hours before Ritter announced his order in a Friday afternoon news release, his deputy chief of staff for policy and initiatives, Ken Weil, tapped out an e-mail on his BlackBerry to Wade Buchanan, president of the Denver-based Bell Policy Center.

Weil wrote that the order was imminent and that he also understood the left-leaning, nonprofit public policy research group was drafting a study on organized public employees. He asked if he could get an early look.

"Also wanted to give you a heads up since there will be a good deal of backlash," Weil wrote. "We expect bad editorials in (the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News) this weekend," he wrote in another e-mail 14 minutes later. "Any help would be greatly appreciated."

Buchanan replied he would show Weil an advance copy of the study and would alert his director of policy and research of the coming announcement so he could "be ready" to lend Ritter some support.

Costs in Washington

The day before that interchange, Ritter's senior policy analyst, Christine Murphy, e-mailed Steve McLain, the Washington governor's chief labor negotiator.

Murphy wanted to know the accuracy of the "much bruited about" statement that a new collective bargaining agreement for state workers will cost Washington taxpayers $1.6 billion over the next two years.

"We look to be right on the brink of facing lots of press questions, and I expect the Washington example to be one subject of those questions," Murphy wrote. "I just want to be sure I have my facts right. An answer as soon as reasonably convenient would be most appreciated."

McLain confirmed that the $1.6 billion figure was correct.

Evan Dreyer, the governor's spokesman, was asked Wednesday to reconcile the contrast between Ritter's low-keyed announcement and the urgent tone of his staff's correspondence.

The staff e-mails are in keeping with Ritter's reaching out to all groups with experience and interest in the union issue, Dreyer said. He also said that Ritter's decision not to hold a news conference wasn't an attempt to downplay what he knew would be an unpopular order.

"If you're going to try to sneak something through, you just do it," Dreyer said. "You don't announce you've done it."

'Breakthrough' cited

Thirty minutes before Ritter's news release landed, the largest union in state government sent out a statement cheering his decision.

"Colorado state employees reached a breakthrough today when Governor Bill Ritter issued an executive order giving state employees the freedom to vote and choose an employee association of their choice, enabling them to negotiate job and service improvements directly," read the news release from the Colorado Association of Public Employees and the Service Employees International Union.

But earlier in the day, Teamsters Local 455 Secretary Steven Vairma wrote Ritter on behalf of seven unions, including SEIU, that were members of Colorado Change to Win, an umbrella organized labor group Vairma chaired.

"The affiliates of Change to Win ask that you delay the signing of the executive order on allowing state employees to organize under an open shop," Vairma wrote. "Change to Win is opposed to the executive order that in its current form it does not go far enough to advance and protect the interests and rights of state employees."

Mitch Ackerman, president of SEIU Local 105, was listed by name on the letter from Vairma.

But Ackerman said Wednesday he and his union support Ritter's order and Vairma's letter didn't represent their position.

"Absolutely not," he said. "Not me, not SEIU, not CAPE-SEIU. I had no idea that they sent it until after it was already in the governor's hands."

Union order not in speech

The issue continues to dog Ritter, who mentioned almost all of his major policy initiatives except his union order in a speech Tuesday in Colorado Springs to officials representing 62 of the state's 64 counties.

Asked afterward by a local television reporter about his union order, Ritter reiterated it doesn't permit strikes or "any kind of collective bargaining that results in binding arbitration."

"It looks for ways for state employees to be involved and engaged in our work force, to be productive and find efficiencies, he said."


Striking union shifts blame for political snafu

The Writers Guild of America says CBS wouldn't have to cancel its presidential debate in Los Angeles if it would negotiate a fair contract with its employees. The network announced Wednesday that it would not broadcast a Democratic presidential debate Dec. 10 as planned.

"The Writers Guild of America, East and the Writers Guild of America, West regret that the Democratic National Committee has had to cancel the Dec. 10 presidential debate hosted by CBS," the guild said in a statement posted on its Web site.

"This was triggered by CBS' fear that the Democratic candidates would not cross a picket line by WGA-CBS News writers or WGA film and TV writers to participate in the debate - a concern that could have been avoided entirely if CBS would simply sit down and negotiate a fair contract for its news and entertainment employees. Instead, CBS chose to make a decision that stifles the democratic process."

WGA scribes have been on strike since Nov. 5.

Last week, CBS News employees, who have been working for more than two years without a new contract and who are represented by the WGA, voted to authorize the guild to call a strike at any time.


Labor-state unions, media promote fear of outsiders

A policy analyst says the auto industry as a whole isn't to blame for Michigan's lagging economy. He places more blame on powerful unions and Michiganians' fear of outsiders.

Michael LaFave, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at Midland's Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told the Tri-County Economics Club on Monday that U.S. production of cars and trucks was up 4.3 percent from 2001 to 2005, even though Michigan's story has been "nothing but layoffs and plant closures." During the same period, U.S. auto production by the Big Three fell 10 percent, but Honda boosted its U.S. auto production by 35 percent, Toyota by 45 percent, and Nissan by 156 percent.

In 2006, Michigan's gross domestic product was 39th among the 50 states. LaFave said powerful unions in Michigan have built a culture of protectionism that has frightened away competitors, investors and other providers of opportunity. Rather than feeling their livelihood is threatened when they see people come here and work for less than what Americans would take, Michiganians should welcome them, he said.

"They're bringing ideas, energy, talent and willingness to work for their keep," LaFave said. "We're harmed when people look to government to protect them from that new competition."

As a result of Michigan's attitudes, the "outsiders got our message," the rest of the country got our jobs and Michigan is suffering the consequences, he said.

To illustrate Michiganians' worries about the international presence, he noted the 2006 governor's race, in which a major theme was to denounce incumbent Jennifer Granholm's opponent, businessman Dick DeVos, for his business investments in Asia.

On other issues, LaFave found fault with what he called union protectionism and said Michigan should follow 22 other states and pass "right to work" laws. These laws stipulate that no worker should be compelled to join a union or support one financially to gain or keep employment. In 2005 and 2006, nine of the 10 fastest-growing states had right to work laws and, in the longer haul, from 1986 to 2006, eight of the fastest-growing states had such laws in force. The research factored in the idea that states have varying levels of sunshine and levels of taxes.

In addition, states that do without one of the three basic types of taxes - sales, income and business taxes - outperform states such as Michigan that have all three.

LaFave also took aim at prevailing wage laws. Michigan's law requires any company receiving state money for a project to pay its workers prevailing union-scale wages.

Laws began tilting in favor of unions during President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal of the 1930s, LaFave said. In Michigan, both public- and private-sector unions pushed to protect perks and privileges such as job security and salaries.

Nothing short of a public policy revolution involving major labor reforms will turn the tide completely in Michigan, LaFave said. One suggestion is to cut inappropriate spending.

"We have a state-sponsored swine quiz bowl. You can't talk about a crisis" and spend money for such a thing, he said.

Other suggestions by LaFave include selling the Blue Water Bridge, decreasing the number of professions regulated by state licenses, passing comprehensive schools-of-choice reform, transferring some work now done by the Michigan State Police to sheriffs' offices, and hiring contractors to run the state's corrections system.


SEC rebuffs ASCME corporate power-grab

The US's largest public sector union is threatening legal action to win the right to nominate directors of US companies.

The move comes after the Securities and Exchange Commission voted on Wednesday to reinstate rules allowing US companies to block shareholders from putting forward their own candidates on US boards.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is pursuing a number of US companies, starting with Bear Stearns and JPMorgan Chase, the US banks, to establish the right of investors to include their candidates in company ballots.

The battle over so-called "proxy access" has become one of the most contentious corporate governance issues this year. Business groups op­pose allowing investors to put their nominees in proxy materials, or company ballot information, as it might give labour unions and special in­terest groups undue influence. But a wide range of US and international investors see access to company ballots as the cornerstone of corporate governance. They say the power to influence board composition is integral to ensuring directors' accountability.

On Wednesday these investors condemned the SEC's decision - which was voted through by three out of four commissioners - to retain 30-year old rules barring shareholder access to proxies.

The vote was prompted by last year's legal action by AFSCME against AIG, the insurer, which ended with the US courts overturning the commission's rules and forcing it to re-examine its policy on proxy access.

The California Public Em­ployees Retirement Scheme said on Wednesday: "The commission has turned back the clock on corporate democracy by withdrawing a shareowner right that is taken for granted in other developed countries."

Christopher Cox, chairman of the SEC, promised to revisit the issue but said it was necessary to clear up un­certainty left by the court case that could trigger more legal action.

Richard Ferlauto, AFSCME director of corporate governance and pension investment, said AFSCME had filed motions to force Bear Stearns and JPMorgan Chase to change their company rules and allow shareholders access to the proxy.

If the banks use the SEC's rule to block the motions, investors said they would litigate. The banks have been targeted "because of our concerns regarding the mismanagement of subprime credit issues", said Mr Ferlauto.

He said the union was looking at wider action against financial groups and other pension funds are expected to join AFSCME's suit.

The New Jersey Division of Investments and the Office of the North Carolina State Treasurer have co-filed against Bear Stearns.

The North Carolina Treasurer has also filed for proxy access at JPMorgan Chase.

"We plan extensive en­gagement with these institutions to urge them to include access in their proxy materials," said Mr Ferlauto.

Bear Stearns said: "The bank is evaluating the proposal." JP Morgan declined to comment.


New AFL-CIO boss to join nurses' picket line

As the nurses’ strike against Appalachian Regional Healthcare Inc. prepares to enter its third month, representatives from both groups returned to negotiations yesterday, but were able to make little headway.

Early yesterday, officials with the hospital chain said a suggestion made last week by West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin for a “90-day cooling off period” in the dispute is not a viable option.

“We’ve had no indication from the nurses’ union that there was real interest in working under the old contract, and we already have registered nurses in the hospitals working under the new contract terms,” said ARH President and CEO Jerry W. Haynes. “We believe the new contract is a better contract with attractive terms. It offers ARH nurses free health care at our facilities, includes competitive pay increases and other improved benefits.”

Haynes added that the two sides need to keep working together and find a “workable” resolution for the long-term stability for the hospital group.

Later in the afternoon, however, ARH officials claimed that although the Kentucky and West Virginia Nurses’ Associations said earlier that economic issues were off the table and the main reasons for the strike were patient care, safe staffing and mandatory overtime, union representatives refused to accept economic terms offered by hospital representatives.

ARH officials also said that two “key” negotiators for the nurses, Dale Martin and Pat Tanner, did not participate in yesterday’s negotiations. No reason was given for their absence.

The AFL-CIO announced yesterday that its executive vice president, Arlene Holt Baker, will join nurses from around the country in Lexington today to stand with striking nurses to demand safe staffing for patients.

Baker is scheduled to present a check for $20,000 for emergency financial support for the nurses. According to AFL-CIO officials, the check “will allow them (nurses) to continue their struggle without fear of losing their homes or declaring bankruptcy.”

Last week, nurses picketing outside Williamson ARH in South Williamson said that many of them have taken jobs at other hospitals to subsidize their livelihoods while on strike. They explained that the nurses still believe in the strike and continue to man the picket line when not working shifts at their new jobs.


Few takers for Teamster's class-warfare pitch

Jim Kabell was frustrated and disappointed. He stood in front of a mostly empty Teamsters hall in Springfield, MO to introduce a very important speaker. At least that's what he thought. The agenda featured a rousing speech about the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots and what working people can do about growing inequality in this country.

Kabell had been excited. It would remind people of their power to come together and make things happen. He'd expected between 200 and 400 people to come hear Tom Woodruff, executive director of the Service Employees International Union and the organizing director of Change to Win, a new coalition of unions seeking to increase union membership and their political clout.

This is what gets your blood pumping if you're a union member, Kabell thought. But where was everybody? In the Teamsters' previous meeting, around 250 people showed up to hear a discussion about their pension benefits. The one featuring Woodruff had been opened up to everybody, not just Teamsters members. All friends of labor, all progressives, the entire community.

And barely more than 50 people attended. That's not the way it should be with unions.

Unions can't work unless people buy into the idea that they have more power when they're working together and organized than they do as individuals.

The central theme of Woodruff's speech was that the increased gap between the rich and the poor has come at the same time organized labor's numbers have dwindled.

Woodruff shared several statistics to show how out of whack things have become.

- Incomes are staying the same or declining for 60 percent of families in this country.

- The top one percent of wage earners in this country have more wealth than the bottom 95 percent combined.

- More than half of all American workers don't have pensions.

- 46 million Americans don't have health insurance.

- 37 million adults in this country don't have drug coverage.

- The average CEO pay is now more than 431 times that of the average worker.

- From 1948-1979 average wages climbed 75 percent.

- From 1979 to the present, average wages climbed 2 percent.

At the same time all this has happened, union membership has dropped from 35 percent of all workers to 12 percent today, he said.

And, as Kabell learned, many of the people who are in unions don't get fired up about their traditional issues.

The gains of organized labor have been taken for granted and largely forgotten, say Kabell and other experts.

Springfield was once a strong union town, said David Richards, head of Special Collections and Archives at the Meyer Library at the Missouri State University. Richards oversees the Ozarks Labor Union Archives, which holds the records of many unions that used to be strong here. Unions used to touch every aspect of a person's life here.

Bartenders, butchers and bakers all used to be unionized here, as well as the projectionists at movie theaters.

Lately, union membership has been in a holding pattern, Kabell said. No major gains and no major losses. For the last five years, they've had about 27,000 members. Twenty-five years ago there were closer to 37,000 members in the local union, Kabell said.

The major declines came during the Reagan years when Kabell said he felt a cultural shift.

People wanted to be the macho guy and stand for themselves, he said. They'd tell themselves that they didn't need anyone else.

But that's just wrong, he believes.

"People forget we do need community," he said. "We need people to stand for each other.

"People don't realize their power to impact change. People have strength. They gain strength from each other, they gain momentum from working together. People don't realize that and they forget that. We have to be retaught ... about the strength that we have in numbers."

Kabell also realizes that the responsibility for teaching and getting the message out largely rests on his shoulders. The day that Woodruff spoke was the last day of hunting season. The weather was in the 70s. The Kansas City Chiefs were on television.

People had lots of reasons not to show up. But Kabell can't think of any reason that's good enough to explain the absence of so many of his fellow union members.

As it is with so many things, better organizing will have to start with him. It's not the way it should be, but it's the way it is.


Teachers union authorizes strike in Pittsburgh

Hampton (PA) teachers have authorized their union leadership to call a strike, but no date has been set. Arleen Starr, staff representative for the Pennsylvania State Education Association and chief teacher negotiator in Hampton, said the motion was "overwhelmingly" approved. She said more than 200 of the 221 teachers attended the meeting.

Teachers also were updated on 55 contract issues that remain open. Ms. Starr said the main issues relate to teaching and learning conditions, including class size. Another unresolved issue is health care premiums.

The old contract expired June 30. The district has about 3,000 students.


Clinton-crony forced to reveal Teamsters pact

Interstate Bakeries goes to court tomorrow in its fight with two companies interested in buying the Kansas City-based maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread.

Los Angeles-based Yucaipa Companies, led by Clinton-crony Ron Burkle, and the U.S. subsidiary of Mexican baker Grupo Bimbo say they plan a joint bid for the bankrupt company.

They also say they have an agreement with the Teamsters union, which has failed to agree with Interstate Bakeries on several issues.

Interstate Bakeries wants a judge to force Yucaipa and Bimbo to provide the details of that agreement. The company says other bidders might be frightened off if they think Yucaipa and Bimbo have an inside track. But the two companies have refused, saying it would require disclosing confidential information.


Ford uses private police to shield Russian scabs

Workers at Ford Russia have stopped picketing the plant but will continue their strike following a management proposal to start talks on December 5, Alexei Etmanov, the trade union chief said on Thursday.

Around 1,000 workers at the Ford factory in St. Petersburg stopped production on November 20 demanding a 30% wage increase, by Thursday around 600-700 workers had crossed the picket line and partial production had been resumed.

"We have stopped the picket, but the strike continues," he said, adding that the company had employed around 100 police to protect those workers choosing to cross the picket line.

Yekaterina Kulinenko, Ford public relations manager, said the plant, which employs 2,200 personnel and produces 300 cars each day, was operating at one-third capacity with one shift working per day, adding: "The plant manufactured 66 cars on November 28."

About $230 million has been invested in the Russian plant since production of Ford Focus models started in 2002.

The workers walked out November 7, but a court ruling deemed the strike unlawful and it was called off. The trade union said the current strike had led to lost production of 2,500 vehicles.

Average wages at the U.S. auto giant's sole Russian plant are about 21,000 rubles ($850) a month, according to the factory administration.

A previous dispute between management and employees was resolved after a one-day strike in March 2007, when the plant administration made concessions, concluding a new collective labor contract providing higher wages and increased employment benefits.

Ford produces its Focus models in Russia, and plans to increase output from the current 72,000 cars to 100,000 cars a year by 2009. The carmaker also plans to launch the production of up to 25,000 Mondeo models a year.


Striking writers' ire at non-member misdirected

Yesterday, it was announced that strapping television personality Carson Daly will defy the ongoing writers' strike and resume production this week on his late-night talk show Last Call, currently one of NBC's highest-rated programs among viewers who frequently forget to turn off the TV before going to bed.

Now, the Smoking Gun has a leaked e-mail from Daly to friends and family members, asking them to call into a "joke hotline" to record suggested material for him to play on the air while his writers are picketing. "This is in no way meant to make fun of them (or you), but just to play a fun collage of random people trying to 'help me out,'" he says in the e-mail. "Myself and one other person will be hearing these only," implying that his viewership is even worse than we thought.

Unsurprisingly, the Writers Guild was upset, and yesterday it issued the following statement: “We’re disappointed at Carson Daly’s decision to return to work. Mr. Daly is not a writer and not a member of the WGA, unlike other late-night hosts Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Craig Ferguson, and Jimmy Kimmel, who have all resisted network pressure and honored our writers’ picket lines. We hope he’ll change his mind and follow the lead of the other late-night hosts.”

As much as it pains us, we're actually going to take Daly's side on this one — he isn't a Writers Guild member, so it's not like he's Ellen or anything. Plus, as Nikki Finke points out, his returning to work will save the jobs of his non-writing staff who would've been laid off if he stayed off the air another week.

And though it might give Last Call's anemic ratings a small boost, it's not like this is any major PR coup. Also, if anything, the "joke hotline" bit would probably mostly have served to emphasize the show's need for writers. Sadly, the number (818-260-5107) has already been disconnected, so we were unable to call in with our joke about the pirate with a steering wheel in his pants.


Sound of a writers' strike

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