Los Angeles gov't unions look out for #1

Los Angeles is a union town.

No, not in the sense that years ago, before foreign competition, Detroit and Pittsburgh were "union towns" because of the sway auto and steelworkers held in the community. And no, this has nothing to do with the writers strike where people in elite Hollywood jobs are squaring off against management over who will reap the profits from the new media.

Los Angeles is a union town because the city is run by the public-employee unions for the benefit of the public-employee unions, and all other considerations are secondary.

For years, many Californians and much of the nation have been snickering over "Planet San Francisco," where foreign-policy issues and blocking military recruiters from local campuses take priority over picking up the trash. Now it is Los Angeles that is becoming the butt of jokes.

Recently the City Council approved a 23 percent pay increase for city employees represented by six unions. (These raises do not include public safety or Department of Water and Power workers, who are treated even more generously.) The pay increases, which will take effect over the next five years, are in addition to "step increases" that can add 5.5 percent per year to a worker's pay.

No big deal. City Council members defended these generous increases because the contracts provided a major incentive for employees to find new cost savings in running the city. Sounds good - except that the incentive turned out to be that the city workers get to keep all the savings.

Welcome to Planet Los Angeles, where over the last seven years, employee costs have surged 53 percent, an average of 7.5 percent per year, according to a Daily News study.

"It's almost like we're working for them; they aren't there to serve us," Jack Kyser, the usually perspicacious chief economist for the nonprofit Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., told the newspaper.

What do you mean, "almost," Jack?

The city should have plenty of money - general fund revenues are rising by an average of 5.7 percent annually. But due to the ever-increasing obligation to the workers, the city is expecting a shortfall of $300 million for the next budget year.

And what do we get for our money - better services or more workers to quickly respond to our needs? No, we just get better-paid employees who continue to provide the same low quality of service that has become the norm in this city.

Some will remember when public employees received a little less than those in the private sector in return for security - governments did not go out of business. To make up for a little less money up front, most governments provided employees with desirable pensions for a worry-free retirement.

Now, pay, pensions and medical insurance benefits are providing benefits of which all but the most affluent in the private sector are envious.

This open-pocket approach to dealing with city workers goes back over three decades. Tom Bradley put together a coalition of public employees and developers that allowed him to serve five terms as mayor. Taking care of city workers guaranteed their support in each successive election.

When entrepreneur Richard Riordan was elected mayor, his mantra was to pay for the best and brightest to make government work productively and efficiently. Problem was, he could not seem to tell the difference between bright lights and dim bulbs, so he naively agreed to pay everyone more. When DWP workers went out on strike, he agreed to such an outlandishly generous contract that it became the standard for every other union when negotiating a contract with the city.

After James Hahn was elected to office, he weakened his political clout through maladroit moves like ignoring the concerns of San Fernando Valley residents who were being underserved by the city, and by refusing to rehire Police Chief Bernard Parks, who was especially popular in the black community. How to deal with his political slippage? Go back to what worked for Bradley, and up the pay of the most powerful group in the city - the public employees.

Although this was not enough to save Hahn from Antonio Villaraigosa, who not incidentally was a former union organizer, the unions were able to keep their gains and reap even more under the new mayor. One of Villaraigosa's first decisions was not to challenge another egregiously generous contract for the DWP, which was left on his desk by the outgoing Hahn. Now all the other city workers are even more determined to catch up with their colleagues at the DWP.

Don't expect this otherworldly Los Angeles equation to change soon. The unions are now the most powerful force in local politics. They go all out to elect those candidates who are willing to swear undying fealty to the union cause. When it is time to negotiate contracts, the unions control both sides of the bargaining table.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Contact him through the organization's Web site, www.hjta.org.


UFCW uses front group to flirt with RICO violations

Tesco has suffered a legal setback in its ambitious expansion plans in the US, after a California court ruled that its main warehouse did not comply with environmental planning law.

Tesco executives acknowledged that the ruling could, in theory, lead to the closure of the depot, the logistical backbone of its US operation. But they said this was highly unlikely and that similar disputes had been settled without such radical measures. "We will review the ruling to understand what further compliance might be necessary but there is nothing in the ruling handed down that we believe will affect the operation or further roll-out of the business," Tesco said in a statement.

Simon Uwins, marketing director of Tesco's US Fresh & Easy subsidiary, said: "It is just the latest round in an ongoing court case". But he said Tesco had contingency planning in place to deal with any potential distribution difficulties.

The ruling came as Tesco announced it was drawing up plans for a second warehouse complex at Stockton in northern California. Tesco has opened 15 stores in the US and plans to bring the total to 50 by the end of the year and 200 by the end of next year. Its first 10,000 sq ft US Fresh & Easy store was opened this month. The company has said it will spend £250m a year over five years on its US expansion.

The case was brought in Riverside County Court by Health First, a previously unheard-of group established with the support of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

The UFCW, which represents workers at the big three traditional supermarkets, has sought unsuccessfully to negotiate with Tesco over union representation. The union has used tactics like those employed to block the expansion of Wal-Mart in California.

Health First argues that the distribution centre should have been subject to a full environmental review, including a public consultation. It says it is particularly concerned about increased traffic from truck volumes.

Tesco says the distribution centre, on the site of a former military base, is covered by the environmental approvals secured for the base redevelopment.

One of Tesco's UK suppliers, 2 Sisters Food Group, faces a similar lawsuit.


Union dues rebate only 11% for non-members

Pulaski County (IN) Commissioners received a request Thursday morning from the union that represents road workers to increase their pay by $1 per hour next year and by 75 more cents in 2009, as well as providing the full cost for employee health insurance and pension premiums and partial coverage for spouses.

That’s a much higher raise than standard practice for Pulaski County. In recent years; county commissioners have usually offered a 25-cent-per-hour raise each year.

Patrick Lynch, the business representative of Local 148 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, said he understood the raise being requested by road workers was significant. “Hopefully you’ll be like Santa this year, in a giving mood,” Lynch said.

That didn’t meet with a positive response. “What I’m thinking about is what the budget looks like,” said Commissioner Bill Farnham.

Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall explained that Pulaski County offers several different insurance coverage options and contributes a flat fee of $200 toward whatever plan an employee chooses. The county contributes nothing additional toward spousal insurance coverage, but spouses can buy into the county insurance plan, Ransdall said. “We are considering raising that,” said Commissioner Dennis Thornsberry.

Asked by Lynch how much the county might raise the insurance contribution and how much of a raise in wages might be considered, Ransdall said nothing can be done to prepare those figures until budget data from each county department has been submitted, and that won’t be available for several weeks.

Ransdall reminded Lynch that several of his union’s requests would have to apply across the board, not just for road and bridge department employees, and would cost substantial amounts of money.

“If we do that for the road and bridge department we have to do it for everybody in the courthouse,” Ransdall said.

Commissioners looked more favorably on some of Lynch’s other requests, including a proposal for the county to provide outerwear and one pair of work boots per year.

“At one point in the past we did provide that, but the employees decided they didn’t want it,” Thornsberry said.

That’s changed, Lynch said, and employees would like to have that as a benefit of their employment, possibly establishing an account at a local store where such items could be purchased by employees.

“Did you have any particular name or dollar amount picked out?” Farnham asked, noting that the county has accounts with Orscheln’s and with Wal-Mart for other purchases.

Lynch said he didn’t have a specific dollar amount but said employees would like “something comfortable.” However, he didn’t like the idea of union workers being directed to Wal-Mart.

“Wal-Mart is getting beaten up for a lot of their practices so we’d like to steer you to someone else,” Lynch said.

Lynch asked whether the county provides safety vests or training; Farnham said he provides road workers on his side of the county safety vests due to the higher traffic and higher speeds in the Eastern District.

Thornsberry said he’s like to see the union be more proactive with worker safety.

“Ever since the union was formed, there was supposed to be a safety meeting with the union and a representative of the commissioners and that has never happened,” Thornsberry said.

“I saw that language in there (in the contract) and we’d be glad to. Is it your desire to start those?” Lynch asked, noting that the original proposal was for monthly safety meetings.

Thornsberry was receptive to the suggestion.

“I think anytime you want to talk safety for the workers out in the field that is an important part of it,” Thornsberry said. “I don’t know if it needs to be done that often or not, but I remember that being in the contract because I thought it was a good idea.”

Ransdall, who co-owns a company that salvages items from houses scheduled for demolition at Fort Leonard Wood, said he’s required to have a daily toolbox safety meeting and supported that idea for county workers.

“It is a win-win situation for both sides,” Lynch said.

However, another one of Lynch’s requests didn’t get any support from the commissioners. Missouri is a right-to-work state in which employees cannot be required to join a union, but Lynch presented court documents and a sample agreement between his union local and the city of St. Charles in which non-union employees are required to pay 89 percent of the amount of union dues as a service fee for collective bargaining services performed on their behalf by the union.

Lynch said St. Charles workers still have the right to object to payments on a number of grounds, including religious, personal and political grounds.

“We take those objections very seriously when they come into our office,” Lynch said.

County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer wanted clarification.

“I don’t understand this,” Linnenbringer said. “You’re asking for those employees who do not wish to join the union to make fair share payments of 89 percent to the union?”

“What would be the benefit of this?” Thornsberry asked. “This is a way of penalizing people who do not want to join the union … I’m trying to understand this because I’ve never seen one of these before.”

Ransdall asked who makes the decision on waivers; Lynch said waiver requests go to the union’s executive board, which he said is composed of rank-and-file workers, not paid union staff members or officers.

Ransdall questioned that proposal.

“The commission, I don’t think has the authority to take fees from people’s checks; that’s why we have court orders,” Ransdall said.

Lynch said a 1993 Missouri court decision ruled that employees could be required to pay union service fees even though they couldn’t be required to join a union.

“We suggest you run this by your county attorney; this is just a request today,” Lynch said.

According to statistics produced by Linnenbringer after the meeting, Pulaski County has 20 road and bridge department employees. Nine of those employees are union members; one was hired recently and isn’t yet eligible for union membership.


AFSCME aids local pols in budget blackmail

It's not clear if DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom will drive and State's Attorney Joe Birkett will put up the referendum signs this January. Or if Birkett will take the wheel, while Schillerstrom pounds the signs into the snow banks. But it's definite the two will take their referendum show on the road in early 2008.

The task isn't easy -- convincing DuPage voters to support a quarter-cent sales tax increase on the Feb. 5 ballot. The extra revenue, estimated at $40 million annually, will be used to fund public safety.

Birkett and Schillerstrom have had their political differences over the years. But they're teaming up at the eleventh hour as the county faces a budget crisis. Board members Tuesday approved a "doomsday" budget that calls for laying off about 200 workers and cutting programs, such as an urgent dental clinic for low-income people, in order to balance the books.

The budget passed with the proviso that reductions wouldn't happen until the outcome of the February referendum was known.

"The problem is, we've been so wrapped up in the budget. Now we've got to jump on this," Schillerstrom said.

An organizational meeting is planned for early this week.

"He's got some ideas and some people," Schillerstrom said of Birkett. "I've got some ideas and some people."

Birkett said he's already been shoring up support among police chiefs and mayors.

"I've been pushing this for four years," he said. "But now doomsday's here and it's crisis time."

Winter campaign

Brook McDonald knows a thing or two about referendum campaigns.

The head of the Naperville-based Conservation Foundation helped orchestrate the DuPage County Forest Preserve's successful $68 million open space referendum in 2006, as well as others in Kane and Will counties.

"One thing they have going for them is that it's not a property tax. Being a sales tax, it allows for people outside the county to pay for it, and that's a nice message to get out to people," McDonald said.

But organizers will have their work cut out for them with a short campaign season, made even shorter by the holidays.

DuPage voters traditionally don't like tax-increase referendums, and that goes doubly for the more conservative crowd that often shows up in primaries.

This election, however, "is different because it's a presidential primary. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will draw a lot of nontraditional voters out," McDonald said.

"The high-frequency voters tend to be more conservative. In this primary, the low-frequency voters will come out more than usual."

For the 2006 open space referendum, proponents sent out two mailings, held numerous public information meetings and spent two months organizing the effort.

Success didn't come cheaply. A mailing reaching 45,000 to 50,000 households cost about $25,000.

Schillerstrom and Birkett each have pledged start-up funds for the campaign.

But the key will be getting others vested in the success of the referendum to help out.

"I've been talking to rank-and-file law enforcement -- they are fully supportive," Birkett said. "Members of the bar association have said they will be supportive, not only with their voices but their pocketbooks."

The state's attorney said if he puts his heart into the referendum effort, he expects county board members to do the same.

"There are no excuses," Birkett said. "I've sent a memo explaining they are free to promote the public safety referendum on their own time as long it does not involve taxpayer money."

Referendum proponents likely will find a useful ally in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

About 130 members of AFSCME are willing to help campaign.

"We're chomping at the bit," said DuPage probation officer and AFSCME Local 3228 President Dana Andrewson, "whether it's going door-to-door with fliers or putting up signs."

December will be a planning month, Schillerstrom said, noting that it makes no sense to campaign during Christmas.

After that, "people of this county are smart, they are willing to spend their money for good causes and it is our job to let them know this is a good cause and a good investment of their money."

Follow the money

The county's budget crisis comes from a variety of sources, including flattening revenues from sales taxes and fees, low returns on investments and the loss of $15 million in money from the DuPage Water Commission. The county board also did not levy to the maximum amount it was allowed earlier this decade, which reduced the available property tax pool.

Meanwhile, operating costs, including those for health care, continue to grow.

To avoid red ink, the corporate fund budget for 2008, which pays for most salaries, was $9.5 million less than in 2007.

And in 2007, the county also went through a round of layoffs, reduced its subsidy to the health department and DuPage Convalescent Center by $4.2 million, cut the sheriff's office by $2.5 million and reduced human service programs by $1 million.

But if the tax increase provides an extra $40 million a year, could officials end up with excess funds?

"We have to show the money will be wisely used," Schillerstrom said. "There's no doubt we need $10 million right off the bat. And 2007 was a substantial cut budget of its own.

"It will cost us a fair amount of money to get back to what we thought were appropriate levels."

Birkett said his office already was understaffed before the budget cuts started.

"We never had a fat budget," he said.

New revenues could mean the reinstallation of programs, such as the Sheriff's Work Alternative Program, that lets offenders do public service instead of jail time, Schillerstrom said.

"My belief would be if sales tax brings in extra money, we would go back to try and cut the property tax," he said.

"Or, say, if fines and fees are proving to be unfair and onerous, maybe you go back and review those and cut back in some of those areas.

"If we have extra funds, I'll figure out a way to give it back to the taxpayer."


Failed ATU organizer blames employer, sues

One vote. That made the difference Friday in a tension-filled — and failed — effort to unionize Lodi's GrapeLine bus drivers.

Thirty-eight drivers and four support staff split 21 to 21 on whether to join. A successful vote required 50 percent in favor, plus one more vote.

"We've very pleased that it came out the way it came out," said Nikki Frenney, vice president for MV Transportation, the Fairfield-based company that employs the drivers, and contracts with the city of Lodi (CA).

"We prefer not having a third party," she added.

Vincent Congino, business agent for Amalgamated Transit Union of Stockton, said the union's involvement in Lodi is not over. He said it would file allegations of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board.

"The union is not going away. Those people better not get fired," he said of the MV employees who had supported the union.

The issue sparked protests at the city's transportation center in Downtown, plus claims of sabotage and even racism.

Congino declined to go into specifics about possible labor violations but said MV Transportation had brought in union busters. The transportation company has said it merely hired a consultant to discuss advantages and disadvantages of unionizing.

Should the NLRB find the vote was unfair, it could require another vote.

Frenney, of the transportation company, said MV employees who were pro-union will be treated fairly.

"They will still have a job with MV Transportation," she said. "That is their right at any time to challenge management with a union process."

She said the company hopes workers will return to the cohesive unit they were before the contentious vote.


Unions pit government against shoppers

Nothing can ruin an already miserable shopping experience faster than a screaming brat throwing a fit to get his way — right in the middle of your local Wal-Mart. Much has been written about today’s parents erring on the lax side. But enjoying a difficult enough time parenting my own, I’ll offer only this advice: kids do what works.

A sign marks Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas June 1, 2007. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said at its Annual Shareholders Meeting on Friday it will cut the number of supercenters it plans to open this year by as much as 30 percent as it tries to boost sales at U.S. stores, sending its shares up 4 percent.

If throwing a fit works, you’ll witness a lot of fit-throwing.

Come to think of it, businesses and politicians and political shakedown artists do what works, too. Which brings us back to Wal-Mart. And unions. And politicians. And more tantrums.

For years now, Wal-Mart has been under constant attack from union-funded groups. The two most active bashers are Wal-Mart Watch, set up by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Wake Up Wal-Mart, unleashed by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

Fittingly, the groups’ logos are America Behind Bars and an Unhappy Face, respectively.

One might surmise their goal is to nag Wal-Mart to death. From press releases to organized protests, their high-pitched complaints ring incessantly in our ears. Wal-Mart Watch even blames the retailer for crimes committed in their stores’ parking lots. A list, including British parking lots, is at their website.

Of course, nagging is their very right. It is the continual use of the unions’ political teeth that should elicit opposition. Throughout the country, Wal-Mart’s union-sponsored harassers have attempted to ply the force of law to block Wal-Mart from opening new stores, from reaching customers (who very much want that choice). They’ve also pressured politicians to micro-manage what Wal-Mart pays in salary and benefits. By law.

Why this multi-million dollar campaign pitting government against Wal-Mart?

The Smiley Face store has been successful. It’s the world’s largest retailer. It’s whipping the pants off unionized stores in the free marketplace. That means it has money, making it a great target for extortion. Legal or political extortion, that is.

Worst of all — for them — the unions have been unable to set Wal-Mart’s workforce to march to their orders. Wal-Mart’s employees remain non-union.

That’s a good thing. Perhaps Wal-Mart (and the millions who work and/or shop there) won’t be subjected to the same fate as American automakers. A fate brought on in large part by the unions barnacled to GM, Ford and Chrysler.

Unions are declining. They represented over 30 percent of the American work force back in the 1950s, but have steadily lost membership. Today, they represent only 12 percent.

Even these stark statistics don’t tell the whole story. For the private sector, unions represent a scant 7 percent of workers. But 36 percent of public sector workers belong to unions. The discrepancy may be the thorny fact that the private sector must actually produce a good or service that someone will voluntarily pay for. And, in the process, turn a profit to boot.

Something the government doesn’t have to do. And something Wal-Mart continues to do, persevering through this plethora of political pricks.

The Good News? Low prices usually beat bombastic brickbats. The Bad News? Wal-Mart has been forced into politics.

The retail giant, founded in 1962 (incorporated in ’69), grew phenomenally throughout the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. But the company didn’t hire a single lobbyist until 1999. In the 1998 cycle, Wal-Mart’s PAC donated a total of $135,000 to federal candidates. Seems they were focused on pleasing customers, not politicians.

Former Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers explained Wal-Mart’s disinterest in making political donations this way: “They were doing very well without any government assistance, and the government was not interfering with them too much. And I guess they felt it would be money sort of wasted.”

But now the besieged company spends $2.5 million a year on lobbyists; political contributions have jumped a whopping ten-fold.

Same thing happened back in the ’90s when the Clinton Justice Department decided to launch a witch-hunt against Microsoft. Microsoft had been working its business instead of plying politicians with donations. After the government mugging, Microsoft’s political donations soared 9,000 percent.

Still, SEIU and UFCW expended far more in contributions. Together they spent $2.9 million in the 2006 election cycle — more than twice that of Wal-Mart. And 2006 was no exception: both unions are large and longtime donors to Democrats. Of course, unlike Wal-Mart, their business is politics.

Sure, it’d be far better for Americans if our most successful companies could concentrate on pleasing customers, rather than placating politicians. That’s what our country is supposed to be all about.

But the brats want it their way.

Let’s not give in. Let’s not let the spoiled brats win.

Paul Jacob is a Senior Advisor at The Sam Adams Alliance, a Townhall.com member group. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web, via e-mail, and on radio stations across America.


Reformers to fix corrupt Chicago Teamsters local

Fight Back! has been a supporter of the reform movement in the Teamsters since we began publishing, but the struggle inside Teamsters Local 743 began years earlier. We interviewed Richard Berg, the president-elect of Local 743 about the history and meaning of the victory over the sell-out gangsters that dominated that union for so many years.

Fight Back!: How did the struggle against the old guard begin in Local 743? When did you get involved?

Berg: I started as a custodian at the University of Chicago Hospitals in 1988. Marriott was an outside contractor that came in to try to whip us into line and increase the level of exploitation of the workers so they could make a little money for themselves and even more money for the university. I was a relatively new steward. We decided to get the workers together to fight back against it.

We had a meeting of second shift workers. We had keys to every office, so we put a flier on every desk, from the president of the university, the dean of the medical school to every secretary. The flier said, “To the University of Chicago. From: your workers. Fire Marriott!” It then listed our eight demands. We all wore buttons that said, “No Marriott.”

We sent a message to everyone at the hospital that we were going to fight, and that we weren’t going to tolerate this level of exploitation. It sent shockwaves through the place.

The next day, the management of Marriott, who had refused to even hear grievances from me in the past, called me in their office before I could even punch in and fired me. Then they went to each worker and asked them to take off the buttons. If he or she refused, they would suspend them for three days. As the word got out what was going on, all the workers came down and lined up to get suspended because they weren’t going to take their buttons off.

As they realized they didn’t have enough workers anymore, they started reducing them to one day suspensions. Then managers started turning their heads away to say, “I don’t see your button.” People would say, “See my button, see my button.” The vice-president of the university called all the workers into a big room and said, “You should all go back to work. We can figure this out.” The workers replied that they wouldn’t make any deals without their union steward. Management pointed to a steward from the kitchen, “Your steward is over there.” The steward responded, “I’m not their steward, you fired him.”

The fight was there, but this didn’t happen overnight. It was a planned action to hit back against what we were facing. The next day I got a call from the union, asking what the heck was going on. They did everything they could to put out all the fires and tried to make nice with management. But this is a fundamental contradiction - it’s not about making nice, it’s about fighting for dignity and respect. We organized the fighters among the workers and unleashed them. The union thought that any struggle was wrong. They saw their only role was to collaborate, to get on their knees and beg for a better situation for the workers. This has been the contradiction with them from that day until when we beat them in October, between those that want to fight management and those that want to collaborate and make deals.

Fight Back!: How did the workers at the University of Chicago Hospitals learn that the whole old leadership of Local 743 had to be opposed?

Berg: Initially we saw that our business agent was selling us out. Many people thought that we just had a bad business agent. In fact, he was a nice guy, he’d always return phone calls and do things like that, but he’d never stand up for the workers. Whenever there was a conflict between labor and management, he’d beg for you, and if that didn’t work, he’d sell you out.

Things began to change when the president of our local was removed because of his affiliation with organized crime. He let the old president of our local who had also been removed because of his affiliation with organized crime continue to run the union. Our local went into trusteeship and while we were in trusteeship, we met people from across the local. We were able to compare notes with workers from other hospitals, from nursing homes and manufacturing. We found out who was actually in our union for the first time, because they kept us all separate. As we compared stories, we realized it was the same story at every place. That was the beginning of what became the 743 New Leadership Slate.

We decided from those first meetings to support each other. If there was a battle across town, we’d go there and try to help them organize it. [After the trusteeship ended, the old gang managed to return to power.] When Montgomery Ward’s shut down, we organized huge rallies to support the workers. We called on the local union to bring in people from the international to help. The local union wanted to just let the place shut down and the workers go on. So we picketed the union hall and demanded that the union do something to fight for these workers.

Fight Back!: How did you build the New Leadership Slate and root it among workers in the local?

Berg: The best example is Tony Caldera, who has been one of the leaders of the slate since the beginning. He still teases me to this day because when I first met him, I didn’t want him on the slate, because I didn’t know him very well. That was the biggest mistake I ever made. He has been one of the best fighters from the start until today.

He always looked out for all the workers. When the battle happened at Silver Capital three years ago, he was out front. [Silver Capital was a factory with mostly undocumented, Mexican immigrant workers. It closed in 2004 and Local 743 sold out the workers, refusing to fight for severance pay.] He convinced Marcela Garcia, the leader of the workers there, to run on our slate against Jose Galvan, the business agent who had threatened to call immigration when the undocumented workers complained about being sold out. Tony and Marcela galvanized our slate and Silver Capital became the example for all the immigrant workers in 743. When Tony told their story to workers across our local, it rang true. It was their story as well.

Unfortunately, Tony’s factory, Frederick Cooper, had the same fate, closing in the summer of 2005. He led the struggle of the workers there as well. Under his leadership, those workers have won hundreds of thousands of dollars from the owners of Frederick Cooper, after the union had agreed to let them go with absolutely nothing at all. Tony did this by uniting with community organizations and pressuring the alderman around zoning issues.

Fight Back!: Now that you’ve won the election, what conclusions have you reached about how the old guard managed to stay in power so long?

Berg: Collaborators rely on management to stay in office. They had their dirty tricks and their willingness to break the law and our union’s bylaws and constitution. Of course, they always had plenty of money and resources, while we had to rely on fundraisers, a few dollars from every worker and volunteers. The ultimate thing, though, was that management supported them.

I was fired three times at the University of Chicago. Not once did it have to do with my work. I was a very good worker; I always have been. It was because I threatened management that they would fire me on trumped up charges.

During this recent election, I was kicked out of every workplace in the local, not allowed to speak to workers about how to make our union better. At the same time, every employer would invite the old guard in, often on company time, to talk to workers about why they should vote for them. Is this against the law? Of course it is. These laws aren’t enforced because the people who make and enforce the laws are the same people who own our companies - the factories, nursing homes and hospitals in Local 743.

Fight Back!: What’s the new day going to be like for the workers in Local 743?

Berg: The New Leadership Slate is going to take all the resources of this union and put them to work to serve the people. The workers should expect to have business agents out at the job sites on a regular basis and to have their phone calls answered. Dues money will go toward contract enforcement, toward getting workers dignity and respect and aiding in the fight we have been talking about in this interview.


UFCW sets strike vote v. Safeway

The union representing employees at Northern California’s largest supermarket chain, Safeway, is threatening to strike as early as next week if negotiators can’t meet a Saturday contract deadline.

The Safeway employees affected work mainly in food services, meat departments and general merchandise areas, meaning employees would still be working at checkout lines but shelves and deli counters may go bare.

According to a spokeswoman for United Food and Commercial Workers Local 101, union members will vote Sunday and Monday to authorize a strike. If workers approve, picketing could begin as early as next week. A strike would affect about 25,000 employees in Northern California and the union speculated that checkout workers might join the picket lines as well.

“With negotiations moving slowly with Safeway, we have moved from a strike being improbable to a strike being possible,” union President Mike Borstel said in a statement.

Pleasonton-based Safeway spokesman Brian Dowling said he could not comment on whether the supermarket chain was preparing for a strike, but he did say officials were hopeful that the contract dispute would be worked out on the negotiating table. “We’re negotiating, and will be through the week, and we’re hopeful that we’ll reach an agreement that makes sense for our company and our employees,” Dowling said.

The supermarket chain operates 244 stores in Northern California, 15 stores in San Francisco and 19 stores in San Mateo County, according to the company.

The contract dispute comes in the middle of the holiday shopping season and both sides said they are wary of a labor dispute.

The union recently agreed on contracts with two other Northern California supermarket chains: Raleys and Save Mart, which operates Albertsons and Lucky supermarkets in Northern California. The agreements gave workers raises and eliminated employee-paid premiums on health care among other concessions. The union called on Safeway to go with the same contract, but Dowling said the corporation couldn’t just blindly accept the terms offered under the Save Mart and Raleys agreements.

Four years ago, employees walked out of the company’s Vons and Pavilions chains in a Southern California strike. The strike lasted nearly five months and Safeway reported more than $100 million in losses. Supporters in Northern California also boycotted a different Safeway location throughout San Francisco every weekend during that strike.


Family of gang-slain SEIU official waits in cold

"Someday, I'm going to be the one on TV, when they find who killed Vicki," says Kelly Gangemi of Greece. She will never forget the day in December 1992, when the police found her sister, Vicki Jobson, 31, just off Lyell Avenue, near the spot where Haloid and Rutter streets meet. She had been stabbed several times. There has been no arrest; the case remains open.

Every time there's an arrest in a cold case, Gangemi takes heart. "I know we're going to find out who did this," she says.

At first, the family thought Jobson might have been killed by a Gates man who was suspected of killing at least eight other women. But the suspect died before he was ever charged or tried, and Gangemi says she learned that he was not considered a suspect in her sister's death.

Vicki Jobson's life unraveled in 1991. She'd been living in Syracuse with her two children and their father. She worked as a nurse's aide. She was always a fun person, Gangemi says, but something happened. Her relationship went south. She returned to Rochester, where she'd grown up. One thing led to another — depression, cocaine, an arrest for solicitation.

"My mother would go look for her," Gangemi says. "She'd get Vicki some food and try to get her to come home, but she wouldn't." And then she was gone. "She wanted to save her from being killed," Gangemi says of her mom, who kept a lock of Vicki's hair in a box next to her bed until the day she died.

Jobson was born on Nov. 12, 1961, Veterans Day. And every year since her disappearance, Gangemi, 44, calls her father on Veterans Day to acknowledge his service, then visits the corner where they found her sister, and the cemetery where she's buried.

Gangemi, who used to work as a waitress at Roncone's restaurant on Lyell, just blocks from where Jobson was found, has confidence that the police will one day find her sister's killer.

There's no trace of revenge in her voice when she talks about her sister. "I just want to know what happened," she says. "You can never fill the hole from Vicki's dying. But you can close it a little bit."

Until she has answers, "I'll always wonder, Was he a veteran? Is it somebody she knew? Does he see this story? Did he see me on the news?" And how, she wonders, "can someone carry this secret for so long? I can't imagine how someone can walk around knowing that he killed someone's sister."

For now, Gangemi has only memories. A family scrapbook holds all of the news stories from that time, and the news photos of the scene, of the medical examiner's staff preparing to load Jobson's remains. It holds condolence cards, family pictures and a copy of a Mother's Day card Jobson's daughter, Keisha Washington, made as a second-grader.

Kelly Gangemi understands better than any of us how the family of Latasha Shaw feels as they wait for an arrest in her homicide. She knows what it's like to wait and wait for the truth.

"I can't let this rest," she says. "I'll be doing this when I'm 50, if need be." Somebody has to know the secret of Victoria Jobson's killing. "Did somebody hear the killer talk about it? Did somebody help him move the body? Somebody knows something. It's time to give it up," Gangemi says.

The news is old. The case is cold. But "there's not a minute I don't think about it," Gangemi says. "I will not give up."


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