Unions favor seniority system for lawmakers

California voters soon can expect to be subjected to a befuddling campaign in which they will be told by one side that Proposition 93 shortens legislative term limits and by the other side that it lengthens them.

Both sides will be right.

Voters in 1990 passed Proposition 140, which limits members of the Legislature to a total of 14 years of service – six years in the Assembly and eight in the state Senate.


California's term limits currently allow legislators to serve a maximum of 14 years – six in the Assembly, eight in the Senate. Proposition 93 would cut it to 12 years, but allow them to be served all in one house or any combination of the two. It also would allow members to serve 12 years in their current house regardless of years served in the other house.

Pro: Lawmakers would develop more expertise in the problems facing California if they were able to spend more time in one house of the Legislature. Proposition 93 still forces regular turnover.

Con: The initiative is a gimmick to give more time to legislative leaders set to be forced out by term limits next year.
Proposition 93, which will be on the Feb. 5 presidential primary election ballot, reduces the total number of years to 12 without regard to which house they are served in.

But it also allows current legislators to serve 12 years in their current house, regardless of how many years they spent in the other. That means some legislators could serve longer than the present 14-year limit.

Because the Legislature split off the presidential primary from the regular June state primary election, those legislators would have time to file for a new term if the initiative passes in February.

The driving force behind Proposition 93 is Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, D-Los Angeles, who would be forced out of office next year under the current law, as would Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland.

Term limits are popular with voters, and Proposition 93 may be a hard sell, if they figure it out.

“The debate is going to be so confusing that people are going to pull back on it,” said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at the University of Southern California. “To my way of thinking, the Legislature was just too cute by half. If there had been a straight 12-year limit, it would have worked.”

The California Democratic Party is on record supporting Proposition 93, while the California Republican Party is opposing it.

Ironically, both parties' positions are contrary to their short-term political interests, said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which analyzes state political campaigns.

Hoffenblum said there are several vulnerable Republican legislative seats, including those of Assemblywomen Shirley Horton of Bonita and Bonnie Garcia of Cathedral City.

“There's two seats that are kind of borrowed seats – the Horton seat and the Bonnie Garcia seat,” he said. “They were drawn to favor Democrats and still do. The best chance Republicans have to hold on to those seats is for Horton and Garcia to seek re-election as incumbents.”

Proponents contend Proposition 93 is a modest reform of a system that breeds instability through constant turnover and robs the Legislature of experience and institutional knowledge.

“This thoughtful proposition strikes a reasonable balance between the need to elect new people with fresh ideas and the need for experienced legislators with the knowledge and expertise to solve the complex problems facing our state,” says the Yes on 93 ballot argument.

Opponents denounce it as “an arrogant and self-serving power grab by career politicians.”

“Proposition 93 is not reform when it has a special loophole that benefits 42 incumbent politicians who are termed out by giving them more time in office. Some politicians will even be able to serve up to 20 years in office – just like before we passed term limits,” says the No on 93 ballot argument.

Democratic political consultant Darry Sragow, who is not involved in the Proposition 93 campaign, said allowing legislators to spend all of their time in one house would be a worthwhile change.

“Having worked very closely with a termed-out Legislature, I think it makes all the sense in the world because over and over again I've seen very talented, committed legislators leave just as they're really getting their bearings and their footing,” Sragow said. “It would be nice if a legislator could show up in Sacramento as a freshman and know that they have some time to learn the ropes and get some pretty significant things accomplished.”

On the other hand, he said, term limits have been beneficial in that the forced turnover has created opportunities for the election of many more women and minorities.

“One of the great benefits of term limits is that the Legislature has become much more representative of what California has become,” Sragow said. “We're getting fresh thinking; we're getting fresh views.”

Political professionals say the “good-government” arguments surrounding term limits are lost on most voters.

“I've done focus groups on term limits,” Democratic strategist Garry South said. “People don't care. They say, 'I want to get them in and out as fast as possible.' ”

A Field Poll conducted in October showed that support for Proposition 93 had dropped below the majority mark required for passage.

In the statewide survey, 49 percent of the likely voters said they would vote “yes,” compared with 31 percent who would vote “no” and 20 percent undecided. That represents a drop from an August poll that showed 59 percent in support of the measure and 30 percent opposed.

For a time, it appeared proponents of Proposition 93 might be able to spend their way to victory.

By the end of September, the “yes” side had raised more than $3.25 million – from some of the state's largest corporations and labor unions – compared with $158,000 for the “no” side.

The gap closed dramatically in recent weeks thanks to $1.5 million from Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a wealthy high-tech entrepreneur and potential Republican candidate for governor. Another $1.5 million came from U.S. Term Limits, which is headed by New York developer Howard Rich, who bankrolls several conservative causes.

On Wednesday, the state's prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, broke with the rest of organized labor and kicked in $500,000 to No on 93.

If backers of Proposition 93 had hoped the other side would be unable to get its message out, those hopes are now dashed, Sragow said.

“If you're the proponents, you're making the bet that nobody is going to put money up against it,” he said. “Steve Poizner is arguably their worst nightmare because he is presumed to have political ambitions and very deep pockets.”

In recent days, the Yes on 93 campaign has turned its fire on U.S. Term Limits, demanding to know the origin of its $1.5 million donation, which Rich has refused to disclose.

“Voters need this information to make the best, most informed decision when they vote in February,” Susan Smartt, executive director of the California League of Conservation Voters, told a Sacramento news conference.

It's an issue that is probably lost on most voters, said Hoffenblum of the California Target Book.

“If 12 years is so good, why does Don Perata get 16?” he said. “They can't answer it. So they have to attack U.S. Term Limits, which has nothing to do with the substance of the initiative.”


IBEW can do business with labor-friendly appointee

When H. David Nahai takes the helm today at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, expectations are high that he will improve significantly the rough relations with the powerful union boss who represents more than 90 percent of the utility's employees.

Still, inside City Hall a number of city leaders are wondering whether Nahai will be able to stand up to the powerful union and might compromise too much in the name of labor peace.

"The labor leadership at the DWP is exceedingly strong and powerful and is absolutely a major key player in how that department is run. There's no argument about that," City Controller Laura Chick said. "I would want to be reassured to know that the DWP is run by strong management that works closely with labor, but not run by labor."

Over the past two years, Brian D'Arcy - head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18 - frequently had battled with former general manager Ronald Deaton, who had tried to reduce the union's influence and often refused to meet with D'Arcy.

In the contentious atmosphere, the union had bombarded the DWP with grievances and unfair labor claims that slowed green-energy projects and critical water pipeline reconstruction.

But Nahai, who was nominated for the job by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, is expected to be more willing to negotiate with D'Arcy and already has met with him to seek a deal on the most controversial pending issue - contracting out infrastructure work for the utility's $1billion power reliability program.

Deaton, who retired last week from the DWP, said that as Nahai takes on the general manager job, he needs to understand all the consequences of each decision on employees and ratepayers.

"Do the best for the citizens, and it's important to do the best for the employees as well," he said. "At the end of the day, he is in the unenviable position of having to be the judge of both of those."

Nahai, a real estate attorney who has served two years on the DWP board, declined to comment for this story. But he has said previously that he wants to have a close, productive relationship with D'Arcy.

"I certainly hope the unions, including IBEW, would view me as a person they could work with," he said.

D'Arcy did not return phone calls.

IBEW Local 18 is considered Los Angeles' most powerful union, able to disrupt water and power service with a strike. Its members have the richest civilian city employee contract, and they earn nearly 20percent more than the average city employee.

The IBEW contract can be reopened next year to reconsider wages, but outsourcing will likely be the first big issue for Nahai in the interim general manager post while he awaits confirmation.

Nahai will shepherd a five-year, $1 billion program to replace and repair the city's aging power system and hire 337 employees to do the work.

The City Council now is considering raising electricity rates by 9percent over the next two years to help pay for the power system program. DWP also has proposed raising water rates by 6percent over the next two years.

But training programs for linemen, splicers and other specialized employees needed to upgrade the power system take three to four years. And the graduation rate is just 50percent.

So DWP leaders have said they must hire outside workers to get the work started.

"We cannot come back in a year or two or four and say because of delays we don't have the money to do the construction we said we were going to do," said Nick Patsaouras, president of the Board of Water and Power Commissioners.

"I want to make sure if outsourcing is needed to deliver our promises to our ratepayers, we're going to outsource."

Patsaouras said a meeting last week with D'Arcy and Nahai went well and the union agreed in concept to hiring some outside workers until the DWP hires its own specialized employees.

But the utility's desire to use private crews has been a contentious issue. The union fought the DWP's efforts to hire contractors to build large water pipelines, which utility managers said would be cheaper and faster than hiring and using in-house crews.

As board president, Nahai helped negotiate a compromise that would let the DWP contract out most water trunk line projects if the utility agreed to hire a third, 20-person in-house crew.

The trunk line project was the subject of one of 35 grievances filed by the union that were set for arbitration during 2005 through the middle of this year when the union and DWP management clashed.

The union also filed six unfair labor actions against the department. During the previous two years, there had only been one arbitration and no unfair labor actions.

Observers said the clash was part ideological and part personality.

Ron Deaton was appointed by former Mayor James Hahn at the end of 2004 at a time when the DWP was mired in scandal, including an investigation into inflated billings by a public-relations contractor.

As the city's longtime chief legislative analyst, Deaton was a powerful City Hall insider who was seen as a strong personality that could stand up to D'Arcy, whose own influence within the utility had grown stronger in a DWP leadership vacuum.

"We sent a strong negotiator over there, and he faced an uphill battle. Mr. Nahai faces the same problems," said Councilman Greig Smith, who said D'Arcy "scares a lot of people around here."

Patsaouras has also raised concern about D'Arcy and the union's influence.

"They have to have the last word. Every time we sneeze, we have to get their blessing. You can't run a $4billion operation if every time you want to do something, you have to kiss the pope," Patsaouras said.

But Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley said Nahai has the strength and tenacity to stand up to D'Arcy and others.

"He will be fair and open and keep the lines of communication open," she said.

And City Council President Eric Garcetti said Nahai is tough when he needs to be.

"I have never seen him as a lackey to either side," he said.


SEIU agrees to secret-ballot authorization vote

Union and hospital officials have agreed to allow nonunion employees at the Community Health Partners system based in Lorain (OH) to decide whether they want to join the Service Employees International Union.

Community Health Partners spokeswoman Megan Manahan said Friday that hospital officials and the union agreed that a secret ballot election would be the most productive way to allow CHP’s nonunion employees to decide whether to accept or reject union representation on the job.

The election will be held Dec. 13 at CHP hospitals, where employees can cast a secret ballot on the issue.

Manahan said there are about 870 CHP employees who are nonunion and are eligible to vote in the election, though union spokesman Mike Lauer said there are 1,200 nonunion employees at CHP.

Almost 600 registered nurses with CHP are already represented by the SEIU, while the nonunion employees include technical professionals, service and maintenance workers and anyone else who isn’t a registered nurse or physician.

As part of the election process, union and hospital officials have agreed not to solicit support for their respective causes either inside or outside the hospital, Manahan said. Instead, both parties will provide union-eligible employees with packets of information that give phone numbers they can call to receive further information.

The eligible employees work at Community Regional Medical Center, New Life Hospice and Community Cancer Center.

“This established ground rules so the hospital employees who are in the union can make a decision about their union representation, without any pressure from any side,” Lauer said. “It was an agreement negotiated by the two parties to avoid tension.”

Caregivers at Wesleyan Village in Elyria — which isn’t affiliated with CHP, but whose caregivers are all members of SEIU — were planning to hold a candlelight vigil next week to draw attention to what they said was a need for improved staffing policies and other working conditions that were contributing to employee turnover and instability.

An agreement reached Friday morning between SEIU and Wesleyan Village, however, avoided any need for a candlelight vigil, said Jennifer Farmer, communications director at SEIU.


Right to Work law boosts South Carolina business climate

South Carolina’s business climate has grabbed some attention of late. Take a look at a series of reports released over the last couple of months:


The Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council ranked South Carolina eighth best on its Small Business Survival Index.

According to SBE Council President and CEO Karen Kerrigan, South Carolina benefits from: no death tax, no individual and corporate alternative minimum taxes, being a right-to-work state, low unemployment taxes, a fairly low number of health insurance mandates, a very low gas tax, and a fairly positive rating on eminent domain legislation.

Among the state’s negatives, Kerrigan said, are a “high personal income tax rate, high worker’s compensation costs and a high crime rate.”


Expansion Management magazine named Columbia the top real estate market in the country for expanding and relocating businesses. Greenville placed third on the list.

The magazine annually lists Top Real Estate Markets. Cities that make the top generally rank high in both availability and price.

Not geared toward investors, the rankings are for executives looking for space “at the right price to open up a new office, manufacturing facility, distribution center, call center or whatever else their growing company needs,” the magazine said.


Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state’s chamber of commerce, recently admonished his state to keep a close eye on South Carolina.

Writing for The Columbian, a Washington state newspaper, Brunell called South Carolina “an attractive locale.”

Brunell lauded South Carolina’s efforts to land Boeing subcontractors Vought Aircraft and Global Aeronautica for the Dreamliner project.

“South Carolina positioned itself to be part of the 787 project from the beginning,” Brunell wrote. South Carolina’s lower taxes and lower business costs could be a draw for more Boeing business, he said.


Financial rating service Standard & Poor’s recently released a report proclaiming that “South Carolina’s improving financial position is consistent with its improved economic growth.”

The report rated the state’s general obligation debt AA+/Stable based on a restructuring economic base, recently improved financial performance and low debt levels.

In the report, “State Review: South Carolina,” Standard & Poor’s said, “Steady services and trade sector expansion, fueled largely by the tourism and retirement industries, contribute to a diversifying employment base and improved income levels.”

The report did note, however, that “income levels remain comparatively low, with median effective buying income and per capita effective buying income at 89 percent of national levels.”


Who will strike next in NYC?

The stagehands’ strike is over, but television and movie writers still picket at Rockefeller Center, and at least four more major strikes could hit the city in the next few months. Is New York turning into Paris?

A dossier:

Workers: Cleaning staff at 2,300 office buildings in the city, including just about every major tower in Manhattan.
Demands: Money. Employees currently make under $20 per hour, the union says.
Risk to civilians: Dirty offices.
Status: The contract expires at the end of the year. The two sides are negotiating.
Strike? “Based on what we’ve seen so far there’s no reason to think there’s a settlement at hand,” says a union rep.

Workers: East Coast Verizon workers from operators to technicians, about 10,000 in the city.
Demands: Access to “the jobs of the future” for union members.
Risk to civilians: Hope your landline doesn’t die while repairmen are out.
Status: Contract expires in August 2008, but both sides agreed to start talking now.
Strike? “There will be no strike before the contract expires in August,” says an otherwise tight-lipped union rep.

Workers: 500 CBS News writers, half in NYC.
Demands: With no increase since ’04, the union wants fair raises. CBS wants the right to use more non-union workers.
Risk to civilians: Katie & Co., unscripted.
Status: No contract since 2005; union voted to authorize a strike last month.
Strike? “Our hope is that [the strike vote] will bring CBS back to the negotiating table,” says a union rep. “But a strike is an option, and a real option.”

Workers: Aramark-employed cafeteria workers in 45 office buildings.
Demands: Job security and wages. At the New York Life HQ, the union says, a reduced staff makes less than $15 per hour on average.
Risk to civilians: McDonald’s.
Status: Strikes already at New York Life HQ and 55 Water Street. More contracts expire soon. “We may have to take similar measures,” says a union rep.
Strike? It’s on.


Trickle-down strike-onomics

The Broadway labor dispute that ended Wednesday shuttered 26 Broadway houses. Eight remained open, because they had separate contracts with the union. How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, which closed, reopened after a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled that the limited-run show would be "irreparably harmed" if it were forced to remain dark.

Still, the New York economy is short $100 million that it won't get back, and restaurants and shops in the theater district took huge hits.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the charity of choice among stage folks, was particularly hard hit. David Harrison, executive director of Parson Dance, recently attended a production of The Ritz, one of the shows with a separate contract.

"It was announced from the stage that Broadway Cares was losing $40,000 a day in donations as a result of the strike," Harrison says. "You can imagine how devastating that is. I also received a request from the TKTS people (who operate the discounted-ticket booth on Times Square) for emergency funding. They depend upon their service fees to keep the booth operating."

Former Tempe actress Jan Marlin, who relocated to the Big Apple in 1999, says, "No one wanted to cross a picket line, but this thing was beginning to really hurt.

"I spoke to a cab driver the other day who said he made most of his money during the holidays, taking theatergoers back to their hotels. With only a few shows open, you can see what that did to him and his family."


Killer strike

Striking entertainment-industry writers have caused financial devastation to those affiliated in any way with the entertainment industry, from make-up artists and technical crews to the thousands of Los Angeles business people who rely on the film industry for employment, yet one hears no accusations against the writers about "trickle down" economics or "hurting the poor," the favorite disparaging remarks the Left aims against the Right's economic activities.

No one accuses the writers of greed or damaging innocent people in order to get more money -- it appears only the Right can be accused of such things. If Macomber is outraged about teachers' unions joining the New York strikers' performance, he should come to Los Angeles, where the nurses' unions have joined in solidarity with the strikers. Perhaps they miss the business the entertainment industry provides -- drug overdoses, car crash victims, domestic violence, alcohol problems, etc.

At any rate, how ironic that Macomber refers to Danny Glover as being One With the People. This is the same actor who is set to have two movies produced by dictator Hugo Chavez.

In time the strike will end, the writers will go home, and the martyred actors will return to the cameras, saved from having to find real jobs in society. Until then, the entertainment value of the strike surpasses anything the writers could create.
-- Caroline Miranda, North Hollywood, California

I have to say that I'm stunned that this strike continues.

At no point in the history of entertainment would it be as easy for the members of the WGA to strike out on their own, rather than just go on strike.

They actually have an opportunity to remake the industry here, but it's not by going on strike it is by starting their own production companies.

The technology is there and I'm sure the money can be found (sympathetic rich actors). So why not just leave and start their own firms?

Maybe they are secretly concerned that the value of what they produce isn't as high as they think it is. Nah, everything on TV is Pure Gold.
-- Jeff, Astoria, New York

"Without Writers Guild members, we would have bad jokes, crap movies, and an endless output of reality television," Tim Robbins.

I didn't realize the writer's strike has been going on for the past 30 years or so. My bad.
-- Karl F. Auerbach, Eden, Utah


Reformers seek end to Teamster corruption

Sirlena Perry is a clerical worker and a trade unionist in Chicago. She has also been a supporter of the Teamsters 743 New Leadership Slate for many years. She gave a speech introducing members of the Slate when they were honored at this year’s People’s Thanksgiving in Chicago, an annual fundraiser for Fight Back! newspaper.

Perry stated, “30 years ago, I was a member of Local 743 at my first job at Aldens mail order company. I remember how proud I was to be part of that union. We had a good contract with decent wages. I remember especially Regina Polk. When Aldens went out of business, she made sure we received training, which is how I was able to get a job as a secretary at UIC.

“Local 743 also had a history of being involved in the civil rights movement. They were one of only two unions that sponsored Martin Luther King’s Freedom Summer in 1966. We were proud of Black union leaders like Bob Simpson and Chester Glanton.

“Sadly, later we saw them sell out their members, making sweetheart deals with companies and finally stealing elections. Then, as management got tougher in the 1980s, the union needed to mobilize its members to be able to stand up for them. Instead, they got in bed with management.

“The New Leadership Slate has brought together Black, Latino and white workers to fight for what we all need. I am honored to present them the William Jenkins award for Principled Commitment to the Cause of Trade Union Democracy.”


New Yorkers work at strike fashion

I’m 50 percent on strike. Meaning, half of my career, as a Vogue writer, I am merrily continuing with. The other half, as a screenwriter adapting my novel, The Debutante Divorcée, for HBO, is kaput, for now. Amy Harris, a television writer who lives on my block in Greenwich Village, reminds me that “We gotta go picket!” In a way, I am excited at the prospect—I’ve never protested before. What do you do? Blow whistles like the French? Throw eggs like the Welsh miners? And what on earth does a Voguette wear to a picket?

That night, I dress up in a (borrowed) red chiffon Valentino dress and attend a party at the Diane Von Furstenberg studio. “So right for right now,” someone says. It turns out this crowd shares my concern for appropriate picket style. Society hostess Allison Sarofim suggests I wear tweed pants, a white cashmere cape, and “huge sunglasses.” Billy Norwich, a Vogue colleague, tells me to picket in an Alexander McQueen Prince of Wales–check skirt-suit. “You should add gloves and some not-famous clutch and no sunglasses,” he says. “Squinting is so very literary looking.”

The next night, I run into Nora Ephron. I ask her what she’s been wearing to strike. “Everyone wears sneakers,” she says. “But I’m just not a sneaker kind of person. So I wore shoes. Oh my God, did I hurt!”

“Do you think I would be comfortable in a fur coat?” It’ll be cold, after all. “That will give the wrong impression, Plum,” she says. I’m about to tell Nora how I paid for that fur coat with book royalties. The coat is a sartorial expression of the writer’s cause. She’s not interested.

I wake on picket day to chilly gales and big, fat, icy raindrops. I glumly resign myself to wearing a Burberry trench and nasty J.Crew Wellingtons with dogs printed on them. I’m about to leave when Delia Ephron, Nora’s sister and a fellow writer, calls to wish me luck on the picket line. “I made six new friends,” she yelps. “It’s the best party in New York right now!” Newly insecure, I immediately change into a brand-new gray merino-wool Martin Margiela turtleneck sweater and chunky high leather boots from Veronique Branquinho. Some warmth is provided by my sharply tailored Alexander McQueen fur-lined suede jacket with enormous hoops of fox fur at each cuff. The look is fashion girl meets snowbunny.

We arrive to find about 50 writers (including Ron Howard) marching. Everyone holds a paper sign. We fall in line, and I chat with Amy Sherman-Palladino, who created Gilmore Girls. She’s wearing red Wellies, a black coat, and a cream bobble hat. When the rain starts, the others accept clear-plastic raincoats from a kindly strike captain. I refuse—I don’t want to kill my look with a $1 mac. I awkwardly hold an umbrella.

My spirit is undaunted, for a while. Then my soggy sign falls off its pole, and my mood falls, too. My toes are frozen. The fur on my cuffs is starting to stick together, like little points on a meringue pie. Defeated, I take a raincoat when it’s offered again. But then a strange thing happens. After wearing the raincoat for just a few minutes, I start to feel cozy and protected. Indeed, I like the mac—and what it represents—so much, I wear it to a late lunch at DB Bistro Moderne. Sure, the coat-check boy looks at me as if I’m a street person. But when I tell him I’ve come from the picket line, I am offered friendly smiles, hot tea, and an immediate seat. The dime-store mac is so right for right now.

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