Attorney General backs unions in Casino War

Management at Foxwoods Resort Casino entered formal objections Monday to a union vote by table game dealers, asserting that federal labor law doesn't apply to the tribal casino while also claiming the election was tainted by union officials who engaged in unlawful tactics.

The objections, filed with the National Labor Relations Board office in Hartford, challenge the results of a federally supervised election Nov. 24. Foxwoods' blackjack, poker and other table game dealers voted to have the United Auto Workers union represent them.

The dealers would be the first Foxwoods employees to unionize. The vote has national significance, since it is believed to be the first NLRB-supervised union election at a tribal casino. If the NLRB rejects Foxwoods' objections, the casino has another avenue for challenge: Casino management can refuse to bargain with the newly certified unit, sending the dispute into federal appellate courts.

Leaders of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns and operates Foxwoods, indicated the issue is probably headed in that direction. "In light of what is at stake for all of Indian country, we must pursue this and it will require an appeal to the federal courts," said Tribal Chairman Michael J. Thomas in a letter circulated by the tribe.

In its objections, Foxwoods repeated the argument it has made throughout the organizing process: Federal labor law doesn't apply to casino employees because the tribe is a sovereign nation. Union organizing should instead take place under recently adopted tribal laws.

Attorneys for the casino also accused the UAW of "unlawfully harassing, threatening and intimidating" dealers and making "threats of bodily harm" to affect the outcome of the election. They also claimed the NLRB should have provided ballots in more than one language.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the accusations were groundless.

"Broad claims of impropriety are easily made — but no specific facts or evidence have been provided to support them," Blumenthal said.

The UAW said that Foxwoods management should respect the majority vote and begin negotiating instead of spending millions of dollars fighting the results.

The NLRB said the size of the bargaining unit will be 2,600 workers.


Andy Stern ousts California SEIU boss

Sal Rosselli, president of the 600,000-strong SEIU state council, is withdrawing his nomination to remain leader of one of California largest and most influential labor groups in the face of a vote he said “defies acceptable notions of fairness.”

Rosselli, president of a 100,000-strong local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, as well as the labor group’s statewide umbrella organization, has been locked in an internal union leadership battle with potential implications for the health care overhaul in California.

He informed the state council and national SEIU president Andy Stern – who allies of Rosselli accuse of engineering the leadership change – of his withdrawal in a letter on Sunday. “I am writing to notify you and our colleagues in California that I will not accept any nomination to serve as President of the SEIU California State Council,” Rosselli wrote. “I do not want any contest for this office to serve as a point of contention among SEIU Locals in California or to hinder in any way our joint effort to win real healthcare reform now.”

The state council had scheduled a vote via telephone for Friday to consider replacing Rosselli, but not enough members of the 20-member council called in to establish a quorum. Now, the council is set to vote via e-mail – as early as today – to select its next president. With Rosselli’s withdrawal, the only remaining candidate for president is Annelle Grajeda, was appointed president of the recently formed Local 721 by Stern.

“That such a vote is slated to occur and conclude electronically on Monday, less than 24 hours before we are scheduled to meet face-to-face in San Diego on Tuesday, calls into question the integrity of the entire process. Consequently, we choose not to participate in such flawed proceedings,” Rosselli wrote to the state council. Rosselli’s union, United Healthcare Workers, also will not take part in the vote.

Reached via telephone Rosselli would not comment on the leadership change, saying only, “The state council thing is an internal matter.”

But he did talk about health care, which he also brought up in his letter.

He said via telephone that any health compromise must include a “definition of basic benefits people must receive at a price they can afford if they are to be subject to an individual mandate.”

In what amounted to a resignation letter (even if unhappily), Rosselli wrote to Stern, “Your actions concerning the State Council have created a major distraction from maintaining the unified focus needed to achieve our objectives.”

“Although the view may look different from Washington DC, here in California I believe we are close to achieving our goal of real health care reform as long as we have the courage to continue to stand up for our principles and advocate for the issues that are not successfully addressed in Governor Schwarzenegger’s health care proposal,” Rosselli wrote.

The state council declined to comment for this story. “We don’t talk about internal union matters,” said council spokeswoman Jeanine Meyer Rodriguez.

Read the full text of Rosselli's letter below:

December 2, 2007

Dear Andy,

For the past twenty years, we have been working to win real healthcare reform in California to cover the millions of our state’s residents who are uninsured or underinsured. Today, that group numbers at least 6.7 million over the course of the year.

In 1994, our Local Union, along with other California SEIU Locals through our State Council, strongly supported Proposition 194, which would have created a single-payer system. In 2003-4, our Local Union, along with other California SEIU Locals through our State Council, supported SB 2, which was enacted by both houses of the California legislature and signed into law by then-Governor Gray Davis. SB 2 was repealed by a margin of less than one percent when corporate interests put it to a referendum in the form of Proposition 72.

And in the past year, UHW, other California SEIU Locals, our major healthcare employers Kaiser Permanente and Catholic Healthcare West, consumer groups and patient advocacy organizations, other progressive forces and the labor movement generally, have united to win real healthcare reform in California. Although the view may look different from Washington DC, here in California I believe we are close to achieving our goal of real healthcare reform as long as we have the courage to continue to stand up for our principles and advocate for the issues that are not successfully addressed in Governor Schwarzenegger’s healthcare proposal.

Specifically, a healthcare reform plan that accomplishes our goals and that California voters will support requires:

• A definition of the basic benefits that people must receive at a price they can afford if they are to be subject to an individual mandate — benefits that should include doctor's visits, preventive care, hospitalization and prescription drugs.

• Cost controls which include bulk purchasing of prescription drugs, a public insurer to compete with private insurance, preventive medicine and more information on cost and quality.

The polls show that Californians want real healthcare reform, but will reject compromises made for political expediency that sacrifice key principles like affordability and quality. I ask that you join the SEIU California State Council in its consistent support for the elements outlined above and its insistence that they be included in any final healthcare reform.

Needless to say, it is our opinion -- which we have learned is shared by many not just within SEIU in California, but outside as well -- that your decision to choose this moment to declare the abolition of the pre-existing State Council, the elimination of its officers and Executive Board, and the implementation of the new State Council, could not have been more poorly timed.

Two weeks ago, SEIU leaders in California were totally united around our goal, strategy and tactics to win real healthcare reform, and while I believe that we remain united, your actions concerning the State Council have created a major distraction from maintaining the unified focus needed to achieve our objectives.

In order to retain the focus on healthcare reform, I am writing to notify you and our colleagues in California that I will not accept any nomination to serve as President of the SEIU California State Council.

Although I am very proud of the State Council's accomplishments over the course of my presidency and appreciate the opportunity to bring our fight for healthcare reform to the brink of victory, I do not want any contest for this office to serve as a point of contention among SEIU Locals in California or to hinder in any way our joint effort to win real healthcare reform now.

This letter also serves as our notice to you and our California colleagues that UHW will not participate in the voting process.

The idea that organizations like SEIU Locals 6434 and 1877 will be able to fully participate while owing more than $1.5 million in back dues defies acceptable notions of fairness with regard to union democracy. Nor do the numbers attributed to each local coincide with recent reports from the State Council regarding full members and fee payers.

Similarly, your appointment to the State Council Executive Board of representatives from two "organizing" Locals that do not represent any members and three Locals that have not been affiliated with the State Council also is, in our opinion, a violation of basic tenets of union democracy.

And finally, that such a vote is slated to occur and conclude electronically on Monday, less than 24 hours before we are scheduled to meet face-to-face in San Diego on Tuesday, calls into question the integrity of the entire process. Consequently, we choose not to participate in such flawed proceedings.

In the next several weeks, our focus in California has to be on winning real healthcare reform. One fundamental component of our ability to achieve this goal is to ensure that our State Council has the necessary resources to complete this important work.

Accordingly, on Tuesday, when the State Council convenes, UHW will ask all SEIU Locals in California to support requiring all SEIU Local Unions in arrears in dues to our state organization to comply with their financial obligations. That will help ensure that we have the financial capacity to sustain the effort necessary to succeed.
In Unity,

Sal Rosselli
SEIU United Healthcare Workers West


Union boss demands political quid pro quo

In a fiery, fist-pounding speech, the leader of Los Angeles County's largest labor organization issued a warning Monday to elected officials that unions want to see firm support for labor efforts in return for backing in the upcoming elections.

The strident challenge came as contracts are set to be negotiated next year for 30 unions covering 350,000 workers ranging from actors and longshoremen to home-care workers, teachers and janitors.

Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, told some 1,000 delegates at the group's second annual congress that labor is in no mood for being used for political purposes.

"Truth be told, we have a lot of fake political friends and precious few real ones," Durazo said. "How many times do we hear our political friends tell us, 'I can be with you on some issues but not on others.' Or, 'You don't understand the pressure I'm under.'

"What risks do politicians take in standing up for heroic workers? Do they risk their re-elections or their comfortable lives they live in largely safe, Democratic districts where our members ... make up the majority of voters? Or do they risk their ability to solicit generous political donations from wealthy big business and corporate special interests?"

Election year important

Durazo did not single out specific elected officials, but spokeswoman Mary Gutierrez said she was referring to all lawmakers who have voted against the union on issues including tribal gaming compacts and health-care reform.

The pressure comes as labor seeks to use an election year to boost gains in its demands for better pay and benefits for workers.

"Each contract is unique and every union is different," Durazo said. "But there is a commonality of interests and concerns. Workers are not looking at breaking new ground. Their basic goals are better wages and holding on to their hard-won health-care and pension protections."

Durazo said contract negotiations will be designed to save and build the middle class.

"Our fight for good jobs doesn't just benefit union members," she said. "The community realizes the benefits of our fight for good jobs."

A $3-an-hour increase in wages and health benefits for security workers translates into a $150million investment in the city, she said.

Durazo said the union is planning a 28-mile march from Hollywood to the ports this spring to focus public attention on contract issues.

And she said labor will launch an aggressive political campaign.

"Every resource we spend on politics will help us win contracts," she said. "Every organizing resource will help us win political races."

In addition to state and federal legislative contests this coming year, Durazo said the County Fed wants to play a major role in the race for the 2nd Supervisorial District seat, which retiring Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke is vacating.

The two major candidates for the seat are Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks and state Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles. Ridley-Thomas already has received the backing of the SEIU, Local 721, which represents city workers.

Union invites mayor

Officials said Durazo hopes to have the County Fed issue an endorsement before the end of the year.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was one of two officials, along with State Controller John Chiang, invited to appear before the delegates.

Villaraigosa, a former union organizer, pledged to continue to back union efforts, including requiring labor agreements for major developments, backing a living wage for workers and developing training programs for minorities to prepare for union construction jobs.

"The fact of the matter is that anyone who understands what America is about understands it is because of our middle class - a middle class built largely by the labor movement," Villaraigosa said.

"We should share the idea that as we grow and prosper as a city, everyone benefits from it. That's what the labor movement is all about. I say yes to an L.A. where we are all growing and prospering together."

As part of Monday's gathering, the County Fed released a study by the Economic Roundtable on the impact of the labor movement in Los Angeles.

It estimated there are more than 818,000 union workers in the county accounting for 15percent of the total work force.

Union membership has remained relatively flat since 1990 and union workers are paid an average of $41,000 per year, higher than the average for nonunion members, the study said.

Even with that, however, the study noted that per-capita income in the county is below the state average and continuing to decline despite the rising costs of living.


Unions may be less important than we think

Uncle Uriah Marcus visited us on Thanksgiving. It took over a week to recover. He blames "the @#%$# unions" for most of our state's woes. Uncle Uriah asserts "them big unions scares businesses away from Indiannie."

A sample of his views:

High property taxes: It's the teachers' union fault because they keep pushing up their earnings and reducing their responsibility.

Congestion in cities: Bus workers' unions keep fares too high for anyone to ride the bus.

The battle between the Big Ten network and the cable companies: Professional athletes' unions don't want us watching amateur sports and possibly reducing the ratings for the pro games.

Health care costs: Unions push hospitals to build fancy palaces to keep construction workers employed.

Government: Union members vote as they are told to, as a block, and thus can destroy or make any candidate in any election, anywhere in the state.

The "curse of the unions" is a popular myth in our state. The idea that our economic condition might be much worse without major unions is not considered. Why do we have major unions in Indiana? Because we have the remains of the industrial structure that expanded rapidly between 1940 and 1957, during and following World War II. Mainly, we have the steel and auto firms of the past that have continued to invest in Indiana.

Unions grew up with those firms. The wage and benefit gains made by those unions have made Hoosier communities prosperous for the past 50 years.

Just how important are unions in Indiana? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 334,000 of our 2,787,000 workers were union members in 2006. That is, 12 percent of Hoosier workers belong to unions. The national figure is, [drum roll], 12 percent. Of the 50 states, we rank 21st, lower than Michigan (6th), Illinois (7th), Ohio (16th), but higher than Kentucky (28th).

Where are unions most prevalent? Hawaii (24.7 percent) leads the list, followed by New Jersey, Alaska, New York, and Washington. What do all those states have in common? They are on the coasts and sustain major port facilities. Unions are stronger in transportation and utilities than in any other portion of the private sector.

Where are unions weakest? North Carolina (3.3 percent of workers) followed by South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia. They are part of the old, unindustrialized south, more dependent on military bases than military contractors.

What do unions bring with them? One thing is a questionable certainty: union members earn more than their non-unionized comrades. In 2006, the premium earned by union members was 30 percent over those not in unions. But that may not be comparing comparable jobs.

It may be that the specific industry is more important than the presence or absence of unions in determining wages. For a fair comparison, we'd have to have data for union and non-union workers doing the same jobs, in the same places. Rather than unions scaring businesses from Indiana, may be the firms already here which pay high wages discourage new entrants.

A similar argument can be made about health care spending in Indiana. Our spending per capita was $5,295 or 27th in the U.S. according to Kaiser Family Foundation data for 2004. But an examination of the data reveals no statistically significant correlation between union membership and health care spending. Again the real issue may be our industry mix rather than union membership that shapes our economic condition.

Uncle Uriah may not like it, but we can't continue living by our myths rather than our realities.

Marcus is an economist, writer, and speaker formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.


Traditional AFL-CIO picketing raises complaints

Nonunion workers at the Hilton Garden Inn construction site in Hobart (IN) were victims of an attack that went well beyond a union-based picket line, project superintendent Kim Lackey said Monday. "We were verbally harassed and property was damaged," she said. "These people acted like a mob of crazy lunatics."

Lackey said that Friday, the day of the union pickets, workers at the site found evidence of vandalism, including 14 slashed vehicle tires, a cut phone line to the trailer and epoxy glue in the locks on the gate and the framer's trailer.

Lackey and other workers said the union representatives spewed both racially and sexually biased slurs at them, including targeting Hispanics, blacks and women. "They were totally out of line," she said.

Mike Summers, president of the Northwest Indiana Building Trades Council, said, "I couldn't give you a rebuttal because I wasn't there. I don't believe union picketers slashed any tires or they would have gone to jail. If there was violence on the picket line, the police should have been there and arrested someone."

Carl Lakomek, organizer for the Indiana/Kentucky Regional Council of Carpenters, couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

Summers said project contractor Tampa Enterprises doesn't comply with local standards for wages, health and welfare benefits.

Buford, Ga.- based Tampa Enterprises Inc. is building the $6.7 million, 76,000-square-foot, four-story hotel scheduled to be completed in May.

Tampa Enterprises owner John Tampa called union pickets attempts to make him hire all union workers a form of extortion.

But union spokesmen Summers and Lakomek previously told The Times the general contractor doesn't have to hire all union workers, but they contend he should pay workers wages that meet local standards in order for the region's standard of living to be maintained.

Although no fighting was reported, framer Tad Ohmer showed scratches on his chest that he said were administered by a union picket as he tried to enter the construction site.

"We were attacked," Lackey said.

Chad Crandall, a framing foreman from Lansing, said he was on the roof of the hotel working Friday morning when the union workers began taunting him.

"They were asking me, 'How do you work next to Mexicans, how do you work for a woman?'" Crandall said.

Stucco supervisor Virginel Lapadat, whose ethnic roots are Romanian, said he was told to go back to Mexico by union pickets.

He said he couldn't believe his ears.

"In America, in this century, it's not working. It's unbelievable and a hate crime to be sure," he said.

Hobart police said they received five separate reports of mischief at the construction site at 7775 Mississippi St.

Lt. Dave Evans said the hands of police are tied unless someone saw one of the union workers slash the tires.

"With the union I don't foresee cooperation from them. Unless we can get a witness, it's difficult to prove," he said of the more than $1,000 in damage.


AFL-CIO lets long-striking nurses vote on offer

Hundreds of striking nurses in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia will get to vote on the latest contract offer, but their negotiator called it a flawed proposal yesterday and complained they had no assurances of getting their hospital jobs back.

Pat Tanner, chief negotiator for nurses who walked off their jobs on Oct. 1, said the offer from Appalachian Regional Healthcare could be submitted to striking workers as soon as today, but she was pessimistic about its chances. She said the proposal still came up short on two core issues -- staffing and scheduling.

"We need enough nurses to do our job," Tanner said in a phone interview. "We need a schedule that's fair and not at the sole discretion of the employer, who believes they can do what they want, when they want, to who they want."

Jerry W. Haynes, president and chief executive officer of Appalachian Regional Healthcare, said the latest offer dealt with the union's concerns and said it "offers our nurses the most competitive wage and benefit package in the region." Appalachian includes nine facilities in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

Efforts to end the bitter 2-month-old strike hit another possible snag yesterday when Tanner criticized back-to-work conditions suggested by ARH in a separate proposal. Those terms, she said, would recognize replacement workers at ARH as permanent and gave no guarantees that striking nurses would be welcomed back. Tanner condemned the back-to-work terms as "an outrageous insult."

Jim Smith, an attorney representing ARH in the talks, said it was union negotiators who insisted on discussing a separate strike-settlement agreement. Its approval is not seen by the hospital system as a condition for ratification of a new contract by striking nurses, he said.

ARH submitted the newest contract proposal late last week but set a deadline of today for its ratification. The two sides met again yesterday, though Smith said "we didn't have much face time."

Tanner said union negotiators sought an extension until Saturday but the hospital system refused.

She said the separate back-to-work conditions offered by ARH had hurt efforts to settle the walkout.

Under those conditions, she said, replacement workers would be deemed permanent, and striking nurses would be placed on a preferential recall list.

Smith said the hospital system has so far hired about 150 replacement workers. "We are not going to turn our back on those permanent replacement employees in deference to returning strikers," he said.

Still, he said about 350 of the striking workers would come back to work immediately if the strike ended. Those not rehired immediately would be placed on the recall list.

Tanner estimated that about 500 of the 750 registered nurses at ARH hospitals are still striking. She said the number walking off the job was about 650 initially, but said about 150 have since taken other jobs.


GOP needs to focus on union abuses

The great Talmudic genius, Joshua L. Diskin (1818-1898), led the rabbinic court of Lomza, Poland, circa 1850, when a couple walked in to ask for a divorce. They brought their pet dog along, and the cuddly creature kept rubbing up against the legs of his owners. The writing of the divorce was proceeding apace when Diskin suddenly called the process to a halt, saying it could not be completed that day. Overnight, he sent an investigator to the town where the couple lived. There it was discovered that the man who had accompanied her to court was not her poor cuckolded husband, stuck caring for their kids alone, but a lover conspiring with her to obtain a divorce under false pretenses.

"How did you know?" asked the associate judges. "Before a couple divorces, the dog senses the animosity. He picks the partner he likes most and shuns the other. If the dog was at ease with both, it was unlikely they were really a couple separating."

Something like this happens in politics as well. When there is friction between groups in society, individual politicians pick a side. Looking at the current strike of Hollywood writers against their studios and networks, an odd pattern is emerging. Democrats are supporting the scribblers while Republicans turn a blind eye and a deaf ear. But where is their nose? Can someone please explain to me how Republicans gain by not backing the writers, or which conservative principle would be subverted by such solidarity?

The labor union movement has run afoul of free-market orthodoxy in certain ways. Its leaders have also targeted the Republican Party as a generic counterforce, assuming that party's agenda to be inimical to their cause. The danger is that conservatives, made cynical by the frustration of being treated as the bogeyman, mindful that a hand reaching out to the unions will likely be slapped down, are responding in reflexive rather than reasoned ways. Anytime a union does an action, the conservative will give a knee-jerk equal and opposite reaction.

This type of behavior wreaks havoc with an image of ideological constancy. And it is hard to see how you can win in this way.

Let's break it down. A union is intrinsically a capitalist entity just like a company. The company sells widgets to the public, the union sells labor to the company. The union acts as a wholesaler, just like the company that sells steel and machinery to the widget company. Labor is as much a component of the widget as the steel. We all know companies that provide labor, a maid service for instance. The value of the labor is determined by market conditions, enhanced somewhat by bringing many individual maids together to assure availability. There is no reason to see a labor union any differently.

That is in pure economic terms. In reality a few phenomena distort this vision. One is the fact that many unions emerged from the catalyst of socialism and are still intoxicated by its matrix. They see the world as big guy vs. little guy, user vs. used, predators vs. prey. Another problem is the politics of naming officers in the union, with its attendant potential for thuggery. Add to that a big pot of dues money and the recipe for corruption is complete. The union tends to see itself as a government-type structure rather than a company-type, as doing a service for unfortunates in its ranks rather than as selling a good to a consumer at its highest value.

Consequently, conservative politicians should only be motivated by theory to oppose closed shops, rigged elections, skewed allocation of dues and irresponsible strikes against the public interest. The idea of resisting any action because it was initiated by a labor union is groundless, pointless and fruitless.

A writers union fits into the capitalist model even more than a union of, say, auto workers. People who actually fashion a full-blown concept from the stuff of their own imagination are more accurately described as selling a good than providing labor. If the networks and studios have expanded their potential incomes by incorporating the Internet as a market, that should eventually ramify to the benefit of the inventors of the product, namely the writers.

Conservatives, libertarians, and other free-market types would be better served by standing behind the concept of productive members of society organizing voluntarily to negotiate a fair price for their output. They are not acting like royalty, only scrounging for royalties. And it's not like management in Hollywood is any friendlier to conservatives. Just because some union thugs write the script for Republicans to be the bad guys, there is no reason for them to accept the role.

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator. He also writes for Human Events.


Newspaper attempts to ditch Teamsters

The Seattle Times Co. says it plans to outsource its trucking operations and vehicle maintenance early next year, a move that could eliminate up to 80 company jobs.

In a memo to supervisors Monday, Vice President Alan Fisco said The Times signed a preliminary letter of intent last week to transfer those functions to Penske Logistics, a global transportation-services company.

Most of the 80 affected employees are represented by Teamsters Local 174. Rick Hicks, the local's secretary-treasurer, said the Times' tentative agreement with Penske "means nothing," and suggested it could be a contract-bargaining ploy. "I'm not of the opinion that it's a done deal," he said.

The Times' contract with the union expires Feb. 28. Fisco's memo said Penske would take over Feb. 29.

The Times' truck fleet is aging, Fisco wrote, and replacing it would cost $3 million. Other newspapers have saved money by outsourcing their trucking operations, he added.

"We will do our best to create as many opportunities as possible for the affected employees," Fisco wrote, "including an agreement from Penske that they will offer a majority of their openings to qualified Times garage employees, drivers and managers."

Times spokeswoman Jill Mackie said Monday that she did not know how many people Penske would hire. But she said The Times chose Penske, in part, because it has operated successfully with a union work force elsewhere.

The Times also prints and distributes the smaller Seattle Post-Intelligencer under a 24-year-old joint operating agreement (JOA). The two newspapers maintain separate newsrooms.

Hicks, the Teamsters official, said the local plans to meet with The Times soon to discuss the outsourcing move, but that meeting hasn't been scheduled. Leaders of all unions representing Times employees also plan to meet soon to discuss the development, he added.

"Our members are concerned," Hicks said.

The Times, like most other metropolitan dailies, has suffered from declining advertising revenues in recent years, and has made a number of moves to cut costs. In 2005 it outsourced its customer-service operation to Wisconsin, eliminating 45 jobs.


Gov't union wants paid sick days for all

When you're sick do you go to work and ignore your symptoms, or stay home and give up a day of your paycheck?

The Service Employees International Union says far too many folks have to make that choice. Almost 300,000 working West Virginians do not get any paid sick days.

Now, the local SEIU wants to introduce a bill that would require employers with 25 or more employees to let their workers earn paid sick days. The union says the bill will be introduced to the state legislature in January.


Prison union rejects negotiated contract

The Michigan Corrections Organization today became the second union in recent weeks to turn down a new contract with the state. Members of the 8,800-member union representing corrections officers and forensics officers rejected the three-year pact on a 54 percent to 46 percent margin, according to MCO executive director Mel Grieshaber.

Changes in overtime provisions and increased premiums and co-pays for health insurance were factors in members turning the contract down, Grieshaber said.

The Michigan State Employees Association turned its contract down last month, while members of the Service Employees International Union Local 517M and UAW Local 6000 ratified theirs.

AFSCME Council 25 officials were counting ballots on their contract this afternoon.

All of the agreements called for no raise in October 2008, a 1 percent raise in October 2009 and a 3 percent raise in October 2010.


Building inspectors' strike slows San Jose

Dozens of San Jose building inspectors continue to picket today outside City Hall in the second day of a rare strike, threatening to hold up commercial and residential construction projects citywide.

The strike by the 90-member Association of Building, Mechanical and Electrical Inspectors marked the first walkout by city workers in more than two decades. Concerned San Jose officials hired two private inspection firms in an effort to keep projects on track, and they notified developers that most inspections this week would have to be rescheduled.

"We have lots and lots of projects throughout the city that need to keep moving," Mayor Chuck Reed said.

It remains unclear how disruptive the strike would be to development around San Jose. Several builders with major projects in the works declined to comment or did not return phone calls. Tom Brim, the union's president, said, "I'm sure it's slowing down jobs quite a bit."

The city's building inspectors, who earn average salaries of about $94,000, handle anywhere from half a dozen to 15 inspections daily, depending on the size of the project. Those projects can range from a home remodeling to a high-rise office building or condominium.

How much the strike gums up construction depends on how long it lasts. The last strike by San Jose employees was in 1986, when city electrical workers spent five days on the picket lines before reaching an agreement over workers' compensation benefits for disabled retirees.

The walkout comes amid rising labor tensions between San Jose and its roughly 7,000 unionized workers. City leaders have sought wage and benefit concessions to slow rising personnel costs and help cure recurring budget deficits. The city must cut $25 million to balance next year's budget.

But the issue that sparked the walkout wasn't pay and benefits but disciplinary procedures that city officials assumed were long settled. The inspectors say they want to keep a right city officials say they never had: to have an arbitrator settle discipline disputes.

"It's not about money," Brim said. "We feel strongly that it's a right that must be defended."

The dispute began with the 2005 firing of a building inspector accused of using foul language at job sites and doing personal business on city time. The union filed a grievance claiming that his dismissal "without just or good cause" violated the labor contract. A grievance would allow the dispute to be decided by an arbitrator, typically a retired judge chosen by both sides to settle matters out of court.

The city argued that the inspector could only appeal his firing to the San Jose Civil Service Commission, whose five members are appointed by the city council. Some union officials say workers see the commission as a "rubber stamp" for the council, which the commission chairman denies.

The union sued and a judge agreed to send the grievance to an arbitrator, who sided with the inspectors. A decision on the fired inspector is pending. Now city officials want the union's new contract to make clear that disciplinary matters are not subject to grievance or arbitration.

Officials say arbitrating discipline, which can cost $10,000 and take 10 months, is more costly and time-consuming than the civil service process. But they also acknowledge the dispute is more about management efficiency than money.

"If we believe someone should be terminated, the cost to the city if it loses is having an employee that city management feels shouldn't be there," said City Attorney Rick Doyle.

At least one union this year agreed to new contract language specifying its workers cannot seek arbitration over discipline. But the city's largest employee union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 101, backed the building inspectors' fight.

"This is an outrageous assault on our rights as workers," said Local 101 President Erik Larsen, whose union represents about 3,000 workers, including janitors and librarians. He urged members to join the picket line before and after work and during breaks.

Although negotiations continued throughout the day, both sides said they were prepared to weather a long strike if necessary.

Planning Director Joe Horwedel, who oversees the inspectors, said he told developers weeks ago they should hire private inspectors in the event of a strike. And he said the city should be able to manage the inspection workload with 22 private inspectors and four recent hires who remained on the job because they are still considered probationary.

It was unclear Thursday what the daily cost of those private contracts would be, although the city manager can pay up to $250,000 before having to seek City Council approval.

The council's labor-friendly tone over the last two decades has hardened since Reed was elected mayor last year. He was joined by new council members who share his goal of curbing costs to tame budget deficits.

Councilman Pete Constant, a former police union official, said it seemed clear to him the building inspectors' contract did not give them arbitration rights in disciplinary action. And Reed said he has no intention of granting such a right in a new contract, saying the civil service system is "speedy, inexpensive and fair" as well as open to the public.

But Vice Mayor Dave Cortese believes the employees' last contract, which expired Oct. 19, did imply a right to arbitrate disciplinary disputes.

"I can understand why the employees are upset," he said. "I'd like to believe that there's a compromise."


Steelworkers won't stand for slander

Morry Taylor, chief executive of Titan International Inc., which owns Des Moines-based Titan Tire, is a defendant in a slander trial that began Monday in U.S. District Court in Des Moines.

About 20 former and current Titan employees allege they were slandered when Taylor, at a news conference in 2000, falsely accused them of filing fraudulent worker compensation claims as part of union tactics during a long United Steelworkers strike at Titan's agricultural tire plant in Des Moines.

Taylor announced at the conference that he was suing the union and some individual members of the union, alleging that strike-related union activities amounted to "racketeering" under federal law. The lawsuit was settled in 2006; the union paid no damages.

Randy Shanks, a Council Bluffs lawyer for the workers, said their compensation claims for hearing loss were legitimate and were upheld.

Gene LaSuer, a lawyer for Taylor, said the employees weren't defamed because they weren't sufficiently identified during the news conference and weren't damaged. LaSuer also said Taylor's statements were substantially true because compensation claims from about 60 other workers named in the lawsuit were dismissed.


Teachers union boss has tough act to follow

The Racine Education Association has hired a new executive director. Nicholas Whitman started Monday as head of the two unions — the REA and the Racine Educational Assistants Association — that represent 2,100 Unified School District employees.

Whitman replaces Dennis Wiser who was let go more than a year ago after the union chose not to renew his contract. He most recently worked as the North Dakota Education Association’s executive director in 2007.

Whitman graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School with an emphasis in labor and employment law. While in law school, he represented AFSCME and AFT-affiliated graduate student teaching assistants. Whitman also interned with the United States Department of Labor in Chicago. He practiced law in Milwaukee with the labor and employment law firm, Krukowski and Costello, S.C.

Whitman follows Wiser, who followed Jim Ennis, who ran the REA for more than 25 years and was known for his staunch defense of teachers and combative relationship with Unified School District officials. Under Ennis, REA teachers developed an aggressive style that reached its peak during a 50-day teacher strike of 1977.

Wiser served as executive director for five years. Before that, he served as union president for six years and in various other union roles since 1979. Wiser worked as a high school math teacher before taking the full-time executive director post.

Clay Marquardt has served as the union’s interim executive director since October 2006.

The executive director is responsible for negotiating union contracts with the school district’s administrators, as well as managing association staff and oversees the two unions’ financial affairs.


Tax workers protests threaten 'paralysis'

A group of 55,000 tax workers demonstrated across Egyptian provinces for higher wages and better working conditions on Monday, vowing to start an indefinite strike and stop collecting taxes until their demands were met.

The workers had similarly protested last October. According to the workers, who are all members of the property tax department, their counterparts in departments run by the Ministry of Finance receive better benefits, a notion which they deem 'unfair.'

The protestors picketed the cabinet, organizing a march that started from its headquarters, demanding that discrepancies in wages be eliminated and asking for bonuses 'in compensation for the years of hard work' where their rights were abused, according to local newspapers which ran a preview of the picket.

In Arish, 380 kilometres north-east of Cairo, tax workers told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that state security personnel have given them orders not to strike or join their fellow workers in Cairo.

However, a source from the tax department who requested anonymity, said that a group of employees had already traveled to the Egyptian capital to join the larger protests there despite of the ban.

The workers meanwhile stand alone as their union refuses to back up their protests.

Hussein Mugawer, head of the labor union, told al-Masri al-Yom newspaper that the workers' pleas are legitimate but they do not have the union's support when it comes to strikes and protests.

'A strike will complicate ongoing negotiations (with the government),' Mugawer said. 'The policy of arm-twisting that the workers is following will not work (with the cabinet) and it will complicate maters more.'

Makram Labib, a unionist, told the same newspaper that the tax workers strikes - if they happen - could be the biggest of their kind and could cause what he described as a 'paralysis' in the tax department.


Teamsters raid AMFA dues at United

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters says it will force an election to replace the current union representing United Airlines mechanics, including more than 1,000 in Chicago.

The vote could come within six weeks, Teamsters officials said today. That’s about the same time United expects to decide whether to spin off the company’s maintenance business. Potential suitors are reviewing the books on the operation, and United said it’s expected to begin weighing any offers after the first of the year.

The Teamsters says it is ready to file a petition with the National Mediation Board to call a vote among United’s mechanics. During a conference call with reporters Monday, the Teamsters vowed to “do everything in our power to prevent the sale of the maintenance operations.”

The company took no position on the possible union vote. “The choice of representation is up to employees,” a spokeswoman said.

The Teamsters have gathered enough signatures among United mechanics over the past two years to force a vote.

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, which now represents the mechanics, said it is keeping options open on the possible sale until it sees a proposal. “As we have seen with other union struggles, burying our heads in the sand is not a viable option,” said Joe Priso, president of AMFA Local 9 in San Francisco.

If the Teamsters win, it would be the second change in unions for the mechanics in just a few years. AMFA unseated the International Association of Machinists as the union representing mechanics in 2003.

A union vote could potentially backfire.

If a majority of workers and those on furlough do not select any union, mechanics would become non-union. That could help United, which analysts say is likely to need agreement from the mechanics to do a deal.

About 6,400 active workers, and 4,000 furloughed workers, are eligible to vote, the Teamsters estimate. The largest concentration, about 4,500, are in San Francisco. Chicago is second-largest at about 1,300.

“In a four-year reign, they’ve done nothing to secure better wages and benefits,” Kevin Giegoldt, 21-year mechanic at O’Hare, said during the Teamsters conference call with reporters.


Picket captains explain striker-theory

Dem candidate reads the union catechism

Related Posts with Thumbnails