Union Labor Comes At Too High A Cost

By now, Garage Mahal at the Union Station is legend in the City of Worcester (MA). Hire only union contractors and spend $21.5 million to build a parking garage half the size of one in Lowell that cost the same amount of money.

Hiring union only - done under a mechanism called a project labor agreement- is financial madness, especially when taxpayer dollars are being spent. But it continues, even today, as the University of Massachusetts Medical School's new $90 million clinical practice center is constructed under a PLA. Non-union need not apply.

Investment Potential

PLAs do more than block Greater Worcester open-shop contractors from bidding to work on publicly funded projects. PLAs do more than deny 80 percent of the construction workforce a chance to work. They raise taxes and stifle economic development, making it everyone's business.

PLAs add 14 to 20 percent to the cost of projects, according to a study of public school construction by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University. BHI has demonstrated that PLAs add a whopping $16.51-per-square-foot to construction costs. That's an additional $2.1 million tacked onto the cost of a 125,000-square-foot building.

Applying BHI's figures, consider the impact of paying $4 million more than necessary for a parking garage. What else could Worcester do with $4 million? How about invest the savings into other economic development projects or return it to property taxpayers, especially businesses who pay a higher rate?

Again, applying BHI's figures, UMass Medical could have saved as much as $18 million, which could have gone to construct another facility or perhaps cover free care for the indigent. And new tenants in the building would benefit by paying lower rents.

It is an indisputable fact that 80 percent of the construction workforce in Massachusetts is non-union, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the one and only official source for such data. The PLAs deny 80 percent of the Greater Worcester construction workforce the chance to work on projects, creating a drag on the local economy as these hardworking people struggle to earn a living.

While local businesses pay high property and state taxes that pay for PLAs, their customers have less to spend because they are locked out of public jobs in their own neighborhoods. The sweetheart deals for unions rob local businesses of much needed income to pay for essentials and stay competitive.

Despite the additional cost of PLAs, they offer no measurable benefit. State law already guarantees workers on public construction projects are paid the same wages and benefits and have the same training and licensing. A favorite argument of union leaders is quality and no delay, but there is no reliable measure of quality, and they seem to forget that the Big Dig - billions over budget, years behind schedule and plagued by leaks and a collapsing ceiling - was built using a PLA.

Fair and open competition in public bidding is the American way. Labor unions should compete on the same playing field as anyone else. No more special deals at the expense of taxpayers and businesses.

The open-shop community is not getting or looking for any special deals or handouts. So why should the vocal and politically connected unions get them at taxpayers' expense?

Ronald N. Cogliano is executive director of the Merit Construction Alliance, an organization based in Kingston that advocates for non-union construction firms.


Birth of union activity in post-Soviet Russia

Workers at a Ford factory near St. Petersburg have defied a ban and resumed picketing, the plant's trade union chief said on Tuesday. "We have agreed on a picket. Today a total of 300 people came to the plant [to picket]," Alexei Etmanov said.

Local authorities banned picketing at the plant on Monday. The trade union and management are set to hold more talks on Tuesday in a bid to reach a solution to the three-week strike.

Some 1,000 workers at the factory halted production on November 20, demanding a 30% pay rise. Average wages at the U.S. auto giant's sole Russian plant are about 21,000 rubles ($860) a month.

Although production has been partially resumed at the sole Ford factory in Russia, the plant is still failing to reach target output levels. On Monday, the factory produced only 73 of the 300 cars requested by management.

Around 750 workers are presently on strike. The factory employs some 2,000 people. The ongoing Ford strike has been heralded by many Russian social observers as the birth of organized union activity in post-Soviet Russia.

Unions in the U.S.S.R were mainly concerned with productivity, morale and the organization of workers' annual holidays. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the role of trade unions in society became somewhat vague, and the Ford pickets represent the strongest union action in Russia for many years.

Boris Kravchenko, president of the All-Russian Confederation of Labor, has said the workers are not civic heroes, but simply "fighting to improve their work conditions."


AFL-CIO hosts global union confab in D.C.

Racist Philadelphia union thugs count no minorities

Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, Thursday told City Council he believes it is nearly impossible to discover the minority membership of Philadelphia trade unions.

City Council didn't like that answer. It wants more minority participation in big public works projects like the proposed $700 million expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center. Frustrated by and doubting Mr. Gillespie's claim the minority make-up of the unions was impossible to determine, Council's Committee of the Whole decided to amend the agreement authorizing the Convention Center expansion to allow non-union companies to participate. If the agreement passes as amended next week, and it's expected to, it would be a historic moment in Philadelphia labor history.

The amendment permits the Convention Center to create a project labor agreement (PLA) that allows contracts to go to the lowest responsible bidder, regardless of whether the bidder is a union contractor, as long as the company pays the prevailing wage (the highest wage).

Councilman Frank DiCicco, who offered the Pennsylvania Convention Center expansion legislation, was ready to ask to hold the bill in committee over the issue of union minority disclosure. Even now that the bill has been unanimously voted out of committee, Mr. DiCicco refuses to say whether he will allow a vote on the bill next week or hold it.

If he decides to hold the bill the Convention Center expansion would not be able to proceed until at least February.

Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau President Tom Muldoon testified a delay would be a disaster.

"I have to tell [our clients by this week] we will be ready by 2011," Mr. Muldoon stated. "If it is not [passed next week] we will have to cancel the [bookings for] the first part of 2011. We already cancelled six major conventions for 2010. We stopped selling 2010 six months ago. We have quietly walked away from 2010. We are beginning to lose our credibility."

That testimony likely persuaded Mr. DiCicco to allow the amended bill to be voted out of committee.

Mr. DiCicco on Thursday dropped his attempt to hold the Convention Center expansion hostage to his fight against the state mandated casino sites in Philadelphia.

He had proposed holding all licenses and permits for the casinos until the governor agreed in writing to release the expansion funding.

Now Mr. DiCicco has decided he can use the jobs promised by the Convention Center expansion to pressure the unions into disclosing their minority membership. Local unions are often accused of deliberately keeping minority membership low and, despite frequent public calls to do so, have refused to release information on their racial makeup.

"In 12 years the unions have done nothing and nothing has changed in the area of increasing minority participation," Mr. DiCicco complained introducing his amendments. "[It's time] we do business by allowing non-union contractors to hire [minority workers]. It requires the bidding to be an open process whether it involves union or non-union bidders.

"I'd still like to see the numbers. It's clear Mr. Gillespie is not coming forth with the numbers," he said.

Convention Center CEO Al Mezzaroba was unperturbed by the amendment.

"This allows non-union contractors to bring their existing staff with them," he shrugged. "The project labor agreement will allow a successful non-union bidder to bring their own people provided they are paying prevailing wage. This has never been done before. I don't know think there is another PLA with this kind of language in it."


UMW dues-embezzler headed to Club Fed

Danny Beyser, 52, of Moundsville was found guilty in federal court on Monday for embezzling union funds. Beyser was indicted back in June for embezzling funds from Local Union 1638 of the United Mine Workers of America between June of 2002 and June of 2005. Beyser was the financial secretary during that time period.

He will be sent to jail for a year and will have a supervised release of three years. Beyser will have to pay over $50,000 back to the union.

Beyser pled guilty on October 2nd to the charge of embezzling union funds. The union lost over $83,000. Beyser is currently free on bond and will report himself to his designated federal prison.


Pennsylvania gets an "F" for Worker Freedom

A report card from the Alliance for Worker Freedom gives Pennsylvania an "F" for meeting none of the ten measures of worker freedom.
As with all states having such a low grade, legislation that helps worker freedom should always be considered. However, with a public sector union membership of over 50 percent, switching from a defined benefit pension system to a defined contribution pension will help over 360,000 workers obtain a higher degree of freedom. Giving these workers defined contribution pensions will allow for a greater degree of personal control over the investment; as well as the portability that adds to their financial security.

Overall, any policy or legislation recommended in this Index would be ideal for Pennsylvania to move toward an environment where worker freedom is protected. From right to work laws to paycheck protection, the employees in this state would benefit from improvements on any of the ten variables examined in this Index.
States with higher worker freedom also have strong economic growth, whereas states with low worker freedom - like PA - have slower growth. Get the full report here.


UFCW in desperation move against TV chef

Paula Deen's restaurant in downtown Savannah draws in hundreds of visitors, but some visitors today are not the kind she may want. Union organizers have rallied their troops and are protesting outside the Lady and Sons on Congress Street. About 40 protesters showed up Monday evening.

Her face is plastered all over the flyers handed out this afternoon, but these aren't happy fans of Paula Deen. "We want Paula to keep her promise," said protester Rigo Valdez.

Valdez and other union members are in Savannah to protest Paula, and rally support for workers at Smithfield Pork processing plant in Tar Heel, who they claim want to form a union to improve alleged poor working conditions.

Deen is a spokesperson for Smithfield products. "We're fans of Paula, that's what bothers us the most," said Brett Hulme, president of the Savannah Regional Central Labor Council. He says Paula needs to keep her word. "She promised on Larry King Live ... August 1."

In the interview, Deen says she met with workers in the past and they seemed happy, even voting against unionizing. "I've been to the plant, met with workers, by myself, no one around," she said. "It's a beautiful company."

"We feel like if she finds out the real story, she'll sing a different tune," said Hulme.

"This is a real desperation move," said Dennis Pittman, the spokesman for Smithfield Pork plant. He says the unions are using propaganda to try to boost membership. "The press release says workers are being beaten, and abused," he said. "It's not happening. There's no way anyone would put up with that situation in a work environment today."

But the message is still being put out there, and the people want Paula Deen to listen.

"The longer she waits, the more people will be hurt in this plant," said Valdez.

This afternoon, Deen released the following statement:
I'm a mother, a grandmother and a cook. I cook for my family, my fans and my customers. That's what I'm an expert at. I wouldn't want a union organizer waiting on tables in my restaurant, no more than they would want me messin' around at their bargaining table. I'm just trying to run a business that was built by good folks who have been like family to me for the past 20 years. The UFCW's attempts to use my name to further their cause is disrupting the livelihoods of my employees, who are trying to earn a living and serve our valued customers. Here's all I need to know about this union issue: I've talked to Smithfield employees in Tar Heel, and they told me they want this settled with a secret-ballot election. And that will happen once the union agrees. It's the American way, as I see it.

Ex-teachers union president arrested

Bloggers and free speech advocates are calling on prosecutors not to file charges against a teacher arrested for allegedly posting an anonymous comment online praising the Columbine shooters.

Some were disturbed by the post police say James Buss left on a conservative blog, but other observers said it was a sarcastic attempt to discredit critics of education spending.

The suburban Milwaukee high school chemistry teacher was arrested last week for the Nov. 16 comment left on http://www.bootsandsabers.com, a blog on Wisconsin politics. The comment, left under the name "Observer," came during a discussion over teacher salaries after some commenters complained teachers were underworked and overpaid.

Buss, a former president of the teacher's union, allegedly wrote that teacher salaries made him sick because they are lazy and work only five hours a day. He praised the teen gunmen who killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide in the April 1999 attack at Columbine High School.

"They knew how to deal with the overpaid teacher union thugs. One shot at a time!" he wrote, adding they should be remembered as heroes.

The comment disturbed at least one teacher, who called police in West Bend, 40 miles north of Milwaukee and home of the blog's administrator. Police traveled to arrest Buss at his home in Cudahy, south of Milwaukee, last week after the blogger gave them the anonymous poster's IP address.

After his arrest, Buss spent an hour in the Washington County jail before he was released on $350 bail. He did not return phone messages and e-mails seeking comment, and it was unclear whether he had a lawyer.

Washington County District Attorney Todd Martens is considering whether to charge Buss with disorderly conduct and unlawful use of computerized communication systems.

"If you look at all the factors in this case, it's pretty clear it would be a mistake to charge," said Larry Dupuis, legal director of The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. "At worst, it was somebody expressing admiration for somebody who did something reprehensible. But the more reasonable explanation is this is somebody who is trying to mock the conservative view of teacher salaries."

Police Capt. Toby Netko defended the arrest. He said the teacher who complained was disturbed by the reference to "one shot at a time" and other educators agreed it was a threat.

"What happens when you say bomb in an airport? That's free speech, isn't it?" he said. "And people are taken into custody for that all the time."

Donald Downs, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and expert in free speech, said that "all sorts of unsavory, controversial speech" are protected by the First Amendment.

"It has to be intended to incite violence" to be illegal, Downs said. "If it's tongue-in-cheek, there's virtually no way they can claim that."

Downs added, however, that the school district might have legal grounds to discipline Buss. The teacher has been placed on paid administrative leave while his school district considers what action to take.

Sara Larsen, superintendent of the Oak Creek school district where Buss has worked since 1994, said she was "dismayed, disappointed and discouraged" by the posting. She had worked closely with Buss when he was president of the teacher's union for three years ending in 2006.

"It's not something that I would have expected any teacher to do. As much as teachers understand the whole situation in Columbine, to reference that is certainly inappropriate," she said.


SEIU expertise at manipulating absentee voting

Presidential hopefuls might want to heed the findings of a new statewide poll on California's absentee voters.

The California Field poll shows that almost half of all the ballots cast in California are done so in the days and even weeks before Election Day - and it's a trend that's growing, with more than a quarter of voters registered as permanent absentee voters.

By the numbers: The growth of California registered voters who are permanent mail ballot registrants (Feb. '07 figure is a projection):

• Nov. 2002 8.1 percent
• Oct. 2003 10.8 percent
• Nov. 2004 16.4 percent
• Nov. 2005 20.9 percent
• Nov. 2006 25.2 percent
• Feb. 2007 27.2 percent
Source: California Secretary of State, Voter Contract Service

So, although California's primary is held on Feb. 5, it's almost certain more voters here will cast their votes in January than in New Hampshire and Iowa combined. Absentee ballots will be mailed out on Jan. 7.

That has put a premium on California's early voters and has driven campaigns - particularly those with huge warchests - into unknown territory as they try to lock in voters almost a full month before the actual primary.

"They want to make sure they get the vote in the can," said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College, "before voters have a chance to change their mind."

In a related development, Yolo County Clerk-Recorder Freddie Oakley is preparing to ask supervisors if she can go to all-mail voting as a means of improving turnout and saving money.

Oakley has previously written on the cost of the most recent election compared to turnout.

She noted that of 84,889 registered voters in Yolo County, only 23.39 percent of them, or 19,856, participated in the decision-making by casting ballots.

"Using figures from past elections, I know that the cost of running an election is about $4 per registered voter," she wrote. "That means the taxpayers of Yolo County just paid about $17.10 per voted ballot.

Of the Nov. 6 election, Oakley stated that 58.71 percent were cast b mail-in ballots. At $2.50 per vote cast, with 11,658 absentees voting, that mail ballot (absentee) portion of the election cost about $29,000.

Oakley's idea is that an all-postal vote would apply, only to local, non-partisan and district elections, not state and federal elections.

California's absentee voters - who tend to be slightly more Republican and conservative - have changed how candidates approach the state, said Ron Nehring, the chairman of the state Republican Party.

"Early voting means the decision-making period for voters is not just days before election day, but over a full month," Nehring said. "It's given rise to the need to communicate with voters over a longer period of time. Election Day is no longer a one-day crescendo."

The two leading candidates in California - New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani - have put massive resources into locking in their voters before the Feb. 5 primary, political observers say.

Clinton signaled she'd aggressively pursue absentee voters, said Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist who supports Clinton, by hiring Bay Area political consultant Ace Smith to run her California campaign. Smith used sophisticated absentee voter contact campaigns to help elect Attorney General Jerry Brown last year, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in previous years.

"One of the hallmarks in each campaign was the fact that they had organized an absentee program where they absolutely racked up enormous numbers," Lehane said. "Ace was one of the first to recognize that you're not looking at elections as a one-day affair."

Giuliani has been aggressive in pursuing absentee voters, a spokesman from his campaign said. Giuliani has made 11 trips, spending a total of nearly a month, in California - more than any other GOP candidate - and all the while stressing the importance of contacting absentee voters.

"We've made sure as we communicate with voters that they know the options and the legal procedures for voting early," said Jarrod Agen, the spokesman. "In a state like California where the mayor has visited so many times, we're confident those voters will continue to vote for him regardless of what the outcome is in other states."

Candidates with smaller warchests, though, can compete for absentee voters because it's cheaper than having to run on-air campaigns, said Art Torres, the chairman of the Democratic State Party.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, for instance, could tap into absentee voters with the help of the California branch of the Service Employees International Union, which endorsed him.

"They know how to mail and organize and get voters to send in absentee ballots," said, Torres, who believes that SEIU's organizational advantage could put Edwards on equal footing with Clinton or Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

Democratic California strategist Sarah Leonard said campaigns are also vying for ways to convert traditional voters into absentee voters.

"It's a heightened persuasion campaign," Leonard said. "You have to first persuade them to mail in their absentee request forms. It's tough because you're trying to persuade them to do something they're not familiar with. And once they do, you have to persuade them to vote for you."

Some campaigns might even get their TV advertising campaigns going as early as mid-December, said Larry Gerston, political science professor at San Jose State University.

"These voters have to be worked on three to four weeks earlier than normal," Gerston said. "Anyone who waits until a week or two before the primary will have cost him or herself a huge portion of the electorate."

Absentee votes will be getting their ballots in the mail at the height of the political drama sure to unfold in the first two contests - four days after Iowa's caucus and a day before the New Hampshire primary. Which means the early voters may be more susceptible to the momentum that comes out of those events.

Or not.

"It'll be a seminal event," said Leonard, the Democratic strategist. "We haven't had this before, so it's anybody's guess as to how California will react.

"It's an opportunity for California's electorate to show its personality to the national conventional wisdom folks. We'll see if California proves to be an electorate that goes along with the momentum or is a contrarian bunch."


UAW mum as Navistar CEO sets pow-wow with strikers

Navistar International Corp. CEO Daniel Ustian will meet with leaders from the United Auto Workers Union to discuss the company’s latest contract offer to striking union members.

The union asked for a meeting with the Warrenville-based truck and engine maker’s top leadership. A spokesman for the company confirmed that Mr. Ustian will participate in a meeting scheduled for Tuesday in Chicago. The union’s bargaining committee has been studying the company’s latest offer since talks broke off nearly a week ago.

The UAW has been on strike since Oct. 23. The union represents about 4,000 Navistar employees, including about 700 at an engine plant in west suburban Melrose Park. Workers also are on strike at Navistar sites in Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Texas.

The company is believed to be asking union workers to pay a greater portion of the costs for their health care insurance and other benefits in exchange for keeping unionized assembly plants open in the coming years. The company maintains that it needs to lower costs for the unionized plants to remain competitive. During the strike, the company has been relying on nonunion plants in Texas and Mexico to continue production of trucks.

“This deal outlines change for sure, but it’s done in the right way and maintains a good quality of life for our current employees and those heading into retirement,” said Jeff Bowen, Navistar’s vice-president for human resources, in a recorded message released Monday. “The ball remains in the union’s court.”

Calls to union for comment were not immediately returned.


Ex-UFCW official files lawsuit against UFCW

Wayne Ralph is suing the union he was president of for six years. Ralph had been a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 1252 since 1988, and stepped down as boss in March 2002.

Ralph's claim is that he agreed to step down as president of the local and resign from being employed with the union, in exchange for certain health and welfare benefits, including long-term disability insurance.

The national UFCW and Local 1252, both defendants in the lawsuit, denied the allegations in Ralph's 2006 statement of claim in their response this fall.

He claims the national union and the local agreed to enroll him in a health and welfare plan through to Dec. 31, 2005, and that the local would pay the premiums and enrollment charges.

"Ralph has, for many years, suffered from various health problems, including diabetes, for which he requires certain prescription drugs and medical attention on an ongoing basis," says the statement of claim, filed by St. John's lawyer Chris King of McInnes Cooper.

Ralph claims he sought assurances in phone conversations with a national official that after his resignation he would "continue to be eligible for, and receive if necessary, the same level of benefits to which he was entitled under the group benefits plan as an employee of Local 1252."

At the time, the national union owned the local's group benefits plan, the Atlantic Fisheries Benefit Trust. Ralph claims that on the basis of that assurance, he went ahead and resigned as president.

Two months later, the national union and the local terminated the Atlantic Fisheries Benefit Trust and contracted with Great West Life Assurance Company.

In 2002 and '03, Ralph's medical condition worsened and his doctor concluded he was unable to work.

In March 2004, he filed a claim for long-term disability with Great West Life, and the national union and the local were supposed to send in an employer claim submission for disability benefits, but he claims that wasn't done until July of that year, causing a delay. In September 2004, Ralph's claim for long-term disability benefits was denied "on the basis that he was not actively at work at the time of his disability."

Any obligation the union had to enrol Ralph in the plan was honoured, the union claims, contending that Ralph's argument is with Great West Life, which is not named as a defendant.

Ralph is seeking general damages and special damages for long-term disability benefits.


A labor-city so big they had to name it twice

With the city’s office-building market booming year after year, the janitors, doormen and elevator operators who keep those buildings running want their share.

The union representing 26,000 workers at 1,000 New York City office buildings says these workers may strike on New Year’s Day if the sizable wage increases they want in a new contract are denied.

Negotiations between the two sides have grown more tense, with the union saying that building owners can easily afford to pay significant raises because rents are soaring, while industry officials say it would be foolhardy to grant large raises when the country’s economy seems so shaky.

The union, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, has inserted a big question mark into the bargaining by announcing that it will not tell management negotiators how large a raise it wants until Dec. 27, five days before the contract deadline.

“Clearly, money is the issue,” said Mike Fishman, the union’s president. “We believe the industry is in good shape and has had an incredible three years, while working people are being squeezed out of New York. We need to make sure that our people earn enough money to make it possible to live in the city.”

Union officials repeatedly cite one fact: Average asking rents for office space in New York have soared 47 percent a square foot over the past three years.

For their part, real estate officials repeatedly cite a very different fact: The city’s janitors, doormen and other building service workers are the highest paid such workers in the country. They average $40,500 a year in wages and $55,000 a year when the value of health and pension benefits is included.

“The union’s perspective is that the New York real estate market has done well for the last several years, and they want a piece of the pie,” said Paul Salvatore, general counsel to the Realty Advisory Board on Labor Relations, which negotiates on behalf of the city’s building owners and managers. “Our response is: ‘You have received very fair wages over time. You have consistently beat the cost of living. You have a generous benefits package, and you’re not our partners in the buildings.’”

Mr. Salvatore then cited Wall Street’s troubles, the subprime mortgage crisis and the country’s economic jitters. “We have to do what’s fiscally responsible for the industry, which could be facing a very stormy, choppy period,” he said.

Local 32BJ is planning a rally tomorrow afternoon on Avenue of the Americas between 42nd and 49th Streets, where several thousand union members are expected to vote to authorize a strike.

Union and management are already making plans for a possible walkout. Last Saturday, Mr. Fishman met with strike captains from each of the 1,000 buildings to plan how to mobilize the workers in the event of a strike.

Last Wednesday the Realty Advisory Board sent managers of 1,000 office buildings a detailed manual with advice on how to handle a strike. The manual tells managers, for instance, that they must be sure to pick up the slack if there is a strike, making sure that bathrooms are cleaned, trash baskets emptied and snow removed from sidewalks after a storm.

“They did a good job running the buildings during the last strike,” Mr. Salvatore said.

In 1996, the janitors and other office-building workers staged a one-month strike that caused tenants to grumble about picket lines outside and delays in shoveling snow.

Local 32BJ wants a sizable wage increase in this round of bargaining because in the contract reached three years ago for the office-building workers the union agreed to increases averaging 1.7 percent a year, considerably less than the inflation rate. The union accepted lesser raises because the industry agreed to make an emergency $175 million infusion to keep the union’s health plan solvent.

“We tell them that a 1 percent increase in our compensation will cost them only about 2 cents a square foot,” Mr. Fishman said. “That’s hardly anything compared with the increases they’ve received of more than $20 a square foot in rent since 2004.”

James F. Berg, president of the Realty Advisory Board, said the two sides had agreed to seek a contract of four years, rather than the traditional three years.

“Their demand is for a fair and reasonable wage increase, and, oddly enough, that’s what we want to do,” he said. “The negotiation is determining what that is.”

Officials in the New York City talks said the negotiations would most likely get in the way of their plans to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

“Ultimately this will come down to money, and it will come down to money at the last hour,” Mr. Berg said.


Striking nurses cite greed-caused patient deaths

An ICU nurse at the strikebound Beckley Appalachian Regional Healthcare facility portrayed the 11-week-old contract dispute as a struggle against “corporate greed,” manifested in low staffing levels and forced overtime.

Amy Scott, joined by about 20 other striking nurses from Beckley and Hinton, addressed a Monday news briefing held by West Virginians United For Social and Economic Justice on the 59th anniversary of the United Nations’ declaration of universal human rights.

Nurses struck the ARH chain when their old contract ran out Oct. 1, putting hundreds on picket lines in Kentucky and West Virginia. Scott said the walkout was triggered by “unsafe staffing and mandatory overtime that put patients and nurses at risk.”

Research has shown consistently that higher patient-to-nurse ratios lead to worse outcomes for patients, Scott told listeners gathered at a statue of Sen. Robert C. Byrd in the upper rotunda.

“Patient deaths are being directly attributed to inadequate staffing,” Scott said.

At the Beckley hospital where she works, the registered nurse said a co-worker fell asleep at the wheel en route home from a 16-hour shift and totaled her car in a highway accident.

She said the patient-nurse ratio in the ICU was one to three before the strike and ARH was holding out for 1-to-4 while the national standard was 1-to-2.

“We have bared bad weather, dwindling financial resources, corporate disinformation and lies, and public inattention,” Scott said in describing 71 days on the picket lines.

“But we’re united and remain strong. We know what we’re doing is right. We refuse to place our patients at risk for corporate greed.”

Reflecting on two hot topics in the media — war and national politics — the Rev. Dennis Sparks, head of the West Virginia Council of Churches, suggested smaller government might not be such a good thing, as some are demanding.

“Wouldn’t it be better to have a big government and reduce the size of corporations that are continually fighting our freedoms and taking our freedoms away?” the minister asked.

“I say it’s time we become an America that says human rights of the people are before the incomes, the huge salaries of our CEOs. And let’s get back to what our freedom is about — freedom of the people, and by the people, and for the people.”


Union treasurer convicted for embezzlement

The former treasurer for Tracy’s non-teaching school employees’ union has repaid $5,300 to her union and must spend 750 hours of community service after she was convicted Monday of misdemeanor embezzlement.

Tracy (CA) Unified School District bus driver Lincy Estelle Merritt, 45, of Tracy, pleaded no-contest Monday to the misdemeanor charge in Tracy court. San Joaquin County Deputy District Attorney Stephen Maier said that her lack of a prior criminal record and her effort to make restitution justified the misdemeanor conviction, reduced from the felony charge she faced since she was charged in May.

Court Commissioner Eric Lundberg also sentenced Merritt to three years probation, fined her $230 and told her that she must report back to the court in two months to confirm that she has started her community service, which she must arrange through the Center for Positive Prevention Alternatives in Stockton.

Denise Cheeseman, president of Chapter 98 of the California School Employees Association, and other union members at Monday’s court hearing said they were glad to see the case concluded, but added that the conviction doesn’t resolve all of the problems associated with Merritt’s tenure as union treasurer.

Merritt also reportedly had membership records for the union’s 500 members, but those were never recovered and her attorney, Michael Barkett, and Maier said Merritt doesn’t have those records and doesn’t know where they are.

“If the union believes she has something, it should contact the district attorney and the district attorney will contact me,” Barkett told Lundberg.

Cheeseman said the loss of those records immediately raised fears that union members could fall victim to identity theft if their personal information fell into the wrong hands.

“All of our membership records, all of our past audits and past budgets … We didn’t receive any of that back, so that’s a substantial loss for us,” she said.

Cheeseman said that the $5,300.78 Merritt paid on Monday represents only the money that could be confirmed as stolen, though Merritt was originally accused of taking more than $8,700. The difference, Cheeseman said later, was lost revenue from Merritt’s failure to collect union dues.

Merritt is still employed as a bus driver for the school district. James Mousalimas, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said he could not comment on whether Monday’s conviction will affect Merritt’s employment. He also would not say if a misdemeanor conviction ever affects a school district worker’s employment status.

“We really have to look at all of the facts of the conviction and we don’t have that at this point,” Mousalimas said.


Union Hall goes up in flames

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