Arbitrary, discriminatory, dues-hoarding union

After nearly a four-year delay, a Florida worker has prompted an administrative law judge of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to strike down a nationwide policy of a major international union that requires employees to object annually to prevent union officials from spending their compulsory union dues for political activities.

The policy is a pervasive tactic used by union officials to prevent dissenting employees from reclaiming forced union dues used to promote political causes they oppose.

National Right to Work Foundation attorneys helped Robert Prime, an employee of L-3 Communications Vertex Aerospace, LLC at the Naval Air Station, file unfair labor practice charges in December 2003 against the International Association of Machinists (IAM) union Local Lodge 2777.

The charges alleged that union officials violated Prime's rights by forcing him to renew his objection to funding union political advocacy every single year.

NLRB administrative law judge Michael A. Marcionese issued a ruling from the bench yesterday at the conclusion of a hearing in Pensacola. Marcionese found that the IAM policy was arbitrary, discriminatory, and bordered on being irrational.

Although Foundation attorneys have asked for refunds for any objecting employee nationally within the last four years, the scope of the remedy will remain unclear for the next few weeks until the judge issues a supporting written ruling.

In November 2003, Prime filed an objection with IAM union officials to funding their political activities, as the Foundation-won Communications Workers of America v. Beck decision permits. The Beck decision recognized that workers have the right to refrain from formal union membership and cannot be forced to pay for activities unrelated to collective bargaining. However, when Prime asked union officials to honor his request as a "continuing objection," IAM officials refused, claiming that Prime and his coworkers must object annually because they are not subject to the Railway Labor Act (RLA).

IAM union officials already accept "continuing objections" from railroad and airline employees covered by the RLA due to favorable rulings in prior Foundation cases. However, union officials arbitrarily refuse to abide by those rulings for employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act.

"America's workers may have one fewer hoop to jump through to reclaim their forced dues used for politics," said Stefan Gleason, vice president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. "However, this lengthy legal battle underscores why no one should be forced to pay dues to an unwanted union in the first place."

Florida's highly-popular Right to Work law, on the books since 1944, is one of 22 state laws that secure the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union. However, because Vertex Aerospace employees work on federal property under "exclusive federal jurisdiction," the state's Right to Work law does not protect those workers from being forced to pay union dues to keep their jobs.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, is assisting thousands of employees in over 300 cases nationwide. Its web address is www.nrtw.org.


SEIU racketeers target Bank of America

SEIU is a creative union. They just announced a new initiative to link up their interest in protecting working families (unionized and non-unionized) by targeting banking practices that destroy financial security. In classic union style, they aren't waiving their arms at the financial industry generally. They are taking specific aim at America's biggest bank, Bank of America.

SEIU's explanation is straightforward: As banks have developed new credit card practices, mortgage lending products, and checking account fees, they have been effectively unregulated, free to make up their own rules about how to treat their customers. Through the years, the banks have found more and more ways to trick and trap hard working families, raking in billions. As banks consolidate their power, their economic and political clout grows, and their grip on families gets even tighter.

Now Bank of America is starting to bump up against the long-standing federal prohibition against any single bank controlling more than 10% of the nation's deposits. The union wants to hold banks accountable for how they treat consumers, and it believes this is the time and place to draw a line in the sand. SEIU is calling for better regulation of all credit products, and it is shining a light on B of A's growth, warning regulators not to bend the rules.

The website shows that the union has done its homework. It presents the basic information on BofA: Currently, 1 in 5 credit cards in America is a B of A card. According to SEIU, "Last year alone the bank took in more than $22.4 billion in profits from penalty and service fees on consumers and small businesses. Bank of America’s total deposit service charges—income from fees the bank charges its customers for servicing their accounts—grew by 70 percent between 2002 and 2006 alone."

In addition, SEIU has gathered reports of racial discrimination, tax evasion, job cuts, and failure to abide by promises to local communities. They make the case that deregulation of consumer financial products has been exploited by America's largest bank.

Changing B of A practices would not only make life different for a lot of families who are B of A customers; it would also affect the whole industry. Just like in wage negotiations, getting a leader to make concessions will affect all subsequent negotiations.

Early this year, I said I was glad to see politicians begin to get active on consumer financial issues. We've seen some good smoke, but so far no fire. SEIU brings comes from a different direction. If the union can rally more people to focus on this issue, if it can create some momentum behind its excellent suggestions for reform, if it can cause B of A to rethink some of its practices, and if it can put some heat on Washington to get moving, then the SEIU's announcement could be an important moment. Families need help. SEIU is trying.


Unions lose bellweather Ohio special election

A Republican Ohio state lawmaker won a special congressional election Tuesday, hanging onto to a conservative district despite a strong push by Democrats.

Union-backed groups and Democrats were hoping to steal the seat from the GOP and make a big statement going into the 2008 election in Ohio, which is expected to again have a significant role in determining the next president.

Republican Bob Latta defeated Robin Weirauch to complete the term of U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor who died in September from a fall at his Washington apartment.

Latta, the son of a former Ohio congressman, had 55 percent of the vote and Weirauch had 45 percent with 42 percent of the vote counted. The 5th District in northwest Ohio is conservative and traditionally Republican. No Democrat has won the seat since the 1930s.

But Latta faced a stronger challenge than expected after winning a close primary race in November. Democrats put a lot of time and money into the race, which the party had all but conceded in past elections. Gillmor's death and the expected low turnout of a special election gave the Democrats hope.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $150,000 on ads trying to tie Latta to past GOP scandals in the state. Gov. Ted Strickland campaigned with Weirauch and appeared in one of her TV ads.

Latta had spent about $200,000 on TV commercials since the primary while the National Republican Congressional Committee chipped in $160,000 for spots.

Weirauch, 50, was making her third run for the seat. She has never held a political office. Last year she received more votes — 43 percent — than any other Democrat in the district's history.

Latta, 51, won the GOP nomination Nov. 6 following a bruising primary campaign with state Sen. Steve Buehrer.

Latta ran for Congress in 1988, trying to replace his father, Delbert Latta, who held the seat for 30 years. But he lost in the GOP primary to Gillmor by 27 votes.

Gillmor's term in the 16-county district runs until the end of next year.


Labor-states in race to the bottom

The Alliance for Worker Freedom -- a relatively new offshoot of Americans for Tax Reform -- released its first-ever "Index of Worker Freedom, A National Report Card" last week, a state-by-state summary of workers rights. (Download report here.)

These sorts of rankings are admittedly arbitrary projects: Which data do you choose for your system? Still, the results of this one correlate with our general sense of things. The top five states for worker freedoms: Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Mississippi, South Carolina. The bottom five (starting with the worst): Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota and Hawaii. Connecticut also got an F grade.

The interesting methodology used by the Alliance is the heavy emphasis on public employees. For example, the ratings factor in "paycheck protection" - freedom-friendly laws that prevent government union from spending fees or dues for political contributions - as well as defined contribution plans (good), collective bargaining rights for public employees (bad), and public sector unionization (the higher the percentage, the less freedom).

But those choices make sense. With private-sector union membership falling, unions are turning their energies more and more toward the government sector. For example, governors are pushing through "card check" unionizing for public employees (see Oregon), trying to win points with organized labor while building up momentum for federal legislation on private-sector card check.

Expanding public-sector unionization is particularly noxious because, unlike the private sector, labor demands do not have natural checks against excessiveness. As Bob Williams, president of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation writes in the preface,
The emergence of these public-sector unions has serious consequences for the scope, cost, and size of government. Unlike a private business that has limited resources to cover its costs, government can increase its resources by raising taxes. Paying an inefficient bureaucracy with taxpayer money is generally easier than fixing the problems of inefficiency.

Public-sector unions leverage their secure source of income and collective bargaining authority to drive a three-pronged strategy to maintain and expand their power. They elect politicians and government officials through campaign support, create policies to maintain and expand union power and influence, and lobby favorable officials to implement the policies.
Williams concludes that public-sector unionization is a major issue that state lawmakers must consider as they review their states' economic environment.


Workers, investors mugged by labor-state thugs

A project labor agreement that guarantees the use of local union labor for construction of the world’s first commercial iron nugget plant has been reached between Steel Dynamics Inc. and Northeastern Minnesota labor unions.

The agreement ensures that all of the work to build the $235 million nugget plant near Aurora and Hoyt Lakes will be done with local union labor, said John Grahek, president of the Iron Range Building Trades.

Steel Dynamics of Fort Wayne, Ind., hopes to have a 500,000-metric-ton-per-year nugget plant operating at the site by mid-2009.

“It’s going to be an all-union job and it will put a lot of local people and contractors to work,” Grahek said. “It’s going to mean 1 million man-hours of work. And they have a seven-year plan, from what I understand, in which they could possibly add two other [nugget] modules.”

Construction on the plant’s initial module is already under way.

With the agreement, about 500 construction workers — including electricians, plumbers, carpenters, pipe fitters and laborers — are expected to be at work at the site this spring, Grahek said.

Steve Rutherford, operations manager of the nugget plant, said the agreement establishes the “rules of engagement” surrounding construction of the plant.

The agreement creates a standardized set of work guidelines including holidays, off days and wages appropriate to local crafts, Grahek said.

Last week, Steel Dynamics closed a deal with Cleveland-Cliffs to acquire about 6,000 acres of land at the nugget plant site.

In addition to the nugget plant, Steel Dynamics is seeking to re-open iron ore reserves mined by LTV Steel Mining Co. before the taconite plant closed at the site in 2001.

Developing the mining reserves and building processing facilities that would provide taconite concentrate to the nugget plant would cost about $165 million.

The reserves would provide Mesabi Nugget with about a 100-year supply of concentrate.

“With the land that we have, we’re exploring the possibilities of adding more modules,” Rutherford said.

Iron nuggets produced at the plant would contain about 97 percent iron.

Most of the nuggets would be used to make steel at Steel Dynamics’ mini-mill in Butler, Ind.

A similar project labor agreement has been reached with PolyMet Mining Corp, a Vancouver-based mining company seeking to open a copper, nickel and precious metals mine near the former LTV Steel Mining Co. plant.


Replacements ready as California nurses strike again

Thousands of registered nurses are expected to walk off their jobs Thursday and Friday at 13 Bay Area hospitals, marking their second strike in just over two months.

The strike would primarily affect hospitals affiliated with Sutter Health, a nonprofit network of hospitals and doctors' groups. Those planning to walk off their jobs include about 650 nurses in San Mateo County at Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame and Mills Health Center in San Mateo.

hose two local facilities, which are operated by MillsPeninsula Health Services and affiliated with Sutter Health, have hired replacement nurses to care for patients during the strike. They plan to keep hospital doors open and do business as usual, hospital officials said.

The nurses are expected to begin the strike at 7 a.m. Thursday. They are represented by the California Nurses Association union. The strike could affect up to 5,000 nurses at the 13 hospitals.

The two-day October strike was the largest by nurses in California in a decade.

Both sides remain far apart on the issues, which nurses insist are about patient care, including safe staffing ratios, lifting standards for nurses, retirement security and health care benefits.

Management contends that it adheres to nurse-to-patient ratios mandated by the state, and offers health care and pension coverage "far superior to other industries."

Wages are not an issue. The average nurse's salary is $56.16 per hour. New nurses make in the $40-per-hour range.

"Sutter notoriously has much greater labor-relations conflicts than the other major hospital chains in the state," said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. "Sutter has been extremely resistant to the notion that issues that affect patient care be a subject of bargaining."

After the nurses struck the hospitals in October, those at Mills-Peninsula Health Services returned to their jobs after two days.

This time, they will be locked out for three additional days after the strike, hospital officials said.

"This time, we didn't have a choice," said Debbie Goodin, vice president of human resources at Mills-Peninsula Health Services. The agency that is supplying the replacement nurses, U.S. Nursing, wanted a five- day contract to assure that it could supply the nurses, Goodin said.

Genel Morgan, a San Mateo resident and intensive care nurse at Peninsula Medical Center, said the lockout "is their way of squeezing nurses financially to get (nurses) to not support the strike."

Charles Idelson, spokesman for the CNA, also slammed the Mills-Peninsula lockout.

"Why do they have more loyalty to a strike agency than to regular nurses who live in the community and have served patients, in some cases, for years?" Idelson said.

More than 95 percent of the Sutter Health nurses on the Peninsula participated in the strike in October. Goodin said she expects some additional local nurses to cross the picket line and come to work Thursday. Other Sutter officials said the same, but time will tell.

"These strikes are costing millions of dollars, and somewhere along the line, nurses should be asking questions about the motive of the union," Goodin said.

She added that hospitals have to fly replacement nurses in from other states, train them, feed them, put them up in a hotel and make sure they're competent. The strike in October cost the Mills-Peninsula group more than $1 million, Goodin said.

Goodin believes the issue for CNA is more about growing union membership at other Sutter Health facilities.

Morgan dismissed the membership issue as a minor issue.

"This is about patient and nurse safety, and having enough staff to care for patients," said Morgan. "Nurses have reached a point where the conditions are such that they will not stay silent."

The two sides on the Peninsula have met 15 times since negotiations began in May. The last negotiation was held Nov. 14, but talks broke down.

Separate talks have been held all along at most of the hospitals, with varying degrees of progress.


Sweet Home Alabama

There was a time when folks in northern states like Michigan thought of Alabama as impoverished and backward: "I heard Mr. Young sing about her, I heard ‘ole Neil put her down," as Lynyrd Skynyrd sang. Now, Neil Young had excellent reasons to be critical of Alabama back in the early 1970s, about the time that civil rights laws were starting to have an effect in the south.

But if experts and political leaders in Michigan take pot shots at Alabama today, the words are bound to ring hollow because Alabama’s economy is poised to overtake Michigan’s in the important task of providing opportunities for workers to find good jobs. Those of us who live and work in Michigan might want to set aside our northern pride and learn from their example.

In the Mackinac Center’s recent report, "The Economic Effect of Right-to-Work Laws: 2007," we described the numerous advantages that right-to-work states like Alabama have over non-right-to-work states, Michigan in particular. A state right-to-work law prevents workers from being forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment while leaving the rest of the labor law, including collective bargaining, intact. Our research showed that the economies of right-to-work states grew faster and created jobs at more than twice the rate of states that allowed forced unionism. Naturally, with so many jobs being created, right-to-work states had lower unemployment.

If the trend of the last five years holds, a majority of right-to-work states will have higher per capita disposable incomes than Michigan by 2010, at which point Michigan will be the real right-to-work-for-less state.

The one advantage that non-right-to-work states have held is in incomes. The average per capita personal income for right-to-work states is $2,400 lower than for states that allow forced dues, leading union officials and other forced-union-dues advocates to deride right-to-work as "right-to-work-for-less." But they neglect to mention that right-to-work states have been gaining over the last five years, especially when compared to Michigan. The right-to-work states of Florida, Kansas, Nebraska, Nevada, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming have higher disposable incomes than Michigan today. If the trend of the last five years holds, a majority of right-to-work states will have higher per capita personal incomes than Michigan by 2010, at which point Michigan will be the real right-to-work-for-less state. Alabama overtakes Michigan in 2011.

Michigan no longer compares well with Alabama, "where the skies are so blue," and where the auto industry is flourishing. While GM and Ford slashed their payrolls, automakers in Alabama were building new plants and creating jobs. According to the U.S. Census, between 2001 and 2006 employment in auto manufacturing in Alabama more than tripled and employment in parts manufacturing increased by more than a third.

But it isn’t just cars. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2001 and 2006 Alabama added 73,000 jobs, increasing payrolls by 3.9 percent, while Michigan lost 220,000 jobs, a loss of 4.8 percent. Alabama’s unemployment rate averaged 4.7 percent during that period, compared to 6.5 percent in Michigan. In 2001, per capita disposable income was $4,000 higher in Michigan than in Alabama, but by 2006 that advantage had shrunk to less than $2,000.

We should be prepared to learn from and even emulate Alabama. That means freeing up our workforce with reforms like a right-to-work law. Repeal or reform of Michigan’s strict prevailing wage law, which requires the payment of union wages on state-financed construction, would also be helpful. The prevailing wage adds 10 percent to the cost of construction, adding roughly $250 million to the cost of government. Prevailing wage also costs jobs; Alabama, which does not have a restrictive prevailing wage law, added 5,000 construction jobs between 2001 and 2006 while Michigan lost 26,000.

Finally, we should look at our tax burden. According to the Tax Foundation, state and local governments in Michigan take 11.2 percent of personal income. Reducing the tax burden to Alabama’s 8.8 percent could spur the creation of new businesses that create new jobs.

Above all else, if we are going to restore Michigan’s economy, we will need to quit repeating our failures and start emulating successes. Michiganians might have been justified in looking down on southern states once, but those days are over. When it comes to solving Michigan’s current economic crisis, Sweet Home Alabama is a good place to look for answers.


AFSCME strikers permanently replaced

The Multnomah Education Service District will begin hiring permanent replacement workers for striking employees Wednesday, district legal counsel David Turner said Monday night. Workers on strike can reapply for their jobs.

The classified employees union, which went on strike Nov. 30, and the district have been deadlocked over employees' contributions to health premiums and remain hundreds of thousands of dollars apart.

Union spokesman Don Loving said replacing striking employees is illegal. "It's not going to fly, and MESD is wasting even more taxpayer money if they try it," Loving said in a statement. "If they'd be half as creative at the bargaining table as they are in just stirring the pot, we wouldn't even be on strike."

The district says it is within its legal rights.

The announcement comes after negotiations halted Sunday night when the union introduced a possible donation from Portland. The proposed $300,000 donation from the city was first discussed when the union approached city Commissioner Randy Leonard and other council members for help with stalled negotiations.

The district said it cannot accept money targeted for only one group of employees. Additionally, Leonard said the district likely wouldn't accept the money because the Portland City Council, as a stipulation for granting it, would want to look at the district's finances.

The proposal for the donation ended what had appeared to be a productive mediation session Sunday night.

After eight hours of negotiations, district and union representatives said they thought a deal was near.

Both sides agreed to a 2 percent salary increase, an insurance-rate formula equal to other employee groups, and a $100,000 longevity stipend to be divided among workers at the top of the pay scale.

But at 9:20 p.m., when the union introduced the donation possibility, the district ended the session, saying it had no clear documentation.

"It wasn't in writing; it wasn't from the city; it was just a concept given to us" from the state mediator, said district spokesman Mark Skolnick. "How do you react when something like that comes out of the blue?"

Leonard said the donation had progressed no further than the discussion stage.

"I and at least one other member of the council said we would be interested in talking about that," Leonard said, adding that the city has given money to other school districts.

"We want to help the schools deliver the services they try to deliver, particularly this district, which delivers services to students with a lot of challenges," Leonard said.

Leonard said the council would want to look at the district's finances to ensure "they're spending their money correctly, that they're not spending their money on things that would be better spent on money for health insurance."

Skolnick said that as a public agency, the district's records are open, but that the money couldn't be directed to only certain employees.

"If the city wanted to give money directly to the union, that's none of our business. Go for it," Skolnick said. "But the concept of the city offering funds for one group of employees and in effect treating them differently and giving them better benefits than other employees, that would be difficult for us to reconcile and accept."

Leonard said the union asked the city to contribute directly to it, but the city declined.

The next mediation session has not been scheduled. Mediator Bob Nightingale said he anticipates meeting some time this week.


Non-union contractors protest PLA thuggery

Broome County legislators said Monday they'll consult with their attorney and other officials before deciding whether to continue support of a labor agreement that local non-union contractors insist is unfair.

Legislators voted Nov. 20 to approve a project labor agreement that would require the $16.9 million renovation of the George Harvey Justice Building to be done by 90 percent union workers.

Legislators said the agreement would save money and keep jobs local, because bid-winning contractors would have to hire from local union halls. But non-union contractors, who may make up as many as 75 percent of Broome's contractors, disagreed.

"It's unfair for those 75 percent to not participate in a project in their own hometown," said Allyn Jones Jr., president of J & K Plumbing & Heating Co. of Binghamton -- a shop that employs both union and non-union tradesmen.

Jones was one of more than 100 business owners, plumbers, insulators, electricians, pipe fitter, carpenters and other tradesmen who met Monday with Broome legislators to talk about the agreement. Union contractors were also on hand at the meeting at the county office building in Binghamton.

Bids for the project are scheduled to be opened on Dec. 19. But the next meeting of the Legislature is Dec. 20, which would require scheduling a special meeting to rescind any votes on the measure.

Chairman Mark Whalen, D-Binghamton, said the Legislature would have to discuss legal issues with county attorneys and with Henry Weissmann, commissioner of the county's public works department, before deciding whether to allow the matter to come before lawmakers before Dec. 19.

Non-union contractors said Monday they wouldn't bid on the project with a project labor agreement in place.

Luciano Piccirilli, owner of Piccirilli-Slavik & Vincent Plumbing & Heating Inc. of Binghamton said at least one legislator told him they'd make a motion to rescind the labor agreement. Piccirilli didn't name the legislator.

Seventeen of 19 legislators voted to approve the agreement, with one absent and the other, John Hutchings, D-Binghamton, chairman of the Legislature's Public Works Committee and a regional labor union representative, abstaining.

Non-union contractors told Legislators on Monday that most of their workers were Broome residents, and that by approving a labor agreement -- a first in Broome -- those workers would not be able to work on the project.

Nor was the issue one of union shops and workers versus non-union shops and workers, one contractor said. Most county projects have included both. And contracts have been awarded to the lowest qualified bidder. The prevailing wage law in New York requires that both be paid the same rate for their work.

Contractors want the right to bid on this project without being told who their workers will be on the project," said the treasurer and purchasing agent for Nelcorp Electrical Contracting Corp. of Endwell -- a non-union business employing 48 electricians, 44 of them Broome residents.

"We want the freedom to do what we have the right to do -- period," said Donn R. Webber.


SEIU pickets mid-contract at nursing facility

The pickets walking in circles, chanting and calling to passing drivers for support in front of Connecticut Health of Southport on Tuesday could be just a sign of what's to come if the union and company can't come to terms.

Certified nurse assistants, housekeepers, laundry and kitchen workers — all members of New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199, SEIU — staged the two-hour, informational picket, some walking before their shifts, others after.

Connecticut Health Facilities bought the property — formerly Southport Manor — in February 2005; the previous owner was in bankruptcy and the state was running the 120-bed skilled nursing facility. According to its Web site, the company also operates Connecticut Health of Greenwich, Connecticut Health of Guilford and The Suffield House, Eagle Pointe.

The contract covering approximately 120 union members at the Southport facility doesn't expire until March 2009, but certain items have reopened for negotiation.

CNA Terry Lee took a brief break from her bullhorn duties — "Southport is a union town. You can't keep those workers down." — to outline their demands.

"We're fighting for pension and health benefits," Lee said. Employees pay $72 a week for family coverage; they'd like the company to use the union insurance, under which employees would only have co-pays.

Members also want a pension; the company, Lee said, is offering a 401(k) with a 1 percent
match "at their discretion."

"We deserve a pension. We deserve affordable health care."

Housekeeper Lydia Robles, who has worked at the facility for 27 years, said she makes a bit more than $15 an hour. "My paycheck is only for rent," Robles said; she has a part-time job to cover the rest of her bills.

Chef Lenworth Mothersill, who has worked at the facility for 14 years, said the new owner has cut back on everything.

Residents, he said, now get bacon or sausage once a week, instead of every day.

But "We have restored the relationship with the union," and brought the building out of bankruptcy, Terrence Brennan, the site's administrator, said. He's not sure the company can afford some of the union's demands right now. "The reimbursement for Medicaid patients is too low," Brennan said, while the cost of operating the site — including buying oil, food and paying staff — is rising.

"I don't expect there to be a strike," Brennan said; he hasn't informed the patients about the issues because "they're here to get better," or have the best quality of life possible while in a nursing home.

But people visiting the patients on Tuesday afternoon couldn't avoid the issue.

Pickets cleared the driveway for cars, but took the opportunity to pass out fliers detailing their position. "We're grateful to them for taking it over but they're still making money," Lee said.

Negotiations resumed Tuesday, and neither side could forecast if, or when, a strike might take place.

"It is possible. We're not at that point yet," said 1199 spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff.

According to Lee, union members last struck in 2003. "This is just a little taste of what it's going to be like [if we strike]."


Michigan earns a C in Worker Freedom

Rumors are swirling about the possibility of a right-to-work ballot initiative coming to light on Michigan’s ballot as early as next year. If such an initiative passed, workers would have the right to refuse to join a union if they choose to do so. Currently, twenty-two states have passed similar amendments.

The Alliance for Worker Freedom is set to release its 2007 Index of Worker Freedom, which measures the level of worker freedom based on several variables including the existence of a right-to-work law, union density and paycheck protection. To be sure, Michigan isn’t at the top of the list; it receives a score of 3/10, earning it a “C” grade. The report will be available shortly on the website for the Alliance for Worker Freedom.


Losing faith in SEIU

On November 3, healthcare workers and supporters in Santa Rosa rallied for a “fair election agreement” with the St. Joseph Health System. The agreement would permit employees to vote on whether to unionize. However the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, founders of the St. Joseph Health System, have refused to agree, insisting that the structure created by the National Labor Relations Board is the only process they will permit for their workers -- a structure that makes joining a union more difficult.

St. Joseph Health System has been accused of violating various labor law violations, including intimidation of employees. The employees, however, have the support of Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) United Healthcare Workers (UHW), a powerful union led by Sal Rosselli.

Rosselli was the president of the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club in 1984-85 and was a Grand Marshal for the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade in 2006. Under Rosselli, UHW member benefits have come to include domestic partner compensation.

A political activist in Sacramento (who requested anonymity) says that Roselli’s union is trying to establish itself as the exclusive bargaining agent for some St. Joseph’s employees. “This is a very contentious union, and if they get what they want, there will be a full homosexualization of everything. Domestic partner benefits and the like will come from worker dues, and the full muscle of the union will be put behind the homosexual agenda.”

St. Joseph Health System represents the Catholic Church, said the activist, and by allowing the UHW in, St. Joseph’s “would be agreeing, in effect, to fire any Catholic who does not agree to support the Culture of Death with his dues. The average nurse pays around $1,000 a year in dues for this, and that money goes to supporting candidates and propositions that support abortion and homosexuality. What kind of Catholic institution would agree to this for their employees? But if the employees get their ‘fair election agreement,’ the UHW takeover is a done deal.”

In support of the UHW is Msgr. John Brenkle, of Saint Helena Catholic Church in St. Helena. Brenkle, a prominent figure in the Santa Rosa diocese, has spoken out in support of the proposed agreement, citing Catholic social teaching on justice in the workplace, including the right of employees to unionize.

In a May 11 editorial for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Msgr. Brenkle wrote, “sadly, I see a real disconnect between the St. Joseph Health System’s written code and its actions. Management has employed legal counsel for the purpose of union-avoidance tactics ... Some of us have urged the system to negotiate ground rules that are mutually agreed upon to ensure a free and fair election process. Such a code has been developed by a panel of Catholic bishops, health care managers and union officials.” Brenkle referred to a working paper, titled “A Fair and Just Workplace: Principles and Practices for Catholic Health Care.” Brenkle said the paper “could be used as a model for any unionizing effort.”

In October, Brenkle spoke with California Catholic Daily about his offer of a dinner with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as part of an auction in support of St. Helena's parish school. Brenkle, however, was not willing to talk to the California Catholic Daily reporter who asked about his support for the unionization for St. Joseph Health System.


Greece paralyzed by strikes

Cyprus Airways announced that 12 flights to and from Greece for Wednesday are cancelled due to a general public strike that ends on midnight Wednesday. The strike affects flights from Larnaca to Athens, Thessaloniki and Heraklion, as well as two code-share flights with Olympic.

The strike also affects flights to and from Eleftherios Venizelos operated by Olympic Airways and Aegean Airlines, as well as all international flights into Greece.

Local communications also came to a halt as civil servants, teachers, media, bank employees and transport workers joined the strike called by the two largest trade union, GSEE and Adedy, over social insurance and pension benefits.

Only some of the ‘Ilektriko’ tram lines would work up to 10am to assist workers converging on cetral Athens for a major demonstration, and would resume after 3pm to help strikers return home. All ships and ferries serving the Aegean islands were also stopped.

The strike in Greece comes a day after CAIR ground handling crew at Larnaca and Paphos airports agreed to stand down from their strike in Cyprus over their dispute with the transition to the private contractor Swissport that would have caused havoc on Wednesday, as well as flights on December 17 and 18.


Labor-state tourists march with celeb strikers

Chloe Ruffin was totally bummed out when she found out her tickets to “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” were no good. “I’m in love with Jay Leno,” she said. “I know that’s weird. I’m like 17. I just think he’s so funny.”

But the day Chloe and her parents, Dan and Penny McCue, left Roseburg for a California vacation, the Writers Guild of America went on strike, taking The Tonight Show with them.

The family decided to drive by NBC Studios to see what might have been. Instead, they saw writers picketing outside. Ruffin decided to talk to them. She learned the writers wanted better health care benefits, and they wanted credit and pay for their work that appears on the Internet.

Leno’s head writer told the family if they wanted to have the Hollywood experience and meet the stars, they should go to Universal Studios. More than 100 television and movie actors had signed up to picket in support of the writers.

When they got to the studios Nov. 13, they couldn’t believe what they saw. “No bodyguards, no entourage, nothing,” Penny McCue said. The family saw a laundry list of stars from Clint Eastwood to Fran Drescher. “It was this total stroke of luck that happened to us,” Penny said. For two hours, they walked alongside people they had only seen on screen.

Ruffin’s favorites were the cast of “The Office,” though Steve Carrell wasn’t there. She also met some of the cast of “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” “Scrubs,” “CSI: Miami,” “CSI: Las Vegas” and “Desperate Housewives.” And then there were the movie stars: Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Rob Lowe, David Spade and more.

Ruffin estimates there were only 20 to 30 people who weren’t writers or actors, other than the paparazzi.

“It took me a while to get to Ben Stiller and the “Desperate Housewives” people because they were all just getting bombarded,” she said.

But when she met Kevin Rahm from “Desperate Housewives,” she got more than she bargained for.

She’d admired his red Writers Guild T-shirt, and he asked the family to follow him to his house so he could give her one.

“This was like our one brush with fame,” Penny said. “When do you get to see 100 movie stars in one day?”

The Writers Guild has been on strike for five weeks and has yet to reach an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

The timing couldn’t have been better for the family from Roseburg, and Ruffin didn’t mind missing Leno.

“I’m so glad that it was canceled because I would never be able to do this again,” she said.


Snappy picket lines

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