Mashantucket Nation states Casino War case

We know you have been following recent events here at Mashantucket involving union activity. We are writing to you so that you might understand the position of the tribal nation, and hopefully understand that just as you are concerned with the rights of our workers, so are we.

First and foremost, the tribe has enacted numerous laws providing for the protection of our employees, and these laws can be accessed at www.mptnlaw.com.

As you can see, in reviewing these laws the tribe supports and protects employees' rights to unionize if they so vote. It specifically provides that a union can petition for recognition under tribal law and upon the same showing of interest through the signing of cards required under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), they are entitled to a secret ballot election to decide whether they would like to be represented by a union.

We have made clear to the United Auto Workers (UAW) and other labor organizations that they are fully entitled to seek union recognition under tribal law. Thus far, they have refused and the UAW has pursued this issue under federal law. Thus, the tribal nation is put in the unfortunate position of either disregarding its own laws or continuing to take whatever steps are necessary to preserve its right of self-government and have union issues addressed under the tribal laws as should be the case.

Tribal court decisions are public, and we have an unblemished 15-year history of recognizing the rights of our employees as to issues of employment law including, but not limited, to workers' compensation. A review of the tribe's case law would show, in our opinion, the fact that the tribal system has recognized employees' rights beyond those generally available to employees under state or federal law.

For Indian country, there is no more important principle than that of tribal self-government. Millions of American Indians before us have gone to battle and have given their lives to preserve tribal autonomy and self-government. All of Indian country is looking to this tribe now to preserve those rights of self-government; not to desert them, but do all that we can within the law to try to preserve these rights.

This is not only about a union organizing a drive at a casino. The union has an absolute right to pursue this drive if only they would do it under tribal law as opposed to insisting on pursuing it through the National Labor Relations Board, an agency which for over 30 years has agreed that the NLRA did not apply to Indian tribes. They have recently changed their minds and in one federal circuit the court upheld that decision. The board's decision itself was divided with one of the three members offering a scholarly, and we think correct opinion, as to why the act is inapplicable.

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. In the meantime, the union is free at any time to file a petition under tribal law. We have filed what we believe to be a persuasive brief as to both the inapplicability of the act and the obligation of the administrative agency to defer to the tribal government where the federal objective of a free and fair election as to union representation is available.

Thus, we will continue to protect the rights of our employees, including their right to unionize under tribal law. By taking that approach, we believe that the rights of employees and the rights of tribal governments will be balanced and can coexist. This is the outcome that is most desirable and this is the outcome we will pursue as a tribal government.

This was an open letter sent by Michael J. Thomas, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.


Dems dance to Iowa unions' tune

Retired dairy worker and Teamsters official Ed Sparks remembers the days here in Iowa when a race for president meant more than just campaign workers knocking on his door looking for his support.

Unions, specifically representatives from his national union and others, could often be seen trudging up and down the snowy sidewalks of small towns and cities in an all-out effort to get out the vote.

But with less than three weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, Sparks has noticed that that presence has precipitously declined compared to years' past. "It's not as strong as it's been," said the 75-year-old retiree at a recent political rally. "I wish it was stronger."

Indeed, many unions' armies have thinned for this presidential season here for myriad reasons.

Some have concerns about spending too much money during the primary and having less for the general election. Others are waiting to see what the fallout is in Iowa and New Hampshire before backing a particular candidate.

John Campbell, Iowa's political director for the United Steelworkers, which is backing former Sen. John Edwards, said labor has become cautious about early endorsements because so many, like his, backed Dick Gephardt in 2004 when he placed fourth in Iowa.

"After 2004, some of the other unions got gunshy and just don't want to endorse this time around," Campbell said. "Not yet, anyway."

Campbell also said he thinks some unions don't want to endorse one candidate now only to have to switch should the candidate fall short in Iowa or New Hampshire, as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees did when it dropped its endorsement of Howard Dean in 2004 in favor of John Kerry.

"Unions have always put up a lot of money and they will this time again," he said. "But some are looking at it that it is the White House that is the prize, not the nomination. So they're keeping their powder dry for the end game and not expending their energies too soon."

Among major unions that are so far sitting out of the endorsement race is the national Service Employees International Union, which has instead allowed local chapters to back candidates they choose. Neither the Teamsters nor the Ironworkers union have endorsed candidates, as they did four years ago.

Still, unions aren't silent in this campaign.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has received a number of endorsements from major labor groups, including the American Federation of Teachers and AFSCME.

In recent weeks, AFSCME's political action team has begun running television commercials endorsing Clinton. The ad shows a girl playing in a field and a narrator questioning what the future holds for her.

"Will there be health care for all or for just a few?" the ad asks, hitting a point Clinton has tried to make comparing her health care plan to that of her closest rival, Sen. Barack Obama.

While Obama hasn't received much support from national unions, he has gotten the backing from some locals, including Illinois AFSCME, which earlier this month endorsed the junior senator from Illinois despite the national organization's backing of Clinton.

David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, said that four years ago, national union endorsements did not necessarily translate into support on caucus night.

"These endorsements do not bring monolithic support," he said, adding that Obama's campaign continues to talk to laborers who belong to unions that have endorsed other candidates.

Edwards, who has been backed by several national unions, also has received support from locals as well, including the SEIU in Iowa. Sen. Chris Dodd has received the backing of the firefighters unions, while Sen. Joe Biden and Gov. Bill Richardson have received the backing of local unions.

In the coming days, Clinton is expected to use her AFSCME endorsement to barnstorm across the state with rallies and an influx of members from around the nation who will visit fellow members in Iowa.

Larry Scanlon, AFSCME's national political director, said he has 240 staffers who plan on knocking on doors in the 96 of the 99 counties where AFSCME members reside.

"The plan is to go out every day and every night," said Scanlon.

He said AFSCME learned from its experience four years ago endorsing Dean and this year delved deeper into trying to find out which candidate members wanted the national to endorse.

As a result, hundreds of members have come in to Iowa to help the Clinton campaign. At a debate on Thursday in Johnston, union members from AFSCME, as well as others from the Steelworkers, SEIU and Unite Here dominated demonstrations outside the television studios where the event was being held.

And while for the most part, the presence is less than in previous years, some don't see that as necessarily a bad development.

Roberta Till-Retz, a retired labor educator at the University of Iowa and currently the communications director for the Iowa Federation of Labor AFL-CIO, said she thinks there's less national union involvement this time because the unions are happy with the quality of the Democratic field.

"People are happy with the candidates," she said. "The general sense is that we have a great crew of candidates and we want to wait for the general election before spending all our money."


Strikers prefer property rights to collective bargaining

Dozens of striking writers are negotiating with venture capitalists to set up new companies that would bypass the Hollywood studio system and reach consumers directly with video entertainment on the Web.

At least seven groups of writers, all members of the striking Writers Guild of America, are planning to form Internet-based businesses that, if successful, could create an alternative economic model to the one at the heart of the Hollywood walkout that is now in its seventh week.

Three of the groups are working on ventures that would function much like United Artists, the production company set up 80 years ago by Charlie Chaplin and other top stars who wanted to break free from the studios.

"It's in development and rapidly incubating," said Aaron Mendelsohn, a guild board member and co-creator of the "Air Bud" movies, who is involved in a group he says is made up of top film and TV writers. "We're creating an alternative place for distribution, with more control over our content."

Mendelsohn and others said they would stick with their ventures after the strike ended.

TV and film writers walked off their jobs Nov. 5, virtually shutting down television production and throwing 10,000 people out of their jobs. The Writers Guild of America is fighting the major studios over how much their members should be paid when their work is distributed online.

Silicon Valley investors historically have been averse to backing entertainment start-ups, believing that such efforts were far less likely to generate huge paydays than technology companies.

But they began considering a broader range of entertainment investments in the wake of the enormous sums paid for popular Web video companies, including the $1.65 billion Google plunked down a year ago for YouTube, the site where users post their own clips.

They also have been emboldened by major advertisers, which prefer to support professionally created Web entertainment to user-generated content on sites such as MySpace that can be racy or in poor taste.

"I'm 100 percent confident that you will see some companies get formed," said Todd Dagres, a Boston-based venture capitalist who has been flying to Los Angeles and meeting with top writers for weeks. "People have made up their minds."

Already this year a handful of sites have received venture backing, including FunnyorDie.com, co-founded by actor Will Ferrell, and MyDamnChannel.com, launched by former MTV executive Rob Barnett.

MyDamnChannel pays for the production of original content by a handful of artists and splits ad revenue with them.

Under the Hollywood system, writers in most cases are employed by the studios to create and produce TV shows and movies. The studios own the copyrights and pay writers for the initial use of the material. Writers also receive a percentage of the licensing fees collected when the work is rerun or turned into DVDs.

As television viewership and DVD revenue decline in the digital age, writers have sought bigger rewards when their work is distributed online. There have been isolated successes, such as Viacom's August agreement to give the co-creators of "South Park" 50 percent of a new venture to distribute material based on the TV program on the Web.

For the most part, however, the studios have argued that Web economics are still too uncertain for them to give a larger share of the proceeds to writers.

Most writers talking with venture capitalists declined to discuss their plans on the record, saying that it was too early to provide details. Yet an array of strategies emerged from interviews with writers, investors and others involved in the process.

The groups modeled after United Artists (which eventually was bought by Metro Goldwyn Mayer and recently revived with the help of Tom Cruise) envisions creating and distributing programming for the Web and recouping their investments by selling rights to the most successful properties to TV networks or movie companies.

The initiative would reverse the historic career paths of writers. They would be leaving well-paying jobs in television and film for the Internet, which previously was viewed as merely a stepping stone to Hollywood.

Some high-profile writers and technologists are trying to create a collaborative studio they hope would be officially sanctioned by the Writers Guild. They want to build on the popularity of strike-related videos that have been widely viewed on the Guild-inspired blog UnitedHollywood.com, YouTube and elsewhere.

"We are uniquely positioned to take our case and new business model directly to consumers," said one of the leaders of that effort, the primary writer on a TV show that was a huge hit a decade ago. "This will be the officially sanctioned Hollywood union portal."

Others seek to create a privately owned studio that would develop episodic series for the Web. The studio could turn a profit even without cutting movie or TV deals if it developed an audience coveted by advertisers.

Dagres said he had met with one group focused on developing material for potential theatrical distribution and another concentrating on Web series.

The screenwriters have been consulting with writer-entrepreneurs who say they earn a living from their work on the Web by running low-cost operations.

"I basically give them a 'Come on in, the water's grand,' " said news Web site owner Andrew Breitbart, the co-author of a 2004 book on celebrity culture who worked on the headlines sections of the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post Web sites.

"There is no one answer about what works," Breitbart said. "The great thing about online is you can adapt to the changes."


Dems, gov't unions sucker-punch electorate

In a recent speech to the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) convention in Chicago, John Edwards modestly exclaimed, "I will be the best union president in the history of this country." Speaking to the United Auto Workers in Dubuque, Iowa, Barack Obama gushed, "I'm ready to go on offense for organized labor; imagine a president who knows what it's like to put on a comfortable pair of shoes and walk with you on that picket line."

Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton donned boxing gloves at a press conference with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and said that she would "go 10 rounds with anybody," on behalf of labor unions.

There has been nothing coy about the Democratic presidential candidates' courtship of Big Labor. After all, union endorsements come with armies of door-knocking, phone-calling, sign-waving foot soldiers; union leaders will spend about half a billion dollars on political campaigns this election cycle.

Of course, the union chiefs are making sure their political suitors come bearing gifts, and what they're after - support for the deceptively named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) - is a much bigger present than flowers or chocolate.

EFCA would strip employees of the right to a secret ballot vote, and make it much easier for union organizers to push employees into union membership - which in turn means more dollars for labor leaders.

In other words, "going 10 rounds with anybody" involves sucker-punching working Americans.

Union officials, for their part, view this courtship as an opportunity. The Change to Win coalition - a break-off group from the old AFL-CIO - has added a surcharge onto its members' dues that will raise up to $14 million over the next two years to fund its political machine to help pass ECFA. (Of course, that would mean even more money for the union political machine.)


Council in act of conditional union thuggery

Unions will be the sole builders of the $700 million Convention Center expansion only if they agree to disclose the demographics of their membership and receive City Council's approval on plans to diversify their ranks, under legislation Council passed last night.

Council withdrew a proposal to open the Convention Center project to nonunion labor and replaced it with one that requires the 17 building trades unions involved in the project to adopt the city's minority hiring goals.

Of the 1,400 workers expected to build the expansion, Council wants 25 percent to be African American; 10 percent Hispanic; 5 percent Asian; and 10 percent women.

Council also demanded that the unions create a combined 350 apprentice jobs for women or minorities, and file quarterly progress reports on compliance with Council.

Those conditions would be incorporated into a project labor agreement between the Building and Construction Trades Council, the Convention Center Authority, and contractors.

And the building trades will have to agree to those conditions for it to go forward.

Frank Keel, spokesman for the electricians union, said after the vote: "The trades appreciate Council's deletion of [Councilman Frank] DiCicco's nonunion amendment. We will reserve any further comment until [Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council business manager] Pat Gillespie, the business managers of the member unions, and their attorneys have a chance to thoroughly dissect the details of this deal."

Saying he would not jeopardize a "$700 million gift" from the state, Mayor Street jumped into negotiations yesterday, huddling in Council President Anna C. Verna's office with various Council members and staff.

It was an effort to save the Convention Center expansion - the largest public works project in the history of the state. Whether they have broken that impasse remains to be seen.

Gov. Rendell had called a meeting with all sides for Monday to hammer out a solution. Council members said they still expected that meeting to take place, with the amendment up for discussion.

But the council unanimously passed it, and DiCicco said the Council will accept "nothing less" than the terms called for.

"If they don't accept it, basically, the Convention Center expansion dies," DiCicco said.

Street said last night he expected the unions' approval.

"This is a set of unions that want to do the right thing and see the Convention Center expanded, and I think it's going to be all right," he said.

Council will return in a special session Wednesday to finalize the amendment made to the operating agreement.

Rendell has said he wouldn't release bids for major construction on the project without an agreement. Failure to approve one before year's end would require new legislation next year. That would push the center's completion date toward the end of 2010, jeopardizing bookings in 2011.

In a letter yesterday, Rendell told Council that each month's delay adds $2.5 million in construction costs.

"Any extended delay will make the expansion project so costly that I could not in conscience continue to support the project, considering the additional burden that would be placed on Pennsylvania's citizens," Rendell wrote.

The urgency was created last week, when Council, upset over the building-trades unions' progress on minority hiring and their failure to disclose the racial breakdown of their memberships, voted to allow nonunion contractors to work on the project.

The initial proposal to open construction to non-union contractors - which the unions strongly opposed - was unprecedented in Philadelphia, where labor is a powerful political force.

The amendment also brought concerns from the Convention Center Authority, which has said that a delay in construction would result in loss of business - and credibility.

The center's health is also worrisome to the city's hospitality industry, which sees conventions as powerful draws for its businesses.

Convention Center officials had hoped to send out bids next month and start construction as early as March, with a summer 2010 completion date.


Making labor history a required course

Memo to Wisconsin's labor unions: Be careful what you wish for.

The state Legislature recently held public hearings on Senate Bill 108, proposing to make "labor history" a required subject in the state's public schools, which are already struggling under the burden of countless mandates imposed by federal and state governments.

The Wisconsin AFL-CIO wants this bill passed for at least two reasons: 1) positive advertising to impressionable schoolkids and 2) a return on its investment in the 2006 election. Even if Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle signs the bill as a thank-you to the labor interests that helped keep him in office last year, however, the new mandate won't be all bread and roses for the state's labor unions.

After all, Big Labor's history isn't always pretty.

If Wisconsin's public schools are required to cover labor history, will they make sure to teach students about the movement's tawdry relationship with organized crime? Embezzlement, graft, kickbacks - all encouraged by labor's special immunity from extortion prosecution - recur all too frequently in the history of America's labor unions. The misdeeds of Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa could take up an entire history lesson - and a geography class could spend a whole year on the search for his body.

An entire unit could be dedicated to union violence, to those stories of workers that won't be told by the labor movement - because they were harassed or assaulted for crossing picket lines to go to work.

And if the presentation of labor history is really going to be balanced, it needs to include the damage done to both businesses and individuals in labor's recent years. In the modern era, Big Labor has crippled unionized industries - steel mills, airlines and carmakers - beyond recognition. The United Food and Commercial Workers strike called against Southern California grocers in 2004 deserves particular attention. In addition to costing 60,000 grocery employees a collective 4.58 million days of work, the "brutal" strike "resulted in broken marriages, lost homes and cars, and even suicides," according to High Country News.

Since they represent many (though not all) of the people charged with actually carrying out these mandates, teachers unions have a special interest in making labor history a required subject. The president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state teachers union, says such history often gets left out as schools are required to cram in all sorts of other lessons. Her solution? Create another mandate!

The teachers union's complaint over curriculum requirements and its support for an additional mandate make for a ridiculous pairing, of course, and taken together they strongly suggest that the union cares less about advancing education than about its own narrow self-interest.

In reality, the teachers union's support for an educational mandate is only the most shameless example of what's really behind this effort: self-promotion. For putting its self-interest ahead of education, organized labor should get a dunce cap, not a soapbox in schools.

No special interest deserves class time just because it enjoys clout with politicians - a civics lesson Wisconsin's labor unions need to learn.

Jonathan Berry is a research analyst for Center for Union Facts, a union watchdog group.


Striking nurses cause Steelworkers' layoffs

With the strike by registered nurses at Beckley-ARH in its 75th day, Community CEO Rocco Massey announced that 17 layoffs will occur at the West Virginia hospital early next week.

“It’s most unfortunate, but often times, when strikes occur, layoffs follow,” Massey said Thursday. “Sometimes we have to make these decisions to ensure the long-term viability of our hospital.”

The positions are United Steel Workers spots made up of such support staff as licensed practical nurses and clerical people. The fourth floor of the hospital will be closed as a result.

“In accordance with the USW bargaining agreement, these individuals will have bumping rights. They will be able to go to other floors and take other positions, based on seniority and qualifications,” Massey said.

USW members were on strike earlier this year. Registered nurses belong to a separate union — the KNA/WVNA, which has been on strike at Beckley-ARH since Oct. 1. No registered nurses are on the layoff list.

Although the hospital sees a seasonal drop in occupancy during the holidays and has cut back staff temporarily in the past, these layoffs are a direct impact of the strike, Massey said.

“Historically, we have experienced declines in utilization at Christmas time. However, the strike has had an impact on utilization patterns, and therefore, we have had to be much more formalized in regard to closure of that unit. It’s unfortunate, but the hospital has had to make some difficult decisions.”

Massey would not comment on bargaining issues between the KNA/WVNA and Appalachian Regional Healthcare.

“The union and ARH have agreed to a media blackout in regard to contract negotiations,” he said.

Layoffs, however, are a matter of public interest.

“As a unionized facility, we honor the terms of the contract in accordance with the layoffs by posting the list and giving appropriate notice,” Massey said.

Those who have seen their names posted on the layoff list are understandably upset, he said.

“This is not a good time for this to occur. I am sure that individuals have been disappointed about this. Many will have bumping rights, which will affect other people not on the list. We will have to see how this settles out.

“We have a responsibility overall to our employees, the physicians and to the community to ensure our viability.”


Actors' union election was tainted

The Los Angeles local of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists will re-run its election due to errors in the mailing and processing of ballots.

AFTRA Los Angeles made the announcement Sunday. The U.S. Dept. of Labor will oversee the election -- to be held early next year -- for nine actor representatives on the local board of directors and for 13 of the local's reps to the AFTRA national board of directors.

Move comes after investigations by the local and the DOL resulting from a challenge by a candidate to last May's election.

"While the allegations in the original challenge were not sustained by the U.S. Department of Labor, during the course of the investigation, it was determined that Pacific Election Services Inc., the outside vendor hired by the union to oversee the Los Angeles election, made several errors in the mailing and processing of ballots," AFTRA said. The union said the company will reimburse AFTRA for all costs incurred for the May 2007 election, and a new vendor will be engaged to provide election services.

"Assuring our members a fair and proper election is a top priority for AFTRA Los Angeles," said William Thomas, AFTRA Los Angeles Local exec director. "When we learned of these errors by our outside vendor, we advised the Department of Labor the union would voluntarily rerun this election to guarantee the integrity of the election process."


Univ. sets memorial fund for slain SEIU steward

University of Rochester President Joel Seligman is personally funding a $2,500 Staff Community Service Award.

The first award will go to the Latasha Grayson Shaw Memorial Fund in memory of the university employee who died Sept. 29 after being attacked by a mob at Dewey and Driving Park avenues.

No arrests have been made.

Shaw, 36, was a food service worker at UR for 15 years.

Seligman said he had been considering creating a new annual award to recognize a non-management employee, before Shaw's death.

"After she died it kind of crystallized my thinking to move a little faster," Seligman said.

"In a university, people naturally tend to give a lot of credit to the faculty, and we care a lot about the students, but I wanted the staff to be recognized," he said.

Seligman said he decided to fund the award on his own as a "way of trying to recognize personally how grateful I am for the great staff we have here."

Shaw was attacked when she approached a group that she believed had attacked her 14-year-old daughter, Jasmine Shaw.

Shaw's life "was a testament to the value she placed in helping others. She was a friend to many at our university, a leader of the River Campus Chapter of SEIU Local 200 United, a woman of indomitable courage with great love for her family," Seligman said in a statement.

Shaw's sister, Charnette Grayson, said the award was a pleasant surprise.

"It feels good just to know that she's not forgotten," said Grayson.

The memorial fund helps provide money for the personal needs of Shaw's four children, ages 6 to 21, Grayson said.


Labor union leaders protective of their own turf

During the 1950s, labor unions represented about 35 percent of American workers. Today, labor unions represent about 12 percent. The huge decline has led lots of otherwise intelligent people — including politicians, journalists and union-eligible workers themselves — to conclude that organized labor does not matter much any more.

Here comes Philip M. Dine, who has covered the labor beat for the Post-Dispatch for parts of three decades, to shatter the conventional wisdom. He explains, in a book that must be described with the overused adjective "important," why labor unions matter and how their renaissance would make the United States a better place to live.

For readers who care about the role of journalists in the decline of labor unions, Dine includes an excellent section about the shameful coverage by most newspapers, magazines and TV stations. News organizations, though, are just one of the culprits. Dine spares nobody, including shortsighted labor union leaders who are too frequently uncommunicative with their workers and the general public, corrupt to the point of embezzlement and so protective of their own turf that they fail to look at the big picture.

The big picture is disturbing. Even readers who call themselves anti-union seem almost sure to concede what Dine documents so well — that laborers lacking protection from a union end up without health insurance, without pensions for their old age, without a shield against arbitrary management decisions and without physical safety in the workplace, among other problems.

Dine is so knowledgeable about labor-management relations that he is able to convey big truths often lost in the discussion. For example, lots of readers have already sensed that employers tend to discourage workers who want to organize unions. But Dine offers sharper perspective when he reports "the intensity of opposition to unionization which is exhibited by American employers has no parallel in the western industrial world."

A related truth reported by Dine is that despite the falloff in union membership, responsible surveys show a majority of American workers would like to belong to a union in their own workplace. But workers cannot overcome the obstacles of fierce management opposition combined with laws, regulations and court rulings — at the state and federal levels — that discourage legitimate union-organizing efforts.

In addition to providing the big picture, Dine supplies compelling chapters about relatively rare union successes in contemporary America, including a drive by 900 impoverished African-American women to obtain union representation to protect themselves in the Mississippi catfish-processing industry.

Dine's reporting is a beacon. Here is hoping he remains an active journalist on the beat for a long time.


Labor-state pol rallies gov't strikers

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