Labor bosses' good-old-boy protectorate

Increasing leadership roles for women in unions would benefit female workers, unions, the labor movement and women in general, a new report says.

The report, by the Institute for Women's Policy Research and funded by the Berger-Marks Foundation--a foundation established by The Newspaper Guild to encourage and train female organizers and activists--also lays out specific ways to achieve that goal, while pointing out again the obstacles women face.

Those obstacles occur even in majority-female unions, such as AFSCME, the Communications Workers, the Teachers and the Service Employees, the report, named I Knew I Could Do This Work, notes.

The new report, released Dec. 5, follows a previous Berger-Marks study of female organizers and their successes, frustrations and--in many cases--burnout. The new report draws on both data garnered in surveys and in-depth interviews with 15 female union activists: 6 from CWA, 8 from AFSCME and 1 from SEIU. They include journalists, janitors, clerical staff, horticulturists, interpreters, nurses, and teachers.

It notes 44% of all unionists are female, but women are vastly underrepresented in leadership positions. "In no case does the proportion of women in leadership equal the proportion in membership," the report says. AFT and AFSCME come closest: 39% of AFT local leaders and organizers are female, as are 60% of members. AFSCME's local leadership is 38% female, but 52% of its members are women.

The report flatly states having women in the lead benefits unions and women.

"On a basic level, unions are good for women workers," IWPR says. "Unionized women earn 30% more than non-unionized women, and union workers have more paid leave and are more likely to have health insurance. As more and more women work, their wages, benefits, and job characteristics have far-reaching impact on their families and communities. By 2005, 60% of women were in the labor force, including about three out of four women with children under 18."

It also notes that when women lead, unions win organizing drives.

Citing research by Cornell University Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner, IWPR points out that "Women lead organizers have higher success rates winning certification elections than men do. Women of color have the highest win rates of all. Finally, promoting women's leadership in unions can lead to their visible leadership in other areas of public life, including politics, both by encouraging them to expand their personal expectations and goals and by modeling women's leadership."

Obstacles to increasing women's leadership roles within unions include:

* Too few women serve at the top of union leadership, where they could be role models, support activism and promote women's perspectives.

* "As a more vulnerable workforce, women and people of color have an acute fear of retribution by employers through firing or other tactics."

* Women are often uncomfortable in leadership roles because they are supposedly not appropriately "female" roles.

* ‘Unions place inadequate emphasis on the issues, concerns, and priorities of women workers," and--on the flip side--women have trouble making time for demands of union work, because they "are still expected to shoulder most family obligations." Many women also "have insufficient awareness of the benefits of unions to their lives as workers," the report adds.

Having laid out the problem, the IWPR report suggests strategies to solve it and to promote women in unions:

* Address women's priorities using imagery and language that reflects their experiences--and create ways to find out what their concerns and values are. Many unions, for example, do not consider women's health issues when negotiating health benefits in contracts.

* Create and support formal mentoring programs for women, along with "creating and supporting dedicated space for women to address their concerns."

* Putting more women into leadership positions, locally and nationally. The AFL-CIO has set a goal, by its 2009 convention, that the proportion of women and minorities in union delegations should reflect their proportions in union membership. The report notes, for example that CWA--the parent union of The Newspaper Guild--is 51% female, but only 12% of its leaders are women. Its 19-member board has 4 women.

* Institute measures to "highlight the importance of women's contributions" to the union movement.

* Give women "flexible options for involvement by providing child care and other supports, finding creative times and places to meet, and looking for women's input on these and other strategies," and "provide training on effective ways to mobilize women."

It also suggested national and local women's organizations can reach out to unions, and vice versa, and those groups should "put additional resources into women's organizing at the grassroots level and encourage local women's organizations to do outreach to union women."

"Promoting women and their perspectives more visibly within unions can benefit them even further by ensuring their issues as workers are prioritized in all aspects of union work, from contract negotiations and representing individual workers to lobbying and other political work," IWPR adds.

"Because unions shape policy and practice in both economic and political life, having women at the table has broad implications for their well-being, their autonomy, and their rights as workers," the report states.


UFCW's malicious, extortionate corruption

Bashas’ grocery stores of Arizona went on the offensive Tuesday, announcing the filing of a defamation lawsuit against labor unions, local Latino activists and other agents it accuses of deliberately smearing the stores’ reputation.

In front of gawking shoppers and a row of television cameras, Bashas’ president Mike Proulx accused the United Food Commercial Workers and its Local 99 affiliate of using “strong arm tactics” and “ugly lies” in attempt to unionize Bashas’ employees.

The lawsuit stemmed from an effort by the Hungry for Respect coalition, a union-financed campaign that began in July. The group accused Bashas’ of selling hundreds of cans of expired baby food formula to coalition members.

Bashas’ management maintains the operation was a smear campaign in retaliation for its refusal to enter direct management-to-union negotiations that would have effectively forced Bashas’ employees to become dues-paying union members.

“We are here today to defend ourselves from the UFCW’s ruthless attack on our company,” Proulx said. “The UFCW’s efforts to force us out of business or to sign an agreement that would take away our employees’ right to vote in a secret ballot election has got to stop.” The filed lawsuit aims to “terminate the malicious, extortionate campaign that has been waged against it” and seeks to “recover a substantial amount of damages that Bashas’ has sustained.”

UFCW Local 99 President James McLaughlin said he had not yet read the lawsuit and therefore could not comment.

The lawsuit names a multitude of defendants, including Latino activists Alfredo Gutierrez and Hector Yturralde, Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski, Latino radio station Network Campesina, and the Rev. Trina Zelle.

Bashas’ employs more than 14,000 employees, a figure roughly equaled by the number of UFCW Local 99 members that are employed by Safeway and Fry’s supermarkets.


More celebs prepared to cross picket lines

A day after NBC late-night TV hosts Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien said they would return to the airwaves despite the Hollywood writers strike, ABC rival Jimmy Kimmel said on Tuesday he would follow them across picket lines.

Like his NBC counterparts, the host "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" plans to resume fresh broadcasts on January 2 without staff writers, who presumably will still be on strike at that point, to put the rest of his production crew back to work. "Though it makes me sick to do so without my writers, there are more than a hundred people whose financial well-being depends on our show," Kimmel said in a statement.

Kimmel and his late-night peers on other networks have been in reruns since the Writers Guild of America launched its walkout against major studios on November 5, in a dispute that hinges on how writers are paid for their work on the Internet.

Like Leno, O'Brien and CBS "Late Show" host David Letterman, Kimmel had resisted mounting pressure to resume production during the strike even as ratings for his show and the others sank sharply.

But the late-night stars decided to break ranks with the WGA and return to work after contract talks collapsed again on December 7, dashing hopes for a quick settlement and leaving the shows' laid-off production staffers in the lurch.

"I support my colleagues and friends in the WGA completely, and hope this ends both fairly and soon," Kimmel said. He, like most other late-night TV hosts, has dual union membership as both a writer and a performer.

The Writers Guild on Monday expressed gratitude to the hosts of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" for supporting the strike as long as they did, saying the union held no ill will toward them for going back.

Letterman's production company, WorldWide Pants, said this week it is negotiating an "interim agreement" with the WGA that would allow his programs to return to the air with writing staffs intact. WorldWide pants produces both the "Late Show with David Letterman" and "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," which also runs on CBS.

Leno, O'Brien and Kimmel are unable to seek a similar deal with the union because they do not own their own shows. They are in the same boat as Comedy Central network stars Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert, who also are expected to resume production early next year without their writers.


Unions punish incumbent for opposing PLA thuggery

A handful of prospects, including two Dixon government officials, are wrestling with the possibility of running in 2008 for the District 5 seat on the Solano (CA) County Board of Supervisors.

The seat, currently filled by Supervisor Michael Reagan, is up for election and at least three other names have been tossed around as prospects to run against him including, Dixon Vice Mayor Michael Smith, former Supervisor Skip Thomson and Dixon Mayor Mary Ann Courville.

Reagan said the push to see that he's not reelected stemmed from past votes against the Project Labor Agreements, which the unions were not happy about. "Politics is a contact sport," Reagan said. "I have heard there is an attempt by a union to see if there is a viable candidate to run against me."

Apparently it's no secret that, after serving his first term on the City Council, Smith isn't running for reelection in November, but an idea to campaign for the supervisor seat is still in the air.

"A lot of people have been bugging me about it for years," Smith said Monday afternoon, adding that he always turned down the offer. "Recently they asked again and I said I would run if I have a good chance of winning and if I have the support."

Courville hasn't made her decision yet as to whether she'll run for the seat. She said she is still contemplating the possibility of running again for Dixon Mayor in 2008.

"I'll say I'm exploring the possibility, but I have not made a decision yet," said Courville about either option.

Thomson was unable to be reached before press time.

The United Workers for Local Government, a regional group of workers in Napa and Solano counties, has funded a survey among Dixon residents to see which way they would lean, given a choice between Reagan, Thomson and Smith. Courville was not included in the survey.

The rather expensive phone survey began last weekend, according to Lou Franchimon, business manager for Napa Solano Building and Construction Trades The results from the survey should be calculated in a few days.

"Some of the unions wanted to do a poll on the candidacy and get a take on the political consensus," Franchimon said. "This poll will tell the strength of the candidates before anyone commits."

Franchimon said he has heard several rumors about who will or will not run for the District 5 seat, but couldn't confirm whether Thomson or Smith are interested.

"It fluctuates from day to day. We included him (Smith) because there was some talk about him running," he said. "I'm not sure if those candidates will continue. There could be a lot of other people that could jump in."

Franchimon disputed that it was just a matter of Project Labor Agreement issues, but said, "Politics in Solano County are pretty nutty right now. It's pretty intense here."

Meanwhile, Smith is still looking forward to serving his last few months on Dixon's City Council as best he can.

"I'm quite OK with being councilman for another year," he said. "But after that, I think I'm done. The city council takes too much from my day job. My wife misses me and I just don't have the flexibility that I used to have."

Smith said if he were a supervisor he would probably quit his regular job to allow him to serve at the county level full time, something that he couldn't afford to do at the local government level.

In addition to the District 5 seat, the District 2 seat is up for reelection next November.

The District 5 seat covers unincorporated areas around Dixon and Rio Vista, the unincorporated area of Elmira and the areas around eastern Vacaville and Suisun City.

The District 2 seat, now filled by John Silva, covers the unincorporated area around Benicia, the area around the southern half of Vallejo, the unincorporated area of Cordelia and a large western portion of Green Valley.


The 800-lb. gorilla of L.A. politics

Promising to provide thousands of volunteers and spend millions of dollars on the campaign, the 800,000-member Los Angeles County Federation of Labor on Tuesday endorsed California Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas in the upcoming race to replace retiring county Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.

In a campaign that could alter the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors, the race between Ridley-Thomas and Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks is expected to be a classic labor vs. business battle.

"If each side thinks they have a chance to win, then that will escalate the amount of money spent and certainly labor and the business community have a lot of money," said Bob Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. "So we could see a record-breaking contest if both sides decide they are going to invest in their candidates."

Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the federation, said it's unusual for the nation's second-largest coalition of 350 unions to endorse a candidate this early in a race.

But she said Los Angeles County is larger than most states and takes significant campaign resources. "It's like in most states running for governor. So we knew in order for us to make a difference, to get our message across, it would take a lot of money and resources," she said.

The candidates can raise a maximum of $1.5 million in $1,000 contributions for the June 3 primary election. Unions can also spend money on "independent expenditures" such as mailers, television advertising and billboards.

Under county election laws, unions making independent expenditures cannot consult with a candidate's campaign.

So far, Ridley-Thomas said he has $400,000 in campaign commitments.

"We have significant commitments and I'm very pleased with the progress that is being made," Ridley-Thomas said.

John Shallman, Parks' campaign consultant, wouldn't divulge the campaign commitments made to the former Los Angeles police chief so far, but he said fundraising has gone very well.

He said a recent survey by a Santa Monica opinion research firm found Parks leading with support from 44 percent of 500 likely voters in the district, which includes Inglewood, Hawthorne, Lawndale, Gardena, Carson and Marina del Rey as well as South Los Angeles.

Ridley-Thomas had support of 30 percent of the likely voters. The remainder were undecided.

"The reality is the big endorsements ultimately come down to politics," Shallman said. "Our focus is on getting Councilman Parks' message to voters that there is a crisis in our health care system, there is a crisis with gang violence and we need somebody who has been on the front lines, a professional crime fighter, who has seen on a day-to-day basis the problems that young people face, and can stand up and work to solve these problems."

Since Burke was elected in 1992, the three Democrats on the board - Zev Yaroslavsky, Gloria Molina and Burke - have generally banded together, often voting as a bloc on controversial issues and overpowering the two Republicans, Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe.

But political analysts say that could shift if Parks - who is viewed as a moderate or conservative Democrat - is elected, becoming a swing vote on the board.

"Over the past year it's become more evident that the decisions made by the board not only have the potential to hurt workers, but severely hurt the communities we live in, such as the closing of King-Drew Medical Center," Durazo said.


N.Y. Teamster boss indicted for extortion

The city's former top Teamsters official lived like royalty, using union staffers as personal servants to do everything from set up his Christmas trees to chauffeur his daughter in search of the perfect wedding gown, feds charged yesterday.

Anthony Rumore, son of a late Gambino crime family soldier and a former Local 812 president, was arrested on charges of extortion and embezzlement for showering gifts on his family for 15 years - at the expense of union workers who feared losing their jobs.

As an early gift for his daughter's blessed union in October 2000, Rumore allegedly dispatched staff on a slew of nuptial-related errands, a new indictment unsealed yesterday in Manhattan federal court charged.

"These errands included chauffeuring Rumore's wife and daughter as they went to various stores, as well as picking up dresses and delivering them to Rumore's family," court papers state.

The wedding was just one of many family celebrations that got a boost from union workers, who set up a tent for a party at Rumore's father's Queens house in 2001 and erected family Christmas trees for three years beginning in 2000.

Rumore's alleged corruption dates back to at least 1988, when he inherited Local 812 from his father and began to oversee thousands of workers who drive beer and soda trucks.

In 2004, Rumore was ousted from this job and a second powerful post as head of the Teamsters Joint Council 16. His removal was based on a report by an independent review board - charges he'd attempted to fight by forcing union employees to pay for his legal defense.

The embattled ex-union big, who avoided criminal charges until yesterday, appeared stoic as he pleaded not guilty at his arraignment.

Assistant US Attorney Michael Levy agreed to Rumore's release on a $250,000 bond and bail conditions that allow him to travel throughout the New York City area, Connecticut and parts of Florida.

"He lives a few blocks from the courthouse. He lived his entire life in New York City, his family lives in New York City and he's never been in trouble before," defense lawyer Thomas Puccio said during bail arguments.

Prosecutors claim Rumore's lavish lifestyle wasn't confined to city limits.

In a stunning show of decadence in November 2001, Rumore allegedly directed Local 812 employees to drive him and his family to a wedding in Baltimore - using a second car and driver just to transport gowns for his wife and daughters.

The feds claim union staffers also did work around Rumore's second home in Pennsylvania, installing a new roof, skylight and deck, mowing the lawn, cleaning gutters and moving furniture to Scarsdale for storage in a Local 812 building.


Non-union firms challenge Project Labor Agreements

Local non-union contractors and their trade organization asked a judge to stop today's scheduled bidding on the renovation of the George Harvey Justice Building in Binghamton, NY because they say a labor agreement limiting work to a majority of union contractors is illegal.

Bids on the $16.9 million project are set to be opened at 2 p.m. today in the Broome County Office Building on Hawley Street. The issue is expected to go before a state Supreme Court judge at 12:30 p.m. today, county officials said.

Legal documents requesting a stay on today's bidding were filed Tuesday in Broome County's state Supreme Court, said Rebecca Meinking, president of the Empire Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., a state trade organization for non-union contractors.

Court papers filed Tuesday allege the county's bid documents are incomplete and lack information for anyone other than union contractors to determine wages and fringe benefits, and thus violate the law.

The chairman of the Broome County Legislature said Tuesday he stood behind the near-unanimous Nov. 20 vote to approve the labor agreement -- a first for Broome County. Mark R. Whalen, D-Binghamton, referred to it as "the vote to use local labor," and said, "We think it is justifiable." The vote was 17-0 in favor, with one abstention and one legislator absent.

Local non-union contractors have said Broome County has shut them out of the project by compelling the use of union labor on 90 percent of the project. Non-union shops may bid but are restricted by the project labor agreement to using only 10 percent of their own workers if they win a bid.

Broome County legislators voted Nov. 20 to approve the labor agreement because they believed the work would to go to local tradesman, Whalen said. But non-union contractors are arguing that the labor agreement excludes most of their tradesmen, most of whom also are residents of Broome County.

Union labor includes about 15 percent of the local construction work force in Broome, court documents allege. "No mention is made as to why the skills of the 85 percent of the remaining construction workers in the area are unqualified for such work," the court papers state.

Local union officials have argued that the number of shops large enough to do work on the Harvey Justice Building are closer to a 50-50 split between union and non-union shops in Broome.

Local non-union shops who are parties to the legal challenge include Nelcorp Electrical Contracting Corp., J&K Plumbing and Heating Co. Inc., Piccirilli, Slavik & Vincent Plumbing and Heating Inc., and contractors Luciano Piccirilli, owner of Piccirilli, Slavik & Vincent Plumbing and Heating Inc., and Kenneth P. Dorris, a local contractor.

Whalen said the legal challenge would have to work its way through the justice system. "Anyone is entitled to file a lawsuit against a government for any reason, real and imagined," the chairman said. "I believe it's an overall public relations plan to discredit the whole concept of a project labor agreement."


Dems abhor union transparency, accountability

While government spending, saving energy, climate change and a new strategy for Afghanistan have been dominating the news as Congress struggles to finish its work before Christmas, another important issue has gone unnoticed — union transparency.

The omnibus spending bill that is close to final passage would increase funds available for every oversight agency in the government except the Office of Labor Management Standards at the Labor Department, the group that oversees union finances. There's more dollars for the Security and Exchange Commission, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But OLMS gets short shrift.

President Bush asked Congress for $57 million for OLMS in 2008, an increase of $9 million from the 2007 level of $48 million. Instead, congressional Democrats are appropriating $45 million, cutting the president's request by $12 million, or 21%. This is $3 million, or 6%, less than in 2007.

OLMS is to unions what the Securities and Exchange Commission is to corporations. The SEC, with a budget of more than $842 million in 2007, or more than 16 times the purse of OLMS, is charged with protecting investors from irregular if not fraudulent accounting and other deceptive practices by publicly traded companies. In 2005, just four years after the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which required greater disclosure of corporate finances, the Labor Department began to require more information on union spending, too.

OLMS protects union members from deceptive practices and irregular accounting by forcing union leaders to disclose them. That is a worthy purpose. Yet, earlier this month the liberal Center for American Progress issued a report by senior fellow Scott Lilly entitled "Beyond Justice," attacking the Labor Department. Mr. Lilly wrote, "In at least one instance, rigorous and in fact pernicious regulatory enforcement was the course chosen by the Bush administration."

Mr. Lilly suggests that the new union financial disclosure rules are too costly for unions to administer, saying that union employees now have to keep records, buy software, and pay accountants, none of which they had to do previously.

Although the Labor Department has offered record-keeping software free to any union that requests it, it is true that the requirement to keep records imposes certain costs. But organizations that require membership as a condition of working, such as unions, and that levy dues on members, are reasonably required to take the time to keep records and present financial information in an understandable manner.

Moreover, unions are using members' dues to take an increasingly active role in politics. The Web site of the Center for Responsive Politics lists top all-time donor profiles for major organizations, with the data taken from federal campaign disclosure forms. Twelve of the top 20 are unions, and, no surprise, all are listed as favoring Democratic candidates. Perhaps that's why congressional Democrats want to reduce OLMS investigations.

The biggest donor is the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, which has given more than $39 million to Democratic candidates. Others in the top 10 are the National Education Association, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Laborers Union, the Service Employees International Union, and the Carpenters and Joiners Union.

The New York State political arm of the Laborers Union, which represents construction trades, has sent $215,000 to its national committee. This election cycle the national committee has spent $32,000 on Democratic presidential candidates, $701,000 on Democratic House candidates (nearly 10 times as much as on Republican candidates), and $46,000 on Democratic Senate candidates (more than 15 times the amount spent on Republicans). Union members are entitled to be informed about such contributions. Union members also deserve to know that the SEIU International Union Local 1999 PAC of New York City had, by June 30 of this year, transferred $2 million to the SEIU/Committee on Political Education PAC. The SEIU Intl. Union 32B-32J, another local in the New York City area, contributed $600,000. The New York Transport Workers Union PAC contributed $48,500 as of October 31 to Democratic Senate candidates, and $203,800 to House candidates (only $6,000 found its way to four Republicans running for House seats).

New York union members have the right to know their bosses' salaries, which are paid out of members' dues. Lillian Roberts, executive director of New York's State County and Municipal Employees AFL-CIO District Council 37, made $393,077 in 2006. James T. Callahan, business manager of the Engineers, Operating, AFL-CIO Local Union 15, made $298,466. And John Hickey, president of the Service Employees Local Union 758, made $220,893.

Perhaps there's nothing wrong with spending union dues on political campaigns or on high salaries for union bosses. Perhaps the rank-and-file don't disapprove — if they know. But do they know? They're entitled to the best information available, which requires not just union reporting but audits by OLMS. In 2006, OLMS had the staff to audit only 4.6% of unions required to file the forms. That's why it needs more funding, not less.

Congress could not cut the budget of the SEC. It is a large and visible agency whose budget is closely watched by outside groups. But the Office of Labor Management Standards works in relative obscurity, protecting millions of American union members. The Democratic majority does not care about these workers — it just wants to protect the union bosses to preserve the flow of campaign contributions.

- Ms. Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. She can be reached at dfr@hudson.org.


Jet-setting AFSCME pension boss lands in hot water

The vice chairman of the city's pension board has accepted free trips to conferences, some underwritten by money managers who seek business from pension boards, without informing the board and in apparent violation of the board's travel policy.

William Rubin, 40, is vice chairman of the Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement, an employee in the city commissioners' office and treasurer of Local 696 of AFSCME District Council 33.

He's taken two expense-paid trips this year to what he calls "educational" conferences, one in San Francisco and another in Lake Las Vegas, Nev.

Both conferences were sponsored by a company whose events are substantially underwritten by money managers who want to network with pension-board members like Rubin.

A third trip to an event in Grantville, Pa., was sponsored by an association of public-employee retirement systems.

"It's very clear that the travel should have been approved by the executive director or the board," said Romulo Diaz Jr., the city solicitor who also sits on the pension board.

Vincent Jannetti, the city finance director who serves as the pension board chairman, agreed.

"If someone is going to be asked to speak at a conference, then they should go to the executive director and vet it through the board's process," he said.

When the Daily News raised questions about his undisclosed and subsidized travel, Rubin initially argued that the pension board's policy on travel didn't require him to disclose it.

"I have followed the policy to the 'T' and I called the Law Department," Rubin said. He said he would file the appropriate state and city financial-disclosure forms next year to document this year's travel.

Several days later, Rubin changed his mind, saying he would henceforth disclose his intinerary, as well as his past travel, even though his interpretation of the policy did not require the disclosure.

"I think the policy needs to be amended," Rubin said. "It should be called an educational policy and not a travel policy. I think the language should be tighter."

In just his first term on the pension board, Rubin has become a mover and shaker, as well as a lightning rod for controversy.

His biggest move came early last year when he pulled together the four union members on the board and a fifth board member, City Controller Alan Butkovitz, in a coalition that has seized control of the board from the Street administration's four members on many issues.

The new majority has pushed a Sudan divestment policy, hired its choice for chief investment officer, become more sympathetic to union grievances, pushed to hire more minority money managers and elected Rubin as vice chairman, a position that hadn't existed for many years.

Board-member travel, often to sunny vacation spots, has been a point of contention for years. In general, union members tend to travel while administration officials don't.

Payments come from a fund known as "commission recapture," which is essentially rebates from money managers on their various trades on behalf of the $5 billion pension fund.

"I just want to make it clear that it's pension-fund money that is being used to finance these trips," Jannetti said.

Gwendolyn Bell, pension board executive director, said she knew of no board members who had accepted free travel.

"I can't say that I know all of the board's travel," she said.

When asked about Rubin's travel, Butkovitz said the controversy surrounding the issue was "an outgrowth of the tensions on the board."

He defended Rubin, saying: "He's not out there junketing. I think he takes the idea of the fiduciary responsibility and being a warrior for labor very seriously, and I give him credit for being one of the best-educated members on this board."

But the controller acknowledged that before leaving town, Rubin should have disclosed his proposed travels and the payments he was accepting from conference organizers.

"In my mind, the issue is ethical," Butkovitz said. "It's like if someone else buys you dinner, what are they getting for that?"

The travel policy was established in 2003. It limited board members to two city-paid trips per year, though members who belong to pension-related organizations were allowed to attend their own organization's conference, Bell said, for a third trip during the year.

But even that limit has been exceeded. For example, union member Carol Stukes, a four-term pension board member, had taken five trips through October of this year. She took three trips in 2006 and six in 2005.

In the last three years, the four union members on the board have spent more than $63,000 on travel with Stukes leading the way with almost $19,000 in expenses. Rubin has put in for $17,500 in expenses.

The policy also sets the terms for conferences that seek pension-board members as speakers. The board chooses who will speak at the event. That speaker can accept payment for transportation, meals and lodging paid by the organizer.

But the board is supposed to receive the payment, the event must discuss policy or practices relevant to the board's mission and the organizer can't have any financial interest in any pending board matter six months before or after the event.

Rubin said that he originally felt no need to disclose his travel because the company sponsoring the events, Information Management Network, asked him personally to speak at events in San Francisco in October and in Lake Las Vegas, Nev., last March.

He also spoke in Grantville near Harrisburg at an event sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association of Public Employee Retirement Systems, but he required no travel or lodging subsidy.

Though he was listed as vice chairman of the city pension board on conference materials, Rubin said he was speaking at these events as an individual.

"They wanted my expertise as a board member, a city employee dealing with the election process, and a union member," he said.

Diaz, the city solicitor, didn't buy the logic of Rubin's analysis.

"He may have made a good faith effort at making a distinction between his travel and that kind of travel requiring board approval, but the policy doesn't recognize such a distinction," he said.

While conceding some events are more about "junkets and alcohol," Rubin said he focuses on "solid educational events."

And if conference organizers are seeking pension-board business, he said he will not attend the event or accept a subsidized speaking engagement.

Rubin said he began accepting subsidized engagements just this year and saw no reason to inform his colleagues on the board.

That changed when he decided to attend the Public Fund Boards Forum in San Francisco Dec. 9. He told the board he wanted the city to pay for part of his stay.

Rubin wanted to count the San Francisco conference as one of his two city-paid trips; the other was earlier in October in Palm Springs, Calif.

The San Francisco event, run by IIR Holdings, a company based in Dubai, paid his airfare and one night of lodging. The city paid his other expenses.

Rubin had planned to accept a free trip to Scottsdale, Ariz., in January to attend a conference sponsored by Opal Industries but canceled that because it conflicted with his union's meeting to nominate officers. Like most of the conferences, the Opal event is sponsored by money managers.

Rubin said he does plan to attend a one-day event in New York in January.

In mid-March, he's listed among five key speakers at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., where Terrapinn, the event organizer, is sponsoring a conference on an arcane investment strategy known as 130/30 funds.

Rubin said companies like Opal, Terrapinn and IMN are not looking for city business.

"They provide education to [pension] trustees," he said.

Erica Kirwan, a spokeswoman for IMN, noted that money managers "are our biggest supporters." IMN designs the event based on what the industry wants to see.

And although pension-fund trustees may come to learn about arcane investment practices, the "service providers," the banks, lawyers and money managers "are there for networking," she said.


SEIU gets its message across in labor-state

A sea of blue-shirted labor workers and supporters of District 911 made a public statement with signs in hand last week before Cambridge-Isanti (MN) School Board members.

Though no specifics nor response from the board could be addressed at the regular Dec. 13 board meeting, the group’s message regarding pending contract talks was clear: “We are willing and waiting to negotiate in good faith with you.”

Last November, the NEWS reported that new contracts proposed for four labor groups in District 911 were not accepted as representatives from both sides hit an impasse. This was before wages were discussed as work week control and overtime allotment centered into the argument.

On Dec. 13, Denise White, a paraprofessional at Rum River South who’s been with the district for six years, addressed the board speaking on behalf of fellow paras and employees — including custodial, secretarial and food service — belonging to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 284.

The speech

“We believe that the collective health of the district depends on the ability of all individuals within the district to work together to solve the challenges of the district,” said White, also a school van driver, in a prepared statement.

“We believe that you, as board members, are responsible for negotiating with all organized staff units in a fair and responsible manner. Your elected role gives you the responsibility to uphold the values of this district and compels you to follow the moral guidelines which have been set forth in this district.

“The only request that our members have had of you is to present proposals in a manner which are forthright about the changes included in those proposals, a request which you have thus far denied us.

“We believe that denial of this request violates the values of this district, the responsibilities of your role, and the moral guidelines established in our Character Traits.”

Those traits include honesty, respect, responsibility, self-discipline and compassion.

Continued White, “Our request continues to be the same; present your proposals in a manner which honestly addresses each and every change you are attempting to make.

“We are making this request not only as employees, but as citizens, fellow congregation members, neighbors, taxpayers and voters. We are willing to do whatever it takes to protect our right and in turn keep this district the best place for our children to be,” she concluded.

Again, as Board Chairman Jack Williams, Jr. pointed out before the speech, the board by law could only listen and not respond to the group’s message during the public meeting.

However, the board later that night did go into closed session, as previously planned, to consider strategy for labor negotiations.

A little background

According to a story that ran in the NEWS last month, an informational meeting on the proposed contracts was to be held Nov. 1 between the two sides at the District 911 Education Center.

The employees of the district are represented by Laurie Stammer, contract organizer of the SEIU out of Buffalo, Minn.

Meanwhile, the district hired labor counsel Joe Flynn of Knutson, Flynn & Deans of St. Paul to reorganize the four contracts for July 2007 through July 2009, with the goal to help better track similar language between those contracts.

Flynn and Stammer got into a confrontation during the first of four one-hour sessions, both accusing each other of not reading each other’s proposals thoroughly. Flynn walked out on the remainder of the sessions.

If the two sides can’t sit back down together, mediation would be the next step to resolve the contract dispute.


Using racial discrimination against union-racism

The Philadelphia City Council has turned the $700 million expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center into a depressingly familiar exercise in squalid racial politics. It has opened the project to nonunion labor for the sole reason of increasing minority participation.

But what is especially offensive, both morally and constitutionally, is the requirement that 50 percent of the contracts must be awarded to minority- (and female-) owned companies. The City Council is pursuing, with no real public criticism from anyone, a manifestly unconstitutional course of racial discrimination with this project.

The basic arrangement in awarding public contracts is straightforward: A project is announced and proposals for the work to be done are solicited. Firms then submit bids on the proposal. The lowest responsible bidder is awarded the contract.

This process is designed to ensure an efficient use of public money and to avoid favoritism in awarding contracts. It is, obviously, a race-neutral system. That is, until politicians introduce race in set-aside programs to help uncompetitive companies obtain contracts that they are unable to earn on their own.

Racial set-asides in the context of public contracting by local governments are manifestly unconstitutional. In the 1989 case City of Richmond v. J. A. Croson Co., the U.S. Supreme Court (in a surprisingly decisive opinion by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor) invalidated a race-based set-aside program for public-construction contracts. The Court determined that the use of racial classifications by state and local governments requires the highest level of judicial scrutiny - the doctrine is formally known as "strict scrutiny" - to satisfy the fourteenth amendment's equal-protection clause ("nor shall any state ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws"). Under this standard, the challenged racial classification will almost invariably fail.

With the convention center's egregious racial set-aside, it is impossible to imagine any rationale other than handing out public contracts to the race favored by the City Council. This body is shamelessly using the expansion of the convention center to reward black (and female) contractors in an impermissibly discriminatory way. And this racialist proposition is subversive of our ideal of equality before the law. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a memorable concurring opinion in the Croson case, and the following extract states the matter of the need for racial neutrality with characteristic insight:

"It is plainly true that in our society blacks have suffered discrimination immeasurably greater than any directed at other racial groups. But those who believe that racial preferences can help 'even the score' display, and reinforce, a manner of thinking by race that was the source of the injustice and that will, if it endures within our society, be the source of more injustice still. The relevant proposition is not that it was blacks, or Jews, or Irish who were discriminated against but that it was individual men and women, 'created equal,' who were discriminated against. And the relevant resolve is that that should never happen again. Racial preferences appear to 'even the score' (in some small degree) only if one embraces the proposition that our society is appropriately viewed as divided into races, making it right that an injustice rendered in the past to a black man should be compensated for by discriminating against a white. Nothing is worth that embrace. Since blacks have been disproportionately disadvantaged by racial discrimination, any race-neutral remedial program aimed at the disadvantaged as such will have a disproportionately beneficial impact on blacks. Only such a program, and not one that operates on the basis of race, is in accord with the letter and the spirit of our Constitution."

The cynical, it's-our-turn use of racial discrimination by the City Council - which has been endorsed by Mayor-elect Michael Nutter, who muttered the standard diversity jive in support of using nonunion labor - is unconstitutional and profoundly offensive to our political morality. The process of awarding public contracts, when not manipulated by race-obsessed governing bodies, is neutral as to race. This neutrality is the best approach for the use of public money and embodies one of the soundest principles of any system of political liberty: namely, equality before the law.

Alas, the Council prefers to squander public resources and, more disappointingly, ignore the colorblind mandate of the Constitution that the Council members have solemnly sworn to uphold. All Philadelphians lose, practically, with potentially shoddy work expensively done at the convention center and, philosophically, with the abandonment of a fundamental tenet of our constitutional order in favor of racial discrimination.


Unionism and racism: Philadelphia traditions collide

In the run-up to today's City Council vote on the Convention Center expansion, some of the city's high-profile African American leaders gathered at a union hall yesterday to serve notice to the construction trades: Get diverse or get out.

"The City of Philadelphia will no longer accept an environment of economic apartheid," Mayor-elect Michael Nutter told the gathering of politicians and union members at Laborers International Union of North America Local 332's hall, just off North Broad Street.

Today City Council is expected to approve an ordinance that will require unions to detail the racial and gender makeup of their membership and to develop a diversity plan to increase the number of women and minorities in their unions.

The unions and union contractors must also commit to giving women and minority union members 50 percent of the work hours on the site. If City Council doesn't like each union's plan, that union will not be permitted to sign a project labor agreement that will govern the work on the $700 million expansion project.

Yesterday's news conference was all about grand goals of inclusion, equal opportunity and participation. But nothing specific was said about how this would be carried out and enforced.

Nutter said a monitoring mechanism would be put in place with fines and penalties. "It comes down to data, information and a trust factor about sharing," he said in an interview after the news conference.

City Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., who has advocated increased minority participation, said later that the unions would need to work fast to develop their plans. Construction can't start on the center until the project labor agreement is in place - and City Council needs to approve the diversity plans before unions can sign the agreement.

Goode said Council might need to convene a special session during its winter recess to consider the unions' diversity plans.

Even before the scheduled vote, Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller issued a statement announcing that she would hold a news conference today to discuss the successful passage of the ordinance.

Reed Miller was among the political leaders who attended yesterday's news conference convened by State Sen. Anthony H. Williams.

The controversy over minority hiring and contracting goals at the Convention Center had pitted two traditional allies - organized labor and African Americans - against each other. For a while last week, it looked as if the issue would lead to the end of union control in city public-works projects, signaling a significant weakening in labor's political clout.

But then, Mayor Street stepped in to help broker a deal that would meet both union and minority concerns.

Williams said the Laborers' union hall was chosen deliberately as the location for yesterday's conference. Local 332 is 80 percent African American, according to business agent Sam Staten Sr.

"We don't have a problem with unions in Philadelphia," said Williams, a Democrat from West Philadelphia.

Now, Williams said, it is up to unions - and contractors - to step up minority inclusion.

"This train is on the track," Williams said. "You can either get on it or else be run over by it."


Teamsters strike inconveniences shoppers

Shoppers heading to Times Supermarkets on Oahu are being greeted by employees outside the store. But it's not the kind of holiday greeting you might think. It's anything but a warm greeting.

In fact, shoppers need to get past a line of picketing workers to get inside the supermarkets.

Meat and fish cutters at all 12 of Oahu's Times Supermarkets are picketing in front of the stores, instead working behind the counters. The 116 deli workers are members of the Hawaii Teamsters Union, Local 996.

They walked off the job Monday morning, after rejecting the company's latest offer. At issue is health benefits for workers on extended leave. Times wants to cap their health benefits at one year.

Union officials released a statement saying: "This is not about money. It's about providing and maintaining a decent quality of life for our member's families." But Times management says the one year cap is both "prudent and wise" in today's competitive environment.

"We feel that one year of coverage when you're out on any type of disability or workers comp, sick leave TDI, we feel the one year is very competitive and very generous," said Clifford Hayashi, Times Human Resources manager.

"We are hoping they come to the table and realize this is a benefit we have had for years and we are not just going to give it away," said James Lyon, a Teamsters representative.

The current deal offers unlimited premium payments for disabled employees.

Striking workers apologize for any invonvenience in the week leading up to Christmas.

For their part, Times officials say it's business as usual, and point out more than 90% of it's workforce is still on the job.

Times management says it is open to talks with the union, and stress they are hoping to settle the dispute as soon as possible.


Teachers union boss tongue-lashes school board

Sparked by a presentation by Susanville (CA) Teachers Association President Ken Unterreiner, nearly 20 of the Susanville School District’s 66 teachers told the district board of trustees they’re willing to go on strike unless the district gives in to their demands.

The message, repeated over and over with slight variations, and posted on the back wall of the meeting room at Diamond View School at the board’s Wednesday, Dec. 12 meeting was — “I can. I will. Please don’t make me” strike.

Unterreiner acknowledged he was making a personal attack and put the blame squarely on the five board members — John Murrer, Amy Owens, Llaniss Dickinson, Kevin Stafford and Amy Cain and Linnea Vanderville, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services.

“Six of you in this room need to listen to this very carefully,” Unterreiner told the board and Vanderville, “because six of you are holding up the whole process of getting a settlement.”

He told the board he felt like someone who was going through a divorce. At first they get really angry, and then they step back and start to reassess.

“The Susanville Teacher’s Association stands before you once again tonight,” Unterreiner said, “confident, proud, strong and very united. We have the support of our students, their parents, our family members and this community. Teachers provide a valued service, and no one, including the six of you, will minimize our worth. You are forcing us to walk, and walk out of our classrooms. Yes, you are going to bring this district down brick by brick.”

The president said STA was dedicated to getting “a fair and equitable agreement” with the district, but he alleged the district has tried in numerous ways “to back us into a corner.”

According to Unterreiner, “We are going to continue to stand tall and protect our health benefits and obtain a fair compensation.”

Who will pay for future premium increases in the health insurance premiums — the teachers or the district — remains one the biggest obstacles to an agreement between the union and the district.

“This stalemate between you and the Susanville teachers is definitely not about the lack of money,” Unterreiner said. “That is certainly not it. If the five of you (on the board) continue to believe that, you are being misled sorely. No, this struggle has become very personal. When people let personal issues and power struggles into the workplace the result can be very, very destructive.”

Unterreiner said the morale in the district was at an all-time low, but a strike would lower the morale to zero and destroy the trust between the district and the teacher’s union.

“The novelty of a teacher’s strike will last for a day or two,” Unterreiner said. “Then the reality will set in. Parents are going to become very angry. Unhappy students will become unruly. And the efficient educational machine at our school will begin to fall apart. A teacher’s strike will tear this district into fragments that will take an entire generation to heal.”

According to Unterreiner, if there is a strike, parents will take their children to other school districts, and four districts are waiting to accept those students and earn the state apportionment they generate, and the financial loss would affect everyone connected with the district.

The union president said he felt very good when he put a sign in the windshield of his car that read, “Strike?,” but that message was not aimed at the school but at the six people who were blocking an agreement.

“When I put that (sign) in my car, I smile,” Unterreiner said, “because I am very unhappy with you. I cannot believe you claim to be what is good for children.”

Unterreiner said three members of the board had already stated their objective is to put a cap on the teacher’s benefits.

According to the district, it already spends $12,696 per employee in health insurance premiums, an amount that exceeds that spent by most other school districts in Northern California and well above the average paid by school districts in Lassen County.

He said the three board members, Amy Cain, Llaniss Dickinson and Amy Owens attended an STA forum and “made it perfectly clear at that time you had business to take care of, and you were not leaving this board until your business was taken care of, and that business is a health cap. And that is ludicrous.”

Unterreiner urged the other two board members to “end this madness. Start voting the right way. You have issues. You can talk about issues. Don’t let three people run your life.”

Pointing to the teachers in the room, Unterreiner said, “Look at these people. Those are all the people you’re affecting. Six people affecting how many teachers? How many students? That is madness gone to seed.”

The union president alleged the district had more $800,000 in new revenue over the past three years — an amount the district said was incorrect. He said the teachers had received only 2 percent of that $800,000.

“Seventeen years of doom and gloom, that’s all I’ve ever heard,” Unterreiner said. “The sky’s still up there. The buildings are here. Nothing has happened. It’s ridiculous.”

Nearly 20 teachers, most of them with many years of service — and some of them on the verge of tears — took their turn at the front of the audience and told the board they were willing to go on strike if the union and the district could not reach an agreement.

Nearly all of them said, “I can. I will. Please don’t make me,” or some slight variation of that theme.


Messy union merger fight spills into courtroom

Internal charges arising from a proposed merger between the United Transportation Union and the Sheet Metal Workers have been dropped, but a court case over the merger is proceeding.

The UTU’s executive board had been scheduled to hold an internal trial Thursday on the charges, which alleged that UTU workers were not furnished crucial information about the effects of the merger. But the complainant, Roy Arnold, the union’s international vice president, withdrew the charges this week.

Arnold’s complaint was primarily directed against UTU President Paul Thompson, a Kansas City resident who orchestrated the proposed merger with the Sheet Metal Workers International Association. Unless it is halted by the judge in the court case, the merger is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Thompson insisted that the legal fracas was strictly a fight between the UTU and the Teamsters union, which he said had thwarted a proposed merger between the UTU and the Brotherhood of Local Engineers and Trainmen several years ago.

“That’s all this is about — a rivalry between the UTU and the Teamsters,” he said.

Thompson said that after Arnold was defeated in a recent union election, he hooked up with other people allied with the Teamsters, “which our membership has continually said we don’t want any part of the Teamsters organization.”

The UTU has about 80,000 members, many of them in Kansas City. About half the members work in the rail industry. The union, which has headquarters in Cleveland, was formed through the merger of four rail unions in 1969 and bills itself as the largest railroad operating union in North America.

In August, UTU members overwhelmingly approved the merger with the Sheet Metal Workers. The combination will create a 230,000-member organization called the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, or SMART.

Arnold, who was in charge of the UTU’s Bus Drivers Department, filed his internal charges against Thompson and UTU Assistant Vice President Rick Marceau in early November. A few weeks later, Arnold and two other UTU members sued Thompson and the union in federal court in Illinois. The case was recently transferred to federal court in Ohio.

The court case seeks to prevent the merger and to remove Thompson and Marceau from office on the grounds that union members were not provided with critical information about the implications of the merger.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that members weren’t told that the combination “would not be a merger in the traditional sense, but rather an acquisition of the UTU by the Sheet Metal Workers, a crucial, material fact that was withheld from the UTU membership … during what amounted to a rushed, quickie ratification referendum conducted without any meaningful discussion or debate among the UTU membership.”

At the heart of the lawsuit is its contention that the merger referendum should be declared null and void because ballot material sent to members did not include a copy of the merged unions’ constitution.

Thompson said Tuesday that the constitution was readily available to all union members.

“It was on our Web site,” he said. “Everybody had a copy of it. It was in our UTU News that you had to go to the Web site to see it if you were interested in it.

In court documents, Thompson’s attorneys have asked that the case be dismissed. They say that Arnold and his fellow plaintiffs admit that the merger was properly approved and that they simply oppose the method by which the unions’ constitutions might be modified as a result of the merger.

“This concession is fatal to their action, which seeks to enjoin the merger,” the attorneys wrote.

At the same time, the Sheet Metal Workers union has filed its own lawsuit in federal court in Washington. That lawsuit seeks to have the merger declared valid.

The lawsuit says such a declaration is necessary to prevent the UTU’s elected officers, including its newly elected president and assistant vice president, from scuttling the deal.


Clinton-crony bid with Teamsters lacks substance

Bankrupt Interstate Bakeries Corp. has rejected the joint bid from Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. LLC and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters after it decided that the $580 million offer was not a qualified bid because it left too many unanswered questions.

According to the maker of Wonder Bread and Twinkies, the Yucaipa proposal, which was submitted to IBC Dec. 13, was 'silent on a number of critical issues.'

Kansas City, Mo.-based IBC said the proposal didn't provide information on what recovery unsecured creditors would receive, what the business plan would consist of, how the business plan would be financed or details of the exclusive agreement with the Teamsters.

'The company does intend to engage in further discussions with Yucaipa and the Teamsters to determine whether they intend to make a complete proposal that provides missing essential information,' according to a Dec. 14 statement by IBC.

In November, IBC described a $400 million exit financing from Silver Point Finance LLC as a 'stalking-horse proposal subject to higher and better proposals.' Then came the Yucaipa-Teamsters bid. But all bids are due Jan. 15, with an auction scheduled for Jan. 22 and the sale hearing set for Jan. 29.

According to IBC, other parties are interested in the company: some are interested in making competing plan proposals, and others are interested in purchasing select assets, the IBC statement said.

'We are pleased that Yucaipa and the Teamsters continue to express interest in the company's emergence from Chapter 11. At the same time, we are surprised and disappointed at the lack of substance in their submission. Our goal in the Chapter 11 process is to maximize value for IBC's constituents. We look forward to resolving the many deficiencies in their current document in order to determine whether they might be able to provide better value to constituents than under the [c]ompany's current plan,' said IBC CEO Craig Jung in the statement.

Yucaipa and the Teamsters also announced Dec. 13 that Bimbo Bakeries USA dropped from the team to buy IBC. Under their proposal, the Teamsters and Yucaipa said they will pay all of the claims of IBC's senior secured lenders in full.

IBC filed for Chapter 11 on Sept. 22, 2004, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Missouri in Kansas City.


Government union phone-bankers

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