Teamsters routed at Soaring Eagle

The housekeeping staff at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort Friday soundly rejected membership in the Teamsters union, but the battle to unionize casino employees is far from over.

The vote against unionization was 192 no, 88 yes, better than a 2 to 1 margin. "They waxed us pretty good," said Ed Morin, business agent for Teamsters Local 486. "We"re not walking away from it." Nearly all the members of the full- and part-time housekeeping staff who were eligible to vote cast ballots.

The Teamsters have been attempting to organize casino workers for more than a year. Friday"s vote, run by the National Labor Relations Board, was the first time workers at the casino and hotel run by the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe have voted on representation.

"Our employees trust in the leadership to do a good job," Tribal Council member Michele Stanley said. "I went to a lot of meetings with the employees and listened."

Stanley said those employee meetings turned up issues that the management of the huge casino and hotel complex have to address. "Now, we know what the problems are," Stanley said, "and we can deal with them."

Morin said the Teamsters felt that workers in the housekeeping department and other areas had been put under pressure to vote against the union.

"Certainly, we feel there was a lot of fear of retaliation on the part of the employees," Morin said.

Stanley denied that workers had been put under pressure, although management at the Tribal casino had urged them to vote no.

"We didn"t do any more than give them the facts," Stanley said. "There was no pressure."

The soonest another organizing vote can take place will be one year, Morin said.

"We"ll see if they live up to their word," the Teamsters organizer said. "We"ll be back in a year."

The vote at the Soaring Eagle is in sharp contrast to a vote earlier this year at the Tribal-run Foxwoods Resort in Connecticut, where dealers overwhelmingly voted to unionize. Organized labor has been trying to gain footholds in Native-run casinos since a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that said workers could be represented by unions under some circumstances.

The Saginaw Chippewas have adopted a Tribal labor ordinance that essentially outlaws union activity on Tribal lands. Morin said he"s filed an unfair labor practice charge over the ordinance and expects to keep challenging it.

He said the Teamsters will not go away, and will continue to try to organize other employee groups.

"We"ll be around to talk to the other people," Morin said.

Meanwhile, a hearing is set for today to determine if there is enough support among members of the security and surveillance staff to ask for a vote on joining the International Union of Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America.


UFCW denies using false-front group for racketeering

Bashas filed suit today against the United Food and Commercial Workers union, saying that it has defamed the locally-owned grocery store chain in an attempt force unionization of its workers.

In a morning press conference, Bashas' president and chief executive officer Mike Proulx, said the suit was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court this morning because the union has spread "nasty, unethical and ugly" lies about the 75-year-old Arizona company.

It asks for a restraining order against the union and for unspecified damages.

Bashas' officials say the union has set up a "false-front" organization called Hungry for Respect, which has picketed Bashas' stores and spread rumors about the health and cleanliness of Bashas' stores and products.

UFCW Local 99, the local food and commercial workers union, had no immediate comment except to say that Hungry for Arizona is not a union front. Bob Grossfeld, a spokesman for Local 99, said Hungry for Respect is a research organization that has received funding from the union but has no direct relationship with it.

Bashas' attorney Michael Manning said the conflict between Bashas' and the UFCW has been ongoing since 2001, when the union tried and failed to unionize workers at Food City, which is part of the Bashas' chain.

"The UFCW's campaign is carefully crafted to inflict substantial economic damages, destroy Bashas' reputation and extort Bashas' into submitting to unionization," Manning said.

"The UFCW has giving Bashas' an ultimatum with two unacceptable choices - force Bashas' employees into their union or the UFCW will destroy Bashas' business."

Proulx said Bashas' officials also believe union representatives have planted outdated perishable products in its stores. He said the labels on the products showed that they were not items carried by Bashas' but by other Arizona groceries.


Unions kept OLMS very busy in November

The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) today announced its criminal enforcement data for November 2007. During the month, OLMS obtained nine convictions and court orders of restitution totaling $488,670. The bulk of the cases involved the embezzlement of union funds.

OLMS is the federal law enforcement agency responsible for administering most provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA). The agency's criminal enforcement program includes investigations of embezzlement from labor organizations, extortionate picketing, deprivation of union members' rights by force or violence, and fraud in union officer elections. The agency's civil program collects and publicly discloses unions' annual financial reports, conducts compliance audits of labor unions and seeks civil remedies for violations of officer election procedures.

"When crimes such as these occur, workers are right to demand that we deliver swift, effective justice. The nine convictions this month are a victory for them," said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Labor-Management Standards Don Todd. "Our work has resulted in convictions of individuals found guilty of wrongdoing against unions, and we are proud of our results in protecting America's union members. We have obtained more than 800 convictions and exceeded 850 indictments since fiscal year 2001. The court ordered restitution in these cases is just about $103 million."

OLMS's public disclosure Web page at http://www.unionreports.gov contains union annual financial reports and additional forms required to be filed under the LMRDA. Other information, including synopses of OLMS enforcement actions, is available on OLMS's home page at http://www.olms.dol.gov.

Editor's Notes: A listing of selected OLMS enforcement actions during November 2007 accompanies this release. An indictment is the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity. As in all criminal cases, each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal charges and indictments noted in these materials are accusations only.

Selected Enforcement Actions in November 2007

Office of Labor-Management Standards
U.S. Department of Labor


Former Secretary-Treasurer of AFGE Local 3749 Sentenced for Making
False Entry

On November 1, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, Connie Scarrow, former secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 3749, was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to serve six months of home confinement. On August 9, Scarrow had pled guilty to knowingly and willfully making a false entry on the local's Form LM-3 to conceal her misappropriation of union funds. Scarrow previously had made restitution in the amount of $11,000. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Kansas City Resident Office.

Former Union Vice President Pleads Guilty and Sentenced on Four Counts of Embezzlement

On November 8, in the 4th District of the North Carolina District Courts, Donnell Davis, former vice president of American Federation of Government Employees AFL-CIO, Local 2065, pled guilty to four counts of North Carolina General Statute Section 1490, embezzlement of property received by virtue of office or employment. He was sentenced on November 8 to seven to nine months imprisonment, 36 months probation, and restitution in the amount of $29,120. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Nashville District Office.

Former Union President Sentenced on One Count of Mail Fraud

On November 14, in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, Lorraine T. Payton, former president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, International Association of Machinists District 1, VA Council, was sentenced to three years probation including eight months home confinement with electronic monitoring for mail fraud. She was ordered to pay $19,800 in restitution and a $100 assessment. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS New Orleans District Office.

Former Financial Secretary of Steelworkers Local 1358 Sentenced for Embezzling More Than $145,000 in Union Funds

On November 15, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Alan Raines, former financial secretary of Steelworkers Local 1358, was sentenced to 24 months in prison and two years of supervised release, ordered to pay a special assessment of $100, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $145,823.92. Raines previously had paid more than $128,000 in restitution. On July 11, Raines pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $274,262.38. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Detroit District Office.

OLMS Investigation Results in Restitution

On November 15, an embezzlement investigation conducted by the OLMS Seattle District Office resulted in the subject entering into the Pre-Trial Diversion program in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Under the terms of the Pre-Trial Diversion agreement, the subject must complete six months supervised release and make full restitution. Due to the confidential nature of the Pre-Trial Diversion program, details that could identify the subject are not public information.

Former Union Treasurer Sentenced for Embezzling More Than $172,000 in Union Funds

On November 21, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Kirk A. Tuttle, former treasurer of the Professional Airline Flight Control Association - DELTA, was sentenced to nine months in prison, two years of supervised release and 150 hours of community service, fined $8,000 and ordered to pay a special assessment of $100. Tuttle previously had paid more than $159,000 in restitution. On September 7, Tuttle pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $172,846. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Atlanta District Office.

Former Union Treasurer Sentenced for Making False Entry and Willful Concealment of Books and Records

On November 27, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Christina Wabinga, former treasurer of Theatrical Employees Local B-66, was sentenced to12 months probation. Wabinga was fined $2,000 and ordered to pay restitution totaling $3,533 to Theatrical Employees Local B-66. On August 22, Wabinga pled guilty to one count of false statements and representations of fact with knowledge of falsehood and one count of false entry and willful concealment of books and records. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS San Francisco District Office.

Former NALC Local Officer Sentenced for Embezzling More Than $66,000 in Union Funds

On November 28, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, William Pagano, former secretary-treasurer of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Branch 78, was sentenced to six months in prison followed by six months home confinement with electronic monitoring and three years probation. Pagano previously pled guilty to embezzling $66,759 in union funds. He also was ordered to make full restitution and pay a special assessment. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office.

Former Union Employee Sentenced for Embezzling More Than $63,000 in Union Funds

On November 29, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Kansas, Kelli Tyrell-Moore, former executive assistant of the Kansas State Nurses Association, was sentenced to eight months of confinement and three years of probation. Tyrell-Moore also was ordered to make restitution in the amount of $63,307. On July 25, Tyrell-Moore pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Kansas City Resident Office.

Guilty Pleas

Former Union President Pleads Guilty to Filing False Reports

On November 2, in the U.S. District Court for Connecticut, Timothy C. Ferrucci, former president of Northeast Emergency Services Union, pled guilty to four counts of filing a false report. Ferrucci admitted making false statements on the local's annual Form LM-3 for the years 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. In each of the annual reports, Ferrucci understated the amount of compensation he directly or indirectly received. Ferrucci's plea agreement requires him to make restitution in the amount of $27,347.67. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS New Haven Resident Office.

Former Treasurer of Carpenters Local 113 Pleads Guilty to Embezzling More Than $14,000 in Union Funds

On November 14, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Brad Dubray, former treasurer of Carpenters Local 113, pled guilty to embezzling union funds in the amount of $14,548.11. On October 15, DuBray was charged with one count of embezzling union funds in the same amount. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Cincinnati District Office.

Criminal Charges and Indictments*

Former Secretary-Treasurer of APWU Branch 715 Charged with Embezzling
Union and Postal Funds

On November 5, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Linda Peterson, former secretary-treasurer of American Postal Workers Union Branch 715, was charged with embezzling union funds in the amount of $2,905 and embezzling U.S. Postal Service funds in the amount of $3,600. The charges follow a joint investigation by the OLMS Denver District Office and the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General.

Former Steelworkers Local 1196 Officer Charged with Embezzling Union Funds and Preparing False Records

On November 7, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Deborah Anthony, former financial secretary of Steelworkers Local 1196, was charged with eight counts of embezzling union funds totaling $6,955.18 and one count of preparing false union records. The charges follow an investigation by the OLMS Pittsburgh District Office.

Former Treasurer of AFGE Local 3435 Charged with Theft and Preparing False Records

On November 8, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Michelle Meek, former treasurer of American Federation of Government Employees Local 3435, was charged with one count of theft within a special territorial jurisdiction of the United States totaling $7,278.28 and two counts of making false entries on financial reports. The charges follow a joint investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office, the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Inspector General.

Former President of AFGE Local 1417 Charged with Theft and Misapplication of Property

On November 15, in the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon for Umatilla County, Robert Steele, former president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 1417, was charged with theft in the first degree and misapplication of entrusted property. The charges follow an investigation by the OLMS Seattle District Office.

Former Union Officer Charged with Embezzling More Than $145,000 in Union Funds

On November 20, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Betty Illig, former secretary-treasurer of Graphic Communications International Union Local 638-S and the Tri-State District Joint Council, was indicted on one count of embezzling union funds totaling $145,675 and one count of making false statements. The indictment follows a joint investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office and the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General.

* An indictment is the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity. As in all criminal cases, each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal charges and indictments summarized in these materials are accusations only.


SEIU, AFSCME fashioned Calif. insurance mandate

As Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez sought the endorsement of two major labor unions for his plan to overhaul healthcare in the state, he added several provisions to the legislation sweetening the deal for union members, including millions of dollars for better benefits and worker training.

The changes came soon after the unions donated more than $1 million combined to an initiative sponsored by Nuñez that would extend numerous lawmakers' terms, including his own.

In the final version, unveiled only days before Monday's vote, the unions received three years of increases in state funding of health insurance for tens of thousands of workers who provide in-home care for the elderly, blind and disabled.

The legislation as approved gives unions unilateral authority to create and operate trust funds to provide employee healthcare, taking the power to negotiate away from the county agencies that employ the workers. The amendment was sought by the Service Employees International Union.

"We weren't aware of it until Monday afternoon," said Paul McIntosh, executive director of the California State Assn. of Counties. "It appears that we don't have an opportunity to express our concerns. One of the questions we have, that we're still analyzing, is whether this would drive up the cost of that insurance."

He said the benefit increase for home care workers -- which would reach 75 cents an hour in the third year -- could be significant because the workers are on duty tens of millions of hours a year.

Another perk the unions negotiated allocates $25 million a year for a "Workforce Development Program Fund" that would provide retraining for their members employed at county hospitals and clinics.

Nuñez's spokesman, Steve Maviglio, said the speaker made multiple changes to the bill in the final days for many groups.

"We worked with hundreds of stakeholders, including organized labor," Maviglio said.

"There was a flurry of activity," he said. "That's part of compromise -- give and take -- and that's exactly what happened. Nobody walked away from the table 100% happy."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the other main architect of the $14-billion deal to extend healthcare to most Californians starting in 2010, went along with the changes that Nuñez (D-Los Angeles) made on the unions' behalf.

Aaron McLear, Schwarzenegger's spokesman, said "the governor and the speaker gave some ground in this negotiation, and the governor is pleased with the final product."

The plan, whose fate in the state Senate is still murky, also requires that voters approve a companion initiative to finance it. The governor and speaker plan to place that measure on the November ballot.

The support of SEIU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will be essential to the plan's backers in that fight. And the unions were crucial for Nuñez to sway all the Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly to vote for Nuñez's plan. With a number of unions and other groups opposed, lawmakers would have feared political repercussions without some of their traditional campaign supporters backing them.

At the same time they were pushing for changes to the bill, the unions were also providing big donations to Nuñez's initiative campaign to change the state's term limits law. The American Federation has given $610,633, most of it last month, and SEIU has given $1.1 million, half of it last week.

Andy Stern, the head of SEIU, marked the bill's passage Monday in the Assembly by flying in from Washington for a news conference with Nuñez and Schwarzenegger.

"We were waiting for the payoff to show up," said Jerry Flanagan, healthcare policy director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a Santa Monica-based nonprofit that believes the Nuñez plan will be too expensive for some consumers. "It's really remarkable, in terms of the express aiming of this money toward two particular unions."

But Jeanine Meyer Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the SEIU California State Council, said her union's support for the bill was not based on horse-trading.

"We have been working on healthcare reform really, really hard all year long," she said. "And there is this perception that suddenly all these amendments happen and then we're on board, which is just wrong."

Willie L. Pelote Sr., the assistant director for political action for the federation in Sacramento, said that others negotiated the recent changes and that he was not aware of them.

The new language boosting health benefits for in-home care workers would add an immediate 25 cents an hour to the state's current 60-cent hourly reimbursement rate. That increase would rise to 50 cents an hour in the second year and 75 cents in the third year if state revenues increased by a 5% benchmark.

Beth Capell, a lobbyist for SEIU, said the union made no apologies for pushing to increase benefits for the workers, who, she added, often make little more than minimum wage.

"SEIU is committed to getting low-wage workers we represent health benefits," she said.

The union represents county hospital workers in every California county where there is one except San Mateo and Contra Costa counties, which are represented by the American Federation, Capell said.

She also said trust funds have been used by unions to provide health insurance for years.

But McIntosh of the California counties association said that in some areas "there's been some contention specifically with SEIU over a trust-funded health plan versus alternatives" that counties would prefer to provide on their own. He said his group would take up the issue in the Senate.

"It appears that the amendment restricts the counties' negotiating ability when it comes to healthcare," McIntosh said.

As for the workforce development program, Capell said it was based on a pilot project in Los Angeles County, where hospital workers have to be trained in new jobs as public hospitals take on an increased role in providing care for the uninsured. She said most federal money goes to train new workers, hence the need for more money for existing hospital employees.

"When you reorganize big institutions like county hospitals, people have to be moved around and they need to be retrained," Capell said.


Class warfare fuels anti-democratic union revival

A review of the recent past and a peek into the nearby future of the labor movement reveals a level of activity reminiscent of the militancy that built industrial unions more than half a century ago.

From breaking the GOP grip on Congress in 2006 and the current wave of strikes to new mobilizations for a fundamental shift in the balance of political forces in 2008, labor is proving that — despite a 30-year, right-wing corporate/government assault — it is alive and well.

Workers and their unions increasingly see themselves now as fighters in a full-fledged class war. This attitude is perceived, surprisingly, by people in corporate boardrooms more than by many workers themselves, even in the current strike by the nation’s writers against the big media moguls.

Writers have turned that six-week strike from a fight over pay formulas into an epic battle to force media conglomerates to cede some real power over that industry to their unions. Their demand of union representation for thousands of writers on reality and animated shows who are not yet organized would create a major shift in favor of workers in the entertainment industry.

The pressure on the centers of power is so strong that individuals like David Letterman are starting to break with the production conglomerates they are hooked up with and are attempting to talk separately to the union.

Even in unsuccessful contract battles, this year workers showed both a high level of willingness to fight and an attitude that their battles were part of something much bigger. Perhaps the best example of this was in the auto industry. Autoworkers shut down GM and Chrysler plants all across America in two short strikes this fall as they battled to maintain jobs and health care. Although the final auto contracts were serious setbacks, with the union taking on responsibility for retiree health care and with the loss of jobs and the establishment of a two-tier wage system, there are forces in the union that appear ready to build for a comeback and to fight another day. The workers, in any case, have shown that they are ready.

The strike wave of which their actions were a part continues. In New York City alone, several strikes are ongoing as this article is being written. Paratransit workers (who provide transportation for the disabled), writers, and cafeteria workers are on strike. The taxi drivers have just come off two of their “rolling strikes” and are planning for a third in January. The janitors are planning for a possible strike and the contracts for tens of thousands of city workers are just about up. The union leaders involved openly talk to the memberships about the need to emulate the militancy of Transport Workers Union Local 100 which struck in 2005. In Los Angeles, where some 30 important contracts are running out, union leaders are talking the same way.

Labor refused this year to allow itself to be divided by so called “wedge issues” frequently used by the right wing. The United Food and Commercial Workers has been running major organizing campaigns in nonunion meatpacking plants where the companies have responded by cooperating with government raids that round up immigrant workers. The government raided union plants all over the country and detained thousands of workers. The union responded aggressively with a campaign defending the right of all workers to decent wages and working conditions and with a massive lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security.

Many argue that the response of labor against this intimidation, including the AFL-CIO’s strong defense of immigrant workers, has contributed to the fact that the polls now show that the economy, the war in Iraq and other issues far outweigh the immigration issue in the minds of voters.

Labor aims to increase significantly the Democratic Party majorities in both houses of Congress and, of course, to elect a Democratic president in 2008. The reasons why are obvious.

2007 started off with a legislative bang as the new, labor-backed and Democratic-run 110th House began passing pro-labor bills. Chief among them was an increase in the minimum wage for the first time in 11 years and the Employee Free Choice Act, which allows workers to form unions when a majority indicate their desire to do so by signing pledge cards. This avoids having to go through elections that are dominated by the companies.

Labor is seeking to increase the pro-worker majorities in Congress because current majorities are not big enough to overcome presidential vetoes or GOP filibusters in the Senate. Bigger progressive majorities and a Democratic president can end the deadlock.

Virtually the entire labor movement has now come out against the war in Iraq, calling for the use of the money spent on the war for useful domestic purposes. Labor sees bigger progressive majorities and a Democratic president as essential to ending the war.

The labor movement also called this year for universal health insurance that would cover all Americans, with the government playing a major role in controlling costs. The unions see success of their electoral plans as key to passage of a new national health insurance plan.

Strikes and electoral activity are not the only way that labor has shown new militancy. Rulings by the Bush controlled National Labor Relations Board that took away from millions of workers their right to unionize by re-classifying them as “supervisors” literally brought thousands of workers all over the country into the streets in November. The AFL-CIO, which led the outpouring, said the NLRB had become so biased against workers that it should be completely shut down until a new president who can appoint a new majority is elected.

If anyone has doubts about labor’s ability to turn things around in the 2008 elections, he or she needs only to look at what happened in the 2007 off-year elections. Unions ended the 16-year GOP grip on the Virginia state Senate, they elected a Democratic governor in Kentucky, and in Utah, the most Republican of states, they smashed a right-wing initiative for a statewide voucher plan.

The right wing likes to portray the labor movement as out for the count or as a thing of the past. As workers ring out the old and ring in the new this year, they send a message that says nothing could be further from the truth.

- John Wojcik (jwojcik @pww.org) is labor editor at the People's Weekly World


Broome County Dems table union thuggery repeal

Eight Broome County legislators tried and failed Thursday to bring a controversial project labor agreement back to the table for discussion and reconsideration.

The attempt failed while more than 100 men and women wearing labor T-shirts crowded legislative chambers or waited outside in a long line to get into the Broome County Office Building.

Legislators on Nov. 20 approved the project labor agreement, which restricts work on the $16.9 million George Harvey Justice Building to 90 percent union labor. Non-union contractors on Wednesday obtained a temporary stay on Wednesday's scheduled bidding for the project. A court hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 29 and 30 on the matter.

On Thursday, 10 "yes" votes were needed to bring the resolution back before members.

"Political muscle blocked the recall," said Daniel Schofield, R-Endicott, after the measure failed. Schofield voted in favor of the recall, along with seven others. All were Republicans except Richard Materese, D-Endicott. Democrats hold a 10-9 majority on the Legislature, but the Nov. 20 vote had been 17-0 with one abstention and one absence.

Materese said afterward he has always believed in open discussion. He had not decided to change his Nov. 20 vote in favor of the labor agreement, the Democrat said.

"I would have listened to what people had to say," Materese said.

Two legislators abstained from Thursday's vote. They were John Hutchings, D-Binghamton, a regional union representative from Local Labor #7 of Binghamton and chairman of the Legislature's Public Works Committee. The project labor agreement legislation came from Hutchings' committee.

Wayne Howard, R-Port Crane, also abstained from Thursday's vote. Howard, who voted in favor of the agreement Nov. 20, is the owner of a local union contractor shop.


No reason to subject workers to an election

Hell bent on driving its approval rating into single digits, Congress adjourned after passing an omnibus spending bill larded with at least 8,993 earmarks costing at least $7.4 billion –– the precise number and amount will be unclear until implications of some obscure provisions are deciphered. The gusher of earmarks was a triumph of bipartisanship, which often is a synonym for kleptocracy.

This was the first year since 1994 that Democrats controlled both houses. Consider Congress' agreeably meager record:

It raised the hourly minimum wage from $5.15 to $5.85 - less than the $7 entry wage at McDonald's - thereby increasing the wages of less than 0.5 percent of the work force. Rebuffing George W. Bush, who advocates halting farm subsidies to those with adjusted gross incomes of more than $200,000, the Senate also rejected - more bipartisanship - a cap at $750,000. This, in spite of the fact that farm income has soared to record levels, partly because Congress shares the president's loopy enthusiasm for ethanol and wants more corn and other agricultural matter turned into fuel.

Although Congress trembles for the future of the planet, it was unwilling to eliminate the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol. But our polymath Congress continued designing automobiles to make them less safe (smaller) and more expensive. It did this by mandating new fuel efficiency - a 35 mpg fleet average by 2020 - lest the automotive industry design cars people want. Bruce Raynor, president of the union Unite Here, expressed organized labor's compassionate liberalism when he urged sparing workers the burden of democracy: "There's no reason to subject workers to an election." The House agreed, voting for "card check" organizing that strips workers of their right to a secret ballot when deciding for or against unionization of their workplace. Senate Republicans blocked this, but the Senate Democrats voted to cripple the Department of Labor agency that requires union bosses to explain how they spend their members' money.

To improve Americans' health, Congress hopes that by 2017, 22 million more people will begin smoking, enough to pay the increased cigarette taxes that purportedly would finance an expansion of SCHIP (State Children's Health Insurance Program). The program, supposedly for low-income children, would have been expanded to cover many children - and adults - from households with incomes far above the nation's median income. The president vetoed the expansion.

Having vowed to end the war in Iraq, House liberals ended the year in a minuet of moral evasion. Representatives passed a bill containing money for the war in Afghanistan, but not for the one in Iraq. The Senate added money for Iraq. House Democrats then voted 141-78 against final passage, but House Republicans and moderate Democrats passed it and liberals headed home to brag about having voted against funding the war.

In January, with much preening, House Democrats embraced "paygo," the pay-as-you-go rule that any tax cut must be "paid for" by compensatory tax increases or revenue cuts. In December, Democrats abandoned it because of the alternative minimum tax.

The AMT was enacted in 1969 as an indignation gesture aimed at fewer than 200 rich people who managed, legally, to owe no taxes. But the enactors neglected to index the AMT against inflation, so this year it would have been a $50 billion bite out of 23 million taxpayers. The Senate voted 88-5 to not collect the AMT this year, the House acquiesced and paygo evaporated.

Rep. John Campbell, a California Republican, notes that this year the House took many more votes (1,186) than ever but only 146 bills became laws. Congress, and especially the Democratic majority, should be congratulated for this because a decrease in the quantity of legislation generally means an increase in the quality of life.

- George Will is a columnist with The Washington Post. Send e-mail to georgewill@washpost.com.


Unions angered by secret-ballot election proposal

The Saskatchewan Party government outlined sweeping changes to labour legislation Wednesday, tabling two bills that one union leader quickly denounced as "the worst legislation for workers in the country."

But the new government said its essential services legislation -- a first for the province -- coupled with amendments to the existing Trade Union Act will make labour rules "fair and balanced." "I think they are going to ensure that we have a competitive labour legislative environment," Premier Brad Wall told reporters.

Bill 6, proposing changes to the Trade Union Act, would require 45 per cent support in order to proceed with an application of certification or decertification of a union, instead of 25 per cent.

There would also be mandatory secret ballot votes for certification or decertification and the employer's ability to communicate with employees would be broadened, among other changes.

Bill 5, the essential services legislation, would see the work of certain public sector employees deemed essential, preventing those workers from being off the job during a labour disruption. The bill covers government, Crown corporations, health employers and also post-secondary institutions and municipalities. It describes essential services as those that are necessary to prevent danger to life, health or safety; the destruction or serious deterioration of machinery, equipment or premises; serious environmental damage; and disruption of the courts.

Affected unions and employers would need to start negotiating essential services agreements at least 90 days before a collective agreement was to expire, outlining what is essential and what employees must remain on the job.

If there is no agreement before a work stoppage, the employer would give the union a list of services and workers that it deemed essential. The union could appeal to the Labour Relations Board to argue that fewer employees are needed to continue the essential service, and a ruling would be made within 14 days.

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour President Larry Hubich said his cursory first look at bills left him feeling that it is the "worst legislation for workers in the country" and blasted the government for failing to consult with any of those who will be impacted.

"(The legislation) isn't competitive by any stretch of the imagination. It is the bottom of the barrel," Hubich said.

"I have a group of lawyers working right now to determine whether or not there are constitutional challenges under the Charter with respect to these two pieces of legislation."

However, Advanced Education, Employment and Labour Minister Rob Norris argued that Bills 5 and 6 are not out of step with the rest of Canada and said he's willing to listen to ideas as the bills wind their way through the legislative process in the coming months.

"As I've looked at these pieces of legislation -- one balancing the rights of workers, the rights of unions with public safety, the other really moving towards (a) fair and balanced labour environment with an emphasis on democratic workplaces -- they're actually very moderate bills," Norris said.

A Saskatchewan representative with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Marilyn Braun-Pollon, was among those in the business community who cheered the changes, particularly in respect to the Trade Union Act.

"The scales have been tipped for far too long in favour of unions," she said.

However, NDP leader Lorne Calvert -- who acknowledged he had yet to study the bills tabled Wednesday afternoon -- charged that the Sask. Party had "lied to the people of Saskatchewan." Calvert referenced comments some of the Sask. Party MLAs made over the last year about essential services, when they said legislation would not necessarily be required.

"They went out and misled the people of Saskatchewan, and here the proof is today," said Calvert, holding a copy of Bill 5. "I've never seen such a blatant lie delivered before an election."

The Sask. Party's election platform didn't mention essential services legislation, but rather a pledge that a Sask. Party government would work with public-sector unions to ensure essential services are in place in a labour disruption.


Notorious Teamsters local suspends 2 bosses

A Teamsters panel has suspended two men who were elected to top posts in Local 377 and ordered a new election. Teamsters Joint Council 41 issued an order this week that suspended Ray DePasquale from being a union member or officer for three years and Chris Colello for two years.

The Cleveland-based panel upheld charges against DePasquale that said he handed out phony cards for safety certification, called a strike without proper approval, improperly removed a membership roster from the union hall and improperly removed or shredded a variety of other documents.

Charges that were upheld against Colello involved calling of the strike and improperly removing the membership roster.

In an October election, DePasquale unseated Bob Bernat as secretary-treasurer, the top position in the Youngstown-based local. DePasquale had been a business agent before the election. Colello was re-elected president.

DePasquale and Colello can appeal the suspensions. Neither could be reached but denied any wrongdoing when the charges were filed.

Bernat said he fired both men when he received the decision. He said he's concerned the election problems will hurt the image of the local, which represents 3,800 workers in Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties. "The damage that they have caused will take years to repair," he said.

The joint council said a new election should be held as soon as possible and added that an outside representative could be appointed to assist. Bernat said terms of the current executive board expire Dec. 31 and Teamsters officials could appoint a trustee to oversee the local until a new election is held.

The charges were filed by Bernat and union member Randal Anzevino, who had complained about the phony training cards being passed out to others. Bernat said he noticed documents missing from the union hall during campaigning and set up cameras in the hall to provide surveillance after hours.

The ruling from the joint council said DePasquale had taken documents from Bernat's mailbox and a secretary's desk. Some documents were shredded inside the office. Bernat said he thinks documents were taken in order to prevent him from adequately representing union members in negotiations with companies. The joint council called the taking of the membership roster a serious offense because it is not to be used in campaigning.

Bernat and Colello were elected on the same slate nine years ago and have served together since. Before this year's election, however, Colello joined with DePasquale on a new slate called United Together.


Ratings quest intersects picket line

Comedy Central’s pair of popular news satirists, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, will return to their late-night television shows on Jan. 7, two months after production was suspended because of a writers’ strike.

Mr. Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” and Mr. Colbert, host of “The Colbert Report,” will have to improvise their monologues and interviews without the help of their writing staffs.

In a statement, Comedy Central said “we continue to hold out hope for a swift resolution to the current stalemate that will enable the shows to be complete again.”

Both Mr. Stewart and Mr. Colbert are known for their political barbs and comedic campaign coverage, and their programs will resume one day before the first in a series of pivotal primary election nights. Comedy Central indicated that the timing was coincidental, as both shows were long ago scheduled to take a two-week end-of-year hiatus.

Both hosts are Writers Guild of America members, and a spokeswoman for the guild said it had no comment on their decisions to return.

In a statement, the two hosts said they would prefer to return to work with their writers. “If we cannot, we would like to express our ambivalence, but without our writers we are unable to express something as nuanced as ambivalence,” they stated.

Without writers the two programs, which are shown at 11 and 11:30 p.m. and serve as tentpoles for Comedy Central, are likely to lean more heavily on unscripted interview segments. Booking guests may not be easy, however, as some entertainers and presidential candidates have refused to cross picket lines.


Union influence perturbs San Jose mayor

Further searing an already strained relationship between San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and rival Councilwoman Nora Campos, the mayor this week kicked her off a key committee charged with finding solutions to gang violence.

The dismissal, Campos charged, was "unprofessional" political retaliation because Reed is still stewing over a big vote he lost in September about whether to rebuild a fire station in Campos' district. The move, Reed insisted, was not retribution, but necessary, because gang violence citywide is on the rise. "It's my task force," Reed said. "I want the best people working for me."

The bad blood between labor-friendly Campos and Reed, a frequent critic of labor's power at City Hall, has simmered in recent months, but now has turned into a bitter public fight.

Campos wasn't completely surprised that Reed took her off the committee. She said the mayor warned her in a September meeting behind closed doors. If she didn't start following his direction, she claims he told her, he would remove her from the task force.

"He threatened me," said Campos, whose district has historically been troubled by gang violence. "I think what he has demonstrated is that he is trying to punish the community, particularly the community that I represent, by taking me off the committee. Politics shouldn't come before public safety."

Reed said he won't discuss what happened in the private meeting. He said only that it's "not accurate" that he threatened her, or that the move was retaliation.

Both have accused each other of not working collaboratively with the other. During her seven years on the council, Campos has generally been comfortable floating in the background on major policy issues, often ceding control of the issues she most cared about to her longtime ally and former mayor, Ron Gonzales, and to former Councilwoman Cindy Chavez.

But in the absence of labor-backed Gonzales and Chavez, she has become a more aggressive player in recent months, taking the lead on union-backed initiatives. Campos is also considering an eventual run for state Assembly.

The tension between Reed and Campos worsened in September after Campos prevailed on a plan to rebuild Fire Station 2. In an attempt to save money, Reed voted to remodel the station. The next day, Campos put out a news release criticizing the mayor, questioning his commitment to public safety.

The latest turmoil centers around the mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force. Created by former Mayor Susan Hammer, the 24-member group meets six times a year to focus on the city's gang problems. The mayor has the sole power to decide who's on the committee.

The mayor replaced Campos with Councilwoman Madison Nguyen because, he said, she is a better fit. With gang-related homicides on the rise, he said it's time to shake things up.

"I wanted to change directions a bit," Reed said. "I thought Madison Nguyen was the best person for the job." Nguyen said serving on the task force will allow her to take a more active role in reducing gang problems. "He asked me, and I said, 'Yeah, this would be really good for me,' " Nguyen said.

Reed said he is disappointed that Campos has made this issue personal. "Perhaps it is an example of why I don't think she is the best person to work with me on the Gang Prevention Task Force," Reed said.


Don't be rude to AFSCME in labor-state

Greg Hoffman was upset with Robert Hoekstra. He let Hoekstra know that with a rising voice and firm gestures. Hoekstra, the Chippewa Falls (WI) City Council president, convinced the council on Tuesday to delay ratifying a three-year contract with city employees belonging to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1241.

Hoffman is chairman of the city’s Personnel Committee, which worked out the contract with the union. Hoekstra said he needed more information before he could vote on the contract. “They’re expecting this contract Jan. 1,” Hoffman said of AFSCME.

“I think it could have been handled in a much different manner,” Hoffman told Hoekstra. “I think you should have been attending the meetings. You could have been coming to the contract meetings.”

Hoekstra responded that he was not a member of the negotiating committee, but Hoffman said he could have attended as a council member.

Hoekstra objected to a provision to allow one employee in the city’s street department and another in the water or wastewater sections to keep their jobs for up to one year if they were to lose their commercial driver’s license.

And he didn’t care for a restructuring that calls for a working foreman position in the Parks and Recreation Department. “We’re creating something in the contract process that should be created outside the contract process,” Hoekstra said.

Hoffman disagreed, saying the position would come out of a restructuring of the department, and it would not be a new position.

But Hoekstra won over the council, which delayed the contract ratification on a 4-2 vote, with Hoffman and council member Dennis Doughty voting no. Hoekstra, Ralph Anderl, Chuck Hull and Jack Covill voted yes. Council member Greg Dachel was absent.

Interim City Administrator William Forest said the city will have to notify the union of the failure to ratify the contract by Jan. 1. “We’ll go back to the union and let them know where it stands,” Forest said. Meantime, city workers will continue working. If the council’s current schedule holds, it will not act on the contract anytime soon. It has cancelled its scheduled Jan. 1, 2008 meeting, so its next scheduled session is Tuesday, Jan. 15.

The agreement that’s on hold calls for a 2-percent wage hike Jan. 1 and another 1 percent on July 1, a 3 percent raise January 2009, a 2 percent in January 2010 and a 1 percent raise in July 2010.

In a 6-0 vote, the council approved a pay hike for its non-union and management employees. They will receive a 2-percent increase on Jan. 1 and another 1-percent hike on July 1.


Unions burdened by excess political cash

Two major labor unions made rare endorsements of a challenger to a Democratic congressman yesterday, promising to make their choice matter through a vigorous effort to help lawyer Donna F. Edwards unseat eight-term Rep. Albert R. Wynn (Md.).

An official with the Service Employees International Union, which has 22,350 Maryland members, said getting Edwards elected is a top national priority for the group, a way to show Democrats that union support is not automatic.

Edwards is one of four Democrats who will challenge Wynn for the party's nomination in the Feb. 12 primary in the 4th District, which includes most of Prince George's County and part of Montgomery County.

"We do a good job holding Republicans accountable during general elections, but we need to do a better job holding Democrats accountable, too," said Terry Cavanagh, executive director of the SEIU Maryland State Council. "That's what this is about."

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 joined the SEIU in endorsing Edwards.

Wynn has received support from other major union groups. On Monday, the executive committee of the Washington Metropolitan Council of the AFL-CIO voted to recommend that its 176 member unions endorse Wynn.

But yesterday's endorsements for Edwards were significant because they indicate that longtime Wynn supporters think he is potentially vulnerable. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 has backed Wynn in each of his previous runs. SEIU offered no endorsement before Wynn's reelection last year, when he held off Edwards in the Democratic primary by three percentage points, but has supported him in the past.

Leaders of the unions criticized Wynn for his support of a 2005 bill that made it harder for consumers to wipe out debt through bankruptcy. They also took issue with Wynn's votes to repeal the estate tax and to authorize the use of force in Iraq.

Each took place before last year's election, but Edwards said she had to show that she was able to get votes before unions would risk abandoning a longtime incumbent.

"I had to demonstrate that I had the tenacity and the capacity to run and to win," she said.

A lawyer from Fort Washington, Edwards serves as executive director of the Arca Foundation, which gives money to groups involved in progressive causes. Her race against Wynn has drawn national attention and support from liberal bloggers and progressive groups convinced that Wynn's voting record is too conservative given his overwhelmingly Democratic district.

Meanwhile, Wynn has received support from the Washington D.C. Building and Construction Trades Council and a Montgomery firefighters union.

"We are pleased with our endorsements so far," Wynn said in a statement. "We have overwhelming, broad based support within the labor movement and not just from the nationals or the locals, but from the rank and file membership as well."

Wynn has said he was humbled by his close call against Edwards in the last primary and has redoubled his efforts to reach all parts of his constituency. He has said that his Iraq war vote was a mistake but has otherwise defended his record, saying he has worked to promote entrepreneurship in his upwardly mobile district.

Rick Powell, legislative director of the Washington region AFL-CIO group, praised Wynn's record on issues he said are important to working families.

"Congressman Wynn has worked especially hard over the last year and a half to rebuild bridges with labor and to solidify his original base of support," Powell said.

The groups that supported Edwards yesterday pledged to mount an aggressive ground game on her behalf, including mailings, phone banks and door-to-door canvassing.

"She's a person who's going to help us lead the change," said Mark P. Federici, an official with the UFCW local, which represents 14,000 workers in Maryland. "The change is about progressive values and the value of people that work -- living wages, affordable health care, respect and dignity on the job."

Also running for the Democratic nomination are George E. McDermott, George E. Mitchell and Jason Jennings.


Labor-state eases unions' access to members' cash

State of Michigan workers should be able to have political donations deducted from their paychecks to raise money for union-backed candidates and issues, the state Civil Service Commission decided Wednesday.

The commission voted 3-1 despite a warning from the attorney general's office that it didn't have the authority to approve payroll deductions for political donations and that the move would politicize the state civil service system, which is designed to protect state workers from political meddling.

State employee unions would reimburse the state for the administrative costs of enrolling workers and making sure the deductions were taken out of paychecks. But it's likely the decision will face a legal challenge before the deductions are allowed.

Bob LaBrant of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce said the commission should wait to make a decision until after the Court of Appeals decides whether a lower court ruling allowing Michigan Education Association members to deduct union political action committee donations from their paychecks should stand.

He noted that a 2006 opinion by Republican Attorney General Mike Cox said such deductions aren't allowed.

"It's much too premature to have this rush" to adopt payroll deduction for political contributions for state employees, he told the commission. "This will precipitate legal action."

The change was requested by M. Scott Bowen, director of the Office of the State Employer, who said unions requested during contract talks that he ask the commission for the change.

"It gives everybody a chance to participate in the (political) process," he said after the vote.

Opponents had argued that state employees already can donate to political organizations anytime they want by writing a check. But Roberto Mosqueda, president of the Michigan State Employees Association, said many state workers would prefer to give a small amount each paycheck than to write one or two large checks.

"It's almost like a 401(k)," he said, referring to deductions for retirement accounts. "It makes it easier."

Unions have tried legislative action to get the right to have political deductions pulled from their paychecks. A bill allowing that passed the Democrat-controlled House this year, but is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.


Strike-happy SEIU nurses could go for round 3

Registered nurses at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center voted on a tentative contract Thursday that would end an eight-month negotiation process and avert a third strike.

The leadership of the Service Employees International Union Local 121RN, which represents about 1,000 nurses at the hospital, said the results of the vote would not be available until late Thursday, but there was optimism that the contract would be approved.

If a tentative contract were not approved, nurses planned to begin 10-day strike Sunday evening.

Nurses hit the picket line twice in September - once for 24 hours and then again for a five-day strike. Sue Weinstein, executive director of SEIU Local 121RN, said she believed the planned 10-day strike influenced the decision to return to the bargaining table.

Reaching agreement will demonstrate commitment on both sides, said Kathy Roche, hospital spokeswoman. "A lot of hard work has gone into the collective bargaining process. The patients come first and the hospital knew we had to keep negotiating because a 10-day strike still would not lead to a resolution," Roche said. "It would be disruptive to patients and families as well as our physicians and nurses who chose to remain at the bedside."

Weinstein said a federal mediator called both sides back to the bargaining table Wednesday morning and talks continued late into the evening. The negotiations were the first since the end of November, she said. The proposed contract has an expiration date of May 31, 2011, Weinstein said.

If approved by the union, the contract would become effective upon ratification, Roche said.

The proposal calls for a 19 percent wage increase over the life of the contract, Weinstein said.

The hospital agreed to a 12-month pilot program to reduce the number of patients per nurse in the transitional care unit, the union director added. Patients in this unit have improving health, but are not ready to be discharged and often are receiving physical or occupational therapy, Roche said.

Roche said hospital officials are pleased to have reached a tentative agreement and to have averted a strike. She also had words for the community. "We are appreciative of the community's patience during the recent collective-bargaining process and we look forward to continuing to provide safe, quality health care for residents of the Pomona/Inland Valley," she said.


The Perilous Fight Against Forced Unionism

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