A good year for prosecuting union embezzlers

The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) today announced its criminal enforcement data for Fiscal Year (FY) 2007, highlighting increases over previous years. Court-ordered restitution of union funds has risen in each year since FY 2001, with only one exception. In FY 2001, the amount was just under $2 million and in FY 2007, the amount was over $32 million. Criminal case processing is up 10 percent over FY 2001 (406 from 370), while convictions are up 16 percent (118 from 102). The bulk of the cases involve the embezzlement of union funds.

"Workers' union dues are being aggressively protected with more than $100 million ordered returned in this decade," said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Labor-Management Standards Don Todd. "Criminal activity such as we've found in these cases must be uncovered and prosecuted wherever possible. The workers that own this money deserve nothing less."

Another major initiative of OLMS has been an increase in the number of union audits. In FY 2004, increased staffing enabled OLMS to establish a new unit with the express mission of increasing OLMS audit presence in international unions, as well as assisting local unions in meeting disclosure requirements, thus enhancing compliance.

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. In cases where racketeering and/or organized crime are involved, OLMS works with the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General, which is the lead agency in those cases. 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 union officer election procedures.

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 a fact sheet on OLMS results and synopses of certain recent enforcement actions, is available on the OLMS Web site, http://www.olms.dol.gov.


Financial Core membership surges

When talks broke down earlier this month between the studios and striking writers, it began to hit home that scribes could be jobless for many months to come. One of those writers finally made the agonizing decision to stop picketing and go back to work.

The writer's show, a daytime soap, had run out of scripts. To this writer, the moral choice lay in keeping the show on the air.

"Daytime serials are not in a healthy situation," said the writer, who asked for anonymity, fearing fallout from both sides in the complex and highly charged standoff. "If we can keep shows on the air, I perceive it as something that needs to be done for the future generation of writers."

Although most daytime writers have joined their colleagues on the picket lines, others -- fearing for their jobs or the survival of the soap genre altogether -- have quietly gone back to work. Even those who are still picketing say soap writers' issues are unique.

Residuals, for instance, a key area of disagreement between the studios and the Writers Guild of America, are not an issue for them because their shows are rarely rerun. Instead, their interests tend to focus on health and pension benefits and minimum salary for the Internet, one place where the genre -- whose audience for the daytime perennials has been dwindling -- could possibly survive.

The specialized world of soap operas creates unique situations during Hollywood's periods of labor unrest; it's widely believed that during strikes in the 1980s, scab writers were hired to keep the soaps going. Some writers currently on strike say producers have tried to lure them back with promises of anonymity. And because the estimated 110 daytime writers are spread out geographically, many working at home, it would be relatively easy to keep such deals quiet.

Others, such as the writer quoted above, are starting to take advantage of a little-known inactive status known as "financial core" that allows union members to return to work without censure.

"You resign your membership but continue to pay dues," the writer said about the financial-core designation. "They [the guild] still represent you. You still have your healthcare, your pension. It's absolutely fair. You remain involved in the protections that the union offers, and you support them financially. There are many reasons people make that decision."

The WGA would not disclose the number of members who've opted for financial-core status. "We don't think it's an issue, but since this is an internal matter, we choose not to comment," said guild spokesman Gregg Mitchell.

To encourage more writers' interest in the financial-core option, the studios' representatives placed a Q&A list about the process on the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers website.

According to this site, members do not have to do anything to seek financial-core status. They may simply choose to work, and the WGA has no right to impose discipline. However, a WGA site said members must resign first in writing. It is not necessary to prove financial hardship. Financial-core writers may no longer vote or run for office. They may also continue to work without formal repercussions, and the union continues to represent them in bargaining negotiations. Some may choose financial-core status because they need an income; others because they disagree with the union's politics.

More writers might consider the "fi-core" alternative, as it is called, if the strike stretches out. "In a month, things could change dramatically," said Bob Guza, the head writer and producer on "General Hospital."

So far, the networks have continued showing original episodes of soaps. One reason is that many shows had been stockpiling scripts for almost a year in preparation for the strike.

Another, and one hardly anyone wants to talk about, is that the networks have apparently already replaced striking writers with non-guild members, producers, scabs and "fi-core" writers. Viewers have yet to see or judge the work of the replacements, but some say that the stockpiled scripts will soon be running out. Depending on the show, that could be anywhere from a few weeks to two months from now. A "General Hospital" writer said that the last team-written script aired Wednesday and that the last team-created story line would begin airing Friday.

Karen Harris, a writer on "General Hospital" who serves on the WGA daytime committee, said she had turned down offers to work on potential Internet soaps after she learned they were not covered by the guild. But writer Rick Draughon ("Days of Our Lives") took NBC up on an offer to create "Coastal Dreams," an original Internet soap produced after the network canceled its daytime series "Passions." Draughon took the job even though he doesn't receive benefits.

"It's better for one of us to get a foot in the door right now while it's an experiment than later when they've already hired a guild person," he said.

He said he had asked producers about paying pension and health benefits but was rebuffed. Other material taken from NBC Universal shows, including webisodes of "The Office" or scenes from "Battlestar Galactica," have been deemed "promo material," he said.

While "Coastal Dreams" was awaiting word of a second-season pickup, Draughon was picketing with colleagues outside CBS studios on Fairfax and Beverly recently. A handful of soap actors joined them in a show of support.

If any of them knew how production was continuing on the soaps without guild writers, no one wanted to say; that included network executives, who declined to comment.

"Nobody knows where these scripts come from," said Susan Flannery, lead actress on "The Bold and the Beautiful," as she walked the line. "It's a magic act like a pea under an acorn shell. Is it a bartender in Wisconsin or a janitor in the basement?"

Many of the soap writers on the picket line that day said they had expected scabs to keep the shows going.

Michelle Patrick, who writes for ABC's "All My Children" in New York, said the show would continue, "because they've got people scabbing in there. We don't know who. They shield their identity to protect them from repercussions from the guild. They work through e-mail, with false names."

She said a producer of another soap on a different network called her the first day of the strike to ask her to work as a scab.

"What she said is, 'We could protect your identity. No one would ever know. It would be completely secret. No one would ever find out,' " Patrick recalled as she picketed recently in front of ABC's W. 66th Street studio, where her show is taped.

She said that she declined but that the attempt made her angry. "The more heinous the producers behave, the angrier I get," she added.

Some writers were angry at the "fi-core" writers as well, since their actions are said to prolong the strike. Claiming to serve the future of the genre is "just a way to justify getting paid while others are going on strike," one writer said.

When a trade publication reported that some staff on "The Young and the Restless" had sought financial-core status, the show's striking writers issued a denial, saying they were "incensed" at the allegation.

"Our entire writing staff of 18 is united and we fully support our union. Not a single person who was writing for 'Y&R' when we struck has gone core. Not one," it said.

Most others, however, refused to judge their colleagues who've opted for financial-core status, and they called it a wrenching decision.

"I know one woman with three children in three private schools. Her husband is retired. She hates it, but she had to do it," Draughon said. "I wish it wasn't happening, but you can't judge someone else's situation."

A married couple, both writers on a soap opera, were said to be split: one opting for financial-core status, the other walking the picket lines.

"If some people weren't writing, we wouldn't have a show to come back to," said Tracey Thompson, a writer on "General Hospital." She said two of 10 writers on that show had returned "for personal reasons."

"A lot regard this like having an abortion," said one writer. "They don't feel good about it. They don't want to talk about it. They felt it was a financial or emotional decision they had to make.

"A number of the people who have long-standing careers in daytime are worried that if they don't decide to go financial core, their jobs will not be there," she said. "They fear that the industry is trying to court younger viewers by hiring younger writers who are willing to work for less."

David Rupel, a writer on "The Guiding Light," said all nine members of his team were on strike. However, he said WGA daytime committee members had conducted a lively debate via conference call on whether to seek interim agreements similar to the deal David Letterman's company, Worldwide Pants, worked out with the WGA. In the end, he said, "We agreed to abide by whatever deal gets made" by the WGA. "If they think it's a good idea strategically, we'd support that."

The soap writers' inability to reach a decision only speaks to the complexity of issues in an era when television itself is in transition, said the anonymous soap writer who opted for financial-core status.

"The reality is, all issues pertaining to the strike are far more complicated than many of us fully understand," the writer said. "I would be loath to say either side is not bargaining in good faith, because so much is unknown about the future."


UFCW's out-of-date baby formula play

The Bashas' chain of supermarkets is suing the United Food & Commercial Workers union and a group called Hungry for Respect for defamation and claiming the groups attempted to interfere with the company's operations.

The suit was filed Dec. 18 in Maricopa County Superior Court.

The UFCW was not suprised by the lawsuit said spokeswoman Katy Giglio, who contends it is Bashas' that is doing the strong-arming of their employees with the lawsuit.

"This is an attempt to silence the community and their employees instead of working with them to create better stores," Giglio said. In addition to Bashas', the Chandler-based chain's store brands include Food City, AJ's Fine Foods and Ike's Farmers' Markets.

All but eight of the chain's 166 operating stores are non-union. The UFCW has been trying since 2001 to get itself into the stores.

In June, the group called Hungry for Respect and the union claimed it found 683 cans of out-of-date baby food on shelves at Bashas' stores. The supermarket chain says it believes the outdated food was intentionally placed on shelves and that in some cases the food was of brands Bashas' stores don't carry. The union denies it planted the baby food.

A UFCW local in the San Francisco Bay Area also found out-of-date baby food a a non-union grocery store in Oakland it is trying represent.

In Arizona, both Bashas' and the UFCW insist they will continue to push the issue.

"We will continue working with consumers, the community and Bashas' workers to let their voices be heard," said Giglio. "This lawsuit will not and cannot bury the truth."

Bashas' President and Chief Executive Officer Mike Proulx says the truth for the UFCW is not founded.

"It's unfortunate that the UFCW is using millions of dollars from members' dues - collected from unionized employees and employers throughout the country - to fund this unethical campaign," Proulx said. "We will defend our company from the lies, the wrongdoing, and the slick, negative campaigning. We owe it to our family of employees to stand up for the truth and what's right."


AFSCME's negative politics a turn-off in NH

In my current stack of mail there's a large, doubled-sided, four-color mailer with photographs of people in medical settings and text that mentions Barack Obama's name eight times in a negative light.

The piece appears to have no purpose other than to discourage voters from voting for Mr. Obama. The piece doesn't tell us who we should vote for, which struck me as so odd, I had to find out who sent it.

The group behind the mailer is the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, which endorsed Hillary Clinton in late October.

This promotional piece serves to underscore the reason Hillary lost my interest and my vote. She may not have control over the groups that support her, but she sets a tone that allows a dirty campaign. If she's so good, why does she stoop so low?

- Robin Stamm, Epsom, NH


Proposal helps unions, harms workers

Larry Matheney, secretary/treasurer of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, relates that employees are being unfairly treated by the NLRB and by employers (Dec. 20). He says employees are not being allowed to join unions and that the proposed National Employee Free Choice Act is the answer to these perceived ills.

In reality, unions win 55 percent of elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. This is about the same win unions have had over the past 30 years under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

In the past 30 years, unions have gone from representing 33 percent of the work force to 8 percent of nongovernment workers. This has been a steady decline in both Democratic and Republican administrations. This is due to union leaders being more interested in impressing political leaders than in representing their members.

The Employee Free Choice Act is not for employees. It is for unions, period. Under that proposed act, unions can get employees signed up on union cards, even in a pizza parlor after three beers, before three or four other pushy union officials. The union presents 51 percent of the employees’ cards to the employer, who is obligated to recognize and bargain with the union for 90 days. If no agreement is reached, there is a 30-day mediation period. If no agreement is reached then, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service appoints an arbitrator who writes the contract.

The employer and the employees are stuck with this. There is no secret ballot election, no employee vote on the contract and no backing out of the union, if employees find out that they were lied to. The union gets everyone in the union, dues check off and strict seniority, which is all the union wants in the first place.

There is certainly no employee free choice in the mix.

- Fred F. Holroyd


Union operatives push Edwards ahead in Iowa

Today, the John Edwards for President Campaign unveiled a 121-member strong Iowa Labor Coalition for Edwards. The list includes the personal endorsements from three current presidents of United Auto Workers locals in Iowa, four past presidents of UAW Local 997 in Newton, and nine other prominent UAW leaders in Iowa.

The Iowa Labor Coalition for Edwards consists of a wide-ranging group of Iowa labor leaders who understand the needs of working Americans and are dedicated to ensuring fair labor practices, protecting workers’ rights and strengthening organized labor. The coalition will advise Edwards and his campaign on labor issues facing Iowa families and work with the Edwards campaign staff in their area to spread the word about Edwards' plans to stand up for America’s workers and restore America’s support of organized labor.

"John Edwards comes from a rural, blue collar background. He knows the value of hard work and has a long, clear record of standing up for working men and women," said Mike Mathis, President of United Steelworkers Local 164. "Unlike the other candidates, he not only opposed NAFTA from the beginning, but he also opposes George Bush's proposal to expand the NAFTA model to Peru. He's exactly the president we need to stand up and fight for regular, hard-working Americans and not the powerful special interests."

Their endorsements reflect their personal decisions and do not always reflect the decision made by their union.

Edwards enjoys strong support from organized labor and the Iowa Labor Coalition for Edwards builds on his growing momentum in Iowa over the past few weeks. Edwards has been endorsed by 11 other
SEIU state councils representing more than a million SEIU members. Additionally, he has been endorsed by the Iowa Postal Workers Union, the United Steelworkers, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, the Transport Workers Union of America, the United Mine Workers of America and the UNITE HERE Chicago and Midwest Regional Joint Board.

Edwards believes that to strengthen the middle class and build One America, we need to strengthen the union movement in our country. He has traveled across the country to walk picket lines and has helped organize thousands of workers into unions. Edwards is a strong supporter of workers' rights and has laid out a comprehensive agenda to help working families, which includes raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing universal health care, enacting smart and safe trade policies and protecting a worker's right to organize.

Iowa Labor Coalition for Edwards

Chuck Gifford, Former Iowa UAW CAP Chair, Polk County
Mark Rocha, CWA Local 7102 President, Polk County
Robert Harris, USW Local 827 President, Black Hawk County
Bill Polson, Carpenters Local 106 President, Polk County
Scott Puteney, USW Local 3141 President, Pottawattamie County
Walt Knapper, SEIU Local 199 Executive Board Member, Clinton County
Al Skinner, USW Local 310 President, Polk County
Warren Yaple, TWU member, Pottawattamie County
Anne Fessler, SEIU Local 199 Executive Board Member, Dubuque County
Lenny Leo, Laborers Local 177 Business Manager, Polk County
Tony Good, UAW Local 1237 Member and Southeast Iowa Member-At-Large for Iowa State CAP Executive Board, Des Moines County
Shane Merrick, Carpenters Local 1260
Business Representative, Johnson County
Anne Byrne, SEIU Local 199 Executive Board Member, Story County
Curt Arey, Carpenters Local 106 Business Agent, Warren County
Max Tipton, Former UAW Local 997 President and Retired International UAW Representative, Jasper County
Becky Pottorff-Leaven, SEIU Local 199 Executive Board Member, Johnson County
Matt Lamkins, USW Local 795 President, Pottawattamie County
Bob Frascht, National Rural Letter Carriers Association Member, Floyd County
Gary Johnson, USW Local 604 President, Cerro Gordo County
Ted Johnson, UAW Local 997 Immediate Past President, Polk County
Jerry Kearns, USW Local 3311 Staff Representative, Lee County
Royce Peterson, Carpenters Local 1260 President, Johnson County
Deb Stehr, AFSCME Member, Sac County
Doug Bramow, Carpenters Local 308 Conductor, Linn County
Bill Laucamp, IBEW Local 55.1 Member, Muscatine County
Anthony Homis, USW Local 1861 Member, Jackson County
Kevin Johnson, UAW Local 807 President, Des Moines County
Tracy Hatfield, IBEW Local 55.1 Member, Muscatine County
Brian Ulin, UFCW Local 230 Business Manager, Wapello County
Michael Miller, Member, IBEW Local 288, Black Hawk County
Dick Fallow, Quad City Federation of Labor Delegate, Scott County
Steve Banys, Carpenters Local 948 Business Agent, Woodbury County
Connie Smith, CWA Local 7172 Officer, Tama County
Michael Kruse, UFSW Local 617 President, Lee County
Marty Hudrlik, AFSCME Member, Jackson County
Danice Keller, USW Sub District 11 Staff Representative, Polk County
Bruce Clark, American Postal Workers Union Statewide President, Dubuque County
Dan Boeding, USW Local 436 President, Linn County
Jerry Moore, CWA Local 7103 Secretary-Treasurer, Woodbury County
Marshall Clemons, SEIU Local 199 Executive Board Member, Linn County
Terry Davenport, Former State Editor, Iowa Postal Workers, Wayne County
Randy Boulton, USW Sub District 11 Director, Polk County
Dave Keefer, Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 25 Member, Clinton County
Garth Bowen, USW Sub District 11 Staff Representative, Linn County
Mike Pack, Laborers Local 353 Organizer, Polk County
Wayne Strohmeyer, Teamsters Local 421, Shop Steward and Negotiator, Dubuque County
David Morris, SEIU Local 199 Executive Board Member, Dubuque County
Lyle Taylor, UNITE-HERE Local 146 Business Agent, Black Hawk County
Majorie Caruth, SEIU Local 199 Executive Board Member, Johnson County
Steve Comer, UAW Local 74 Shop Chairman, Wapello County
Robert Veal, Carpenters Local 106 Vice President, Polk County
Alan Anderson, USW Local 9310 Member, Cerro Gordo County
Don Eland, IBEW Local 204 Member, Des Moines County
Steve Schneider, USW Local 444 President, Lee County
Dave Hogan, Carpenters Local 308 President, Linn County
Peggy Gaul, National Rural Letter Carriers Association Member, Pottawattamie County
Don Paulson, UFCW
Local 431Member, Muscatine County
Gene Dudley, UAW Local 838 Union Steward, Buchanan County
Doug Brehm, Shop Steward, Teamsters Local 421, Dubuque County
Doug Duinink, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 33 Member, Jasper County
Mike Edwards, UAW Local 807 Member, Des Moines County
Jim Spina, American Postal Workers Union Local 44
President, Polk County
Al Whitmore, AFSCME Local 3000 Member, Harrison County
Mike Wilcher, Ironworkers Local 111 Business Manager, Scott County
Sherrill Fitzpatrick, County Home Health Care Aide and Labor Activist, Black Hawk County
Linda Krogman, Carpenters Local 2704 President, Dubuque County
Tom Thoma, UFCW Local 179 Political Representative, Cherokee County
Skip McGill, USW Local 105 President, Scott County
Lynne Pothast, Local Union President , Tama County
Craig Bartmess, Carpenters Local 308 Treasurer, Linn County
Michael Mathias, USW Local 164 President, Polk County
Denny Dunbar, Retired CWA Local 7171 President, Webster County
Richard Avery, Former UAW Local 997 President , Jasper County
Rachel Barrow, SEIU Local 199 Executive Board Member, Linn County
Scott Punteney, USW Local 3121 President, Pottawattamie County
Norm Riester, Carpenters Local 308 Financial Secretary, Linn County
Sarah Swisher, SEIU Local 199 Political Director, Johnson County
John Campbell, USW Iowa Political Director, Polk County
Jeff Kurtz, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Member, Lee County
Linda Ludovissy, USW Local 1960 Member, Clayton County
Gayle Tellin, CWA Local 7109 President, Fayette County
Tom Dvorak, IBEW Local 288 Member, Tama County
Roy Farnum, UAW Local 1896 Vice President, Scott County
Bill Clevenger, USW Local 8581 President, Muscatine County
Jerry Kelley, Former UAW Local 893 Unit 1 Chairmen, Jasper County
John Bond, USW Local 1774 President, Marshall County
Cathy Glasson, SEIU Local 199 President, Johnson County
Steve Fischer, TWU Local 367 Member, Pottawattamie County
Nancy Moser, CWA Local 7181 President, Burlington County
Michelle Ficken, Registered Nurse and Labor Activist, Buchanan County
Gene Gaul, National Rural Letter Carriers Association Member, Pottawattamie County
Daryl Lewis, SEIU Local 199 Executive Board Member, Johnson County
George Long, Laborers Local 309 Member, Clinton County
Dave TanCreti, Former Executive Board Member AFSCME Local 1868, Polk County
Patricia & Pete Edwards, UAW Local 893 Retirees and Former Iowa UAW CAP Committee Members, Tama County
Ray Murray, Carpenters Local 106 Retired Vice President and Trustee, Polk County
Gil Nelson, Machinists Local 1426 Member, Woodbury County
Greg Valentine, Teamsters Local 421 Secretary-Treasurer, Dubuque County
Pat Teed, Former UAW Local 997 President and AFSCME Member, Jasper County
Denny Lally, UFCW Local 440 President, Crawford County
Angela Trenkamp, SEIU Local 199 Executive Board Member, Johnson County
Jerry Messer, Quad City Federation of Labor, President, Scott County
Jim Scott, National Association of Letter Carriers Local 373 Member, Linn County
Cynthia Houlson, AFSCME Local 35 Member, Polk County
Rick Callen, UAW Local 74 President, Wapello County
Bill Mundt, Retired IBEW International Representative, Scott County
Corey Council, SEIU Local 199 Executive Board Member, Clinton County
Lee Gray, American Postal Workers Union Local 44 Craft Director, Madison County
Renee Pape, AFSCME Member, Jackson County
Alan Graves, USW Local 503 President, Webster County
Wayne Gross, UAW Local 838 Retiree Chairman, Black Hawk County
Steve Nienhaus, Carpenters Local 4 Organizer, Muscatine County
Chester Jones, USW Local 3311 President, Lee County
Mike Mathis, President, USW Local 164, Polk County
Bill Hanes, IBEW Local 405 Business Agent, Linn County
Merle Duehr, USW Local 1861 Business Representative, Dubuque County
Rod Perdue, SEIU Local 199 Executive Board Member, Muscatine County
Richard Gilbreaith, UAW Local 1201 President, Jasper County
Marcia Beck, SEIU Local 199 Executive Board Member, Polk County
David Baker, Teamsters Local 421 President, Dubuque County
James Lord, USW Local 1651 President, Clinton County


Looking back

Sour notes, still

After taking to the picket lines April 1, 2006, members of United Auto Workers Local 364 are still on strike.

The union has been on strike outside Conn-Selmer's Vincent Bach musical instruments factory at 500 Industrial Parkway in Elkhart since April 1, 2006.

Recently, lawyers for the union conducted arguments in a National Labor Relations Board hearing to determine the results of a decertification vote held in November. More than 140 ballots were disputed from a Nov. 7 election to determine whether the union will continue to represent Vincent Bach workers.


Workers' unease leads to UAW's success in Atlantic City

Caesars Atlantic City dealers voted by 80 percent in March for the United Auto Workers, sparking momentum for the UAW's citywide casino employee organizing drive. Dealers historically have been difficult to organize, but the UAW was able to win six elections at four properties - although it lost three elections as well - because of a growing feeling of unease about health care and job security among casino employees.

That's been a boon to the UAW, which has been securing historic triumphs in organizing casino dealers across the country as it looks to shore up its declining membership outside the troubled auto industry. Still, with several election victories tied up with the National Labor Relations Board months later, it remains to be seen next year whether the UAW can successfully negotiate contracts with casinos bent on keeping the union out.

That may also give management at casinos where workers voted for the UAW time to regain workers' allegiance.


Top Iowa Business Stories of 2007

In January, Democrats who control the Iowa Legislature introduced "fair share," a plan that would allow public-sector unions to negotiate for the right to charge a service fee to nonunion workers. The bill, which passed the Senate and died in the House, turned into one of the most controversial business issues during the 2007 session.

Critics of the measure said it was the first step toward dismantling Iowa's right-to-work law, while supporters said it was a matter of fairness for unions.

One of the most ardent opponent, the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce, warned it would cost the state jobs and new business development. The Chamber argued that would be particularly a concern in Sioux City and Northwest Iowa, which borders two other right-to-work states, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Most Democrats and their allies in organized labor contend that non-dues paying workers currently are getting a free ride from the unions forced to represent them. The unions, they argue, should have the ability to collect fees to cover the cost of such services as contract negotiations and negotiating contracts and filing grievances.

Prolonged worker strikes ended at two Sioux City businesses in 2007, while another kept going.

In May, union employees at the Smurfit-Stone Container plant, 1540 Tri-View Ave., broke a 10-week strike after ratifying a new contract of a Sioux City box-making company broke a 10-week-long strike as they ratified a new contract that includes a general wage increase of 7 percent over the next 4 1/2 years, a $1,200 lump sum payment to each employee and a guaranteed minimum number of Saturdays and Sundays off.

About a month later, about 95 workers at Prince Manufacturing's Sioux City plant at 4600 S. Lewis Blvd. ended a nearly three-month labor stoppage. The two sides agreed to a new contract that includes a $1.90 general wage increase over the next four years, a better pension plan and concessions on the insurance issue, according to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Siouxland Lodge 1426. The Machinists Local 1426 also represents the Smurfit-Stone Container workers.

Meanwhile, a yearlong strike continued at Standard Ready Mix in Sioux City and Ludey's Ready Mix in Vermillion, S.D. The company has since hired replacement workers. Some striking workers have crossed the picket line and returned to work, according to the company.


Union Politics: Divide and Conquer

While the Democratic race has often, and quite accurately, been described as a choice between change (Barack Obama and John Edwards) and experience (Hillary Rodham Clinton), it has, in the final days before Iowa, become another kind of choice as well.

Democrats must decide whether they want a candidate who is angry and confrontational, and who sees those favoring compromise as traitors (Edwards), or a candidate who presents himself as a uniter (Obama), or a candidate who presents herself as someone who understands the ways of Washington and can get things done (Clinton).

While Clinton and Obama both acknowledge the importance of working with various interests, including Capitol Hill Republicans and the business community, to come up with solutions to key problems, Edwards sounds more and more like the neighborhood bully who plans to dictate what is to be done.

The former North Carolina senator is running a classic populist campaign that would have made William Jennings Bryan (or Ralph Nader) proud. Everything is Corporate America's fault. But he's also portraying himself as fighting for the middle class and able to appeal to swing voters and even Republicans in a general election.

Edwards certainly would dispute that there is an inherent contradiction between his populist rhetoric and his alleged middle class appeal. But his approach to problems is likely to frighten many voters, including most middle class Americans and virtually all Republicans.

For months, observers have noted that Americans are tired of the polarization and gridlock that has defined Washington, D.C. at least since 1994 (except for a brief period following September 11th). But if Iowa Democrats choose Edwards, they are choosing anger, confrontation and class warfare. In a sense, they are displaying buyer's remorse (from 2004) and choosing a more attractive, charismatic Howard Dean-like candidate this time.

Ironically, Edwards criticized Dean for being too angry in 2004, yet this time the former North Carolina Democrat has adopted Dean's confrontational style.

Edwards portrays himself as a fighter for the middle class, but his message is decidedly working class and left. The North Carolina Democrat's message seems well-suited for 1933 or 1934, but not nearly as ideal for 2008. Yet, Iowa Democrats, like many of their partisan colleagues around the country, are so angry at President George W. Bush that they might be willing to give voice to their anger by voting for Edwards at the caucuses.

Four years ago, angry anti-war candidate Dean drew 18 percent of caucus-goers, while populist Dick Gephardt drew another 11 percent. Edwards, himself, attracted 32 percent of 2004 Iowa Democratic caucus attendees.

But let's be very clear: Given the North Carolina Democrat's rhetoric and agenda, an Edwards Presidency would likely rip the nation apart - even further apart than Bush has torn it.

On Capitol Hill, Edwards's "us versus them" rhetoric and legislative agenda would almost certainly make an already bitter mood even worse. He would in the blink of an eye unify the GOP and open up divisions in his own party's ranks. Congressional Republicans would circle the wagons in an effort to stop Edwards's agenda.

Would Clinton or Obama fare better in the nation's capital? It's hard to tell, but the answer probably is "yes."

Obama surely wouldn't arouse the immediate resentment and opposition that Edwards would, giving the Illinois senator a far better chance of accomplishing important things during the first two years of his term.

And while many Republicans around the country revile anyone named Clinton, the New York Senator might not face as much hostility as some assume from Capitol Hill Republicans. After all, Senator Clinton has worked well with her colleagues from both parties, and she knows better than anyone how important it is to build successful bipartisan coalitions on Capitol Hill.

Just as important, a President Edwards might well find that his view of the American economy is built on sand. For while Edwards bashes corporate America and "them," this nation's economy depends on the success of both small business and big business.

Scare the stuffing out of Corporate America and watch the stock market tumble. That's certain to make retirement funds - including those owned by labor unions and "working families" - happy, right? Stick it to Wal-Mart, and their 1.8 million employees are at risk. Beat up on IBM, and you are beating up on their 330,000 employees. Take a pound of flesh from General Electric, Citigroup, Home Depot and United Technologies, and you've put the squeeze on just under 1.2 million employees.

So, Iowa Democrats are faced with much more than a choice of change versus readiness for the job. They will be deciding what kind of party and what kind of country they want. And they will be making an important statement about the tone they want in Washington, D.C.

The question facing Iowa Democrats is whether they want to send a message of frustration, or whether they place a higher priority on getting things accomplished in 2009. Edwards's bet is that, unlike 2004, they'll choose anger and confrontation.


SEIU, Governator pass the buck

California could be headed for a health care overhaul that could leave employers paying an estimated $2.7 billion a year tax on their payroll.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nuñez filed initiative language late last week with the state attorney general for a ballot measure that would finance their $14.4-billion plan to extend health care benefits to most Californians by almost doubling the state tax on cigarettes to $1.75 a pack.

The plan, which needs approval from the state Senate, would provide medical coverage starting in 2010 to 3.6 million people in California who lack insurance, including some 800,000 children. The plan is opposed by Republicans in the Legislature, who say the proposal would lead to higher health care costs.

“Californians want action to make health care more affordable and accessible for their families, not a back-room deal that will make health care more expensive for everyone,” Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines said after the Assembly passed the framework for the proposal.

“This is a flawed plan that will impose billions in higher taxes and spending, and I am disappointed that Democrats would rush this through rather than work with Republicans to craft fiscally-responsible reforms,” said Villines, R-Fresno.

In addition to raising the state excise tax on tobacco in the Golden State, the plan would also impose a fee on hospitals and a levy on employers ranging from 1 percent to 6.5 percent of their payroll. The money would be directed into a new California Health Care Trust Fund to help those who cannot afford it buy insurance.

Those companies that spend the required amount on health care for their employees would be eligible to receive a tax credit on their fees they pay to the state.

The Democratic plan, which would be partly bankrolled in a cigarette tax hike in mid-2009, is likely to be an expensive battle for interests on both sides of the issue.

"Taking on Big Tobacco and the private insurance industry is going to be a difficult challenge," Nuñez, D-Los Angeles, said in a statement. "But this is the most effective way to fund the reform we need to fix California's broken health care system."

The Service Employees International Union is expected to lead the signature collecting drive to put the initiative on next November's ballot. About 700,000 valid signatures are necessary to qualify the initiative.

Beth Capell, a Sacramento lobbyist for SEIU, told The Los Angeles Times that although the opposition may have deep pockets, beating them would not be insurmountable.

"You don't actually have to match the opposition in order to win," Capell told the newspaper. "You have to have enough to make your case to the voters."


Unions coordinate for Mrs. Clinton in Iowa

Iowa could make or break a Democratic candidate on Thursday. The question is, who?

While the state has long played a key role in choosing the Democratic presidential nominee, it has unparalleled influence this year, even after several larger states moved up their contests to try and muscle in. Those efforts have done little more than compress the calendar into a five-week sprint that ends with the multistate primary Feb. 5 -- strengthening Iowa's position as the leadoff caucus state rather than diminishing it.

Even New Hampshire, which holds the first primary of the season, has seen its once-mighty position diminished somewhat by Iowa's outsized role this time.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards are locked in a tight three-way contest in Iowa just days before voters attend their precinct caucuses on Thursday. And while all three have strong organizations in other early states, the best laid plans in those places could come apart depending on what happens in Iowa.

Only Obama and Clinton have raised enough campaign cash to be sure of being competitive through Feb. 5 and beyond. Edwards has agreed to accept federal matching funds, which will constrain the amount of money he is allowed to spend in each state.

Trailing in the polls, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have also concentrated nearly all their resources in Iowa in hopes of scoring an upset.

All six major Democratic candidates will blitz the state before next Thursday's caucuses. Hundreds of staff and volunteers from each campaign will flood likely caucus goers with mail, visits and phone calls. The television airwaves have been saturated for weeks with advertising.

Clinton, who has struggled in Iowa despite leading the field in national and most other state polls, has the most riding on the outcome here. A win could fuel a wave of momentum for the former first lady, while a loss, particularly to Obama, would shatter the notion of inevitability she has tried to project.

The New York senator is barnstorming the state and has deployed dozens of surrogates including her husband, former President Bill Clinton. Her closing argument -- "It's time to pick a president" -- underscores her central message: A candidate like Obama may inspire and move voters, but Clinton is the best prepared to actually do the job.

Obama and Edwards are competing to be the strongest "anti-Clinton" candidate in the field. Both are promising to bring fundamental change to Washington.

Edwards' base of support lies with caucus goers who were with him when he ran for president in 2004. Obama and Clinton are competing for newcomers -- hers are mostly older and female, his are younger and male.

Spending by outside groups has added a new dimension to the contest. EMILY'S List, AFSCME and the American Federation of Teachers are coordinating to boost Clinton through mail, TV and phone banks, while Edwards is receiving assistance from labor-backed groups headed by his 2004 campaign manager.

Obama has called on Edwards to ask the groups to cease their work in Iowa, and privately Obama's advisers fret that he is being hurt by the influx of spending on the other candidates' behalf.


No reason to subject workers to an election

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