Senate Dems set union threat v. GOP

Pressure tactics likely to pay off, sooner or later

The odds are slim for getting the legislation organized labor supports through the Senate, yet HAI reports Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is lining them up for floor action. The legislation may fall short of the 60 votes needed to move anything controversial through the Senate, but it is an election year and putting senators on the record with roll call votes can be enough.

Swing-state Republicans might even be persuaded to cast a vote that lets them avoid being targeted in a campaign ad — a possibility that only adds to GOP annoyance with Reid’s agenda choices.

In the next several weeks, Senator Reid intends to call up a number of union-friendly measures, including legislation drafted in response to the tide of home foreclosures (HR 3221); a manager’s amendment to climate change legislation (S 3036), which the Senate is slated to take up Monday, including language requiring that workers on projects to bolster renewable-energy facilities be paid the local prevailing wage — the latest in a series of attempts to expand the Davis-Bacon Act; legislation to expand collective-bargaining rights for firefighters and other public safety employees (HR 980); and an unemployment insurance extension and a moratorium on seven proposed Medicaid regulations.

The short-term efforts are focused on proposals intended to help low-income people in the current economic downturn. Expectations are for a second economic stimulus bill, this time focused on help for states with budget problems and funding for infrastructure instead of tax rebate checks, which were the centerpiece of the first stimulus package (PL 110-185).

Looking ahead, unions will also be pushing for stronger penalties for workplace safety violations, an expansion of family and medical leave, and the defeat of trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea.

The chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, has said he intends to seek another floor vote before the November elections on legislation (HR 2831) intended to bolster the right of workers to sue employers for wage discrimination. Confidence is high for the future prospects of the Kennedy legislation in the next Congress, particularly if Democrats clinch the White House or pick up Senate seats.


Gov. Rendell exposed as Teamster thug

Dem bigwig in shameful misuse of power

A union staffer's 2002 court declaration asserted that current governor and former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell (D) encouraged Teamsters to pursue assault charges against a nonviolent protester, The Bulletin has learned. Testimony Mr. Rendell offered earlier that year differed markedly from the account. The differing versions emerge from the saga of assault victim Don Adams's arduous legal battles.

After the Teamsters agreed in March to settle his almost decade-long civil action, Mr. Adams found the justice he received welcome, if incomplete.

Mr. Adams, his sister Teri and about 40 others went to Center City to protest a visit by President Bill Clinton on Oct. 2, 1998 in anticipation of the president's impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice. Hundreds of Teamsters, meanwhile, showed up to support Mr. Clinton.

The Cheltenham Township resident and English-language instructor carried a sign reading "Resign or get impeached" on the front and "Liar. Pervert. National Shame." on the back. Union members ripped the sign from his hands and subsequently struck him numerous times, causing him several facial bruises and cuts, a herniated disc and other bodily injuries. Teri Adams endured minor injuries as well. Five Teamsters received probation for the attacks. Mr. Adams recalled witnessing several other anti-Clinton picketers manhandled and struck by organized laborers.

During his drawn-out spell as a plaintiff, Mr. Adams found himself subject to a criminal complaint brought by Teamsters Heather Diocson and Sharon Hopkins, both of whom accused him of striking them. Footage from news cameras revealed no such attacks by him.

"To say the least, I was unbelievably appalled," he said. He stood trial on July 8, 1999 and was found not guilty.

"To say the least, I was unbelievably appalled," he said. He stood trial on July 8, 1999 and was found not guilty.

But a much more salient figure towers over Ms. Diocson and Ms. Hopkins in Mr. Adams's memory of this protracted string of legal battles: Mr. Rendell. Contending Mr. Adams was a victim of malicious prosecution and that the Teamsters never owned up to their aggression at the protest, the Adamses filed a lawsuit in Oct. 2000 against Mr. Rendell, Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Teamsters Local 115.

Mayor of Philadelphia at the time of Mr. Clinton's visit, Mr. Rendell, according to several civil trial accounts, requested Teamsters' local secretary-treasurer John Morris to bring his union's members to City Hall the night of the president's arrival. Court documents also note a conversation the president's staff had with Mr. Morris to that end.

"[White House scheduler Paul] Rivera explained that President Clinton would be visiting Philadelphia on the evening of Friday, Oct. 2, 1998 to attend two Democratic National Committee fundraisers and that a substantial showing of Teamster support for President Clinton was very desirable," Mr. Morris's chief of staff Kenneth J. Woodring Jr. attested in a court declaration. "I later learned that Mayor Edward G. Rendell also contacted Mr. Morris directly to invite the Teamsters to City Hall during the president's visit."

Mr. Rendell indicated the reason he wanted the union there in a deposition on Jan. 2, 2002.

"The president is coming to town," Mr. Rendell said he told Mr. Morris. "We want a real good reception for the president. There may be some demonstrators there. And we certainly want in number and - and in loudness. We want to drown out the demonstrators."

Mr. Rendell stated later in his testimony that he never learned of any history of violence in political situations on the part of the union leader or his associates.

But, attorneys for Mr. Adams contended in a statement of facts filed in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, "Rendell gave these instructions knowing of Morris's and Local 115's reputation for violence.... That reputation is well-documented and actually adjudicated...." A federal circuit court ruling in 1986 ordered the Teamsters chapter to cease what were deemed violent rallying practices.

Mr. Adams found it chilling that this organization's members should be brought to a likely protest site to "drown out" demonstrators. As such, allegations made against Mr. Rendell in the lawsuit thus included violation of free-speech rights.

But the plaintiff also believes that the mayor played a crucial role in initiating the failed assault charges against him and possibly attempting to lessen the penalties suffered by the five convicted Teamster assailants. Notes in which Mr. Woodring detailed a telephone call between Mr. Rendell and Mr. Morris on Oct. 5, 1998 indicated to Mr. Adams's lawyers that the governor had told the union official:

1. "Nothing is going to happen to these guys" (i.e. the accused Teamsters)

2. "[I] will send [Police Commissioner John] Timoney up. Someone [from] police should interview" the women Teamsters accusing Mr. Adams of assault, and

3. A "private criminal compl." by those individuals should be filed.

Asking Mr. Rendell on Jun. 15, 2002 about these notes, the Adams' attorney Larry Klayman said, "'Nothing is going to happen to these guys.' Does that refresh your recollection that you told Morris nothing is going to happen to you and the Teamsters, that I'll protect you?"

"No," the former mayor answered. "I specifically said to John Morris that if they want to file a private criminal complaint, we'll issue."

Mr. Klayman later in that day's proceedings inquired of Mr. Rendell, "[Y]ou told Morris that you were going to send Timoney to see him, right? You were going to send Timoney up?"

"No," the ex-mayor, then in the middle of a gubernatorial run, replied. "I said, call him on the phone," he explained farther into the deposition.

Asked by the plaintiffs' lawyer why he didn't make any similar effort to apprise Mr. or Miss Adams of the legal avenues available to them, Mr. Rendell replied that because they had not contacted him, he did not feel it necessary to speak with them.

Mr. Morris died the month before Mr. Adams's lawyers took the future governor's June testimony, but on Aug. 13, 2002, Mr. Woodring issued his declaration to illuminate what his former boss and the mayor said to each other four autumns ago.

"As was our usual practice, and at Mr. Morris' direction, I listened in on the conversation from another telephone extension and took accurate, contemporaneous notes in a spiral notebook," Mr. Woodring wrote. "Mr. Morris was very upset and concerned about how the Teamsters were being portrayed in the media. Mayor Rendell tried to appease Mr. Morris and calm him down, telling Mr. Morris with respect to the Teamsters who had been caught on videotape attacking Don and Teri Adams, that 'nothing is going to happen to these guys.' Mayor Rendell continued to try to assure Mr. Morris that there would be no negative consequences for the Teamsters, stating 'I know how these things go.'"

The former Morris chief of staff then turned his attention to whether the mayor recommended that Ms. Diocson and Ms. Hopkins pursue their accusations against the demonstrator.

"Mayor Rendell promised to send Police Commissioner Timoney to the Local 115 headquarters and stated that the police should interview the Teamster women Mr. Morris claimed had been attacked," Mr. Woodring declared. "Mayor Rendell also suggested that the Teamsters should file private criminal complaints against Don Adams."

At other points the statements of Mr. Rendell and Mr. Woodring again differ. Mr. Rendell, for instance, recalled chastising the Teamsters leader for his union's behavior.

"I said," the governor testified, "'You detracted from what should have been a' - the story in the headlines should have been, Philadelphia gives president great welcome. And instead of that, which was the facts [sic] and the truth, that there were a thousand times more supporters than protesters out there. Instead of that, the story was about this incident. And - and I told him that - that they had screwed up, and that the whole point of asking them to come out and show their support had been undercut by the actions of these guys."

Mr. Woodring recollected, however, "With respect to the... phone call with Mr. Morris, Mr. Rendell did not tell Mr. Morris that he was angry with him nor did he say that the Teamsters' actions had ruined the show of support for President Clinton. Further, I can state with certainty that the only reference by Mr. Rendell to the filing of a private criminal complaint was with respect [to] the Teamsters filing a private criminal complaint against Don Adams."

Mr. Rendell did, in his testimony, qualify his comments about the actions of union members during the Clinton visit.

"Well, but it wasn't like - it's not a good incident," he said. "I wouldn't classify it as a civic disgrace."

The governor's office told The Bulletin he had no comment.


Gov. Corzine abuses collective bargaining

Pro-union Gov. misused Open Records Act

More than 740 pages of emails sent between Gov. Jon S. Corzine and his former girlfriend, labor leader Carla Katz, are public records not protected by executive privilege and must be released, a state Superior Court judge ruled Friday. Corzine, who dated Katz while a United States senator and paid her a financial settlement when ending their relationship, had tried to keep a lid on the emails, arguing they were private, collective bargaining-related communications.

State Republicans sued one year ago, saying it is important to know what was being said during negotiations for a new state contract with the Communications Workers of America. Katz is president of CWA Local 1034.

"The public has a right to know whether the relationship between the governor and Ms. Katz had any improper influence or effect on the governor's paramount obligation to serve the interest of the citizens of New Jersey first," Superior Court Judge Paul Innes wrote in a 21-page decision released Friday afternoon.

"He doesn't have the law to hide behind anymore. The judge could not have been more clear," said Republican Party state chairman Tom Wilson.

Corzine said the emails will not be exciting for the public.

"Most of these you would find extremely boring," said Corzine, who gave as an example "Suppose you were reading a bill."

Corzine said he agrees with Attorney General Anne Milgram's decision to appeal to protect the right of executive privilege for future governors.

"We're on the first rung of a three-rung ladder," Corzine said of the court process, adding the case is likely to ultimately head to the state Supreme Court.

Attorney General Anne Milgram, whose office represents Corzine, said she is disappointed and disagreed with the ruling she called narrow. She said the office plans to file within two weeks asking for the emails' release date to be delayed.

"Our position has consistently been and continues to be the communications of the governor and the governor's staff are protected by executive privilege," she said.

Innes said executive privilege is an established precedent in New Jersey but is limited in scope. He noted Katz was not one of Corzine's staffers and that their relationship created a clear potential for conflict.

"Of course, it well may be that Ms. Katz, despite her position in the public employee union, was also an advisor to the governor. But, any role she may have had as advisor would not serve to protect all her communications with the governor under the doctrine of executive privilege," Innes wrote.

It's still unclear how many e-mails were exchanged. The judge's ruling notes that 55 pages should remain confidential. Each has been numbered on a log kept secret even from those filing the suit. The highest number the judge referenced was 796. Wilson said the number refers to the amount of emails exchanged between Corzine and Katz; the Corzine administration, however, said any multiple-page email could account for several numbers but refused to give a number for how many emails were submitted to the court.

Milgram declined to comment about the emails, sticking to the administration's theme that the fight to keep them private isn't about secrecy but rather protecting executive privilege for Corzine and future governors.

"It's not about the substance of the e-mails," Milgram said. "It has never been. This is about a constitutional issue."

Katz had tried to keep the e-mails private, saying they were part of collective bargaining, which Corzine's office denied.

Katz's lawyer, Sidney Lehmann, said in a statement that he will also appeal the ruling.

"This entire lawsuit has always been motivated by the Republican Party's and Tom Wilson's desire to misuse the court system to embarrass the Governor for political gain," Lehmann said. "We continue to believe that these emails, sent with the expectation of privacy, should rightfully remain private."


Minnesota A.G. in Teamster striker-scab stunt

Related story: "Minnesota's labor-backed, anti-union A.G."

Swanson tries to get her union cred back

Minnesota's Attorney General joined a picket line in Saint Paul Friday, to lend her support to the Teamster's Union's strike against Johnson Brothers Liquor. Lori Swanson, who donned a Teamster's jacket for the event, urged striking members of Local 792 to keep up their fight for a new contract with the liquor distributor.

"I myself was a member of the UAW back when I was trying to support myself," Swanson told the picketers, family members and supporters, "So what you're doing here is very near and dear to my heart."

At least 70 drivers and warehouse workers at Johnson Brothers Liquor have been on strike for 11 weeks now, taking to the picket line on Saint Patrick's Day.

"America is great because of a middle class," Swanson told the striking teamsters, "And what you're doing is trying to make sure working men and women can be part of the middle class."

Swanson's appearance on the picket line came the same week she received blistering criticism from the head the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 5, accusing her of firing an assistant attorney general because of efforts to organize the lawyers on her staff.

But to Steve Finch, one of the Teamsters on the picket line, Swanson's appearance meant a lot.

"Lori Swanson being here today? That was huge! Really huge."

Finch, who joined Johnson Brothers 14 years ago when it merged with the competitor where he worked, said the strikers are looking for an extra 60 cents an hour. They're also asking Johnson Brothers to cap the annual increase in health care premiums at 10 percent.

"It's been a great place to work, but we have families too. We need a new contract, and we're not asking for the world here."

A Johnson Brothers spokesman told KARE 11 Friday that the company was disappointed when the workers left the negotiating table abruptly.

A federal mediator has been unable to get the two sides back to the bargaining table. Mayor Chris Coleman has offered to help settle the dispute.

"Johnson Brothers has a long history in Saint Paul," Mayor Coleman wrote in a letter to the company's CEO Lynn Johnson and Local 792 business agent Bill Reynolds.

"The company is recognized as being a loyal, honest and dependable business partner, providing customers with quality service."

"Johnson Brothers' most valued resources, its employees, deserve credit for helping the company grow into one of the best wine and spirit distributors in the country."

The company continued to move product in and out of its warehouse on Shepard Road, using drivers who don't belong to the local.

Private security officers stood just inside the shipping entrance, and a Saint Paul police officer cruised up and down the street.

"We can hold up those scabs for 30 seconds, and then we have to let them through," Steve Finch explained, "Those are the rules here on the line."


GOP urged to quit pandering to unions

Governor's veto worth sustaining

Gov. M. Jodi Rell's decision to veto a minimum-wage increase was easy from the standpoint of politics and economics. Now it's up to internal Republican Party politics to determine whether it will take.

A constituency she and the GOP rely upon heavily, the business community, told her emphatically the increase from $7.65 to $8 on Jan. 1, 2009, and to $8.25 a year later would be harmful to many companies and lethal to some. Those who hold most of the minimum-wage jobs, the working poor and the young of all economic strata, may have Gov. Rell and a stalwart band of legislative Republicans to thank for it.

There are enough Republican votes in the Senate, and possibly the House if four Democratic defectors remain on board, to thwart a likely override attempt.

Thus do Sens. Sam S.F. Caligiuri, R-Waterbury, and Anthony Guglielmo, R-Stafford Springs, find unexpected power. They voted for the increase, and Sen. Caligiuri says he may support an override. (Sen. Guglielmo had yet to be heard from as of Thursday.) Sen. Caligiuri professes to believe the harm to businesses — never mind the far more grievous harm to low-income people and teenagers looking for work in a shrinking job market — does not outweigh the benefit to those who will be paid a little more.

As Gov. Rell pointed out in her veto message, this isn't just a matter of giving an unskilled worker an extra 35 cents an hour. It is "also the associated costs, such as higher Social Security, unemployment tax and workers' compensation payments ... Businesses where all workers' wages are tied to the minimum wage would also see increased costs, since all workers' pay would have to be increased to maintain the differentials."

What she didn't point out is the minimum wage is a stealth tax that forces businesses to give low-income people cash and benefits that otherwise would be the government's burden. Gov. Rell estimated this "tax" at about $700 per worker per year. Given that most Connecticut businesses are able to attract a labor force sufficient to their needs without a minimum-wage increase, it's difficult to distinguish this measure from a flat $700-per-employee tax assessment.

If Sens. Caligiuri and Guglielmo care about the poor, and about young workers looking for their first job, they'll sustain the veto of this potentially job-destroying, business-killing measure.

And if they care about making the Republican Party relevant again in Connecticut, they will desist in their useless pandering to the public-employee unions that have the most to gain by a bump at the bottom of the wage scale.


Politicians as union organizers

Grandstanding amounts to coercion

With The Banks finally under way on the riverfront, you'd think Cincinnati had overcome its penchant for shooting itself in the foot when it comes to economic development. Unfortunately, it seems to be taking dead aim on its metatarsals with the $322 million Queen City Square project, a downtown skyscraper planned to be the city's tallest office tower.

This is a complex deal with many moving parts and mundane issues to resolve among the city, the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, and Western & Southern Financial Group, which is developing the tower.

But even though the deal would be a long-term financial boon for the city, it could be held up or even scuttled because of an extraneous labor issue.

Some City Council members, led by Vice Mayor David Crowley, want Western & Southern to require that Executive Management Services (EMS), the firm it contracts with for janitorial services in its other downtown buildings, become unionized.

This is political grandstanding - a ridiculous demand that amounts to coercion. It could set an awful precedent, slow downtown's economic momentum, and have a chilling effect on other firms that may consider investing in Cincinnati. This is not how the city should do business.

The issue has some urgency because council is set to vote on a series of ordinances - on land conveyance, tax-increment financing and city funding - that must be in place for demolition of an existing garage to take place in July, followed by the start of construction in September.

But Crowley says he'll vote against those ordinances unless Western & Southern agrees to "either have the present contractor allow its workers to unionize (or) find a new contractor."

If Western & Southern does not acquiesce, Crowley said, he and an unspecified number of other council members will oppose the project. The land-transfer vote could come next week, with the others in following weeks. It's unclear if Crowley has enough support to stop the deal.

But that's small consolation to Western & Southern, which feels it was blindsided last week on the union issue. "It really surprised us. We thought everything was fine with the city," said Don Wuebbling, senior vice president and general counsel.

"We're not at all anti-union. A lot of union members will be working on this building, probably a majority," he said. "But we don't feel we should be telling our contractor what to do. If they want to have the union, fine."

A comparison chart provided by Western & Southern shows EMS workers here enjoy better pay and benefits than workers represented by the Service Employees International Union.

City officials - and voters - ought to ask themselves some basic questions: Is it the proper role of city government to force the private sector to unionize? To require a business to act as its agent in coercing a contractor to change its way of doing business?

Mayor Mark Mallory says he's working behind the scenes, trying to "hold out hope until we can get the parties to work it out," but he appears to hold some sympathy for Crowley's position: "The issue is whether or not workers employed by EMS feel like they can unionize. ... To the extent that they control the situation, Western & Southern needs to ensure that folks know they can."

Fair treatment for janitorial employees is a legitimate social issue. Workers have the right to organize; politicians and activists have the right to advocate for them. But the issue should not be used to hold a major, peripherally related project hostage, as Crowley seems to want: "We're saying to Western & Southern: 'You're coming to us asking us for this funding, but why should everybody benefit except the folks at the bottom of the ladder?'"

That's disingenuous. The city isn't really subsidizing the project. Its $3.75 million will be for sidewalks and other infrastructure around Queen City Square. The city will get back far more than it "gives," anyway. Workers, union and non-union, will benefit.

A report last week by a University of Cincinnati economics group, commissioned by Western & Southern, pegged the building's potential economic impact at $1.66 billion a year. It will generate or retain 8,655 jobs worth $388 million a year, noted UC's Economic Center for Education and Research, and its construction alone would contribute $715 million to the local economy. After it is built, it will provide $7.7 million a year in tax revenues to the city and school district.

"It's a very big project, very important to the city," Mallory said. If that's so, then city leaders should act like it and stop engaging in political arm-twisting on behalf of unions. That's nonsense.


Rep. Louise Slaughter, New York DINO

Related story: "Public opinion survey on card-check"

Democrat wants to end secret-ballot union elections

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter was back in the district today, talking about reforming the process by which employees join unions. Speaking at the First Unitarian Church on Winton Road, Slaughter says that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) process "doesn't work."

"It is clear that the overall policies enforced by the NLRB do not adequately protect American workers' rights to organize and negotiate - adequate doesn't cover it - they simply don't do it. We in Western New York are all too well aware of the potential shortcomings of the current labor laws in providing for a free and fair choice regarding union representation."

Advocates for reforming the labor board's process liken it to elections in which one candidate is not allowed to campaign in their own district or meet with the constituency.

Instead, Slaughter is backing the Employee Free Choice Act. She says that legislation would simplify joining a union for workers.

"It allows them to more easily join together to bargain for better wages and benefits and working conditions, without fear of being harassed, intimidated, reassigned or even fired. It closes the loopholes in the current labor laws, and minimizes the potential for abuse by establishing a card check process, and a union is certified when a majority of workers sign the authorization cards."

The event Friday was sponsored by Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice. That group has called a boycott against the Rochester Plaza Hotel, claiming that the hotel is refusing to negotiate with employees about unionization on a fair basis.

The hotel's management says they're complying with the NLRB process. The clergy argue that process is unjust, and that criteria determined by the community should set the tone for negotiation between workers and management.

A spokesperson for the Rochester Plaza Hotel was out of town, and unavailable to comment.


The definition of a scab

From IAM Local Lodge 1005: Scabs have been called many things by many people during the course of labor history but Jack London’s description of the scab, “written with barbed wire on sandpaper,” easily dwarfs all others.
“After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad, the vampire, He had some awful substance left with which He made a scab.

A scab is a two-legged animal with a cork-screw soul, a water-logged brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumor of rotten principles.

When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the Devil shuts the gates of Hell to keep him out.

No man has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in, or a rope long enough to hang his body with. Judas Iscariot was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not.

Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Judas Iscariot sold his Savior for thirty pieces of silver. Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of a commission in the British Army. The modern strikebreaker sells his birthright, his country, his wife, his children and his fellow men for an unfulfilled promise from his employer, trust or corporation.

Esau was a traitor to himself: Judas Iscariot was a traitor to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to his country; a strikebreaker is a traitor to his God, his country, his wife, his family and his class.”

SEIU faces crises over direction

Leaders respond by curbing democracy

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), with its 1.9 million members, has been stamped as the "fastest growing union in North America", but as it begins its quadrennial convention in Puerto Rico this weekend, it is facing a crisis over its direction.

The union, led by Andy Stern, has come under fire recently from within and without its ranks. The central conflict turns out to be Stern himself, who wants to shift the union model national - even global. He wants to contest the big issues of the day like healthcare and the war in Iraq, and advocate his views at the federal level of the US government.

This agenda has been forestalled by a push for locality from the rank and file. Local bosses have fallen out of love with Stern's vision. They want more control and more respect for local politics. I asked Sal Rosselli, president of SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West (UHW) and one of the principal agitators against Stern, about his expectations going in to the convention:

"We view the convention as the beginning of the next phase of our movement to reform SEIU," he said.

There is also resistance from those the SEIU is looking to absorb, like the California Nurses Association. The SEIU wants groups like the nurses association to join its numbers, as the SEIU is comprised of nurses, hospital staff, nursing home care providers, building services, public service workers and security guards. The nurses union, which has grown by leaps and bounds and is fighting for its own voice and autonomy, argues: "Andy Stern has embarked on a disturbing path of corporate unionism - business partnerships with employers that undermine public protections and a voice for workers."

This conflict reveals a big question at play about how social change happens. Is it by way of many independent, local grassroots movements or a unified push for change on a national, even global level? Or, is it a combination of both? When I asked both Rosselli and Stern about their views on local versus national and international initiatives, Stern emphasised the need for a wider, more expansive vision:

"The fundamental mission of the union movement - and of SEIU in particular - is to build a more just and humane society for all working people. Right now, we are living through the most profound, most significant and most transformative economic revolution in human history. ...

"As a union, we are asking what is the role and the responsibility of private equity, big banks and multinational corporations to the working people who helped build their success? How do we insure that every man, woman and child has healthcare and economic security through retirement? How do we build a broader movement that doesn't only just take care of our own but brings justice for all? When capital has gone global, trade is global, finance is global and companies have gone global, global issues become local."

Rosselli, by contrast, responded by pushing for a local, bottom up approach and critiquing the recent confidential agreements that Stern has made with major employers:

"We believe what we're doing in SEIU is expressing an ideology, a point of view that many in the labour movement share beyond SEIU and beyond the US. It's about reinvigorating the labour movement from the bottom up, organising workers, rather than bosses, to build real power for workers globally.

"This isn't accomplished by cutting sweetheart deals with national employers or global employers. A sweetheart deal is a sweetheart deal. It's about creating a movement of workers by workers, for workers."

Of course, there are those who argue that both Stern and Rosselli want to hold the reins of power, that they are the ones who want to control workers, rather than empower them. When the New Republic's Bradford Plumer published an excellent article on this topic, a commenter on the website wrote: "The rank and file membership, are the union. It's not Andy's, Sal's or any other paid staffer's union. It's our union." Another replied:

"Unfortunately, viewing workers largely as an unorganised mass of unthinking and unfeeling apathetic beings who need to be 'Stalinised' by an autocratic and superior leader who thinks he (as labour is still largely male dominated) knows what is best for them - is the SEIU model of 'organising' that both Sal and Andy agree upon."

This conflict impacts those outside the union as well. As the SEIU stretches to shape policy beyond local politics - as it did in 2003 with its anti-war stance on the Iraq invasion; or its support of progressive radio at Air America (which I produce radio shows for); or its backing of Barack Obama for president - it affects the lives of all Americans, not just union workers.

How unions fit in to the lives of US workers remains unresolved. Most Americans are not union members. They go to jobs, hope they don't get fired and collect their paycheques. They are on their own. Union workers have other benefits - but a whole lot of drama to contend with. We all, however, are impacted and influenced by their work.


Socialists rip UAW over failed-strike betrayal

Related American Axle stories: here.
More UAW stories: here.

Labor "left" offers false hope for reform

American Axle workers began to return to work earlier this week, after the end of a three-month walkout in Michigan and New York. The struggle—one of the longest walkouts in the auto industry in decades—ended in a bitter defeat for the workers.

More than half of the returning 3,650 workers, including 1,100 in Detroit, will lose their jobs. The remaining will see their wages cut from $28 an hour to $18.50 and in some locations as low as $10.

In a conference call to Wall Street investors Wednesday corporate CEO Richard Dauch said the new deal would reduce all-in labor costs by 50 percent—saving the company $300 million. “I am pleased to report,” he boasted, “we have achieved all of these goals.”

That the hated contract was ratified by a 78 percent margin was testimony to the lack of confidence in the United Auto Workers union to obtain anything better if workers remained on strike. Even before the walkout began, the UAW signaled its willingness to impose substantial wage cuts. Then the union left workers isolated on the picket lines for 87 days and paid meager strike benefits of $200 a week. In the end, the UAW brought back the concessions agreement and told workers, “Take it or leave it.”

Acting on the belief that there was no alternative, workers voted for the deal with most opting to take the buyout now or in the near future. Many, no doubt, will join the migration of ex-auto workers out of Michigan, where 143,000 auto jobs—or 45 percent of the total—have been wiped out since 1999.

The UAW betrayal at American Axle—like at Delphi and the Big Three concessions before it—will be used to set a new benchmark for the permanent lowering of wages. Hit by high gas prices, the credit crunch and slumping sales, General Motors and Ford have already announced sharp reductions in the production of light trucks and SUVs.

This is only a prelude to a new round of mass layoffs, bankruptcies and concession demands in the auto industry, the airlines and the rest of the US economy. The corporate executives and investors will not be satisfied until the auto industry is a low-wage sector in which workers have no benefits or job security.

The Socialist Equality Party has long been attacked by various middle class lefts for its insistence that the UAW and the AFL-CIO are no longer working class organizations and that workers must break from these corporatist organizations, a position adopted by our party in the early 1990s. The outcome of the American Axle strike and the whole trajectory of the unions for nearly three decades, however, demonstrate the correctness of this position.

The labor “lefts” play an absolutely critical role on behalf of the trade union bureaucracy, seeking to encourage illusions that the UAW and other unions can be reformed. While doing nothing to mobilize workers against the betrayal of the strike, these ex-radicals and union dissidents—including Wendy Thompson, the former local union president at the Detroit American Axle plant and a supporter of Labor Notes—repeatedly uphold the authority of the UAW, claiming the strike could be won by pressuring the union leadership to fight.

In the end, these individuals function as political agents of reactionary organizations who participate in the exploitation of the workers. Since the early 1980s there has been an endless chain of betrayed strikes, year after year—but for such groups as Workers World, the International Socialist Organization, and the Spartacist League, no conclusions are ever to be drawn.

They all insist that trade unionism—and its perspective of reforming capitalism—is still a viable perspective for the working class. For them, the need for workers to build a political movement to fight for a socialist alternative to the capitalist system is rhetoric, at best.

But this is precisely what is needed. The American Axle strike is part of a broader struggle of the working class in the US and internationally, which is occurring under conditions of an unprecedented crisis of the world capitalist system.

Millions of workers are facing home foreclosures, attacks on their jobs and livings standards, and devastating rises in the price of gas, food and other living expenses. These are all manifestations of the bankruptcy of capitalism, an economic and political system that subordinates the needs of working people the world over to the demands for profit and an ever-greater enrichment of the corporate and financial elite.

The heyday of trade union reformism was the post-World War II boom, when US industries controlled the world market and Japan and Germany were still recovering from wartime destruction. Explicitly rejecting a break with the Democratic Party and a political struggle against the capitalist system, Reuther and the other UAW leaders bet the future of the working class on the continued world dominance of American big business.

The claim that the interests of workers and the corporations could be reconciled was blown apart in the 1980s, when in response to the historic decline in the global position of the US, corporate America unleashed a wave of attacks on the jobs and living standards of US workers, which continues to this day.

As the US economy increasingly lost ground to its Japanese and European rivals, the most powerful financial interests deliberately pursued a policy of deindustrialization, which has led to the destruction of some 5 million manufacturing jobs since 1979, and an unrelenting attack on the living standards of American workers. This was aimed at freeing up capital from unprofitable industries in order to invest it in various forms of financial speculation, including the housing and subprime mortgage bubble.

At the same time, US corporations increasingly shifted production to low-wage areas to reduce costs, compete against their foreign rivals and guaranteed vast profits from the exploitation of impoverished workers in Latin America and Asia. American Axle, for example, opened up a plant in Guanajuato, Mexico, where workers are paid a daily wage or around 130 pesos, or $12.50.

Corporate CEO Richard Dauch—who has pocketed $250 million since taking over the company in 1994—is typical of the social layer that has benefited at the direct expense of the working class.

Over the last three decades, 80 percent of the net income gains in the US have gone to the richest 1 percent of the population, which now controls the largest share of national income since 1928. These 300,000 people—whose incomes have risen to an average of $1.1 million—collectively enjoyed almost as much income as the bottom 150 million Americans. Per person, the top group received 440 times as much as the average person in the bottom half earned, nearly doubling the gap from 1980, according to tax data.

Shortly after the strike began Dauch threatened to close his US plants and shift production to low-wage countries if workers did not accept his demands. Since the UAW fully accepts and defends the capitalist system, it has no answer to this economic blackmail.

Unwilling and incapable of fighting for the international unity of the working class, the UAW sought to convince the company to maintain a minimal number of jobs in the US by offering ever-lower wages and worse working conditions. The new deal reportedly includes assurances by the company that it will recognize the UAW at non-union plants in the US and expand of production at factories in Michigan and Ohio where the UAW signed separate wage agreements, reportedly paying as little as $10 an hour. This will assure that the UAW bureaucracy continues to collect union dues, even though workers are making near-poverty wages.

The culmination of its support for the capitalist system has been the transformation of the UAW into a profit-making business itself. Last year the union increased its income from investments, even as its membership fell by more than 70,000 and workers suffered devastating job losses and wage reductions.

In exchange for the two-tier wage agreement accepted by the UAW at GM, Ford and Chrysler last year, the union was given control of a multibillion-dollar retiree trust fund and tens of millions of shares in GM and Ford stock. This will give the entrepreneurs who head the UAW a direct financial stake in the continued attack on auto workers’ jobs and living standards.

The UAW has demonstrated its utter worthlessness from the standpoint of defending the interests of the working class. It is not a working-class organization, but an organization controlled by an upper-middle-class layer whose interests are hostile to the members it ostensibly represents.

Here it is not just a matter of the individual corruption of certain union officials or a lack of the will to fight, as claimed by the various lefts. At issue is the union’s role in subordinating the workers to the capitalist system. The political form this takes is support for the Democratic Party.

Workers must break from these pro-company organizations and build new organs of struggle. Above all, workers must organize, not simply on a workplace-by-workplace basis, but as an international class whose common interest is to reorganize economic and political life to meet the needs of the majority of society, not the wealthy few.

The global auto industry involves the collective labor of tens of millions of working people, including factory workers, engineers, scientists and others. It consumes vast amounts of the world’s resources. This enterprise cannot be left in the hands of corporate executives, hedge fund managers, and other financial speculators whose sole interest is not the provision of safe and affordable transportation but rather to augment their personal fortunes. This has led to the squandering of vast amounts of human labor and essential resources and laid waste to entire industrial cities like Detroit and Buffalo.

If the auto industry is to be run for the common good, not private profit, it must be put under public ownership and the democratic control of working people, as part of the establishment of a planned, socialist economy. Only in that way can the great advances in computerization, robotics and international integration of production be used for the benefit of all and the livelihoods of those who produce transportation be secured.

Such a program is anathema to the Democratic Party, which like the Republican Party, defends the profit system.

It is significant that both Democratic presidential candidates remained silent about the strike until the eve of the sellout by the UAW. In a speech at a suburban Detroit community college, Obama sought to combine supposed sympathy for the strikers with praise for the improved innovation and competitiveness of the US auto companies. But the auto companies have only improved their competitive position through a ruthless attack on the jobs and living standards of auto workers.

It is not possible to reconcile the interests of corporate America and Wall Street on one side, with those of the working class on the other. If he makes it to the White House, Obama—who like every other capitalist politician is backed by vast amounts of corporate cash—will loyally defend big business and seek to make the working class pay for the deepening crisis of American capitalism.

The American Axle strike demonstrated the irreconcilable conflict that lies at the heart of American society and throughout the world: the class struggle. For the working class to unite and fight for its common interests it must combine in a political movement aimed at a fundamental reorganization of society’s priorities.

The needs of the working class—for decent paying jobs, health care, education, housing and a world free from war—must take precedence over the selfish and destruction drive for individual profit. The guiding principle must be the fight for social equality, the elimination of poverty, and the raising of the living standards of the world’s people through the conscious and rational use of mankind’s productive resources.

The fight for this socialist perspective is the only way to revive the workers movement in the US and internationally. We urge auto workers and all workers to study the history and program of the Socialist Equality Party and make the decision to join and help build it as the new revolutionary leadership of the working class.


Anti-strike resolution going nowhere

Editorial writer whistles in the wind

The District 158 School Board wants the state to prohibit teachers from going on strike. Board members this week sent a resolution to the Illinois Association of School Boards, asking the organization to strengthen its stance against teacher strikes and lobby to change state law on the matter.

We wholeheartedly support the resolution, and encourage all other school districts in the area to adopt similar resolutions.

District 158 is in the middle of negotiations with its teachers union on a new contract, which expires June 30. District officials say the resolution is unrelated to the contract negotiations, but that’s beside the point.

On this page in recent years, we have urged our legislators to change state law. Teachers should be treated the same as firefighters and police officers, who are barred from striking. Firefighters and police officers must solve their contract disputes through arbitration, not strikes.

With the ability to strike, teachers have all the leverage. School officials have none. Parents want – need, in many instances – their children in school. During drawn-out strikes, parental pressure often forces school boards to make too many concessions to teacher unions just to get students back in school.

District 2 officials put up a pretty good fight last fall when the Richmond/Spring Grove Education Association went on strike during a contract dispute. District 2 boldly considered hiring replacement teachers. Ultimately, though, the district settled with the union after gaining a few, though relatively small, concessions from teachers.

According to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Illinois is one of nine states that explicitly permit teacher strikes through legislation. Ten states are neutral, and 31 states put restrictions on or ban teachers from striking.

It is long since time to put Illinois in the category with the majority of states, restricting or banning teacher strikes.

We prefer the ban. That would be one step in the long, difficult road to reforming education spending.


RTW state may expand collective bargaining

Capital Associated Industries, Inc,(CAI), the largest membership employers’ association in North Carolina, is working on a lobbying campaign to influence state lawmakers to vote against HS 1583, an act to give unions the ability to negotiate with state and local government.

“The bill is likely to be discussed this session and we wanted to make sure lawmakers know where we stand,” says Bruce Clarke, president and CEO of CAI, who has been working in the human resources industry for over 25 years. “Our postcards show why supporting public employee unions in North Carolina is a bad idea.”

CAI’s lobbying campaign is a joint effort with the Employer’s Coalition of North Carolina, The Employer’s Association (Charlotte), and WCI (Asheville), and consists of a series of postcards, which are sent to each state lawmaker. The first and second mailings dropped just as the session was getting started.

Like Clarke, those opposing the bill say public employee unions will bring unnecessary costs and inefficiencies, pressure on the tax base, reduced service quality to the private sector, and damage to the overall business climate.

According to the Employer’s Coalition of North Carolina, the state is one of at least 14 in the nation that seriously restricts or prohibits collective bargaining rights for public employees. Only 3% of North Carolina’s workforce is unionized.

“Lawmakers need to understand the unintended consequences of public employee unions,” says Clarke. “Visit any state that endures the political battles, strikes, and workplace confusion brought on by unions and see what they say.”


Unions routinely violate state laws

Especially when politics is involved

Four mailers costing nearly $50,000 issued by a labor coalition on behalf of west Sonoma County supervisor candidate Maddy Hirshfield have rivals complaining that they may violate campaign spending rules. They say that while the mailers were paid for by an independent group, they look identical to Hirshfield's own campaign material.

Attorney Eric Koenigshofer, a former supervisor representing the west county and a leading backer of candidate Efren Carrillo, said mailers issued by the Hirshfield campaign and by the coalition are so close in message, text, photos and content that they appear to violate state laws regarding expenditures by independent groups.

"If you are acting at the behest of the candidate, you are not independent," Koenigshofer said. "I think they are breaking the law, plain and simple."

However, Nick Caston, spokesman for the labor coalition, defended the group's mailers. He said the material was drawn from the group's contact with Hirshfield and the mailers were produced independently of the Hirshfield campaign.

"Everything that we said in our mailers is based on our experience with her," Caston said. "We are supporting Maddy's record, her work on the issues. We have not seen her mail pieces."

The coalition identifies itself as a single entity -- Sonoma Young Democrats for a Sustainable Environment Community-Based Healthcare -- SEIU United Healthcare Workers West and IBEW Local 551. The group has filed four independent expenditure reports with local elections officials indicating it has spent more than $48,000 on four mailings that support Hirshfield.

Hirshfield, a legislative aide to Assemblywoman Patty Berg, is one of eight candidates on Tuesday's ballot seeking to succeed Mike Reilly, who is not seeking re-election.

State law allows unlimited expenditures by independent committees as long as they are distinct from a candidate's campaign. The law prohibits an independent group expenditure if it "replicates, reproduces, republishes or disseminates, in whole or substantial part, a communication designed, produced, paid for or distributed by the candidate."

Campaign mailers from the labor coalition use photos of Hirshfield sitting on a hillside and walking through tall grass with six people that are identical to photos on Hirshfield's mailers. They also mimic the phrasing "acting locally" that appears on Hirshfield's mailers and yard signs.

"Some of the text mirrors what's on Hirshfield's material," Koenigshofer said. "The only difference I can see is that the coalition material has a square dot over the letter 'i' and Maddy's has a round dot."


AFSCME reminds County Commission of CBA

No salary freeze for union workers

Butler County (OH) Commission this week issued a directive that will exempt bargaining unit employees from the ongoing salary freeze. Commissioners unanimously decided May 12 to freeze all levels of pay pending an internal study by Personnel Director Douglas Duckett to compare salaries to other county governments.

Commissioners met with Duckett on Thursday, May 29, and asked him to relay to the county's three largest unions — which represent about 600 workers — that if workers qualify for a raise during the hiatus, they should get it.

"Our bargaining agreements need to be lived up to," Commissioner Donald Dixon said. "We will honor our contracts."

"We were incredibly happy to hear that they would honor the contracts," said Rebecca Palmer, president of the new Butler County Children Services Independent Union, which has just begun to negotiate a new contract.

Palmer said her union has at least 10 employees eligible for raises in May and June.

Officials from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 3396 — which represents workers in Job and Family Services and the Environmental Services Department — have said they were watching the May 12 decision to see if it violated agreements.

Dixon has cited situations where employees get automatic 7 percent annual increases, plus more raises with any promotion. Despite the salary hold, Dixon said increases will be given retroactively if employees are entitled.

Nonunion employees are still subject to the freeze until the study is complete, which Duckett said will likely be by month's end.

Duckett said he and his staff are studying salary levels of 15 county governments in Ohio, most of which have a similar population to Butler County.


Puerto Rico teachers denounce SEIU


Anti-democratic pledge causes Dem unease

Related story: "Jeff Merkley, Oregon DINO"

Dems expect a free-pass from pro-union press

A worker-choice group run out of a Washington, D.C., lobbyist’s office has taken out full-page ads in Oregon’s two biggest daily newspapers questioning Senate candidate Jeff Merkley’s support for a change in how unions are formed.

The ads in The Register-Guard and The Oregonian on Thursday argue against the “card-check” method of winning employee approval for unionizing private workplaces. [N.B. Card-check is a replacement for the secret-ballot election method.]

Merkley, a Democrat, supports federal legislation allowing the card-check approach, while the Republican senator he is challenging, Gordon Smith, has opposed it.

The ads were taken out by a group called The Employee Freedom Action Committee, which is run out of the office of lobbyist Rick Berman.

“Jeff Merkley won the Democratic primary Tuesday through a mailed private ballot by Oregon Citizens,” the ad states. “Yet he supports eliminating the right to a private vote when unions are enlisting new members. Hard to believe?”

Merkley spokesman Matt Canter called the ad a distortion meant to mask the anti-worker sentiments of the “shadowy organization” behind it.

“Unfortunately, Oregonians are going to see a lot of distortions from the powerful special interests that are supporting Gordon Smith’s candidacy,” he said.

Tim Miller, a spokesman for The Employee Freedom Action Committee, said his group gets a majority of its financing from businesses that oppose the Employee Free Choice Act in Congress.

It passed the House and had support from a majority in the Senate.

But enough Republicans, including Smith, voted last year to prevent it from coming up for a vote.

Miller said his group is concerned that, if voters elect a Democratic president and more Democratic senators, such a law could pass.

Currently, employers can decide whether workers can use the card-check approach or conduct an election in forming a union.

Under the card-check approach, organizers pass out cards to workers, meeting with them outside the workplace to ask for their support in forming a union. If more than 50 percent of workers sign the cards, a union would be formed.

If an employer chooses not to recognize these cards, then labor organizers must convince enough union-eligible workers to sign cards calling for a campaign on whether to unionize. Then an election is held, with the union and the employer conducting campaigns and private ballots determining the outcome.

Rebekah Orr, spokeswoman for the Oregon AFL-CIO, said employers often go with the election approach, calling it “the method that allows them the most opportunity to scare people, intimidate people and make the workplace hostile enough that people won’t vote to join a union,” she said.

Rather than make the case to the public that the card-check method is bad for employers who want to keep unions out, the Employee Freedom Action Committee is arguing that the law would be bad for workers.

“Our organization looks out for the rights of the employees. It’s the employees who are going to have their right to privacy, their right for a private vote, taken away,” Miller said. He contended that because the cards would be accessible by other workers and employers, coercion or intimidation could influence workers’ decisions in ways not possible with a private ballot.

Merkley’s spokesman, Canter, disagreed.

“This is one of many ways to allow working men and women to thrive, to assure good quality jobs with health care and child care benefits,” he said.

Smith’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond, said the senator’s opposition to the card-check approach wasn’t a reflection of his position on labor organizing but on privacy rights.

“Sen. Smith believes that workers should have the right to form a union,” Hammond said. “He wants individual workers to make their decision in private — just like every voter does when they drop their ballot in the mail.”


Feds bust more union officials for embezzlement

Local law enforcement powerless v. union corruption

Four members of Thilmany Papers United Steelworkers Union Local 20, Kaukauna (WI), have been indicted in U.S. District Court on embezzlement charges. Federal prosecutors say the four, all union officials, charged the union lost wages for doing union business while still getting paid by their employer.

Named in the indictment were:

- Tim Giles, president of Local 20 between April 1, 2003, and May 31, 2006, who claimed lost wages totaling $3,364.

- Randy Sanders, executive vice president of Local 20 between Dec. 1, 2002, and Sept. 30, 2006, who claimed lost wages totaling $3,288.

- Mary Schaeuble, insurance committee member for Local 20 between Dec. 1, 2002, and Sept. 30, 2006, who claimed lost wages totaling $3,379.

- Eugene Huss, vice president of Local 20 between Jan. 1, 2005, and Sept. 30, 2006, who claimed lost wages totaling $1,617.

The indictments do not identify the four by age or address.

All four are scheduled for an arraignment June 6 in U.S. District Court in Green Bay.

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