Barack goes to the wall for union organizers

Unwanted unions to be imposed on workers - without secret ballot elections

Legislation that would make it more difficult for workers to hold a private ballot vote in unionization drives, which critics say would lead to harassment and intimidation, has spurred a pitched battle between powerful labor unions supportive of Sen. Barack Obama and big business in the presidential campaign.

Seen by the AFL-CIO as a way to boost union rolls by hundreds of thousands of new members, the hotly-contested bill has become this year's No. 1 election issue for organized labor. Mr. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has promised union bosses that the Employee Free Choice Act will become law in 2009 if he wins the presidency in November.

"We're ready to play offense for organized labor. It's time we had a president who didn't choke saying the word 'union.' A president who strengthens our unions by letting them do what they do best: organize our workers," Mr. Obama told the AFL-CIO in Philadelphia on April 2. "I will make it the law of the land when I'm president of the United States," Mr. Obama told the labor federation.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, a staunch opponent of the bill, has said it would deny a democratic right of workers to decide by secret ballot whether they will come under union representation or not.

The bill is "a poorly-disguised attempt by the labor unions to swell their ranks at the expense of workers' rights and employers. John McCain strongly opposes the efforts of the labor unions to strip working Americans of their right to a private ballot in deciding whether or not to organize as a union," the McCain campaign said.

The AFL-CIO announced Tuesday that it was starting "a ramped-up campaign" to make Mr. Obama's campaign pledge a political reality, beginning this week with a massive mailing to more than 600,000 swing union households in the battleground states of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

That will be followed by a "massive campaign" among 13 million union voters in August to promote Mr. Obama and specifically highlight his support for the labor law reform bill known as "card check." It is estimated that organized labor will spend upward of $300 million in this year's presidential and congressional elections - much of it promoting the card-check bill and tying it to its Democratic supporters.

The AFL-CIO's campaign Web site features numerous quotes from Mr. Obama pledging to pass the card-check bill that would allow workers to form a union simply by collecting a majority of cards signed by workers supporting the unionization of their employer's business.

Under current law, once a majority of workers submit cards requesting union certification, an election is held in which workers vote by secret ballot on whether to ratify unionization. The pending bill, called the Employee Free Choice Act, does not require the secret ballot vote unless at least 30 percent of workers call for it.

The Obama campaign says the card-check bill will not necessarily deny workers the right to a private ballot.

"This is simply a debate over process. But it is up to the workers, and they should be free to choose their process," said campaign spokesman Nick Shapiro. "If they wish to vote by secret ballot instead of a card-check process, they can. The law does not strip them of that right."

But Mr. Obama is quoted in the AFL-CIO campaign Web site flatly saying the proposed law "will allow workers to form a union through majority sign-up and card-checks and strengthen penalties for those employers who are in violation" - thus bypassing the ballot procedure. Union leaders have said they prefer this to an open election in which employers and unions compete for worker votes.

The House passed the card-check bill last year by a 241-185 vote, but it was blocked in the Senate where Democrats fell nine votes short of the 60 votes needed to end a GOP filibuster

Last week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business lobby, announced it was launching the Workforce Freedom Initiative, a counteroffensive against the AFL-CIO's efforts to "take away the protection of a private ballot, giving union organizers free rein to publicly pressure workers into signing cards stating support for a union. This is un-American," said Chamber President Tom Donohue.

The Chamber will mount a "multimillion-dollar effort [to] galvanize small-business owners, workers, community leaders and citizens to preserve the rights and freedoms of Americans in the workplace," Mr. Donohue said.

"The obvious intention and design of the bill is to eliminate private ballots as the primary means of certifying unions in this country," said Steven Law, the Chamber's chief counsel.


Anti-corruption measure targets cynicism

No-bid contracts foster climate of corruption

Backers of a proposal to bar no-bid government contractors from contributing to political candidates submitted more than 125,000 signatures to the state Wednesday. A total of 76,047 signatures are needed to get the proposed constitutional amendment onto the November ballot.

Colorado state government granted more than $386 million in contracts without taking competitive bids over the past year, said Tom Lucero, campaign chairman of Clean Government Colorado.

This practice drives up the price of services, and current law that lets these contractors pad the campaign accounts of officials who may award the contracts creates tremendous cynicism among voters, said Lucero, a University of Colorado regent.

The proposed constitutional amendment would ban those contractors or any organization with exclusive collecting bargaining rights — namely, labor unions — from giving political contributions for two years after expiration of the contract. Any company that violates the rule would lose access to no-bid contracts for three years, and any official taking such a donation could be removed from office.

"Until you change the culture of how government does business, there's this automatic distrust with the citizens," Lucero said. "The Clean Government Amendment is specially engineered toward addressing the idea of 'pay to play.'"

The proposed amendment would continue two recent trends in ballot initiatives: Making government more transparent and changing state law in a way that irks union leaders.

While Lucero said the rule would treat all contractors the same, a pro-union group disagreed.

Jess Knox, executive director of Protect Colorado's Future, said the measure would not shut down corporate contributions but would eliminate a valuable way that union members have to communicate during elections.

Knox said that he read the measure to outlaw contributions from any union member or member of their family.

Lucero disputed thay, saying that only small donor committees and possibly the one union member who signs the contract with a government would have contributions shut off.

The measure follows two other proposed amendments that have angered Protect Colorado's Future — one to bar governments from taking union dues out of paychecks and another to make Colorado a right-to-work state.

Funded by a nonprofit run by Independence Institute fellow Dennis Polhill, it also comes on the heels of Amendment 41, a controversial government-ethics measure that bars state workers and lobbyists from giving gifts to lawmakers.

The Secretary of State has 30 days to verify that the signatures are valid.


Strikers face mental health disorders

Workers are subject to serious hazards

Dr. Jane Fowler, an industrial-organisational psychologist at Griffith University, has examined the psychological impact on members of the United Steelworkers of America while on strike from 2004-2006.

She found strikers reported higher levels of depression, anxiety and irritation and lower levels of general mental health than non-strikers.

"This is not surprising when you think about the financial concerns, changing relationships and roles, and uncertainty about outcomes that occur during a strike," she said.

However, the study also found that strikers who were more involved with the Union by being on picket line duty, raising public awareness, or doing administrative work at the Union hall, were not as negatively affected as those who were less involved.

"In fact, the more a member was involved in the Union's activities, the lower was their level of depression and anxiety and the higher was their level of general mental health."

"It is possible that the benefits of employment, beyond remuneration, come into play for union members on strike. That is, members who are union active while on strike benefit from the combination of regular activity, daily structure, social contact with other members, and a sense of being part of a collective."

Dr Fowler said unions can be proactive in minimising the negative affects on their members.

She suggested unions advise their members on how to prepare financially and psychologically for a possible strike and provide practical support in terms of financial assistance and access to professional counselling.

"Unions should also encourage active participation by members during the strike as an alternative pattern of daily activities can at least reduce the psychological impact of strike action."


Union big misrepresents card-check, EFCA

Related stories: "Card-check myth debunked" • "Unions, Dems playing us for idiots"

Dems want to force workers into unwanted unions without a vote

In recent weeks, you may have seen ads on TV or news releases or letters to the editor in your local newspaper bashing “big labor” and the so-called Employee Free Choice Act.

The EFCA is federal legislation — passed by the U.S. House but stalled in the U.S. Senate — that will make it easier for workers to organize unions. Both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win Federation have united to make passing EFCA a priority for the new Congress in 2009.

In attacking the EFCA, opponents distort the facts and charge that the legislation would end secret ballot elections in union organizing drives. Not true.

The foundation of modern labor law, the Wagner Act of 1935, provided a path to union recognition when a majority of workers in a workplace signed union authorization cards — simple and fair.

When labor adversaries passed the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 over President Truman’s veto, however, employers gained the right to reject the workers’ union authorization cards and to petition the National Labor Relations Board to conduct an election to determine if a workplace should become union.

But the NLRB election process bears little resemblance to elections to choose our leaders for local, state and federal government. In the run-up to NLRB elections, employers pull out all the stops to intimidate workers into rejecting the union. These abuses are well-documented, including mandatory attendance at anti-union meetings, one-on-one meetings, threats to close the business if the union wins the vote, and even firing workers for pro-union activity.

The EFCA would give workers, not employers, the right to decide how to express the choice about going union: through the card-check process OR through the NLRB election process.

If passed, the EFCA will help expand the number of workers who enjoy union wages and union benefits like health insurance and retirement plans. If passed, the EFCA will help expand the number of workers who have a voice on the job through their union.

The EFCA is about empowering workers. And that’s why you’re now hearing more about it from the opposition.

So beware of messages from groups with the nice-sounding names like “The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace” or “Minnesotans for Employee Freedom.” These are anti-union, business-funded groups not at all concerned with the rights of workers.

These anti-union groups aim to distort the issues involving the Employee Free Choice Act. They’re using broadcast media. They’re using print media. They’re using “push polling” — spreading disinformation in the guise of a poll to sway, not measure, public opinion.

And now this right-wing smear is extending beyond the EFCA to attack our labor-endorsed candidates for U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

Our foes would like nothing better than to distract voters from the real issues in this campaign — jobs, health care, the economy. To do so, they’re spreading false charges and smearing unions, the EFCA, and labor’s endorsed candidates.

Don’t let them get away with it.

- Bill McCarthy is president of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation.


Anti-GOP front-group OK'd by Feds

More ACORN stories: here

Bush throws in the towel as disastrous 2nd term winds down

The housing bill signed Wednesday by President George W. Bush will provide a stream of billions of dollars for distressed homeowners and communities and the nonprofit groups that serve them.

One of the biggest likely beneficiaries, despite Republican objections: Acorn, a housing advocacy group that also helps lead ambitious voter-registration efforts benefiting Democrats.

Acorn -- made up of several legally distinct groups under that name -- has become an important player in the Democrats' effort to win the White House. Its voter mobilization arm is co-managing a $15.9 million campaign with the group Project Vote to register 1.2 million low-income Hispanics and African-Americans, who are among those most likely to vote Democratic. Technically nonpartisan, the effort is one of the largest such voter-registration drives on record.

The organization's main advocacy group lobbied hard for passage of the housing bill, which provides nearly $5 billion for affordable housing, financial counseling and mortgage restructuring for people and neighborhoods affected by the housing meltdown. A third Acorn arm, its housing corporation, does a large share of that work on the ground.

Acorn's multiple roles show how two fronts of activism -- housing for the poor and voter mobilization -- have converged closely in this election year. The fortunes of both parties will hinge in part on their plans for addressing the fall of the nation's housing market and the painful economic slowdown. Some of the places buffeted worst by mounting foreclosures are states whose voters could swing the election. Five battleground states where Acorn has registration drives were among the top 10 states for foreclosure rates as of June: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Michigan and Ohio.

Partly because of the role of Acorn and other housing advocacy groups, the White House and its allies in Congress resisted Democrats' plans to include money for a new affordable-housing trust fund and $4 billion in grants to restore housing in devastated neighborhoods. In the end, the money stayed in the bill; the White House saw little choice.

What most riles Republicans about the bill is the symbiotic relationship between the Democratic Party and the housing advocacy groups, of which Acorn is among the biggest. Groups such as the National Council of La Raza and the National Urban League also lobby to secure government-funded services for their members and seek to move them to the voting booth. Acorn has been singled out for criticism because of its reach, its endorsements of Democrats, and past flaws in its bookkeeping and voter-registration efforts that its detractors in Congress have seized upon.

Republicans critical of Acorn's roles say any money that it gets for housing makes it easier for the group to put money into voter drives. "These are taxpayer funds, in an indirect method, being used to subsidize political activism," says Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Texas Republican and chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee. "I'm sure they're not going out and registering any Republicans."

Democrats say Republicans are simply opposed to housing aid and voter registration for the poor. Acorn also has a political arm that has endorsed Sen. Barack Obama's presidential campaign. But other groups spanning the political spectrum, ranging from the environmentalist League of Conservation Voters to Republican-friendly faith-based groups and the National Rifle Association, also do voter registration. They often target like-minded voters while endorsing candidates through separate entities. The faith-based groups, like the housing groups, also have gotten public money.

"We're trying to empower people in our communities to improve their lives," says Acorn spokesman Charles Jackson. "That is through voter registration and helping them to save their homes." He dismisses the idea that housing aid helps voter efforts: "The funds don't intermingle," he says. "There are clear walls with Acorn."

Last week, while lawmakers were brokering the final deals ahead of Saturday's 72-13 Senate vote in favor of the housing bill, Acorn workers were in the midst of the organization's most ambitious voter drive.

Acorn worker Stephanie Willis was scouting for new voters in a seedy neighborhood of Aurora, Colo., a Denver suburb. Spotting a woman seated on a park bench, Mrs. Willis hustled over and thrust a clipboard and pen at her. Within minutes, Brenda Hernandez was a new registered voter. Mrs. Willis then handed Mrs. Hernandez a flier listing Acorn's housing and other services, and signed her up to be an Acorn member.

"Obama!" Mrs. Hernandez yelled, attempting to fist-bump Mrs. Willis, who already was scanning for other people to register.

Acorn's Mr. Jackson says that when the group registers voters, it also "aims to educate them on issues facing their communities" and tells them about its services. Other groups also recruit voters and members at the same time; laws for tax-exempt groups only prohibit them from promoting specific political parties.

Sen. Obama is especially reliant on registration drives, such as Acorn's with Project Vote, to help him win the White House. The Illinois Democrat draws his strongest support from blacks, Hispanics and young people, groups that are among the least likely to be registered. After law school, Sen. Obama was the director of Project Vote in Chicago. The Obama campaign, noting that interest groups routinely register voters and endorse candidates through separate efforts, emphasizes that it accepts no donations from the groups' political action committees.

Steering Money to Groups

Democrats on Capitol Hill have helped to steer millions of dollars in housing and other grants from the federal government toward Acorn and groups like it. The groups must qualify and compete for the money, which is typically doled out from the federal government to states and municipalities. The housing package includes a new, permanent source of affordable-housing money that congressional Democrats and grass-roots groups have sought for years. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the Capital Magnet Fund will be funded by a tax on mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage titans.

That tax eventually will channel upwards of $600 million annually in grants for developing and restoring housing, mostly as low-income rentals, available to Acorn and other groups. Democrats on Capitol Hill and housing groups say the housing-assistance money is vital to helping Americans hit hardest by what some call the largest drop in home values since the Great Depression. But they acknowledge the perception of political conflict in giving federal funds to an organization that does political work.

"We are guarding against it," said Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank in an interview. He secured the Affordable Housing Trust from his seat as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. "We have a lot of restrictions in the bill" banning using the housing money for lobbying or political purposes, he said.

He added that housing-advocacy groups aren't unique in having an affinity for government officials who can steer money their way. "People who build affordable housing tend to support the Democrats...who support affordable housing," he said. "I am a lot less worried about this relationship than I am about the Pentagon and Lockheed."

Powerful Lobbying Tool

Acorn describes itself as the nation's largest grass-roots community organization, with more than 400,000 families organized into 1,200 neighborhood chapters in 110 cities. Over four decades, Acorn has turned its broad membership into a powerful lobbying tool. Its representatives are well-known in the marble halls of the Capitol, and press local, state and federal governments for "social justice" programs, such as raising the minimum wage and advocating for hospitals to provide more free care to those lacking insurance.

Few housing organizations have as wide a reach or as many housing counselors and programs that can win grants as Acorn Housing Corporation, the group's housing-aid effort.

It's difficult to track Acorn's finances because of its group of legally separate offshoots, nearly all of which use an address in New Orleans in their tax filings with the Internal Revenue Service. Project Vote, with which Acorn has a "joint-effort agreement" to do voter registration, also uses the New Orleans address on its IRS forms. Acorn is providing one-quarter of the effort's budget for this election, and the canvassers are members of Acorn's staff.

Acorn Housing Corporation, the group's housing-aid arm, has released a copy of its 2007 tax form, but the main group, National Acorn, won't release financial statements and isn't required to. Unlike several Acorn subsidiaries, it doesn't seek tax-exempt status. "We're a private organization; it's our members' business, basically," Mr. Jackson said.

Overall, the main national Acorn entities for which tax information is available -- including its Housing Corporation -- spent $14.7 million in 2006. That information is gathered from IRS filings submitted by a half-dozen separate entities. The filings show that Acorn Housing raised $6.9 million for its activities in 2006, of which $1.7 million, or nearly 25%, came from government grants.

Last year, as the housing crisis worsened, Acorn Housing raised $7.7 million, of which $2.8 million, or 36%, was from the government, according to a return supplied by the housing group. Acorn Housing's income pays for work including housing construction and renovation, and staff who counsel homeowners on avoiding foreclosures and who work with lenders on behalf of borrowers to restructure loans.

Project Vote says it spent $9.1 million on voter-registration activities in 2006, and $15 million in the presidential election year of 2004.

When Republicans controlled Congress, they doled out money from President Bush's faith-based initiatives to churches and religious groups that helped rally Republican voters. Now that Democrats are in charge of Congress, they control the spoils. But the GOP's Rep. Hensarling says he doesn't think organizations with political arms -- on either side -- should be allowed to receive government funds. "I wonder what Democrats would think if we were in the majority and we took taxpayer funds to subsidize the National Rifle Association's low-income housing fund," he says.

Missteps at Acorn

Acorn has had a number of missteps. This month its founder, Wayne Rathke, resigned after news emerged that his brother Dale had embezzled nearly $1 million from Acorn and affiliated groups eight years ago -- information the group kept from law-enforcement authorities and most members. Dale Rathke left the organization only last month.

Late last year, a handful of Acorn canvassers in Washington state admitted that they had falsified voter registrations by illegally filling out hundreds of forms with names such as Dennis Hastert, Leon Spinks and Fruito Boy Crispila. In April, eight Acorn workers pleaded guilty to similar charges in Missouri for falsifying forms.

To reduce any incentive to commit fraud, Acorn currently pays canvassers a flat hourly rate of $8. Some other organizations pay canvassers by the number of registration forms they turn in.

Acorn's registration campaigns are part of a growing emphasis on voter mobilization in American politics. More than 20 million people filled out applications at voter-registration drives during the 2004 and 2006 elections -- three times as many during the previous two election cycles, according to an analysis of census data by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan organization that tracks voter registration figures. This election is expected to exceed the 2004 record, with groups across the political spectrum forecasting they will surpass their previous efforts.

In the 2004 and 2006 elections, Acorn helped to register a total of 1.6 million new voters combined; this election, it aims to register 1.2 million more with Project Vote. Acorn also is helping to back an effort to register one million recent immigrants who are new citizens, and who tend to lean mostly toward Democrats.

Tina Sepulveda, a 23-year-old single mom canvassing in Aurora for the Project Vote effort, says she checks her forms to see how people will vote. "In a week, I get maybe six to nine Republicans. And I'm getting 20 people a day."

Last year, Acorn calculated that Denver and its suburbs held 150,000 eligible but unregistered Hispanics and African-Americans. To run the program, Acorn and Project Vote turned to Ben Hanna, a shy, tattooed 27-year-old, who wants to register at least half of that group.

Mr. Hanna hired 25 canvassers, seven quality-control people and a handful of managers to trawl parks, public-assistance agencies and liquor stores. The team registers about 2,000 people a week and overall has helped 52,000 people join the voting rolls.

One of his stars is the gregarious Mrs. Willis, the youngest of 12 siblings, who says she has signed up 2,000 people this year. With a daily goal of 25 new registered voters, Mrs. Willis needs to sign up four or five people an hour.

At her first stop, an agency that hands out food stamps, she cajoles a Hispanic woman into filling out a form. At a public pool, she kicks off her white Air Jordans and registers a Hispanic sunbather. She wades through the kiddie pool fishing for voters.

More than half of the unregistered people that Mrs. Willis approaches say they aren't allowed to vote. She tells convicted felons that state law allows them to vote once they are off parole.

After two hours, Mrs. Willis signs up her sixth voter, 77-year-old Andrew Hinojos. "I wasn't going to vote, but that lady right there, she can make anybody vote," says Mr. Hinojos, pointing toward Mrs. Willis. He promises to show up on Election Day.


Who picks your union?

Not you.

I’ve been involved lately in a little issues advocacy regarding card-check. Card-check involves a union being able to use a card that workers sign to compel a firm to recognize the union as the sole bargaining agent of the entire shop. My first post on the subject included Congressional testimony by a former union organizer.
A “card check” campaign begins with union organizers going to the homes of workers over a weekend, a tactic called “housecalling,” with the sole intent of having those workers sign authorization cards. Called a “blitz” by the unions, it entails teams of two or more organizers going directly to the homes of workers. The workers’ personal information and home addresses used during the blitz was obtained from license plates and other sources that were used to create a master list.

In most cases, the workers have no idea that there is a union campaign underway. Organizers are taught to play upon this element of surprise to get “into the door.” They are trained to perform a five part house call strategy that includes: Introductions, Listening, Agitation, Union Solution, and Commitment. The goal of the organizer is to quickly establish a trust relationship with the worker, move from talking about what their job entails to what they would like to change about their job, agitate them by insisting that management won’t fix their workplace problems without a union and finally convincing the worker to sign a card.

…From my experience, the number of cards signed appear to have little relationship to the ultimate vote count. During a private election campaign, even though a union still sends organizers out to workers’ homes on frequent canvassing in attempts to gain support, the worker has a better chance to get perspective on the questions at hand.

Now that would seem to be enough for most people to decide we should keep private ballots, but unions have been pushing the Orwellian-named Employee Free Choice Act, which would make card-check the law of the land. (Employers could agree to recognize a union on the basis of cards now if they choose, but are not compelled.) So the group organized in Minnesota, of which I am chair of its steering committee, started running news ads. This sufficiently infuriated the local Democratic leadership that they filed a complaint with the Minnesota elections board accusing the two groups and me personally. Yesterday, that suit was thrown out. They may refile the complaint against us; we’ll see.
The point remains that a major push for Democratic candidates this year is coming from gobs of union cash — some of it compelled under threat of financial penalties from their locals — and their top goal is to eviscerate the rights of workers to have a secret ballot by which they can decide whether they want to be represented by a union. They don’t like the heat from Johnny Sac calling them out for what they’re doing. For more, read here.


Bush hostility to worker-choice boils over

Support for forced-labor unionism is bipartisan

The Bush Administration is arguing Big Labor's legal positions in court again. Right to Work supporters recall the Bush Administration's lousy record when it comes to employee free choice and worker freedom. Solicitor General Paul Clement seemed to take pleasure in parroting union lawyer talking points in important legal proceedings like Davenport v. Washington Education Association. Before resigning in May, Clement took another swipe at employee freedom in Locke v. Karass, another Foundation case going to the Supreme Court.

Clement's successor, Acting Solicitor General Gregory Garre, appears to be picking up where Clement left off. On Friday, Garre filed a motion with the Supreme Court to participate in oral arguments in Locke. Worse, Garre wants to cut into time already allocated to Foundation attorneys.

In Locke, Foundation attorneys are representing 20 Maine state employees who contend that the union which "represents" them -- the Maine State Employees Association (MSEA) -- is violating their First Amendment rights by sending part of their forced dues to a giant union slush fund which the affiliated Service Employees International Union (SEIU) can use to finance costly litigation, even though such litigation does not directly impact the state employees' own bargaining unit. SEIU is one of the most radical and politically militant national unions.

On Monday, the Foundation filed its opposition to the federal government's motion, making several important points to challenge both the SG's motion to participate and the motion for divided argument.

The Acting Solicitor General has failed to adequately demonstrate the government's concrete interest in the case. Importantly, no federal statute is at stake. Garre's motion claims the government's interest by vaguely pointing to the Secretary of Labor's responsibility to advise the President on labor policy and carry out Congressional policy and to the National Labor Relations Act, though Garre even contradictorily argues in the motion "that questions arising under the NLRA are distinguishable from this case."

The High Court has the option to simply extend time for oral arguments, but Garre wants to cut into the time of both the Foundation attorneys and MSEA lawyers -- even though the Court's rules permit divided arguments "only in the most extraordinary circumstances." But of the 22 pages of argument in the Solicitor's amicus brief, 17 are devoted to opposing the pro-worker legal position taken by Foundation attorneys.

Moreover, the MSEA cites the Solicitor's arguments 14 times in its own brief. If the Court grants the government's motion, it would "deny the Employees their full opportunity to present their views."

The Bush administration's stance in Locke is inexplicable. With only a few more months before he leaves office, Bush has no electoral reason to try to appease Big Labor (not that Republican appeasement of union bosses works out very well). But as the Acting Solicitor General's motion demonstrates, the Bush administration doesn't have enough significant legal interest either.

Yet, the Solicitor General's office persists in going out of its way to undercut the rights of nonunion employees forced to pay dues as a condition of employment, despite the administration's supposed support of the Right to Work. So once again we have to observe the old saying: With "friends" like these... who needs enemies?

And the Solicitor General's office can't say it doesn't know the harm it is doing. It's demand for oral argument time comes after the Foundation asked it to withdraw its legal brief because, if the Justices took it seriously, it would do serious harm to employees' rights.

Instead, Foundation attorneys may now find themselves arguing not only against Big Labor's lawyers, but also against the Bush Administration.


Chicago braces for Teamsters strike v. UPS

Related videos: 'Teamsters vote to strike v. UPS' • 'Chicago Teamsters strike vote v. UPS'
More UPS stories: here

FedEx ready to serve those disadvantaged by walkout

A Chicago-area Teamsters union is still without a new contract as an authorized strike, set for Friday (Aug. 1), looms.

Teamsters Local 705 -- which represents workers at UPS hubs in Palatine, Northbrook, Franklin Park and elsewhere in the Chicago area --voted July 20 to authorize the strike, after rejecting a contract offer by the company earlier in the month, according to a union official.

The two sides are at the bargaining table again today, and will continue to meet through Thursday, Local 705 secretary-treasurer Steve Pocztowski said in a telephone interview Wednesday (July 30).

The union, which represents 11,000 UPS employees in the Chicago area (1,200 in Palatine), is seeking a five-year contract.

Teamsters Local 710, which represents other UPS employees, reached an agreement with UPS Wednesday (July 30).

UPS is following a similar pattern to its past rounds of negotiations with the Teamsters, UPS spokesman Norman Black said.

Typically, he explained, the national Teamsters union -- representing about 220,000 UPS employees -- negotiates its contract first. Then the only two union locals not part of the larger union, 705 and 710, both in the Chicago area, complete their contracts.

According to the Local 705's Web site, the union's UPS membership "overwhelmingly authorizes 705 administration to call for a strike if it deems it necessary; 93 percent of more than 3,000 members say yes to a strike."

The vote results were 2,993 to 232 union members in favor of the authorizing administration to strike, the Web site stated.

UPS does not have a specific contract offer to present at the meetings, but through negotiation a contract will eventually be agreed upon, Black said.

Negotiations on the agreement could continue after the current six-year deal expires at 12:01 a.m. Friday, Aug. 1, Black said.

Other UPS hubs in Illinois include Addison, Bedford Park, Chicago, Decatur, Hodgkins, Rockford and Rock Falls.


Teamsters strike v. Coca-Cola, day 19

Related Coca-Cola strike stories: here

Workers begin to miss paychecks

Talks resumed Tuesday between Coca Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated and the Teamsters union, as the strike against Mobile, AL-area Coca-Cola operations stretched into its third week. The main issue in the dispute has been the company's desire to end contributions to the current union-run pension plan and instead switch to a 401(k) retirement savings plan.

Jim Gookins, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 991, said Wednesday that the union made a new proposal calling for the company to send money to a different retirement plan, which Gookins described as a hybrid between a 401(k) and traditional pension. Company contributions would be limited to set amounts, ending the open-ended liability it faces in a traditional pension. The plan, not individuAls, would make investment decisions.

Spokesman Lauren Steele said Coca-Cola Consolidated, based in Charlotte, N.C., was evaluating the proposal. "Too early to know anything," he wrote Tuesday in an e-mail.

Union members went on strike July 12. The union represents 275 of 300 workers at facilities in Tillman's Corner, Robertsdale, Leroy and Vancleave, Miss.


Kent State profs may vote to strike

Teaching collectivism on campus

The American Association of University Professors will call for a strike authorization vote at an Aug. 5 meeting if the Kent State University administration fails to issue a contract proposal by July 31, a July 28 memo from the union told its members. If the union does call for the vote, the memo said, negotiations will still continue.

Cheryl Casper, chief negotiator for AAUP, would not comment on the possibility of a strike authorization vote but said she is hopeful the two teams will be able to reach a tentative agreement in Thursday's meeting, which will be extended to midnight if necessary.

Although the two parties appear to be far apart in their initial proposals, AAUP sill has the goal of completing negotiation by the end of this month, the memo said.

"We're not going to wait another year for a contract," said a faculty member close to negotiations, alluding to the last round of contract bargaining, where negotiations went on for more than a year.

Mark Weber, chief negotiator for the administration, said the administration is only

interested in bargaining.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a free country," Weber said. "They can take any vote they want, but we're interested in reaching an agreement, and that can only be done at the bargaining table and not in public meetings."

In its memo, the AAUP outlined the initial proposals from both bargaining teams, including salary increases and benefits. The memo said the administration's initial proposal included a refusal of domestic partner benefits and health care benefits that had not been reviewed by the Health Benefits Review Committee.

Weber said he could not confirm the memo's description of the proposal and said bargaining cannot be judged by initial proposals.

"They (AAUP) characterize some of our proposals in a way that would prevent me from saying that everything is accurate," he said. "Those are initial proposals. Both sides will make concessions and move toward an agreement."

As far as the health care benefits were concerned, neither side would comment as to why the health benefits had not been reviewed by the HBRC. In the past, all health care concerns had been reviewed by the committee before negotiations began.

Weber said while the collective bargaining agreement makes the HBRC available to be used, there is no requirement for review.

"The HBRC has done good work," he said, "but the collective bargaining agreement doesn't require that every planned change go through the HBRC."

Although the goal the two parties had agreed on for bargaining completion was July 31, Weber said the real deadline is not until Aug. 23, when the current collective bargaining agreement expires. He added in most negotiations he's been involved in, the key deadline has been the contract expiration date.

"If we can get it done, fine," Weber said. "But if we can't, the association still has a contract until Aug. 23."

President Lester Lefton said regardless of disagreements, the union and the administration share similar goals.

"We're trying to create the best university possible, with the best faculty, competitive compensation and benefits," he said. "Sometimes, we don't completely agree on how to get there, but there are often many pathways toward a common destination."


Unions prep strike v. Verizon

Related Verizon stories: here
More strike stories: here

Walkout in 2000 lasted 2 weeks

A strike by 65,000 union workers at Verizon Communications Inc. is looming if an agreement on a labor contract is not reached with the company by midnight Saturday.

Members of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers plan to rally this afternoon at Verizon's office on Thompson Road in DeWitt to demand what the unions call a "fair contract." CWA represents 800 local Verizon workers, and the IBEW represents close to 100.

Locally, the union members install Verizon's new fiber-optic FiOS network and maintain the Verizon telephone network.

The rally is part of an effort by the unions to show the company they are serious about striking if an agreement is not reached before their five-year contract expires Saturday night. The Verizon office in DeWitt is one of 150 across the state where union members plan to rally and picket today.

Similar rallies have taken place in recent days in New York City; Philadelphia; Clarksburg, W.Va.; Providence, R.I.; and other cities.

Christopher Ryan, executive vice president of CWA Local 1123, said the major unresolved issue between the unions and the company is the preservation of jobs. Verizon has been outsourcing jobs to places such as India and Mexico, he said.

"The crux of the matter really is jobs," said Ryan. "They have systematically eroded this unionized work force. They need to partner with us."

According to the CWA, other areas of dispute are:

Verizon's demand for sharply increased worker payments for health-care coverage.

Verizon's demand that all workers who retire after Jan. 1 pay for health care.

The company's proposed elimination of retiree health-care coverage for new hires.

Verizon's "suppression" of the right to organize union representation at the Verizon Business unit, where a majority of technicians in the Northeast have signed union cards indicating they want to join the CWA and IBEW. The unit provides voice, data, Internet communications and other services and products to medium and large businesses and government customers.

A representative of Verizon, John Bonomo, said the company has a contingency plan in place in the event of a strike. He declined to say what those plans are.

"We are certainly hopeful that we will not have to utilize it," he said.

Bonomo said the company would not discuss publicly the issues in dispute, saying they are "better left to be discussed at the bargaining table."

"The good news is that the two sides are at the bargaining table," he said. "All the issues are being discussed."

He said Verizon workers have the "leading wage and benefits package" in the communications industry and that the company's intent was to keep it that way.

Verizon, one the country's largest providers of communications services, earned $5.52 billion last year, down from $6.2 billion in 2006. It merged with GTE Corp. in 2000 and MCI in 2006.

The company, formerly known as Bell Atlantic Corp., has its headquarters in New York City. It employs 65,000 CWA and IBEW members in an area that stretches from New York to New England to Virginia.

The unions staged a two-week strike against the company in 2000, resulting in a backlog of phone repairs and installations.


Hope and change on the way

Labor unions to get big bang for big bucks

Well, if it's an election year, then it's time to once again reflect on the state of organized labor as it once again assumes the role of John to the Democratic whores. They wave their money and wring all sorts of empty promises and proclamations of true love, of the sheer virility and irresistibility and skillfulness from the prostitute, but in the end all they get is screwed.

This time around, the unions are lining up behind Senator Barack Obama. And he seems quite willing to take their money and mouth all the right platitudes. But it isn't really fair to single him out for this -- as happens every election cycle, the entire Democratic establishment is bending over and hiking their skirts (once the checks clear).

So, what kind of a bang are the unions getting for their buck this time around? Well, Senator Obama has made it clear that one of his first actions as president will be to rescind the consent decree that has been the government's main tool in rooting out organized crime's tentacles into that organization. One of the key provisions of the decree was requiring that union officials be directly elected by the membership, a reform that the union had literally spent decades fighting. Any takers on how long that will last once the decree is lifted?

Well, if we need any evidence about how unions feel about free and fair elections, we need look no farther than the bill in Congress right now that will abolish the secret ballot for workers deciding whether to unionize. Go look up the obscenely Orwellian named "Employee Free Choice Act," which will give employees the "choice" to avoid the whole icky "secret ballot" thingie and instead "choose" whether or not to join a union by instead signing -- or refusing to sign -- a union card in the presence of union-paid "organizers." Boy, it's a good thing them unions don't have a record of using intimidation and coercion and threats of force to get their way, isn't it?

Finally, a little while ago I took a look at the leading 527 groups who are pumping big bucks into this election. The biggest spender thus far -- by a ratio of about 9 to 2 over the second-place group -- is the Service Employees International Union. They've pumped almost $21 MILLION dollars into the race.

So, where does this union get all of its money? Where else? By shaking down its members, and -- surprise, surprise! -- they apparently don't let such niceties as the law or member preferences get in the way. They recently passed a new requirement for their local chapters: in addition to their dues, they have to pony up $6.00 per member not to the union, but to its political action committee. Locals that don't cough up the dough will have to make up any shortages out of their general funds, plus a 50% penalty.

I'm no lawyer, but it's my understanding that contributions to political action committees are supposed to be entirely voluntary. I seem to recall certain scandals involving large corporations "encouraging" its employees to give to their pet causes. But it seems that if you're a union, you can just order its members to open their wallets and fund the union's pet causes.

Gosh, I feel so warm and fuzzy and trusting. This must be the "hope and change" I keep hearing about.


Teamsters quietly accept givebacks

Mini-strike was all for show, not for dough

Less than a week after showing its muscle by forcing the second-largest carhauler out of business with a short strike, the Teamsters union reached a concessionary master agreement in mid-June with the remaining unionized carhaul companies.

Covering 9,000 drivers at four companies, the agreement contains far-reaching job security and wage concessions for carhaulers, who transport cars from factories to dealers.

Together with its larger competitor Allied Holdings, the liquidated company, Performance Transportation Services (PTS), had controlled half the market. Both companies had experienced years of instability. Under the contract, PTS employees are allowed to “follow the work” to other unionized carhaul firms and maintain seniority. But many PTS Teamsters remain out of work as non-union competitors have stepped in, while others have lost seniority.

According to Ken Paff, organizer for Teamsters for a Democratic Union, the union still has clout in the industry but is not using it. “The union is willing to strike PTS to thin the herd, to stabilize the industry, but they aren’t willing to use their power to bargain to protect member standards,” Paff said.

The carhaul industry is 75 percent unionized, down from 90 percent a decade ago but still far higher than other Teamster jurisdictions.


Veteran carhaulers reacted strongly to the givebacks. Causing the most alarm is the elimination of load equalization, which spreads work among drivers from different locations.

“The main concern from the members was job security,” said George Warner, a former PTS driver from Lansing, Michigan, now working at Jack Cooper Transport. “Take equalization out of the contract and our job security just went down the drain.”

John Thyer, secretary-treasurer of Local 604 in St. Louis, is angry about lower wages for new hires. “I spent five weeks of my life on a picket line to stop two-tier wages,” Thyer said, referring to the 1995 carhaul strike. “Why did we give them two tier now? There won’t be 50 new carhaulers hired in the next three years. It’s because the company is planning ahead and we’re not.”

Under the three-year agreement, new hires would start at 85 percent of full pay, with a three-year progression to full scale. Workers transferring from one company to another would work at 90 percent of scale for the first year.

The “new business” provisions will slash wages even further, according to David Dawson, a steward at Jack Cooper in Kansas City. Under previous contracts, no work qualified as new business if it had ever been handled union. Now, he said, the union is encouraging companies to use rail shipping for a year and then switch back. That work is now treated as new business—and paid at half rate indefinitely.

Dawson also expressed concern over new electronic surveillance. The contract permits companies to put tracking devices in trucks, and doesn’t restrict what they can be used for.

“If they pull my electronic device and it doesn’t match my log, they can fire me for that,” he said. “Now companies can literally pick and choose who they want working for them.”

Teamster officials pointed to the recession and flagging auto sales to justify the concessions. Sales for the first half of 2008 are down 10.1 percent from last year.

Officials also argued that concessions would help nurse unionized carhaulers back to health. Allied had already received concessions last year after a two-year stint in bankruptcy; workers narrowly approved a 17.5 percent wage cut.

Teamster officials are “hell-bent on keeping the employers in business using concessions,” Thyer said. “But look at Allied. They are in as bad a shape as ever. Concessions didn’t work for them.”

According to Thyer, the faltering economy is a point of leverage for carhaulers. “The automakers have to get their cars delivered if they want to sell them,” he said. “If nobody can cover the work then that makes us stronger, not weaker.”

The contract is expected to pass in August, when ballots will be counted.


Hugo Chávez disillusioned by Barack

Recalibrating proves too much for Venezuelan collectivist

At least he’s consistent.
Hugo Chávez is having second thoughts about Barak Obama. When Obama said during early presidential primary debates that he would negotiate without conditions with the dictators and enemies of America, Chávez was pleased. He figured Obama was a liberal Democrat like Jimmy Carter or Chris Dodd, whom he has manipulated with ease. But since Obama has become the presumptive Democratic nominee and organized a foreign policy staff of 300 experts, he now urges sanctions against Chávez for supporting terrorism and money-laundering.
It would appear Chávez’ campaign contribution hasn’t cleared yet.

And it gets worse.
This revelation prompted Chávez to opine that he would vote for the Republican John McCain, a tough critic of Chávez who visited Colombia last month in support of its war against drugs and the FARC. Days later Chávez said that there was no difference between Obama and McCain —seeing them both as defenders of the Evil Empire. “Let’s not kid ourselves,” Chávez said, “it is the empire and the empire must fall. That’s the only solution — that it comes to an end.” Chávez is going to learn what those words mean.
Now, unless Hugo Chávez can get to a Los Angeles DMV and sign up for motor-voter, he won’t be able to vote for McCain.

But it would appear that many around the world, as well as here at home, are now differentiating between Barack Obama the visionary and Barack Obama the politician.

A big difference indeed.


Insidious union retaliation v. dissident

Kentucky AFL-CIO: Barack for card-check


Judge smacks down Dems' card-check ad gripe

Related story: "Dems try to halt 'no-vote unionism' ads"
Al Franken stories: hereEFCA stories: hereCard-check stories: here

Throwing union democracy, free speech under the bus

Today the Administrative Law Judge of the Office of Administrative Hearings for the state of Minnesota dismissed the complaint filed by the DFL Party against the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW) and other parties. The complaint asserted it was false to say that Al Franken supported a federal bill that would permit labor unions to force themselves on workers without a secret ballot. The judge dismissed the complaint without even waiting for an answer, ruling that the DFL complaint failed to allege any specific reason why the statements at issue are factually false.

Related video: "Franken opposes secret-ballot"

"We are pleased that the judge saw through the DFL's desperate political stunt aimed at preventing us from educating Minnesotans about the threat to private ballots in the workplace," said Brian Worth, vice president of the Independent Electrical Contractors of America and member of the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. "Our education campaign is working and their failed attempt to not let the facts get in the way of a good story won't miraculously change the realities of the mis-named Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)."

The DFL has consistently rejected the facts about how EFCA will effectively end the right of workers to cast their vote in private when deciding whether to join a union.

Under EFCA, the NLRB must recognize the union without an election if a majority of workers sign an authorization card identifying who they are. Once the 50% threshold has been crossed, the statute is unequivocal in its command: "the [NLRB] shall not direct an election but shall certify the individual or organization as the labor representative." (Emphasis added.)

According to a recent poll conducted by the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace (CDW), 72% of Minnesota voters prefer secret ballot elections over a card check process when deciding whether or not to join a union. The same poll found that 65% of Minnesota voters were opposed to the Employee Free Choice Act.
A copy of the Order of Dismissal is: here.

About the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace

The Coalition for a Democratic Workplace is made up of more than 500 associations and organizations from every state across the nation that have joined together to protect a worker's right to a private ballot when deciding whether to join a union. For more information and a listing of our membership, please visit www.MyPrivateBallot.com.


Bush urged purge of voter rolls

Related story: "State chided for dip in voter registration fraud"
More ACORN stories: here

Union-backed vote-fraud groups like ACORN, Demos lag

Millions of low-income and minority voters are being denied opportunities to register to vote by state agencies that are violating a federal voting law, according to members of Congress and voting rights groups.

The ongoing failure has led to a nearly 80 percent drop-off in registering low-income applicants at state social services agencies over a decade, according to a recent report by the non-partisan voter advocacy research groups Project Vote and Demos.

"This noncompliance means the disenfranchisement of millions of low-income citizens, and a widening of the gap between the registration rates of high and low-income individuals," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., the chairwoman of a House elections subcommittee that held hearings this spring on the widespread violations of Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

The under-enforced 1993 law is better known the "motor voter" law. Minority citizens lag behind white voter registration by as much 10 percent for blacks, and roughly 20 percent for Hispanics and Asian-Americans, in part because they are disproportionately low-income.

If minorities voted at the same rate as whites, there would be 7.5 million more minority voters on Election Day, Project Vote reported last fall. Just as troubling, 40 percent of adults in households with less than $25,000 in annual incomes are unregistered, compared to only 20 percent from those with family incomes above $100,000.

These disparities are worsened by other state and federal actions that limit access to voter registration and voting.

Battleground states such as Florida also impose draconian restrictions on voter registration groups seeking to register low-income voters. VA hospitals bar on-site voter registration drives of wounded soldiers. And states have toughened voter ID requirements, led by Indiana's photo ID law that was upheld by the Supreme Court in April.

In addition, some states, including Louisiana, are facing challenges to their efforts to hastily purge many thousands of often minority voters from their rolls. In response to these alarming trends, Project Vote declared last week, "Voter purges are one of several problems in the administration of elections that could not only bar legal voters from the polls, but could potentially influence the outcome of close races," including the tight Presidential race.

Some Progress Made

Although there has been relatively little cause for optimism on voting rights, a few recent legal actions have offered some rays of hope amid a generally grim picture of widespread barriers to voting. Unfortunately, this pattern of vote suppression has too often been abetted by a partisan Department of Justice. Yet just two weeks ago, the grass-roots advocacy group ACORN, backed by Project Vote and the public policy research group Demos, won an important victory for disenfranchised poor voters. A federal court ordered Missouri's Department of Human Services to finally comply with the NVRA, that federal law requiring the state's social welfare offices to provide voter registration applications and assistance to their clients. "This order could lead to more than hundred thousand new voters from low-income communities that have historically been under represented in the political process," said Jeff Ordower, Missouri ACORN's head organizer.

Even the Bush Department of Justice told Senate Democrats in a letter in mid-July that it was probing other state agencies with poor registration rates, and in May, it reached a settlement with the state of Arizona to enforce social services outreach to low-income voters.

"We are actively investigating a number of jurisdictions which have admitted to low voter registration rates at state public assistance agencies," Deputy Assistant Attorney General Keith Nelson said, without disclosing them.

The Justice Department letter was, in part, an apparent response to mounting pressure from Congress and advocacy groups over the continuing law-breaking by states that won't enforce the NVRA. The House elections subcommittee hearings chaired by Rep. Lofgren were followed by letters in April from leading House and Senate Democrats, including Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., to the Department of Justice demanding that the agency take far more aggressive action to enforce Section 7. Instead, the DOJ has been using another provision of the law to force states and localities to enact widespread voter purges. "This creates the impression, whether founded or not, that the Department is more concerned with removing names from the voter rolls than adding them," said Sen. Whitehouse and other liberal colleagues.

Advocacy groups, led by Project Vote and Demos, have also been writing to the worst-performing states, warning them that they had to obey the law. This is a required prelude to potential lawsuits by these groups against such states as New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida. Indeed, a Project Vote follow-up survey released in early May of clients at 63 offices in Arizona, New Mexico and five other NVRA-violating states found that most social services clients weren't offered an opportunity to register. (Two of those states, Arizona and Virginia, have since reached settlements with either DOJ and Demos, respectively, agreeing to implement such major reforms as offering registration assistance to all clients.) The results from this latest survey were shocking: Only 18 percent of nearly 420 clients surveyed received any voter registration services. "Because of noncompliance with the NVRA," as Project Vote and Demos reported in Unequal Access earlier this year, "the rights of thousands of low-income citizens are violated daily."

A 'New' Justice Department?

Surprisingly, in only its second Section 7 enforcement action in eight years, the new John Mukasey-led DOJ actually has begun responding to all the increased pressure. In mid-May the department reached the agreement with Arizona to provide registration assistance. And the department's recent letter to Sen. Whitehouse and other Senators claims it is "committed to ensuring compliance" with federal voting laws, despite its notoriously poor record in civil rights under Bush.

Although DOJ hasn't publicly announced other enforcement actions since settling with Arizona, Congressional staffers see welcome initial signs of progress at the Justice Department. "We're encouraged by the Arizona settlement," says an aide to Sen. Whitehouse. "It's a positive step forward, and we certainly hope to see aggressive enforcement of the law so that Americans' rights to vote are protected."

If the Justice Department doesn't take further actions, Project Vote and other voting advocacy groups are likely to sue the worst-performing states if their negotiations with them fail. These include New Mexico, Colorado, and Florida, according to Doug Hess, a Project Vote consultant on NVRA. "There are only a few states that do it well," he says.

Those few states have often responded only to enforcement actions and the threat of lawsuits, leading to major reforms that have dramatically increased voting by poor voters. For instance, in his Congressional testimony, Project Vote's Deputy Director, Michael Slater, pointed to the turnaround in Tennessee resulting from a DOJ lawsuit in 2002 -- the only section 7 lawsuit brought by the department in the last eight years. With the state's welfare agencies now filing over 50,000 registration applications a year, Slater stressed, "During the 2006 election cycle, one in five voter registrations from public aid offices in the nation came from Tennessee."

A few other state officials, including those in Michigan and North Carolina, have actively embraced reforms after being presented with the disturbing Project Vote and Demos findings of low voter registration by their aid agencies. A 2006 survey, for instance, found that in some North Carolina welfare offices, not a single voter registration form was offered to any client. Within months, that state's board of elections, working with the governor, demanded that agency officials boost registration results, and backed it up with random, unannounced investigations. Annual registration by recipients then jumped six-fold. It's not just civic duty at work, however: In her testimony before Congress, Johnnie McLean, the deputy director of the North Carolina board of elections, observed, "We are appreciative of advocates' willingness to work with us, rather than file litigation against us."

Problem States Persist

New Mexico, on the other hand, denies any wrongdoing and will probably be sued before November's election. Matthew Henderson, New Mexico ACORN's head organizer, points to registration numbers that "continue to be horrible" from New Mexico's Human Services Department. Although improving in some local offices since January, the agency's own figures have shown as few as six registered voters in one social service office in Albuquerque, according to Doug Hess, an NVRA specialist with Project Vote. As Henderson observes, "They're passing up an opportunity to register people who are walking in their door, and it's very difficult for us to go out and find them." Paul Ritzma, the general counsel for the state's Human Services Department, blames poor quality reporting for any low numbers, and insists, "We're doing everything we're supposed to do."

Yet while state agencies in New Mexico and Florida have registered relatively few poor citizens, those states also try to thwart non-profit groups that try to register those same voters. They've passed draconian registration laws that threaten to punish canvassers and groups such as ACORN and the League of Women Voters with stiff fines and jail terms if they run afoul of petty rules, such as failing to turn in registration forms within 48 hours

In New Mexico, as a result of the restrictive law, registration plunged to 2,000 new applicants in 2006 from 35,000 two years earlier. This year, ACORN managed to comply with the law and register 40,000 voters so far this year, but at a very heavy cost of adding over a dozen quality-control staffers to meet the 48-hour deadline. Henderson says. "We'd rather be spending our money on doing more follow-up with new voters to get them thinking about issues and hiring more full-time organizers."

To top it all off, while voting rights groups are draining their resources because state agencies fail to register low-income and minority voters, some states, in essence, are also targeting those voters by indiscriminate purges of voter rolls. Nearly 500,000 black voters were purged from voting rolls in Ohio in the last two election cycles. Now, in Louisiana, Project Vote is challenging allegedly illegal state efforts to drop thousands of voters -- many of whom are minorities -- because they appear to be duplicates of voters registered in other states, based solely on similarities in birthdates and names.

Campaign Impact Unknown

Despite the array of barriers to registration and voting, the Democratic Party and Obama campaign still seem to be counting on massive voter registration drives to help sweep their candidates into office. Neither the Obama campaign nor the DNC would comment on their "voter protection" plans. But if past history is any guide, leading voting rights activists aren't counting on Democrats to go beyond registering voters to effectively protecting voting rights.

"Democrats don't get it," says Matthew Henderson of ACORN. The grass-roots advocacy organization has faced GOP-led smears over voter fraud -- and state laws restricting registration -- because of its success nationally in registering over 1.6 million voters since 2003.

ACORN has ramped up new quality controls over canvassers and challenged assorted voting restrictions as it pushes to add 1.2 million new voters in this year's election. But it's not clear that the well-funded Democratic registration drives will do the same.


Property rights interfere with union organizers

More Carpenters union stories: here

Federal Court smacks down Carpenters organizers, NLRB

A federal appeals court has overturned a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that would have permitted a carpenters union to distribute literature at Salmon Run Mall in Watertown, NY.

In the July 18 ruling, the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found that mall managers did not discriminate against the Empire State Council of Carpenters and Local 747 when they denied the union's request to set up a table in the mall and hand out literature in 2003.

"The standard for assessing discrimination must take account of the general rule that a private property owner need not provide a forum for expression on its property and may be arbitrary and inconsistent in its selection of speakers," the three appeals court judges wrote in their decision.

At issue, Christian P. Jones said, was whether the Salmon Run policy, to allow access only where it would increase foot traffic or enhance the mall's reputation, was discriminatory.

The NLRB focused on the motive of mall managers and said yes. The federal court examined the overall policy and said no.

Mr. Jones, a labor and employment law attorney for the Syracuse firm MacKenzie Hughes, represented Salmon Run Shopping Center LLC in the case. The limited liability company, which owns the mall, is a subsidiary of Pyramid Cos., Syracuse.

"The analysis should be: Did the mall treat the union any differently than they treated any other organization who wanted to speak on the same subject," Mr. Jones said. "The answer in this case was no."

The case can be traced back to 2003, when a contractor for Dick's Sporting Goods hired a subcontractor to remodel the mall tenant's space.

In August, a day before the new Dick's store was set to open, a representative from the carpenters union asked mall managers if he could set up a table to distribute literature. According to court documents, the subcontractor employed nonunion carpenters.

In a later hearing on the subject, the union representative said his literature included handouts criticizing the employment practices of both Dick's and the subcontractor. The handouts also included information on the potential benefits of joining Carpenters Local 747.

According to excerpts of her letter, which were included in the federal court decision, mall manager Mary P. Dudo denied the union's request to set up a table for their literature.

"We welcome civic, charitable, or other organizations to solicit in the common areas of the mall when the solicitation will benefit both the organization and our tenants," she wrote. "Based on these criteria, we are unable to grant your application at this time."

Ms. Dudo could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Mr. Jones said the decision was justified by the mall's stance on solicitation.

"The mall had not permitted competing unions to distribute organization literature," he said. "Nor had the mall allowed someone from Dick's or the contractors into the mall to defend the use of nonunion carpenters."

In November 2003 and January 2004, following denials for space at the mall, the carpenters union filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.

The case was brought before an administrative law judge, who ruled that Salmon Run Mall was in violation of the National Labor Relations Act for refusing to allow the union access.

A three-member panel of the NLRB issued a cease-and-desist order in 2006 after similarly concluding that the "mall operator had excluded the Carpenters' Union from its property because it was a labor organization and thereby had engaged in an unfair labor practice," according to court documents.

In the July ruling, the appeals court agreed that the literature had been aimed at employee rights to self-organization, but concluded that the argument of discrimination was not reasonable.

"Because we conclude that the facts do not amount to discrimination under a properly framed standard, we deny enforcement of the Board's order," the judges wrote.

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