Labor unions regarded as corrupt organizations

Much has been written in recent years about corporate campaigns--unions' favored strategy of securing card-check agreements by launching an all-out blitz against an employer, via negative publicity campaigns, litigation, work stoppages, and other means. The use of corporate campaigns has risen dramatically; indeed, a 2007 survey of healthcare HR professionals found that the use of such campaigns has doubled in healthcare union drives, for example.

However, in two high-profile lawsuits filed in 2007, employers are challenging these methods in court. The newest employer defense to corporate campaigns: the RICO suit. But other strategies have been adopted by employers as well, with mixed success.

Smithfield complaint. On October 17, Smithfield Foods filed a lawsuit against the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), labor federation Change to Win, and several other entities and individuals alleging a "malicious" and "extortionate" pressure campaign by the UFCW. The lawsuit alleges violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) as well as extortion violations under North Carolina and Virginia law.

According to the 99-page complaint, the union and its representatives have attempted unsuccessfully to organize the hourly employees at its processing plant in Tar Heel, NC. The lawsuit alleges the union and its representatives abandoned the organizing efforts in favor of a pressure campaign aimed at driving Smithfield out of business unless the company agrees to recognize UFCW as the exclusive bargaining representative at the Tar Heel plant.

The lawsuit goes on to detail the union’s alleged tactics: "almost daily publication of false, misleading, baseless, negative and/or damaging information about Smithfield to countless third parties, unlawful interference with Smithfield's existing and prospective business relations, orchestration of frivolous regulatory investigations, and communications with financial analysts aimed at reducing the value of Smithfield stock."

Not so fast, said the union, issuing a swift response to the filing. "In effect, Smithfield's suit attempts to prevent petitioning national and state government bodies with grievances," the UFCW noted in a press statement. "It seeks to prevent organizations from informing and petitioning the public to support causes. It seeks to prevent consumers from learning about the working conditions that exist where products they buy are produced. It seeks to label national, state, and local public officials, religious and community leaders as unwitting dupes of the UFCW because they support the cause of justice at Smithfield's Tar Heel plant. It seeks to avoid responsibility for company violations of workers' federal right of free association.

"The Smithfield lawsuit is an assault on fundamental American values," the union continued. "It ultimately seeks to ensure that only the voices of the powerful are heard." The UFCW said it would "aggressively continue to expose Smithfield's irresponsible corporate behavior wherever it occurs," noting it would not be "bullied" by a "baseless lawsuit.

Wackenhut suit. The 1.9 million-member Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is facing a similar suit, this one filed weeks later by Wackenhut Corp, a UK-owned security company. Wackenhut filed its civil action on November 1 in response, the company said, to the union's "malicious, four-year, international corporate campaign to force Wackenhut to recognize the Union as the employees' bargaining representative while denying the employees their federal rights to free choice and a secret ballot election." The lawsuit alleges RICO violations and seeks injunctive relief, treble compensatory damages, and costs.

The SEIU's reaction to the lawsuit was more understated. Valarie Long, SEIU's director of property services, merely noted, "In the last month alone, Wackenhut security lapses were confirmed at one nuclear power plant, and Wackenhut guards were caught sleeping on the job at another nuclear power plant. Instead of addressing the problems that led to the lapses, Wackenhut has chosen to fight its employees' efforts to improve security. As long as Wackenhut continues to oversee lax security at nuclear power plants and other sensitive sites, and undermine efforts by SEIU and others to raise the standards of private security in America, SEIU will continue to tell the truth about Wackenhut's record."

Other court actions. Employers are using other litigation strategies to counter union corporate campaigns and other organizing abuses. For example:

* DHL Express filed a defamation action in Massachusetts against the International Brotherhood of Teamsters after the union's agents distributed a leaflet at a baseball game which pictured an elderly woman, lying in bed, that reads "DHL fired my son Chris for speaking out against injustice in the workplace now I have to live in a shelter."

* An Ohio state court will hear a defamation action filed by Cintas Corp against UNITE HERE in which the uniform company claims the union's fake press release about an NLRB decision caused a drop in its stock value of $300 million within twenty minutes.

* A federal district court in Pennsylvania held that UNITE HERE violated the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 when it wrote down the license plate numbers off the cars in a company's employee parking lot and checked the numbers against state motor vehicle records in order to obtain home addresses of employees it was trying to organize. The court awarded liquidated damages to each of the plaintiffs.

* A jury in California found UNITE HERE acted with fraud, malice or oppression when it pressured customers of laundry company Angelica in an effort to secure a card-check and neutrality agreement. The union had launched a postcard campaign against Sutter Health, a prominent nonprofit hospital system in California and one of the company's large customers. The union mailed postcards to current and former patients, as well as to women of child-bearing age within the community at large, urging them to "Protect Your Newborns" and suggesting that Sutter's laundry service did not ensure clean linens were used in the hospital. It claimed the hospital's linens contained "blood, feces, and harmful pathogens." The hospital sued the union in state court, claiming libel, unfair business practices, and other causes of action. A jury found the union liable for more than $17 million in damages for harm to Sutter's business and reputation.

* A New York City developer sued to force the laborer's union to cease its campaign to force him to use union labor on construction projects. Last month a state court judge granted a temporary restraining order preventing the union from erecting a 15-foot inflatable rat outside his home.

* A federal district court judge in New Jersey, on the other hand, denied a motion by Tropicana Casino in November to enjoin UNITE HERE from "interfering" with the casino in the conduct of its business. The employer charged the union was at least partly to blame for a 20 percent drop in revenue, after the union called casino customers with rumors of poor service and unsanitary facilities, and publicly criticized the casino to investors and media outlets. The union's conduct amounted to speech, the judge held, which did not constitute "interference."

Key NLRB ruling. A significant ruling issued by the National Labor Relations Board in September will no doubt further encourage employers to consider adopting an aggressive litigation strategy to fend off a corporate campaign. The ruling should reduce employer fears of generating possible unfair labor practice charges while pursuing a course of litigation against a union.

In BE & K Construction Co, an employer, a nonunion construction company, won a contract to modernize a steel mill, and various unions attempted to delay the project. The unions lobbied for adoption and enforcement of an emissions standard, picketed and handbilled at the construction site, filed a state court action alleging violations of state health and safety laws; and launched grievances against the employer's joint venture partner. As a response, the employer filed suit in federal court seeking damages under the Labor Management Relations Act and also asserting violations of the antitrust laws. However, the employer's actions were dismissed. The unions filed unfair labor practice charges. A 3-2 majority of the NLRB held the employer did not violate the National Labor Relations Act by filing and maintaining the reasonably based but ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit against the unions, regardless of the employer's motive for initiating the lawsuit.

The ruling in essence confirms that merely filing a lawsuit is not an unfair labor practice. The right of access to the courts is an aspect of the First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances, the Board noted. For the Board to declare a reasonably based, but unsuccessful, lawsuit to be an unfair labor practice burdens the First Amendment right to petition, determined the majority. Thus, the Board formulated a new standard for determining whether a lawsuit is reasonably based, noting the primacy of the First Amendment right to petition, even in circumstances where the right to petition collides with the interests underlying the NLRA.


SEIU picket line fails in first new strike of '08

Parimutuel clerks went on strike and started picketing Tuesday at Ellis Park in Henderson, KY, where they were being asked to take a 24 percent pay cut. The clerks' contract expired Monday night, leading to their first strike at the track.

A track official said it had no problem staffing the parimutuel windows.

"Ten people are working today," said Bob Jackson, Ellis Park director of operations. "I only had seven scheduled. But I had some volunteer to work, so I told them to go ahead and come in."

Picketers saw four union members cross the line, including two who work at the betting windows and two who work in the office, said Service Employees International Union Local 514 President Herman Fehler.

Union members overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer Friday that would have reduced wages from $15.80 to $12 an hour and eliminated certain fringe benefits.

Carl Renck, a clerk and member of the negotiating committee, has said union members merely want the current salaries and benefits to continue.

Track owner Ron Geary said contract concessions are needed to help keep the track, which is losing money, afloat until it is known whether Kentucky lawmakers and voters will agree to amend the state constitution to allow casino gambling at racetracks.

The union represents about 150 parimutuel clerks who work the betting windows and in related jobs at the track.


McElroy rips into Obama

Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign manager has spent the final days of the Iowa campaign railing against “big interests” that have poured a “flood of Washington money” into the state in “underhanded” efforts to support his rivals.

But more than three-quarters of that money has come from a pillar of the Democratic Party: labor unions.

And top union officials who support Obama’s rivals are in turn accusing the Illinois Democrat, who once sought their endorsements, of trying to damage labor’s political role.

“I’m taken aback that somebody like Obama would think that Oprah Winfrey has a greater right to participate in the political process than the 4 million people I represent,” Edward J. McElroy, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has spent $799,619 on New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s behalf, said, referring to the television host’s high-profile support for Obama. “It’s sour grapes. It sounds just like the charges the Republicans make.”

Gerald W. McEntee, the president of the other major union supporting Clinton, wrote on The Huffington Post that “the Obama campaign’s criticism of our political action committee and some of the so-called 527 efforts, such as the one organized in support of [John] Edwards, is troubling because they are suggesting that workers are somehow a special interest, just like insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry.”

”We fight for the general interest,” wrote McEntee, whose American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has spent $1,409,312 boosting Clinton and criticizing Obama.

Jennifer Farmer, a spokeswoman for an Ohio Service Employees International Union council — one of several unions that have given more than $1 million combined to a fund that aids Edwards — dismissed Obama’s complaints as “politics as usual.”

The independent support — $2.7 million on Clinton’s behalf and $2.1 million on Edwards’ at the last count — is flowing simply at too high a volume for Obama to shrug off, and it’s immediately noticeable on the airwaves and in the mailboxes in Iowa.

So his campaign has tried to make the most of it, using it to raise money in urgent e-mails, to cast him as a reformer to reform-minded Iowans, and to cast Edwards — who says he opposes the spending — as a hypocrite.

Obama himself has avoided denouncing the union spending. “I love labor,” he said, when asked directly last week whether he thought the unions had a right to spend. He said his problem was with contradictions in Edwards’ stance.

He has also said he’ll accept outside funding if he’s the Democratic nominee, unless his Republican opponent also turns it down.

(McEntee cited a quote from New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in which Obama appears to refer to labor unions as “special interests,” but Obama has never said that directly.)

Obama’s staff, however, has aggressively pushed the suggestion that the spending itself is in some way untoward, and has at times downplayed labor’s role in it.

“Outside groups are in the process of pouring more than $3.2 million into Iowa to support Hillary Clinton and John Edwards,” wrote Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, in an e-mail solicitation on Dec. 27.
The e-mail referred to AFSCME as “Hillary Clinton’s friends from Washington” and didn’t include the word “labor” or “union.”

“Instead of benefiting from $3.2 million in money from big interests over the next week, we’re asking 32,000 new supporters to give whatever they can afford,” he wrote.

He was more direct in a memo to reporters, naming the unions, lobby groups and wealthy individuals involved.

“There is no doubt that the size of the spending and its underhanded nature deserve further scrutiny,” Plouffe wrote.

The campaign also released a letter from an AFSCME member in Iowa who wrote that she was dropping out of the union in disgust at their attacks on Obama.

Obama’s spokesman, Bill Burton, didn’t respond directly to a question of whether the labor spending is appropriate, referring instead to past statements. And many of Obama’s senior aides have worked for, or benefited from, independent spending in the past.

In 2004, for instance, Plouffe managed the campaign of House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt, while Obama’s communications director, Robert Gibbs, worked for an independent group funded by Gephardt supporters that aired a notorious ad attacking former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s national security credentials by using the visage of Osama bin Laden.

Plouffe didn’t make clear in his memo which tactics he was describing as “underhanded.” But Obama’s campaign has been particularly critical of AFSCME’s mailings, which can be misleading: The mailings criticize Obama’s health care plan and include a quotes from Edwards, which could lead readers to blame the attack on Edwards.

The AFSCME tactics have produced some ambivalence within the labor movement, as well.

“The law is the law and people can do what they can do,” said the president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, Harold A. Schaitberger, whose union has supported Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) for president in newspaper ads and billboards.

But he said his spending always makes clear that it’s communicating his members’ endorsement.

“You should be very, very straight up what you’re doing, as opposed to sometimes creating illusions about who you are and what you’re doing on behalf of who,” he said, adding that he is “not critical of any of my colleagues” in labor.

Others have suggested that Obama could pay for his distance from labor if he becomes the nominee, as Democrats traditionally rely heavily on unions for organizational support.

“They really run the risk of depressing the enthusiasm for him as a potential nominee,” said AFSCME political director Larry Scanlon.

Others, however, doubt whether labor can afford not to support any of the Democratic nominees — all of whom have promised to ease union organizing and tighten trade restrictions — against the nominee of a Republican Party who’s often openly hostile to organized labor.

“It’s a choice of allowing a party that is trying to kill it to keep power versus a Democratic Party, which isn’t always the greatest ally, but is an ally and isn’t out to kill it every day,” said Jonathan Tasini, the executive director of a pro-labor research group, the Labor Research Association.

He predicted that “whoever is the nominee of the Democratic Party is going to have 1,000 percent labor backing.”


Edwards indebted to union special interests

John Edwards, the former senator from a right-to-work state, has won more union support than his Democratic rivals for the U.S. presidency.

Union members have been putting some muscle behind the Edwards campaign as the Iowa caucuses approach, The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., reported. They have been ringing door bells across the state and appearing at rallies for their candidate.

Hillary Clinton also has picked up some major union endorsements, including the American Federation of State and County and Municipal Employees and the American Federation of Teachers, which have major locals in New York state. Barack Obama has no endorsements from national unions, although he has won some local union backing.

Late polls show a three-way tie between Clinton, a senator from New York, Edwards, a former a North Carolina senator, and Obama, a senator from Illinois. The Iowa caucuses take place Thursday.

Peter Francia, a political expert from East Carolina University, said that to some extent Clinton and Obama's unions cancel each other out.

"On the other hand," Francia said, "if Edwards didn't have the ground support from union members from Iowa, he would have very little chance of winning the caucus or winning the nomination."


Union politics drives campaign spending spiral

Iowa's 2.3 million eligible voters have been bombarded with close to $40 million worth of political ads on television this cycle -- more than three times the amount spent there in 2004.

Sen. Barack Obama leads all candidates in TV ad spending during this election cycle.

That works out roughly to about $17 per voter, between $150 and $200 per expected caucus-goer, and nearly $500,000 per each of the state's 82 delegates in a contest that -- unlike 2004 -- is wide open on both sides of the aisle.

But what Iowa might lack in population and size, it makes up for in primary calendar position -- especially in this truncated cycle when well over half the states will have held their primary contests on or before February 5.

Early momentum -- or lack of it -- is more likely to make or break a presidential bid.

As a result, presidential candidates and third-party organizations are forced to define their message sooner than ever, and the first wave of states may be their only chance to do it.

"Iowa has become much more than just an organizational test, it's clearly become a message test, and TV is the biggest amplifier for getting messages out," said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG, CNN's consultant on campaign television advertising spending.

"If you put a bunch of states together like what has happened on February 5, all the campaigns don't have the money to have any sustained message presence or TV presence in those states," Tracey added, "So essentially it leaves them more money to do what they want to do in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina."

But how many individual ads are needed to convey a message? According to an analysis by CMAG, more than 50,000 spots have aired in Iowa this cycle through December 29, with a final blitz expected in the days before the caucuses.
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On December 18 alone, 1,093 campaign ads aired on Iowa television, largely in the four major media markets in the state. That equals more than nine solid hours of commercials in 24 hours.

"Every time you turn on your television, you're seeing a political ad of some sort, they are unavoidable," Tracey said.

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois far outpaces any other candidate when it comes to ad spending in Iowa, having spent more than $9 million on close to 11,000 spots. That's about $2 million more than Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York has spent ($7.2 million), and about three times the amount that former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has shelled out ($3.2 million). Clinton has aired close to 8,000 spots while Edwards has aired 3,700.

On the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has spent close to $7 million for 8,500 spots, about five times more than former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has spent ($1.4 million) for 1,800 ads. Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee is close behind, spending $1.1 million for 1,100 ads.

Two leading Republicans have been noticeably absent from Iowa airwaves: Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Both have made the risky gambit of largely skipping Iowa to focus on later states -- McCain on New Hampshire, which votes five days after Iowa, and Giuliani on Florida, which holds its nominating contest January 29.

But despite the disparity in ad spending among the leading candidates in Iowa, the latest Iowa polls show a deadlock on both sides -- an indication the race won't be won just on the Iowa airwaves.

This is most evident in the case of Huckabee. Several polls have shown him leading or tied with Romney despite being outspent on TV. Hucakbee's success in the state is largely due to his favorability among the evangelicals who constitute a major portion of Republican voters there -- a constituency that isn't likely to be swayed by television ads alone.

"With [Kansas Sen.] Sam Brownback dropping out, and to a lesser extent Newt Gingrich not getting in, Huckabee won the [evangelical] primary by default; that's never a TV primary," Tracey said.

But the massive candidate expenditures in Iowa are only half the story. Third-party organizations -- some of whose campaign funds are unregulated and not tied to donation caps -- have spent heavily in Iowa.

Edwards and Clinton are largely the beneficiaries of these groups' spending on the Democratic side.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the major union organization that has endorsed Clinton, has spent close to $700,000 on ads, while Alliance for a New America -- a Service Employees International Union political action committee headed by Edwards' former campaign aide Nick Baldick -- has spent nearly $250,000 on behalf of Edwards. Edwards is also the beneficiary of $364,467 worth of ad spending from Working for Working Americans, a United Brotherhood of Carpenters Union PAC.

Obama, the target of many of the third-party ads, especially those from Alliance For a New America, has directly called on Edwards to denounce the spots and has used the issue on the stump as evidence the former senator is not the fighter of special interests he claims to be.

"You can't say yesterday you don't believe in it, and today three-quarters of a million dollars is being spent for you," Obama has said. "You can't just talk the talk. Everybody talks change, but how did they act when it was not convenient, when it's hard?"

Edwards has said he is against the ads, but says it is against federal election laws to contact the PAC directly to ask them to discontinue the spots.

On the Republican side, third-party ads have largely targeted Mike Huckabee. Most of those have come almost entirely from the anti-tax group Club For Growth. The organization, which has given Huckabee a dismal gubernatorial ranking, has spent close to $320,000 assailing the Arkansas Republican's record on taxes.

But Tracey is skeptical that the third-party spending will have any significant impact on how Iowans vote come caucus night.

"I think all they do at this point is add a few more logs to the fire," he said. "I don't think they necessarily change the dynamic, for the most part all they did was add more background elevator music."

Come Friday, most Iowans will no doubt be relieved when the background music finally falls silent.


Union threatens Convention Center shut-down

Negotiations were being held last night to avert a walkout by stagehands at the Convention Center that could jeopardize the first convention of 2008.

The union that represents the stagehands has called a strike but said it would not walk out until after the Mummers performances yesterday. A walkout would endanger the relative labor peace that the center has enjoyed since 2003.

If other unions honor the stagehands' picket line, the American Baseball Coaches Association meeting, beginning tomorrow, could be affected. It remained unclear yesterday what other unions would do if the stagehands walked out.

Negotiations between Elliot-Lewis Corp. - the company that supplies labor at the center - and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 8, which represents the stagehands, broke down Monday, the final day of the contract, said Michael Barnes, the union's business agent.

The key sticking point is management's demand to use nonunion employees for work in meeting rooms that is currently done by union members, Barnes said.

Between 60 and 100 stagehands work at the center at any one time, installing portable stages, sound systems, cameras, screens, and other audiovisual equipment.

An Elliot-Lewis spokesman declined to comment while talks continued.

Albert Mezzaroba, president and chief executive officer of the Convention Center Authority, said he expected other unions to honor the no-strike clause in their contracts and show up to allow the baseball coaches' meeting and other events to go on as scheduled.

"It is our opinion that the other five unions don't have a right to strike," Mezzaroba said. Those unions are the Carpenters, Electricians, Laborers, Riggers and Teamsters.

Citing the continuing talks between the stagehands and Elliot-Lewis last night, John Dougherty, the electricians' business manager, declined comment on whether his members would cross a stagehands picket line.

The stagehands are not prohibited from striking because their contract has run out.

The disruption at the Convention Center, now preparing bids for a $700 million expansion project, would be the second since the 2003 Customer Satisfaction Agreement, signed by unions, contractors and Elliot-Lewis to address customer complaints over high costs and confusing work rules.

A 2004 walkout by the electricians disrupted a meeting of the Society of Nuclear Medicine. The Convention Center board responded by disciplining 20 electricians involved.

Barnes said the current dispute was different from previous labor tussles at the Convention Center, where unions have fought with one another over jurisdiction - which unions get to do what work.

"This is a union-nonunion issue," Barnes said.

City Council and members of the Building and Construction Trades Council are working through a separate, broader conflict over the center's expansion. Council threatened last month to open the construction to nonunion workers unless building trades unions took steps to increase minority membership.

The unions have been asked to submit minority inclusion plans for City Council approval this month. Start of the expansion project is contingent on Council's acceptance of those plans.


UAW expected to squander retiree trust funds

A historic new trust intended to pay the health costs of UAW retirees from Detroit's automakers could run out of money much sooner than the 80 years union President Ron Gettelfinger has said it would last.

Industry experts say the scant public information about the trust -- known as a voluntary employees' beneficiary association, or VEBA -- provides little comfort that current benefits will remain as promised for hundreds of thousands of UAW retirees.

The UAW's plan has two key problems:

• Automakers are paying an estimated $52 billion to shift $88 billion in retiree health care liabilities to the union-run trust -- leaving about $36 billion unfunded.

• The plan assumes health care inflation falls to 5 percent by 2013 and stays at that level, even though it has averaged almost double that rate in recent decades.

"They've got ridiculous assumptions on health care costs," said Lance Wallach, a VEBA consultant in the New York City area. "It's not even close to being realistic, it's preposterous. ... Unless they make drastic changes to the way they treat health care, I'd be surprised if the money lasts 20 years."

If the money runs out, many of the 750,000 retired workers, surviving spouses and dependents who are to receive benefits under the trust would have to rely on Medicare and need supplemental health insurance, even though they were told those costs would be covered.

"I can't say I have any hopes that this VEBA will last," said Gary Walkowicz, 57, of Ford's Dearborn, Mich., truck plant.

Union members and outside experts said the UAW will have difficulty keeping its commitments unless the federal government has a national health care system within five to 15 years.

People familiar with the VEBA planning dispute those assessments, saying their analysis of life expectancies, investment returns and health care cost inflation shows otherwise.

The UAW would not comment and hasn't publicly shared a detailed analysis that supports the promise.

Gettelfinger first committed the VEBA to an eight-decade run on Sept. 26, when he announced that the UAW had called off its nationwide strike of General Motors Corp. because the parties had agreed on a new four-year labor contract.

In the following weeks, the union made the same promise to members at Chrysler LLC and Ford Motor Co.

The UAW won't divulge details about ages of members and other factors that are crucial to determining the plan's soundness. Gettelfinger says to trust him.

"It's a very simple thing, based on cash flow and solvency," he said in September. "I can assure you that based on the trend and the discount rates and other projections, that VEBA will be solvent for 80 years."

Defenders of the promise say the VEBA will save costs by implementing healthy living programs and taking advantage of the size of its population to negotiate lower costs. They say that help from a national health care system seems more likely than ever, and if put into effect would essentially transform the VEBA to a supplemental Medicare plan.


NLRB: News unionists violated private property

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), issuing a stinging blow to unions on Dec. 16, 2007, ruled that an employer can prohibit workers from using its e-mail system for union business.

In its long-awaited, highly controversial ruling, split 3-2 along party lines, the Republican majority announced and applied a new standard for determining whether an employer has improperly discriminated against the union in enforcing its e-mail use policy.

The ruling involved The Register-Guard, a newspaper in Eugene, Ore., and e-mail messages sent in 2000 by a union organizer who used the company's e-mail system to urge employees marching in a town parade to wear green in support of the union in contract negotiations.

In its decision, the NLRB specified the types of e-mail policies that would be unlawful under the new standard. Examples include:

• Allowing employees to use e-mail to solicit for one union but not another.

• Permitting solicitation by anti-union workers but not pro-union workers.

On the other hand, the board ruled that it would be acceptable for a company to draw a line between charitable and noncharitable solicitations to allow solicitations for organizations such as the Red Cross but not a union.

The ruling passed over union claims--and the arguments of the NLRB’s two Democrats--that e-mail systems have become a key way for employees to communicate freely.

And while the Democrats argued that the majority's logic would permit an employer to allow just about every type of e-mail but union communications, the majority held firm.

In each of its examples, the board wrote, "the fact that union solicitation would fall on the prohibited side of the line does not establish that the rule discriminates" against the union. For instance, the board reasoned, "a rule that permitted charitable solicitations but not noncharitable solicitations would permit solicitations for the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, but it would prohibit solicitations for Avon and the union."

Democrats and unions had argued that employees' interest in communicating with other workers about union activity and other collective concerns should, with regard to the e-mail system, outweigh the employer's property interest.

The e-mail ruling was released in the closing hours of the terms of NLRB Chairman Bob Batista, a Republican, and Democrat Dennis Walsh. Batista and Walsh have been serving in temporary positions at the board pending reappointment. The remaining board members--two Republicans and one Democrat--are permitted to continue issuing decisions, but past practice has been to hold controversial rulings until all seats are filled.


SEIU puts down California dues revolt

Now that it has defeated a potentially costly insurgency, the leadership of California's largest state workers union faces a new challenge: unifying its membership ahead of upcoming contract and pension battles.

Service Employees International Union Local 1000 stood to lose $12.5 million in revenue in the campaign to eliminate "fair share" fees in its largest bargaining unit. But the rescission campaign failed when less than half of the eligible voters mailed in ballots, the Public Employment Relations Board reported.

By state law, the rescission campaign needed the support of 50 percent plus one of the 44,187 employees in SEIU 1000's Unit One. Only 17,699 ballots were returned to PERB, however, in a month of voting that began Nov. 27. As a result, the ballots were not even counted, said PERB general counsel division chief Les Chisholm.

SEIU 1000 President Jim Hard said the defeat of the rescission campaign will allow the union to "focus on this huge and growing state budget deficit and our contract negotiations that are coming up quickly," as well as another challenge to its members' pension benefits.

"Unity in the upcoming budget and contract campaigns is critical," Hard said. "We're going to reach out to all those who have concerns and complaints and try to resolve them. We're all state employees who are affected by this. We need to come together and work for a new and fair contract."

The deal between the union's 87,000 members and the state expires in the middle of 2008. SEIU 1000, as well as other public employee unions, also is expecting to fight an initiative campaign next year that is seeking to reduce benefits for its future members.

Upset by an increase in union dues from 1 percent to 1.5 percent of their salaries, supporters of the rescission campaign obtained valid signatures of 13,000 Unit One employees to force the election. The unit, the largest in SEIU 1000, covers administrative, information technology and other state employees.

Despite the results, the organizer of the petition campaign, Lyle Hintz, said the effort "had some good, positive effects."

Hintz said that the union leaders agreed to submit a scheduled dues increase to a vote of the membership. In addition, Hintz said, the union, in the midst of his petition campaign, rolled back the dues "cap" from $130 a month to $90 a month.

"We think we did real good," Hintz said. "I think this shows that the rank-and-file is really upset with the union. Seventeen thousand people voting in a union election is a really outstanding return. Even though it wasn't successful in overturning the fees, it should be sending a strong message to the officers of SEIU 1000 that we've got some problems that need to be addressed."

Hintz, a retired Unit One member, said he is planning to protest the election results.

According to Hintz, some ballots had the voter's home address on one side and PERB's on the other and subsequently were delivered to the wrong destination. Moreover, Hintz said, some voters weren't able to cast their ballots within the 30-day election window.

Hintz said he also plans on challenging the state law that requires that rescission campaigns get the approval of half the unit's membership rather than half of the ballots cast.

Chisholm, the PERB official, said the results of the election will not be certified until any objections are resolved. He said that anyone who wants to contest the election has 10 days to file the protest.

Fair share employees are covered by contracts negotiated by the union and are required to pay fees for bargaining and other services provided by the labor organization, even though they are not members. In Unit One, the fees come to about $73 a month for the fair share payers, or $2 below the dues paid by union members.

SEIU 1000 officials estimated that fair share fees accounted for $12.5 million of its $44 million in revenue last year.


A-list celebs put careers before solidarity

Many actors have manned the picket lines along with their writing brothers and sisters since the Writers Guild of America strike began Nov. 5. But there has been a notable absence of a small group that under any other circumstance would monopolize it: A-list movie stars.

"Your fight is our fight" has been the Screen Actors Guild's rallying cry to the Writers Guild membership during its two-month strike action. But the top-tier actors have universally declined to pick up a sign. Other than a momentary appearance by Ben Stiller, not a single top-tier movie star -- including some rather high-profile WGA hybrids -- has found it prudent to say or do anything publicly to support the writers' cause.

Yes, such TV and film actors as Laura Linney, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Josh Brolin have shown up on the line or in WGA-supportive United Hollywood videos.

But where's Johnny Depp, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Brad Pitt, Will Smith and Reese Witherspoon? They've remained deafeningly neutral, as if they were thinking that if they just stayed still and quiet enough, they could wait everybody out and avoid any partisanship.

"They don't want to be branded hypocrites," muses one manager-producer. "Because they're working on movies that are [in production]. Even if there are no writers working on those movies, it's like they're still kind of crossing picket lines to work on them ... I think their publicists, smartly, are telling them to not take a side. Do you really gain much by taking a side?"

At the same time, the last two months have been a minefield of shuttered TV and film productions, gutted awards shows and late-night shows running on repeats, a fraught environment that has deprived much of the acting community of a crucial aspect of their jobs -- selling audiences on their movies and shows.

So many of them surely exhaled a huge sigh of relief Friday when the WGA announced an interim deal with Worldwide Pants Inc., owner of "Late Show With David Letterman" and "Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson," that would allow those hosts to go back on the air with their full writing staffs.

Much of the rest of the late-night TV landscape -- Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel, WGA members all -- returns to the airwaves tonight as well but will lunge for the funny without scripted help.

In terms of publicity forums for A-list actors (and the studios who pay them enormous amounts of money), these types of shows are essential.

And this is a critical momentum-building time for award campaigns, when decorated actor-writer-director hybrids such as Ben Affleck, George Clooney and Tom Hanks have Oscar-potential movies they need to hawk -- "Gone Baby Gone," "Michael Clayton" and "Charlie Wilson's War," respectively. Which is why Letterman and Ferguson's coming back with Writers Guild approval is such a godsend to conflicted stars.

Now, with the explicit encouragement of the WGA, as well as SAG President Alan Rosenberg, movie stars will be able to do what they need to do to shill for a project and still look principled, as long as they stick to Letterman and Ferguson.

If not, these marquee names would be stuck in the awkward position of having to cross picket lines to promote their award-worthiness, which could come at the expense of the men and women who gave them a reason to be in front of a camera -- and on Jay's couch -- in the first place.


Ex-Steelworker official seeks retraining

Jim Wansley ran for president of United Steelworkers Local 746L in 2000 because he did not want to see Goodyear abandon its Kelly-Springfield plant in Tyler.

Now, with the shutdown of Goodyear's tire manufacturing in Tyler and a layoff of about 550 employees, Wansley still says the union - and the employees - did not fail in their efforts to convince a stubborn corporate culture to see the real value in the Tyler facility.

The 39-year employee who was laid off effective Tuesday will relinquish his union presidency to Vice President Harold Sweat on Tuesday. Wansley, 58, said he plans to return to college to complete a master's degree and perhaps teach some technical courses.

At 19, Wansley became a Kelly-Springfield Tire Co. employee in Tyler. He was able to earn a bachelor's degree in history in the early 1980s, and benefited from an apprenticeship program through the company.

By the time he was running for union president, first unsuccessfully in 1998 and then successfully in 2000, "it was becoming apparent - and Goodyear was being open about it - that they considered Tyler a 'meltdown plant,' and they didn't intend to put any investment in Tyler," Wansley said.

Shortly after he entered office, he and others began to inquire about what they could do to secure the plant's future.

"The key was to get investment for the plant," Wansley said. "The large amount of money that was spent here in the mid-'80s and early '80s was to build the small tires."

Information supplied by the union and Goodyear at the time said tires such as the ones produced at the Tyler plant would be the first impacted by foreign imports.

"Our equipment - at that time nobody even thought we could convert it to build what we call high value-added tires," Wansley said. "So we began a campaign with Goodyear to secure investment for the plant and we began doing some pretty innovative things, building on the employee involvement environment that was here in this plant and the culture that it had started, which is basically the best work force in Goodyear, and the most innovative and the one that could embrace change probably better than any other."

Goodyear had some good management at the plant, which was a blessing, Wansley said.

The problem was that Goodyear corporate was having its own problems at the time the union was trying to secure the investment, with the company's stock declining to about $3 per share.

"Tyler was like the best-kept secret in Goodyear; it was part of the Kelly-Springfield organization," Wansley said. "So many plant managers and people who came through here later retired here. It was a great community and also a great plant, and also one of the most modern technological plants.

"But Goodyear had mentally just written Tyler off," Wansley said.

Every time the local union and management would get a group of corporate leaders to recognize the promise of the Tyler plant, the group would be eliminated or they would just leave, he said.

Wansley said that was frustrating, but workers at the plant were showing that the older machines could be modified to produce the higher value-added tires.

"We had to play like we were ordering replacement parts" to get the machines converted, he said. Engineers at the corporate level said it could not be done, but the crew at the Tyler plant did convert some of the old machines to produce the larger tires.

"Everything we did here was almost without any investment from (corporate) and almost without any buy-in," he said. "It was done pretty much locally, so they never understood it. We couldn't get the investment, so we did it anyway, and they never understood it. At the time we came back from strike (in late 2006), we were building 40 percent high value-added tires, and they would tell you that we could only build 15 percent."

But the thing that killed the Tyler plant's chances of getting a shot at staying open was the state of Texas, Wansley said.

During contract negotiations in 2006, states and local communities submitted incentive packages to keep Goodyear plants open in Tyler, Fayetteville, N.C., and Gadsden, Ala.

Local and state incentive monies aimed at keeping the Tyler plant open totaled about $12 million, but incentives from Gadsden and Fayetteville were greater.

Goodyear was granted an incentive package worth up to $40 million for its Fayetteville operations, and it received state monies of $20 million for expansion and $10 million for training in its Gadsden plant, according to reports in the Akron Beacon Journal and The Gadsden Times.

State incentives are nothing new, Wansley said, adding the state of Texas invested in job retention when the Kelly-Springfield plant, which at the time did not make radial tires, was threatened with closure in the early 1980s. Instead, the plant stayed open and Goodyear converted it to a radial tire plant.

"This plant would have been dead in the '80s if the (current state) policies were in place," he said.

Wansley said the state tried for, and won, the Toyota plant in San Antonio. But it should put the same effort in job retention.

"Some people look at (incentives) as milking the system or milking the state, or 'it's just not fair,' or 'it's just not right,'" he said. "That's what you pay taxes for. Sometimes some of that money has to come back as seed money."

And the local community will pay economically more dearly than it would have paid in a successful state retention campaign.


Trickle down strike-onomics

As screenwriters near their eighth week on the picket lines, South Bay businesses and residents who depend on the film industry for their paychecks are feeling the strike's ripple effects.

Raleigh Studios in Manhattan Beach is virtually empty. The TV shows filmed there - "CSI: Miami," "Medium," "Boston Legal" - shut down production in November and early December.

"It's really bad. For two weeks I've been without work," said Mario Fonseca, who owns a car-wash business at Raleigh Studios. "I'm losing $2,000 every week."

Before the strike, Super Mario Detailing cleaned about 20 cars a day belonging to crew members, studio execs and stars like David Caruso and William Shatner. But last week he cleaned only one car.

"I bought my first house three years ago. I have house taxes, business taxes and three car payments," said Fonseca, who laid off his employees and doesn't know how he'll come up with the $6,000 he needs to pay his monthly bills. "I'll probably lose my job, lose my house. I will have to go back to looking for customers on the street."

John Harmer, owner of Southland Lumber in Inglewood, said he's seen a 50 percent drop in sales since the strike began. The family-owned business provides wood to set constructors on television shows produced by Warner Bros., Universal and David E. Kelly.

"Normally we have to order material a month in advance. I have no material ordered for next month," said Harmer, who used to get at least one $3,000 order from TV productions every week.

"I'm worried. I'd hate to have to do layoffs, but if this goes on for another six weeks I'm going to have to take some bold moves."

Some have started working outside the film industry while their TV-show jobs are on hold.

Andy Crawford, a dolly grip on "Boston Legal," said he's already approached his neighbors in Long Beach about doing odd jobs like painting or refinishing hardwood floors.

"My next job in the movie business could be months away and I don't have the luxury of sitting around waiting for the writers to settle. I need to earn an income now," Crawford said.

Meanwhile, his wife is picking up extra shifts at the Macaroni Grill restaurant where she works.

Peter Rathje of Redondo Beach was working on "Heroes" as an on-set medic when the strike closed down filming. He now works for UPS.

"I'm turning 50 in March and it's weird to have to look for a different job," Rathje said. "I'm rubbing nickels together; things are very tight. I'm making a quarter of what I do normally and if this keeps going on I'll have to downsize considerably. The house will definitely go. Enough is enough."

Writer Tina Anderson of Redondo Beach said she works at the Borders bookstore in El Segundo when she's not on the picket line. While she empathizes with everyone hurt by the strike, she is also unapologetic.

"Some don't realize the stakes we are fighting for," Anderson said. "We are the creators of this material and no one else would have jobs without us. People have forgotten that they wouldn't be there if we hadn't been there first."

Among other issues, the writers are demanding DVD residuals and compensation for their work shown on new media - such as the Internet.

No new talks are scheduled between the writers and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, a trade organization representing American film and TV producers.

Many show-biz employees have been putting money away since the first rustlings about the strike.

"I knew it was coming so I was saving money for a while, but it's still amazing how \ affects you," said Cindy Flowers of Manhattan Beach, who was a costumer on "Boston Legal."

"It's the stupid things, like do I buy a lot of paper towels, or just a few? Am I using too many paper towels? Am I doing too many loads of laundry?"

Flowers said she enjoys the break from working 15-hour days, but her patience with the strike is running thin.

"I understand why (the writers) are griping, but settle the thing already," she said. "Those writers get residuals, but all of us people do not."

Marina Webber is married to a transportation coordinator at Raleigh Studios. She and her husband, Stanley, just started a $250,000 remodel on their Rancho Palos Verdes home, which they've been planning for a year and just received city permits for.

"We've been careful and invested wisely. But this is the worst time to lose your paycheck. We have zero income," said the mother of four. "My role is to encourage and remind (my husband) that we've done well and that we're going to be fine. If I start pulling my hair and saying it's a disaster, everything will fall apart."

Yet while many in the industry are weary of the strike and fear what will happen to them if it continues, others are thriving.

Ed Servaites, who lives in Redondo Beach, is an editor on "American Idol Rewind." He said there's never been a better time to work in reality TV. He's getting more job offers than he can take.

"Our phones haven't stopped ringing. All the (reality) shows that were pitched a year ago that the networks passed on are now being asked to produce 16 episodes," Servaites said. "My job is not going anywhere. It's almost as if the grocers' strike affected me more personally than this."

Dustin Brown, a prop assistant who lives in Playa del Rey, hasn't been affected by the strike. In fact, he hopes it goes on.

"The show I was working on - `Jericho' - was canceled and brought back so we have new shows coming out in spring. So I actually want there to be no new television on so people will be forced to watch my show and we get a third season," Brown said.

Brown just finished working on a film starring Jeff Daniels and is set to begin a television movie in January. He said many made-for-TV films "are in the can as far as scripts go" and are not affected by the writers' strike yet.

However, while Brown might be gainfully employed, he is still losing money.

"I've had to lend money to out-of-work friends," he said. "They have to pay their bills - the rent, the heat - one buddy got his catalytic converter stolen the day his show shut down. I've probably lent about $1,000 so far."


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