AFSCME in NH: Simply Reprehensible

In a campaign that has become closer as people in Iowa and New Hampshire have been able to listen with care to the positions of the candidates, it is sad that so-called independent groups have felt it is time to demean that process with attacks, distortions and misleading ads.

The most recent and reprehensible example is the AFSCME PEOPLE flyer sent out on behalf of its candidate, Hillary Clinton, which takes distortion to a new level. First, it implies that Barack Obama wants to leave 15 million Americans without health insurance when any fair reading of Obama's plan shows it is focused on affordability and accessibility for every American citizen. And then, in perhaps the most disingenuously clever distortion of the campaign, the flyer uses a quote from a different candidate to spare Sen. Clinton any negative association with the attack being made on her behalf.

A critical election is about to take place. It is close because the people are listening and responding to the candidates, who are presenting real plans and their hopes and vision for what America can and should be. It is my hope that, as we turn the page to that new day, we can leave behind the kind of misleading and tawdry politics that AFSCME has dredged up and thrown through our mail slots.

I look forward to a new politics and a new direction in this country with Barack Obama as our president.

- Ned Helms, Concord


Casino War - California battle lines drawn

Opponents of three Riverside County tribes' casino-expansion agreements with the state have started running a TV ad, only days before absentee voters can begin casting ballots for the Feb. 5 election.

The ballot includes referendum measures on the pacts and another targeting a San Diego County tribe.

The commercial, which aired during New Year's Day bowl games, alleges that the tribes "cut themselves a Sacramento deal" that goes far beyond what voters wanted when they authorized tribal gambling in 2000.

Supporters of the deals have been airing pro-agreement television ads for months.

The pacts between the state and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians near Banning, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians near Temecula, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in the Coachella Valley, and the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Indians in San Diego County would let the tribes install up to 17,000 additional slot machines.

In return, the tribes would pay the state a larger share of casino revenue.

The Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park horse-racing tracks; the Unite Here restaurant and hotel employees union; and two other gambling tribes, the Pala Band of Mission Indians in northern San Diego County and the United Auburn tribe near Sacramento, have spent millions to overturn the agreements, known as compacts.

On Monday, the United Auburn tribe contributed $4.5 million to the effort, the largest single donation so far to the anti-compact campaign.


Unions make hypocrisy of democracy in Iowa

The most heartwarming — and inaccurate — of commercials was back on TV at Christmastime.

But the ads of politicians in Iowa now rival it for brazen falsehood and hypocrisy.

This famous commercial opens with three polar bears — Pappa, Momma and cuddly cute Baby — looking down a snow-covered slope at a huge gathering of penguins.

The baby bear slides downhill to the penguin throng and is welcomed by a cute baby penguin’s gift of Coca-Cola, the once-coca-based beverage of peace, friendship, and sugar highs.

As the three bears and penguin herd come together, the camera pulls back to show an icy moonshine-lit besotted wildlife lovefest.

This commercial is as scientifically accurate as Al Gore’s global warming fiction “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Polar bears live in far northern latitudes around the Arctic Ocean. All penguin species are native to lands south of the equator, mostly within swimming distance of Antarctica.

Penguins and polar bears might occasionally share the same prison facilities in human zoos, kept carefully separate, lest huge polar bears make a snack of the penguins.

But in nature penguins and polar bears never meet.

This Coke commercial is, therefore, just another Gore-like phony fantasy designed to exploit viewer emotion and to turn our children into unthinking, easily-manipulated ignoramuses.

But politicians in Iowa are just as deceptive.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton tells Iowa voters that she has been vetted and scrutinized and that she will produce “no surprises.”

But the Clintons continue to stonewall reporter requests to release all her official records as first lady during her husband’s presidency. She also refuses to release all her tax and health records. Why the secrecy, if “no surprises” are in such records?

We know lots about Mrs. Clinton. But much of what we know is bad: that she is a “congenital liar,” as William Safire of The New York Times wrote; a smug, imperious, self-righteous leftist; and a fake feminist who savagely attacked women

who told the truth about Bill Clinton’s predatory sexual behavior. Up to 49 percent of people polled say they would never vote for Hillary Clinton.

Capitalist-bashing populist John Edwards, who according to at least one poll has passed Sen. Clinton and might win the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, pledged that he would take no special interest 527 money.

But in recent days, Mr. Edwards has benefited from $750,000 of Iowa TV ads paid for by 527s of the Service Employees International Union and Carpenter’s Union, two of the most radical left unions in America.

Roughly half of SEIU’s members are employed by government, and this union would profit mightily if a President John Edwards forced unionization on other government employees.

But even more frightening is Edwards’ backing from fellow trial lawyers.

Edwards, remember, accumulated his over 50 million dollar personal fortune as an ambulance-chasing lawyer, a courtroom dramatist skilled at using pseudo-science to sway juror hearts — shades of the coke commercial.

Some of Edwards’ most lucrative cases were won by wild medical claims he made in court that scientific research subsequently showed to be completely false. But slick, well-coiffured Johnny Edwards never gave back the tens of millions he pocketed that later propelled his political career.

Edwards’ career got a rocket assist during his 2004 presidential and then vice presidential runs: more than $9 million in start-up cash from fellow trial lawyers. Much of his campaign travel was via “lawyer learjet airlines,” nearly free private jets belonging to six law firms.

The average American family pays a hidden tax every year of at least $2,884 in the higher prices of everything from a hamburger to healthcare. This “trial lawyers tax,” is the added price you pay for thousands of goods and services because of litigation and measures to prevent shyster lawsuits.

Doctors, for example, will ask you take all sorts of costly tests — not for your health, but to cover the doctor’s backside if a bad outcome prompts a lawsuit.

Huge lawsuit judgments can be won as Edwards’ often did, not by the justice or scientific legitimacy of the case but by bamboozling the jury and by the sympathetic nature of the defendant. This has driven the price of your doctor’s malpractice insurance and your medical and health insurance costs into the stratosphere.

Rapacious trial lawyers like John Edwards have pushed the cost of health insurance out of reach for millions of Americans, a situation Edwards’ and others invoke not to limit how many millions of dollars trial lawyers can pocket but to call for socialized medicine.

Greedy trial lawyers remain among the biggest Democratic Party backers.

Being able to pull the puppet strings of Democratic lawmakers virtually guarantees that every new law, government regulation or congressional investigation will preserve and expand lucrative opportunities to file multimillion dollar lawsuits.

Democratic congressional leaders, for example, fought President Bush’s authorization of terrorist-linked overseas wiretaps by quietly refusing compromise on one issue — whether telephone companies that complied with this national security measure would be given immunity against trial lawyer lawsuits.

How lucrative can such lawsuits be? During the Clinton administration state and federal governments teamed up with private lawyers to sue the tobacco industry, squeezing this business for hundreds of billions of dollars. Hillary’s trial lawyer brother was mysteriously given a share of this booty, allowed almost retroactively to join the cabal of private lawyers each billing $7,000 per hour for work on this case.

The Clintons during their reign made clear that trial lawyers would be helped to plunder one fat capitalist target after another — tobacco, then the firearms industry starting with Smith & Wesson, then big alcohol, then the fast-food industry, and so on.

Such litigation is destroying American capitalism as well as tens of millions of worker jobs in America.

These lawyers are paving a superhighway to serfdom and socialism. Government, after all, can invoke its sovereign immunity against lawsuits.

But these Democrat-connected lawyers will become wealthy just as greedy John Edwards did. And working Americans will become poorer as the hidden trial lawyers tax soars past $10,000 a year. Coke, anyone?


Labor-friendly Gov. may be DQ'd from Clinton appointment

Is anyone surprised that the Oregon State Bar ducked on the complaint that Gov. Kulongoski lied about whether he knew of former Gov. Goldschmidt's nefarious conduct? Neither was I.

We got our first clue when The Oregonian (owned by New York billionaire Si Newhouse) published a story on the pending ethics complaint against Gov. Ted Kulongoski with a headline that states, "No Evidence to Show Governor Lied". As the unofficial voice of Oregon's ruling elite, it was necessary to set the tone for what was to come.

It's no different than with the original story about former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt.

When Goldschmidt resigned his position as head of the Board of Higher Education to avoid the looming scandal of his repeated rape of a fourteen year old girl, The Oregonian dutifully reported Goldschmidt's press release saying that he had resigned for "health" reasons. The Oregonian did this in spite of having access to the exact same information on Goldschmidt as did Willamette Week which later that same day broke its Pulitzer Prize winning story detailing the sordid conduct of Goldschmidt over an extended period of time as well as his efforts to cover his tracks by making payments to his victim. It was only after Willamette Week broke the story on its web page that The Oregonian finally scrapped Goldschmidt's press release and coughed up the actual story.

In the aftermath it appears that The Oregonian had information that could have led to the exposure of Goldschmidt years prior to the Willamette Week story and chose not to pursue it. So it should come as no surprise that The Oregonian published a story on the pending ethics complaint against Gov. Ted Kulongoski with a headline that states, "No Evidence to Show Governor Lied" . Or that it followed its headline with this stunning conclusion: "No one has been able to provide direct evidence that Kulongoski lied about what he heard about Goldschmidt."

Hold it Knute, what about the sworn testimony of Fred Leonhardt stating that he told Kulongoski about Goldschmidt's rape of the fourteen year old on more than one occasion. That constitutes direct evidence. It is the testimony of an eyewitness and, therefore, direct evidence. Now there may not yet be any corroborating evidence, but that does not mean that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that Kulongoski lied.

But it set the tone for the State Bar of Oregon's press release announcing that it wasn't going to pursue the complaint against Kulongoski. Apparently the State Bar did little or no investigation other than read the sworn statement of Leonhardt and the response by Kulongoski. The State Bar apparently declared it a draw without undertaking any critical examination.

In cases such as these where there is contradictory direct evidence (I said so, no you didn't) there are a whole range of options and secondary evidence that can come into play. As the "trier of fact" the State Bar had the ability (and maybe the duty) to determine which party was telling the truth.

The trier of fact can consider the motives of the parties providing the contradictory evidence. In this case, despite months of investigations, there is no evidence suggesting an ulterior motive on the part of Fred Leonhardt. In fact, the original sworn testimony of Leonhardt dealt with Sheriff Bernie Guisto and the references to Kulongoski were simply a by-product. Leonhardt and Kulongoski were long time friends and apparently had worked on political campaigns together. In fact, Leonhardt apparently worked on several of Kulongoski's campaigns including the one for attorney general and his first gubernatorial election.

In contrast, Kulongoski very much has a motive to lie. His license to practice law is at risk. His political life will be virtually over if it is established that he covered up for Oregon's most notorious child molester. His ability to govern will be severely limited. Yes, I know, he can't run for governor again but he is currently out actively campaigning for Hillary Clinton and if she is elected he is a likely candidate for a federal appointment.

The trier of fact can also examine the propensity of each witness to tell the truth. In the instance case Fred Leonhardt has provided a sworn statement with a myriad of factual details surrounding his assertions about the conversations between he and Kulongoski about Goldschmidt's predatory acts. Those details have been known to the public for months now and, to date, they have not been refuted. In many aspects those details have been corroborated by other persons referenced in Leonhardt's statement. Leonhardt also took and passed a lie detector test and while such tests are not admissible even in an administrative hearing they certainly weigh heavily in the court of public opinion.

In contrast, Kulongoski has stated that his relationship with Leonhardt was de minimus and ended years ago. The Oregonian's own Steve Duin has detailed the numerous instances in which Kulongoski has lied about the events surrounding these accusations. As Steve Duin noted,

"Never mind that various other aspects of Leonhardt's story have been confirmed by a half dozen witnesses. Kulongoski, meanwhile, has lied about the duration of his friendship with Leonhardt, as I reported in a Nov. 20 column."

It is exactly those kinds of lies that the State Bar could use to determine Kulongoski's veracity.

It was like déjà vu all over again. Goldschmidt escaped criminal responsibility because others maintained their silence until the statutes of limitation ran out. He escaped other official scrutiny of his activities by tendering his resignation from the State Bar. The State Bar could have, and should have, refused to accept the resignation and proceeded with disciplinary action. In the course of that proceeding, the State Bar could have determined who else was complicit - particularly other lawyers, including Kulongoski. But the State Bar ducked that one too and meekly accepted the resignation and closed the books.

After all, what lawyer wants to practice before the appellate judges of Oregon when (s)he knows that most have been appointed by Kulongoski and his Democrat predecessors dating back to Goldschmidt. Which lawyers want to stand as Kulongoski's accusers when one of the members of the Supreme Court is Kulongoski's former law partner and another worked for Kulongoski at the attorney general's office.

The lawyers of Oregon are acutely aware of the power of Oregon's entrenched political machine - a machine that began with Goldschmidt has had continued through today.

But then again who ever said there's justice in Oregon for Oregon's political ruling class. First Goldschmidt escaped accountability and now so has his protégé Ted Kulongoski. So what else is new?


Union army preps Iowa withdrawal

Folks were celebrating 2008 early at the Valley West (IA) Inn -- early by local standards, anyway.

As Central Standard Time clocks passed 10:59 p.m., several party-goers took a break from a small New Year's celebration to call family members back in Pittsburgh, where the year was about to end. They were part of a contingent of steel workers who'd come to Iowa to spend their Christmas week knocking on doors and making phone calls for former Sen. John Edwards, the Democratic presidential candidate their union endorsed back on Labor Day.

A few minutes later, Chuck Rocha, the United Steelworkers' political director, interrupted the low-key event to give the crowd of about 40 a combined briefing and pep talk as the final hours before tomorrow counted down. Soon, he was interrupted by the piercing ring of a cell phone.

"If that's a caucus-goer, you can answer it," he joked.

The dozens of volunteers, scattered among the tables topped with noisemakers and party hats, are among thousands of partisan volunteers from both parties who have swelled this state's population over the last year in the run-up to the most expensive, most elaborately organized caucus campaign in the state's history.

A few hours earlier, about 20 minutes away on Interstate 235, dozens of other temporary migrants were crowded into office space on the third floor of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's downtown offices, making last-minute phone calls to potential Republican voters.

"I came here because he's stood up for what he believes in. He's honest and he looks people right in the eye," said Kumar Lakhavani, an international relief worker from Greensboro, N.C.

Rob Martin, a University of Virginia senior, came here from neighboring Illinois to work the phones because, he said, he's a former Arkansas resident who liked what Mr. Huckabee did as governor.

Across the noisy room Caleb Clemmon, 12, methodically dialed his way through another voter list. Caleb and his sister Marissa, 14, rode for roughly 30 hours with about 20 other home-schooled students to devote part of their Christmas vacations to the Huckabee bid. He explained that they're part of a political science class, linked by the Internet, that jointly decided to use the caucuses as its firsthand political classroom.

The USW activists, the home-schoolers and the other partisans have thousands of counterparts working directly or parallel with each of the campaigns. There are few restrictions on direct volunteer work, but the third-party groups, including the steel workers, are technically separate from the campaigns and are legally required to work at arms' length from them.

Their contributions include manpower and shoe leather, but in some cases are major financial commitments of hundreds of thousands of dollars for advertising campaigns over the airwaves and through direct mail. Total expenditures by third-party groups will reach well into the millions.

In addition to the steel workers and the United Mine Workers unions, who jointly endorsed Mr. Edwards' campaign back in September, the candidate's effort has been abetted by groups including the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and several locals of the Service Employees International Union.

The International Association of Fire Fighters, which got considerable credit for Sen. John Kerry's come-from-behind victory here four years ago, is working for Sen. Chris Dodd.

Standing in Mr. Dodd's headquarters last week, as the candidate embarked on a cross-state tour in a bus with the IAFF logo, Harold Schaitberger, the union's influential president, acknowledged that Mr. Dodd appeared mired in the second tier of the Democrats' large field. He said he would consider their efforts worthwhile if they propelled the candidate to a showing strong enough "to get a ticket out of Iowa," one that would allow him to remain a credible candidate in the primaries and caucuses over the next month.

The conservative Club for Growth has invested heavily in anti-Huckabee advertisements, attacking his record as governor. The Republican Majority for Choice, a group opposed to restrictions on abortion rights, has invested in ads deriding former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for his abandonment of the pro-choice position he held when he first ran for governor.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has benefited from spending by Emily's List, the Washington group dedicated to supporting female candidates.

As a door-knocking crew of USW volunteers headed out Sunday afternoon, they passed a giant billboard that was a reminder that their fellow union, AFSCME, the largest in Iowa, was heavily invested in Mrs. Clinton's campaign as well.

They had rendezvoused at a USW local hall a half a block from a sprawling Firestone plant in Des Moines. The USW took over representation of the plant's work force after the merger of the rubber workers and steel workers several years ago.

Wayne Donato of White Oak, a member of the USW's Pittsburgh staff, drove 12 hours to spend his New Year's holiday working for Mr. Edwards.

"We're out here on quote-unquote vacation," he said.

Like many of his USW colleagues, Mr. Donato is familiar with the Iowa political scene after working here for the unsuccessful campaign of former Rep. Dick Gephardt, whom the union endorsed four years ago.

A door-knocking crew quarterbacked by John Campbell, a Firestone employee and local USW official, headed out to hit the doors of Highland Park, a middle-class neighborhood of small homes neighboring the 68-acre plant. With him were Andy Zanaglio of Canonsburg, who works at the USW's Boulevard of the Allies headquarters, and Elizabeth Laycak, a political science student at Point Park University who's interning with the USW's political staff.

While only one door produced a response that could be described as rude, their harvest was a mixed bag of encouragement and disappointment.

"It worries me to see Hillary get in there," one man observed. "I'm for Obama or Edwards. If this country doesn't watch itself we're not going to have any more middle-class people."

As they patrolled in the fading winter light, a call to Mr. Campbell's cell phone was testimony to the frenetic competition for the state's voters. At the other end was yet another out-of-state volunteer, a Chicago woman canvassing Des Moines Democrats for the Obama campaign.

After offering some lighthearted criticism of Mr. Obama, the USW activist informed her that while she was canvassing for him, he was out canvassing for one of Mr. Obama's chief rivals.

"Sister, I'm one reason you're going to be drinking Coke and not champagne at your party," he said -- and hoped.


Union front-group stages Burger King attacks

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), an organization that represents farmworkers in central Florida, on Dec. 23 extended their struggle to workers at the Burger King restaurant in the Miami neighborhood of Aventura by holding a picket there. On Nov. 30, the CIW had led a nine-mile-long march of 1,500 workers and their supporters down to the Burger King corporate offices in Miami demanding a penny more per pound raise for the tomatoes they pick.

The CIW has been waging fights against some of the largest U.S.-based fast food corporations. These farmworkers, who mostly pick tomatoes, are fighting to improve living and working conditions from what can only be called modern day slavery.

The first stop on the Nov. 30 march targeted Goldman Sachs, a large investment firm that owns a big portion of the BK Corporation’s stock and has executives sitting on BK Corporation’s board of directors. According to a Dec. 20, 2006, article in the New York Times, Lloyd C. Blankfein, chairman and chief executive of Goldman Sachs, was paid “a bonus of $53.4 million in 2006, the highest ever for a Wall Street chief executive” – most of it coming off of the backs of farmworkers.

Most of the farmworkers receive 40-to-45 cents for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes that they pick. After a 10-hour workday, they would have to have picked up to 2 tons each in order to make a little over $50, barely making the minimum wage. These farmworkers have been working for the same rates since their last pay raise in 1978.

Paying the extra penny would only cost the multibillionaire fast-food giant $250,000 a year, yet they refuse to budge.

In 2005, the CIW led a national boycott against another fast food giant, Taco Bell. Workers and students all over the country joined in solidarity in a campaign known as “boot the bell” that included hunger strikes. This struggle forced Taco Bell to the negotiating table.

McDonald’s also came to the negotiating table last April in the face of possible protests or a boycott. Despite all of these advancements and the Nov. 30 historic nine-mile march, the Burger King bosses vow to resist the penny raise and preserve the living conditions in Florida’s fields.

But all is not grim, students and workers from several unions including the Teamsters, SEIU, CWA and UNITE HERE are joining the CIW in the fight to halt the decline in wages. The struggle for a penny more will escalate and even Burger King restaurant employees are joining the fight. At the Dec. 23 picket at the local Burger King restaurant in mostly the white upscale Aventura neighborhood, restaurant workers cheered the picketers and some even came out and joined the demonstrators.

Apparently, the Burger King employees were first told that they were going to be paid before Christmas, but on that Sunday they were told, “No paychecks until after Christmas.” So as the protest started to build the employees started to cheer from within the restaurant. When the chant, “No more slaves! Pay a living wage!” started, one worker even came outside to lead the chant.

The CIW is sending a full-time team back to Miami after the first of the year. So there will be a lot more actions coming up both here and around the U.S.


Hoffa dawdles on corruption clean-up

New officers were expected to take their Ohio Teamsters Local 377 offices today after they were denied the positions Wednesday until the International issued an opinion on an election dispute.

Robert Bernat, who served as secretary-treasurer until losing in the October election, said the new officers tried to enter the headquarters on Teamster Drive about 7 a.m. Wednesday. He said he refused to hand over the keys because he hadn’t yet gotten a ruling from the International on who should run the local.

Bernat said police were called, but left without incident after he showed them a decision from the International to set aside the election.

Bernat said he got word Wednesday afternoon that International General President James Hoffa agreed to stay a decision made in late December by the union’s Joint Council 41 to order a new election and suspend two top leaders, President Chris Colello and Business Agent Ray DePasquale, who appealed the council’s decision.

Hoffa’s ruling allows the General Executive Board to review the charges against Colello and DePasquale, Bernat said. The board, comprising 26 union vice presidents from across the country, is expected to meet the first week of February.


Harsh, negative campaign could nix Right To Work

The rising cost of health insurance remains one of the top concerns of Colorado's small and independent business owners, according to a survey by a statewide employer group.

The National Federation of Independent Business-Colorado asked members if the state should create a payroll tax on employers to pay for health insurance for people who are not covered by their employers. Of 700 who took the survey, 93 percent rejected the idea, according to the group.

The survey was released Wednesday by NFIB-Colorado, which represents about 7,000 of the more than 300,000 small businesses in the state, said Tony Gagliardi, state director.

He said he selected the five questions posed to members based on issues he expects to come before the state legislature in the 2008 session. Members were asked about a payroll tax because several groups have floated the idea as a method for covering the uninsured, he said.

Wade Buchanan, president of the Bell Policy Center, a Denver-based public-policy think tank that identifies itself as "progressive," said it's predictable that employers would be against taxing themselves. He said there is a feeling among small employers that there is too great a reliance on the small employer to bear the burden of providing insurance to workers.

"Employers want to do the right thing by their employees," Buchanan said. "It is becoming difficult to sustain that."

Those who took the survey were split on whether insurance companies should get state permission before setting new premium rates on small-group policies.

On the issue of whether state employees should be allowed to bargain collectively, 88 percent were opposed to the idea. Gov. Bill Ritter in November signed an executive order allowing bargaining partnerships among state employees.

Survey respondents were also split on whether the state should require all employers to use a nationwide verification system to determine whether a job applicant is eligible to work in the United States. The majority, 51 percent, approved of such a system, but 37 percent did not. Twelve percent didn't answer.

Gagliardi said he believes employers would use a system as long as it functions accurately.

Buchanan said some employers may feel that a mandatory verification system would place the burden of enforcing immigration laws on employers, while others may feel that a simple system for verifying a worker's status would make their jobs easier.

The survey also found that 58 percent of employers support a right-to-work law, while 30 opposed it. Twelve percent didn't answer. A right-to-work law would bar compulsory union membership in the state.


Powerful gov't union angles for Veep

Sen. Christopher Dodd doesn't have much money. He barely registers in opinion polls. But he does have one thing going for him in his long-shot quest for the Democratic presidential nomination.

He has the firefighters.

When Iowa Democrats gather in precinct caucus meetings Thursday night to cast the first presidential votes of the year, most will hear local firefighters stand up and make impassioned pitches for Dodd, a senator from Connecticut.

They'll hear from other people about the other candidates, as well. Local politicians. Teachers. Government workers. All backed by moneyed networks that phoned people, arranged baby sitters, drove them to the caucuses.

Yet while the International Association of Firefighters is much smaller in number and resources than the huge unions that are backing other candidates, the firefighters hope they have something rare when they rise to speak in church basements and school cafeterias: the respect of their neighbors.

That helps in the unusual world of precinct caucuses, an oddity of democracy in which a lone voice can make at least some difference.

Unlike the privacy of the voting booth, caucuses require people to declare their support in front of their neighbors and allow them to change their minds during the hour-long meetings.

That's where people such as John TeKippe hope to deliver more votes for Dodd.

TeKippe is the local firefighters-union president in Des Moines, a veteran organizer whose members helped sway caucus attendees to support John Kerry four years ago while such behemoths as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union backed Howard Dean.

This time, the firefighters backed old friend and ally Dodd, grateful for his work on such legislation as the Fire Act, which has helped Iowa fire departments buy equipment, and the Safer Act, which has helped them hire extra people, not to mention the rest of his record.

They know he's a very long shot, but they thought he deserved and needed their help.

"We're not very good at following numbers or money," TeKippe said. "Our membership isn't like other labor."

Working for Dodd, the union's 1,500 members in Iowa are doing what they did for Kerry in `04, hand-delivering letters to neighbors, urging everyone to come to the caucus and to bring more people with them.

"It means more to have a family member or friend ask," TeKippe said. "We'll buy the pizza, whatever it takes to make the caucus feel like home."

And of course, they'll try to win people over to Dodd, especially when caucus rules force all those whose candidates have less than 15 percent of the local vote to find alternatives.

"This is about Iowans in a neighborhood," said Harold Schaitberger, the national president of the union.

"Firefighters are admired. They are trusted, respected. They're Little League and hockey coaches. They raise money for muscular dystrophy. They're part of the fabric of their neighborhood. What comes with that is the good will and respect."

A respect he hopes will win some votes for Dodd.

Schaitberger thinks that Iowans who don't already support one of the top-tier Democratic candidates - Hillary Clinton, John Edwards or Barack Obama - are up for grabs by still-unknown second-tier candidates.

He knows that Dodd isn't going to win as Kerry did. But he thinks that his members can help Dodd come from nowhere into fourth place, and get enough attention to go on to other caucuses and primaries.

"A lot of decisions are made literally inside the caucus," he said. "It's somewhere between sumo wrestling and full-contact politics."


PLA thuggery-as-usual in labor-state

As our Partners from the Mesabi Daily news report, the Minnesota Steel project set to be built near Nashwauk, had all permits approved last year.

The closing was approved in October, and construction is set to begin ... it's expected to create 2-thousand construction jobs and 700 permanent jobs in the area.

Mesabi Nugget, which is scheduled to start production in 2009, has already started construction at their site north of Hoyt Lakes.

Local trade unions signed a project labor agreement with the company in December ... and the project is expected to create 500 construction jobs and 50 permanent ones.

On the non-ferrous side, Polymet Mining, which will mine copper, nickel and platinum at the old LTV steel site in Hoyt lakes, is awaiting their draft environmental impact statement in the first quarter of this year.

Trade union officials signed a project labor agreement last August, and the company has been preparing for construction.

It's estimated to create 400 permanent jobs.

And Franconia minerals, which has been drilling on Birch Lake this year, will continue exploratory drilling at it's Maturi site next year.

The company has taken and analyzed thousands of core samples in the area... they estimate 200 tons of copper, nickel, platinum, and gold.

A feasibility study is expected in 2009 and construction could begin in 2010 if all permits are approved.

The underground mine would create 2,000 construction jobs and 550 permanent jobs in the area.

The hope is to have it up and running by 2011.


Union-label jokes fall flat

Late-night TV comedian David Letterman on Wednesday kicked off the return of his show from a two-month hiatus in support of striking screenwriters, boasting his was the "only show on the air" with union-backed jokes.

Letterman walked onstage in the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City through a chorus line of dancers holding signs that read, "Writers Guild of America on Strike," and sporting a full beard he grew during his eight-week break.

Letterman, who has lagged behind Leno in the ratings war since 1995, has a chance to regain the upper hand as he ventures back with his writing team, and the blessing of the Writers Guild, under a special deal between the union and his production company.

"Ladies and gentlemen, two long months, but by God, I'm finally out of rehab," he told the audience, adding that during the time off he had been very introspective.

"Here's what I learned about myself -- show or no show I really enjoy drinking in the morning," he said to laughter.

Portions of the show were screened for reporters in New York several hours before it was due to be broadcast on CBS.

Letterman's arch rival, Jay Leno of NBC, and other late-night stars resumed production on Wednesday of fresh broadcasts for the first time since the writers' strike began on November 5 in a bitter contract dispute with major film and TV studios.

That agreement, announced last week, enabled Letterman to return with a full complement of monologue jokes and comedy bits, including his nightly Top 10 List, which provides multiple jokes on a single topic.

"Ladies and gentlemen the only show on the air now that has jokes written by union writers," Letterman declared. "I know you're thinking to yourselves at home -- 'This crap is written?"'


Letterman's deal with the WGA also makes it easier for him to book guests who otherwise might balk at crossing picket lines.

Actor and comedian Robin Williams came on and made fun of Letterman's beard. Letterman showed a photograph of Williams on a WGA picket line earlier in the strike.

By contrast, NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" booked Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee as that program's first new guest. Taping of "The Tonight Show" was closed to the press.

Letterman was able to cut a deal with the WGA for his show and "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," which airs on CBS immediately following his, because both programs are independently produced by his company, WorldWide Pants Inc.

The WGA has said the deal even includes provisions to pay writers for work distributed via the Internet, a key sticking point in stalled talks between the union and studios aimed at ending Hollywood's worst labor standoff in 20 years.

The strike by 10,500 WGA members has thrown the U.S. television industry into disarray, postponed production on several major motion pictures and is threatening to spoil Hollywood's annual awards season.


AFSCME in the catbird seat

Democratic candidates are having a hard time gaining advantage among women and union members, two groups that could determine who wins the Iowa caucuses on Thursday. The two top Republicans are in the same near-deadlock when it comes to voters who say the next president should be a fiscal conservative.

Women break even for Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama — 32% apiece in a new Des Moines Register poll — despite Clinton's appeal as a pioneer and her push for women's support. And for all their union endorsements, Clinton and former senator John Edwards are in a three-way tie with Obama among labor households.

"I like what she says. I like it that she's a woman," Beth Davis-Fleming says of Clinton, who is endorsed by her union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). But Davis-Fleming, 61, of Marshalltown, is a precinct captain for Obama.

On the Republican side, the Register poll shows former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, besting former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney almost 2-to-1 among voters who say it's more important for the next president to be a social conservative.

Those who prefer a fiscally conservative president are a larger group — 41% in the poll versus 26% who say they prefer a social conservative. Romney has just a slight edge among the larger group in the Register poll, leading Huckabee 29% to 25%. That's despite his business background and heat Huckabee has taken from the anti-tax Club For Growth for raising some taxes as governor.

John Gilliland, senior vice president of the 1,300-company Association of Business and Industry, says Romney built an early business base but then became preoccupied with defining himself on social issues. Other candidates gained ground, he says, and now "we have members in nearly every camp."

Fiscal conservatives "are all over the map. There's no consensus" on a candidate, says Don Racheter, head of a free-market think tank in Mount Pleasant.

Republican women are divided about equally between the two top Republicans. Clinton, the only woman running on either side, has not been shy about using her gender to mobilize women. "I feel really comfortable in the kitchen," she joked in a speech last fall after warning rivals, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

Some women say they're thrilled to support a candidate who is tough, smart and also someone they can identify with. "We need all the perspectives we can get. And she brings a new perspective," says Carolyn Ahlstrom, 68, a retired psychiatric nurse from Story City.

Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, a Clinton adviser, predicts she'll win among women on caucus night because "they see her as a champion." Yet other candidates have their appeal. Clinton "would be a great president, but we've got to send a message to the world that we've got a new order in the White House," says Karen Engman, 58, of Des Moines, who backs Obama.

Jana Neff, 48, of Ankeny, says people should not make choices because they identify with someone's race or gender: "You vote for the candidate whose goals you support." Her choice is Edwards because "he has a passion about accomplishing things."

On the labor front, Edwards has the United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers unions, and statewide endorsements from the Service Employees International Union in Iowa and 11 other states. Clinton counts the government employees union AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers and at least a half-dozen other national unions in her corner.

Official union support translates into volunteers on the ground and millions in spending. AFSCME, for example, has financed an automated phone call critical of Obama's health care proposals.

Obama campaign manager David Plouffe took aim in a weekend memo at what he called "underhanded" spending by outside groups, mostly unions, to the tune of nearly $5 million.

AFSCME President Gerald McEntee wrote at The Huffington Post website that unions are not special interests — "we fight for the general interest" — and said AFSCME had given money and volunteers to past Obama campaigns.

The spat underscores the distinction the Obama campaign makes between union leaders and their rank-and-file. "We have support among union members who respond to Obama's message," Obama strategist David Axelrod says.


Union-happy Gov. eases public-worker strikes

Whether he realized it or not, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter left our public services vulnerable to crippling strikes by state employees when he signed an executive order last November allowing unions to collectively bargain with the state government.

Some 30,000 state employees, as well as those working at many other public agencies, already had a limited right to strike under Colorado's long-standing Industrial Relations Act. Yet, it was the governor's order that, for the first time, gave those employees something to really strike for: a labor contract locking in across-the-board wages and benefits.

The governor says the so-called "partnership" agreements authorized by his executive order will require labor contracts to include no-strike clauses. As a practical matter, those provisions will be meaningless. No-strike clauses are in fact a standard feature in many labor contracts, in both the public sector and in private industry. However, they rarely prevent strikes. That is because they have no effect in those circumstances when most strikes occur: where a contract either has expired or has yet to be reached.

Public services at some other levels of government in our state — like local bus service and public schools — already have been subjected to the disruption of strikes. Now, our state government faces that same threat due to the governor's executive order. And an opinion by Colorado's attorney general confirms that state employees do indeed have the power to strike.

That is why, more than ever, Colorado urgently needs to take the important step of banning strikes by all of its public employees — whether they teach our children or plow our highways.

When the General Assembly convenes in January, we will introduce a bill that does just that, and we call on our colleagues of both parties to close ranks on this crucial issue.

It is not that we don't value our state's many diligent and dedicated public servants; it is that the taxpaying public simply cannot afford to go without the services those employees provide. No less than the public's safety and welfare are at stake.

It is encouraging that the governor and some key members of his party have told the media in recent weeks that they would support a strike ban. We hope they will stick with us throughout the legislative process and see to it this prudent policy becomes law.

However, we also realize that the governor and members of his party are under tremendous pressure from big labor unions that have launched a new campaign to organize state government employees — now that the governor has opened the door wide to them.

Let us remember 2008 is an election year, and some lawmakers can expect to feel the heat from organized labor. If they support our strike ban, it could jeopardize endorsements and campaign contributions from powerful unions.

Just in the past few months, organized labor has unleashed a torrent of mailers, calls and even visits from union representatives to state employees at their homes, soliciting their membership. While those employees always have been free to join unions, the prospect of collective bargaining for wages and benefits has created a new lure for recruitment.

Union chiefs have argued they do not seek the right to strike and do not necessarily even want it. Fine; then they should have no problem embracing our ban on strikes. If, on the other hand, they are hoping that the credible threat of a strike will give them leverage at the bargaining table, then let's make sure they don't have that option.

Certainly, we are very troubled by the overall fiscal implications of the governor's order. Other states that have granted collective-bargaining power to state employee unions have paid a high price. Washington, for example, which began its experiment with collective bargaining in 2004, has seen its payroll costs soar at taxpayer expense.

At the moment, though, we are even more worried about the very real prospect of state employees walking off the job, someday soon, after their "partnership" negotiations with the governor go sour. Let's make sure that doesn't happen.


Overeager, power-hungry gov't unions

In what would appear to be a pre-emptive strike, the city’s two public safety unions have endorsed the incumbents for re-election to the Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education even before the nomination period ends.

Seats for Districts Two and Four will be up for election on April 8, along with even-numbered City Council districts and Long Beach City College trustees. Felton Williams (District Two) and Jon Meyer (District Four) are the incumbents in the school board race.

The endorsements were made on Christmas Eve in a joint press release. Candidates for all the seats have until Jan. 11 to return nomination petitions.

“We’ve been good friends with Jon for some time,” said Richard Brandt, president of the Long Beach Firefighters Association. “We believe their (Williams and Meyer) motives are pure, and felt they are the right people at the right time.”

Both the Police Officers Association and the Firefighters Association have waited to conduct interviews with candidates in the past before making endorsements. Brandt said his union may change procedures in the future as well, while Steve James, president of the POA, said that there was no real need for interviews in this election.

“This is an easy endorsement, as both of these candidates genuinely care about our children, the quality of their education and their safety,” James said.

The endorsement from the police and fire unions is highly sought after by most political candidates, both for the financial support the Political Action Committees provide and the clout of the public safety seal of approval.

“I’m just delighted that the unions have chosen to endorse me,” Meyer said. “I guess they felt secure that I am concerned with the welfare of the entire district.”

Left unspoken was the involvement two years ago of the Teachers Association of Long Beach, the teachers’ union. TALB put up a slate of candidates in the 2006 board election and won two out of the three contested seats. Mary Stanton was the only incumbent to prevail, and she had to survive a partial recount before declaring victory.

Since then, TALB leadership has fractured at least partially over its political activities, and the state California Teachers Association has taken over operations. Calls to TALB President Michael Day and TALB Executive Director Scott McVarish were not returned.

“To be honest,” Meyer said, “I wouldn’t have run for re-election, but I felt that the welfare of the district, the kids and teachers, were somewhat threatened.”

As of last Thursday, even Meyer and Williams had not returned their nomination petitions, although both had taken out papers. Neither of the City College trustees whose seats are up, Roberto Uranga in the Second District and Doug Otto in the Fourth District, has filed yet, either.

All four of the City Council incumbents have filed for re-election, and two already have competition. Gabrielle Weeks has filed to run against Suja Lowenthal in the Second District, and Al Austin will oppose Dee Andrews in the Sixth District. Patrick O’Donnell, Fourth District, and Rae Gabelich, Eighth District, both have filed to seek a second term.


Unions seek membership mandate, end to choice

Polls show that upwards of 50% of working people say they'd be interested in joining a labor union, but only 12% of America's workforce is unionized. Even acknowledging that some of those expressing an interest in joining up were fooling themselves and misleading the pollster, there is still a huge number of working people out there who would like to become union members but either don't quite know how to proceed or, frankly, are too frightened to make their feelings known, fearing management retaliation.

This discrepancy (between the number of those who'd like to join and actual membership) reflects brutal two truths: management has the statutory ability to limit organized labor's power; and companies are still dedicated to the point of obsession to keeping non-union workers away from union organizers.

While insuring that the workforce remain unrepresented has always been a cat-and-mouse game, one which management has played well through the use of flattery, deceit, rewards and intimidation, the statutory limits on labor's power are directly traceable to the Taft-Hartley Act, passed in 1947. The Act was passed by a Republican congress, with the help of southern Democrats ("Dixiecrats"), over the veto of President Truman.

Taft-Hartley not only amended or rescinded many of the bedrock components of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (commonly known as the "Wagner Act"), it more or less defanged the labor movement. It domesticated the movement. By adopting a set of "unfair labor practices" (ULPs) that applied to unions in the much the same way that the Wagner Act applied ULPs to management, Taft-Hartley effectively blunted labor's ability to resort to "radical" action.

Taft-Hartley outlawed the closed shop, eliminated the sanctity of the union shop (allowing "right-to-work" states to exist), enacted a mandatory waiting period before calling a strike, made it illegal to engage in jurisdictional strikes, secondary strikes and boycotts, gave management the right to stall and impede a membership certification vote, and expanded the NLRB's governing board from three to five members. In a word, Taft-Hartley made unions infinitely more "controllable."

Right-to-work laws allow employees the privilege of choosing whether to join or not join a union. Prior to Taft-Hartley that right didn't exist; if you hired into a facility that had a union you were required to join it, or you lost your job. Today there are 22 states with right-to-work laws on the books, mainly in the Deep South and Midwest, and four of them (Arkansas, Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma) include these right-to-work provisions in their state constitutions.

Supporters of right-to-work statutes tend to be anti-collectivist, libertarian wannabes who elevate personal choice to iconic status, and are willing to be paid less and accept substandard benefits in return for the right not to have to join a big, bad workers' collective. When you consider the simple arithmetic involved, this antipathy to unions, this flat-out rejection of economic advancement via strength-in-numbers, isn't merely irrational, it's pitiful.

Then, of course, there's the whole other matter of "free riders," those workers who benefit from union wages and benefits by hiring into a union shop but who aren't required to join the union. They're able to maintain their ideological "amateur status" while simultaneously drawing a professional wage. Not too shabby.

Also, it's no coincidence that the overwhelming majority of states with right-to-work laws have significantly poorer safety records than those without them. Say what you will about labor unions, their safety records have always been demonstrably superior to those of non-union facilities, and this has remained true even after passage (in 1970) of OSHA.

Since the enactment of the Taft-Hartley Act there have been a few half-hearted attempts at repealing all or parts of it, most recently under the Carter and Clinton administrations. Vehement Republican opposition and tepid Democratic support were responsible for the defeat of these attempts. There are simply too many lobbying groups opposed to it, too much money arrayed against it, to give anyone hope that the Act will ever be repealed.

But what would the country look like if that were to happen? How would repeal of Taft-Hartley affect organized labor?

In truth, it could be argued that too much has occurred in the intervening 60 years to result in the radicalization of the labor movement. The connection to labor's revolutionary ideological roots has been severed. The face of the American worker isn't what it was in 1947.

Yes, without Taft-Hartley there would be more national membership drives, more people being allowed to join unions, all of which would be a salutary, democratic effect of repeal, one that would benefit working people. But, arguably, the country is too "grown-up," too cynical and world weary, to engage in radical industrial actions such as secondary strikes and boycotts, even if they were made legal.

With so many workers now invested in the stock market, and union expectations and identity having been profoundly warped over the last half-century, it would be hard to find a critical mass willing to engage in the more radical actions made available by repeal of Taft-Hartley. In any event, to get back anything close to the mindset labor once had would require a lengthy period of adjustment.


Union locals bristle at top-down endorsement rule

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Metal Trades Council was finalizing plans to announce their endorsement of a presidential candidate earlier this month when "DC leadership" stopped the process, according to the local union president.

"We were about to embark on the process that would not favor the beltway candidate," MTC President Paul O'Connor said Monday, referring to Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

Earlier in the day, Somersworth resident John Joyal, who belongs to another Shipyard union, sent a letter to newspapers saying shipyard workers did their homework and that "the endorsement has taken place, however word has it the BIG shots in DC wouldn't let the message be heard publicly."

Joyal, a member of the American Federation of Government Employees, also offered his personal endorsement of former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. "I have a sneaking suspicion that people inside the beltway are trying to pick our candidate, and I'm offended by it," he said in an interview.

O'Connor, who personally backs Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., would not say who the MTC was poised to endorse, but he made it clear it was not going to be Clinton.

He said the council was told that it could not endorse a candidate because it is an affiliate of a department within the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and therefore is not allowed to adopt policies that conflict with those of President John J. Sweeney, who said there will be no endorsement this primary.

O'Connor said there's nothing new about local affiliates having to fall in line with in-house mandates — even though endorsement rules have "never been stuffed down our throats in the past" — but what is new is the policy impacting the primary.

That prevents some New Hampshire unions from publicly getting behind a candidate in a state that helps set the tone for the rest of the nominating race, he said.

Asked about the change, O'Connor said the AFL-CIO was protecting its "status quo" interests. He noted his 2,400-strong council, comprised of 11 trade unions, is stronger now than it was in the last presidential contest — the council prevailed in its 2005 fight against the base realignment and closure process and it's status as a "strong political force" was strengthened with its support of Carol Shea-Porter's successful 2006 election to Congress.

A phone message left with the AFL-CIO on Monday was not immediately returned.

On the AFL-CIO website, there is an Executive Council statement from August saying the union — after thousands of its members heard from the candidates — "decided not to proceed with a decision process that would lead to support for a single candidate at this time."

The decision came after the union found the Democratic candidates strong on issues of most concern to working people, experienced enough to lead the nation and it was clear "our members support a number of the candidates — many of our union members have told us all the candidates are impressive and they are eager to support many of them."

O'Connor said the national group "found a way to legally quote-unquote silence us, and it's quite offensive."

Four days after the council was ordered in early December not to endorse a candidate, O'Connor said he received a call from one of the AFL-CIO bosses looking for his take on the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades staging, at the shipyard, a news conference announcing its endorsement of Clinton.

O'Connor said he wasn't having any of it, telling the IUPAT President James Williams that if he allowed it the local council would be forced to have their own news conference. The IUPAT, unlike the local council, does not operate under the same chain of command with the AFL-CIO, O'Connor said.

Numerous candidates have visited the shipyard for private tours in recent months.


Pro-union coalition's Casino War TV ad

Related Posts with Thumbnails