Writers Guild mistreats its News Guild workers

Sure to delight movie studio chiefs and producers everywhere, the striking Writers Guild of America is about to be struck by its own downtrodden employees.

The East Coast branch of the striking guild - which has been fighting Hollywood brass for two months - has been waging a behind-the-scenes war with its own unionized staff members. The angry workers claim the writers are trying to stiff them on wage increases they negotiated last year.

The embarrassing battle began in early November over the staffers' labor contract, which was ratified in October but has yet to be signed. They claim WGA East Executive Director Mona Mangan revised the contract after it was ratified and insisted they sign it.

The 19 WGA staffers include membership coordinators and assistants who have been providing support to WGA writers striking against the major media companies.

The Newspaper Guild, which reps the employees, yesterday filed countercharges against the WGA with the National Labor Relations Board alleging unfair labor practices. The WGA filed charges against the Newspaper Guild on Dec. 19.

"It's like a car salesman demanding that you sign a contract after he's changed all the numbers you had agreed upon," said Newspaper Guild President Bill O'Meara.

The standoff became heated last month when Mangan told staffers their bonuses would be delayed until the contract dispute was resolved, according to e-mails reviewed by The Post.

"Frankly we cannot believe that the same people who we visit in [union] shops and see on the picket line every week, would sanction such Grinch-like behavior," O'Meara said in an e-mail to Mangan last month.

The bonuses were paid but both sides still refused to sign the contract.

WGA writers have been striking for more than eight weeks in an attempt to get more pay for distribution of their content on the Web and other new media outlets.

"This issue is really not impacting the strike nor our operations on a daily basis," a WGA spokeswoman said. "It's strictly a contract interpretation issue and we think the fairest way to resolve this is to leave it in the hands of the NLRB. We are confident the board will give us a resolution."


Unions bankroll Clinton, Edwards in NH

In an attempt to shore up support for certain candidates, outside political groups are bankrolling mailers and radio advertisements in New Hampshire in the run-up to Tuesday's presidential primary. Most of the effort is taking place on the Democratic side, with candidates Hillary Clinton and John Edwards benefiting from the spending sprees.

Nationally, "we've had more groups get involved earlier in a much bolder way than we've seen in the past," said Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Generally as a rule, there's more on the Democratic side, because the labor unions are so big and important."

Thus far, outside groups have spent far less in New Hampshire than in Iowa, where presidential caucuses took place yesterday. But labor unions and union-backed groups have still dedicated tens of thousands of dollars to New Hampshire advertising, much of it in mailer form, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.

In some cases, independent groups use their financial clout to criticize a particular candidate, rather than distributing positive advertisements about their preferred candidate. Candidates are barred from coordinating their efforts with outside groups, a regulation that allows candidates to distance themselves from the actions of such groups.

"What they're very good at is putting attacks in place that candidates would be uncomfortable doing in their own voices," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. "The candidate who benefits doesn't carry any penalty, doesn't carry the sense that the person has gone negative."

In recent weeks, voters have received mail criticizing Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's health care plan as "a band-aid solution" that would leave "15 million Americans uninsured." The mailers were crafted to imply that Edwards is the favored candidate of the group distributing the mail: One mailer quotes Edwards criticizing Obama's plan. But the mailers were actually created by a committee of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which endorsed Clinton and is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to support her candidacy.

Altogether, AFSCME spent nearly $80,000 on New Hampshire mailers opposing Obama in recent weeks, according to FEC filings. The group has expended roughly the same amount on mailers supporting Clinton.

AFSCME has also paid for radio spots in New Hampshire, said GOP consultant Dave Carney, who recently heard one of the ads "ripping Obama's health care plan."

In addition, Clinton has the support of the American Federation of Teachers and Emily's List, which is dedicated to helping pro-choice Democratic women win political office. In an attempt to increase turnout and reach more than 50,000 Democratic female voters in the run-up to the primary, Emily's List has paid for pro-Clinton mailers in the state. The group is targeting women who have voted in the past and who tend to decide on a candidate in the final days before an election.

Edwards, meanwhile, is the beneficiary of the Alliance for a New America, an independent organization linked to the Service Employees International Union. The group has paid for mailers in New Hampshire, and has focused its efforts on touting Edwards as the candidate working to change the Washington political system. In Iowa, the group spent more than $750,000 on television advertisements that promoted Edwards's positions on issues such as trade deals and banning campaign money from lobbyists.

Although Edwards won free advertising from the Alliance for a New America - a so-called 527 group - the alliance's efforts also exposed him to criticism from Obama. Edwards has repeatedly criticized such groups, and called for the ads to be taken down. In reference to the ads, Obama recently said that, "all of us have to try to practice what we preach."

Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd has enjoyed a boost from a political committee of the International Association of Firefighters. In New Hampshire, the group has spent nearly $30,000 to support Dodd, according to FEC filings.

No outside groups have distributed mailers or run advertisements on Obama's behalf in New Hampshire, and Obama has attempted to turn that distance into a campaign issue. "The case has never been clearer - this kind of politics needs to end," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe wrote in a recent fundraising e-mail.

In past elections, one Democrat has frequently attracted the support of most labor union groups, Jamieson said. Because union support this year is split, "it's more difficult for people to get a handle on a triangulated attack," she said, pointing to the AFSCME mailers critical of Obama that cite Edwards.

On the Republican side, outside groups have been less active in New Hampshire.

The Log Cabin Republicans, which supports gay rights, has paid for radio advertisements opposing Republican Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, according to the group. One of the ads focuses on Romney's record on taxes as governor of Massachusetts, and is part of the group's larger effort to highlight what Log Cabin officials describe as Romney's flip-flops on various issues.

Republican Mike Huckabee has both benefited and come under fire from outside groups. The independent group Trust Huckabee has made automated phone calls in New Hampshire critical of Republican candidate John McCain, according to news reports. But the Club for Growth, a group that pushes for limited government and lower taxes, has devoted resources to attacking Huckabee.

But for all the outside group money pouring into New Hampshire, political observers described the efforts as relatively muted. The action, they said, has been in Iowa.

"One of the reasons why we may not have seen as much activity in New Hampshire this year is because, at least it seems right now, so much of the final outcome might be determined by the balloting of independent voters," Corrado said. "They are not a group that interest groups" can easily target, he said.

Because participation in the Iowa caucuses is relatively low compared to the state's population, outside groups can potentially have greater influence there, Corrado said, pointing to the effort Emily's List made at turning out Iowa caucus-goers.

And until the Iowa contests are decided, outside groups might not know which candidates to attack, said Dante Scala, as associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. "Things in primary environments can take abrupt shifts," he said. A month ago, Scala said, "if you're an outside group intent on taking out John McCain, you'd say, 'Hey, our job's already been done.'" McCain has since surged in New Hampshire opinion polls.

With Iowa's caucuses concluded, groups may shift their efforts to New Hampshire, some observers said. But Carney thinks such last-ditch spending in the state is unlikely. "It's too late," he said. "I don't see there being a lot more to it."


Union 'special interests' abound

"Special interests control our government while members of the middle class who work hard and play by the rules are left behind." - "Alliance for a New America" website

Our focus today is Alliance for a New America, the shadowy advocacy group that praises John Edwards as the candidate who will sweep the "special interests" out of Washington. The organization emerged out of nowhere over the last few weeks with a series of mailers and television and radio ads in Iowa that have cost over $1 million, and seems likely to recede back into the shadows as soon as the election is over. Edwards has said he has no influence over the group, even though his former manager, Nick Baldick, has been identified as its organizing genius.

Hypocrisy alert?

The Facts

Alliance for New America is an independent advocacy group, known as a 527, after the item in the IRS code under which it operates. Under Federal Election Commission rules, it can raise and spend virtually unlimited sums of money promoting political issues, as long as it does not advocate the election or defeat of specific candidates. By promoting the candidacy of John Edwards without specifically calling on Iowans to vote for him, the Alliance appears to be operating in the gray area of election law.

Edwards has promised to "sever the connection" between politics and lobbying by cracking down on special interest money and inaugurating a new era of transparency and honesty. Alliance for a New America would appear to be a good place to start.

According to recent FEC filings, the principal financial contributor to the Alliance is the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, which includes many health care workers. During the month of December alone, SEIU locals around the country contributed around $1 million to the Alliance. A further $495,000 was contributed by a company called Oak Spring Farms, which is controlled by Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, the 97-year-old widow of billionaire Paul Mellon.

Barack Obama has dubbed all these funds "special interest" money, much to the ire of the SEIU and other unions. His campaign manager, David Plouffe, accused the Edwards campaign of "exploiting the biggest loophole" in the campaign finance system.

"It is completely out of bounds for someone to say that regular working Americans are somehow a special interest," said Dave Regan, president of SEIU district 1199 and a moving force behind the Alliance. "Our workers include nurses, health care workers, social workers, janitors. We are not some narrow special interest in the way that term is usually used."

Whether or not you consider organized labor a "special interest," Nick Baldick constitutes a prime example of someone who flits with ease from the world of political campaigns to the world of lobbying and public relations. He ran New Hampshire for Gore back in 2000. He then joined a lobbying/political consultancy group called Dewey Square, who registered him as a federal lobbyist on behalf of Northwest Airlines between 2000 and 2002. Dewey Square later said that Baldick had been identified "incorrectly" as a lobbyist and was in fact a "public affairs adviser."

Being identified as a lobbyist could cause problems for Baldick, who has contributed money to Edwards in both the 2004 and 2008 election cycles. Edwards says he has not "taken a dime" from federal lobbyists, and has promised not to employ anyone who has recently been registered as a lobbyist in his administration.

Baldick served as campaign manager for Edwards during the 2004 campaign, and provided services to the Edwards campaign as recently as June this year through his company S&B Public Solutions, according to the FEC records. He has also provided services to the Clinton campaign. A spokesman for Edwards said that the campaign had severed all relations with Baldick since he began working with Alliance for a New America. It is illegal for campaigns to coordinate activities with 527 groups.

UPDATE: The Obama campaign is backpedalling over its use of the term "special interest" spending to describe union money donated to 527s such as Alliance for a New America. It is a sensitive matter for them, as it has got them into trouble with the unions. I relied on a slide presentation by campaign manager David Plouffe when I wrote that Obama had depicted the 527 money as "special interest" money.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton says the language used in the slide presentation was an "oversight" and has subsequently been changed. See the rewritten version here. See slide 5, which now refers to "Outside Group Spending." Catty references by the Obama campaign to "special interest" spending by organized labor can be officially consigned to the Memory Hole.

The Pinocchio Test

Demonstrating "coordination" between the Edwards campaign and Alliance for a New America is extremely difficult. But there still seems something not entirely kosher about an advocacy group funded by organized labor and one of the richest families in America railing against "special interests." Let me know what you think.


Leno faces union disciplinary probe over jokes

The striking writers union told member Jay Leno on Thursday that he violated its rules by penning and delivering punch lines in his first "Tonight Show" monologue in two months on NBC the night before.

NBC quickly fired back, alleging Leno was right and the Writers Guild of America was wrong. "The WGA agreement permits Jay Leno to write his own monologue for 'The Tonight Show,'" NBC said in a statement Thursday. "The WGA is not permitted to implement rules that conflict with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the studios and the WGA."

The agreement between the guild and producers expired Oct. 31 but its terms remain in effect, said Andrea Hartman, executive vice president and deputy general counsel for NBC Universal. She cited federal labor law.

According to the contract, "material written by the person who delivers it on the air" is exempted from the agreement. The exception applies to shows outside prime-time, which includes NBC's "Tonight Show." Leno did not mention the dispute during Thursday's show, which he opened with another monologue.

For its part, the union argues that it's on firm ground in the context of either its "strike rules" or the expired contract. "Our position is that our strike rules don't conflict here and, because he's (Leno) always been employed as a writer" on the show, the contract exception doesn't apply to him, said guild spokesman Neal Sacharow.

Sacharow declined comment on whether the guild would move against Leno. But he said any violation of strike rules would be brought before a union compliance committee for evaluation and a recommendation for action.

That could mean a fine or loss of union membership.

The guild's scolding of Leno came despite his public support for the union, including delivering doughnuts to a picket line. Leno also paid his employees' salaries — except for the writers — while he was off the air, and "Tonight Show" writers were pointedly absent from a picket line outside his studio Wednesday.

Leno is "busying himself with the show," his publicist, Dick Guttman, said Thursday when asked if the comedian had any comment.

Meanwhile, viewers thirsting for laughs welcomed their favorites back in their first shows since the strike took them off the air Nov. 5. Late-night leader Leno's "Tonight Show" on NBC was seen by 7.2 million viewers while David Letterman had 5.5 million people watch the "Late Show" on CBS. For Letterman, the audience was 45 percent more than his pre-strike average this season; for Leno, it was a 43 percent bump and his biggest audience in two years, Nielsen Media Research said.

Much of Leno's first monologue discussed the strike that kept him absent, and he poked fun at NBC Universal boss Jeff Zucker's "mansion." But there were also standard monologue jokes about Paul McCartney's divorce, the weather in Iowa and Britney Spears.

Leno said he wrote his own jokes and that he didn't turn to "outside guys."

"I'm doing what I did the day I started," he said. "I write jokes and wake my wife up in the middle of the night and say, `Honey, is this funny?' So if this monologue doesn't work it's my wife's fault."

He maintained: "We are following the guild thing. We can write for ourselves."

The East and West Coast chapters of the Writers Guild adopted strike rules that prohibit guild members from "performing any writing services during a strike for any and all struck companies." Leno's 19 writers remain on strike.

"This prohibition includes all writing by any guild member that would be performed on-air by that member, including monologues, characters and featured appearances, if any portion of that written material is customarily written by striking writers," the rules state.

Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles and a former counsel to the writers' guild, said the guild's contract "is notoriously difficult to interpret."

For instance, past contracts have specifically allowed people to perform their own material, he said. He's unsure if the issue has ever been brought before a guild Strike Rules Compliance Committee, which could fine a member or throw the person out of the union.

It's doubtful that would happen to Leno, he said.

"That would probably be an outrage," he said. "It is not something as a matter of policy that you're going to want to do — throw one of the highest-profile guys out of the guild."

The union rules could present a host of issues: if a guild member is prohibited from performing in a character for which writers normally provide material, what to do about Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert, who performs his entire show in character? Colbert's program, and "The Daily Show," return to the air without writers on Monday.

Leno received support from fellow late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, who criticized WGA members for picketing Leno and NBC's Conan O'Brien. "I don't want to depart too much from the party line, but I think it's ridiculous," Kimmel said on Wednesday's show. "Jay Leno, he paid his staff while they were out. Conan did the same thing. I don't know. I just think at a certain point you back off a little bit."

While Leno's writers are on strike, Letterman's Worldwide Pants production company reached a separate deal to bring writers back. Through the deal, writers were also back at work at Craig Ferguson's "Late Late Show" on CBS.

At least on opening night, viewers were more intrigued by O'Brien's attempt to navigate without writers than Ferguson's work with his full staff. O'Brien's "Late Night" had 2.8 million viewers, up 37 percent from his pre-strike average, Nielsen said. Ferguson was seen by 2.2 million people, up 28 percent.

The night was essentially a wash for Kimmel, who is working without writers. His ABC audience of 1.8 million was slightly down from his season average.


Union-friendly Gov. a Liar and State Bar Couldn't Care Less

Lars Larson called me this afternoon with the news: The Oregon State Bar has decided to take no action on coimplaints that the governor of Oregon "failed to tell the truth about when he knew of an illegal sexual relationship" between Neil Goldschmidt and a 14-year-old girl.

Larson and James Johnson of Newberg filed separate complaints regarding Ted Kulongoski's truthfulness. The Bar announced its decision to keep its head firmly buried in the sand in a Dec. 28 letter, released in the infamous media lull between Christmas and the New Year's holidays.

The Bar's investigation was so cursory and superficial that its general counsel never interviewed either Fred Leonhardt or Kulogonski in person.

Leonhardt has long argued that he informed Kulongoski of Goldschmidt's sexual abuse/statuatory rape on at least two different occasions, and passed a lie detector test to that effect during a state agency's investigation into the ethics and standards of Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto.

Chris L. Mullmann, an assistant general counsel with the Bar, reasoned that Leonhardt and Kulongoski have "differing recollections of events that occurred more than a decade ago," but argues that both "are credible in their recollections."

That's a fascinating conclusion: Leonhardt and Kulongoski have both proclaimed the other a liar and Mullmann finds both conclusions reasonable.

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.

Unlike the governor, Leonhardt's truthfulness has been documented by a polygraph machine and confirmed by the polygraph operator. Yet Mullmann blithely and cavalierly dismisses that fact, noting that "the court issued an exhaustive and unanimous opinion concluding that polygraph evidence is not admissible in any civil or criminal trial or any other legal proceeding which is subject to rules of evidence. For that reason, I give little weight to the polygraph evidence."

How convenient. I wonder if this is a good time to remind everyone that Mary Oberst, Kulongoski's wife, was on the bar staff from June 1985 through February 2004.

Just when you think the Bar's argument can't get any worse, Mullmann notes the following:

Governor Kulongoski contends that if he had known of the illicit relationship, he never would have appointed Governor Goldschmidt to head the Oregon Department of Education. Governor Kulongoski also contends that under those circumstances, he would not have been urging Governor Goldschmidt to remain in office. These contensions support Governor Kulongoski's recollection of events.

That is unbelievable. That's the laughable Kari Chisholm defense, named in honor of the Democratic errand boy who runs the Blue Oregon Glee Club.

Kulongoski appointed Goldschmidt to head the Higher Ed board -- not the Department of Education, as Mullmann claims -- because he (a) didn't care that Goldschmidt raped a 14-year-old girl; or (b) didn't think the story would ever become public. Now the Kulongoski apologists are arguing the governor couldn't possibly have been that stupid or immoral.

Wanna bet?

To understand why Kulongoski has long insisted Leonhardt never told him about Goldschmidt, rather than the slightly more plausible explanation that he just doesn't remember a 16-year-old conversation, we need only review state law and the Bar's rules regarding the mandatory reporting of child abuse.

Attorneys are mandatory reporters. According to Bar guidelines, they "must report any 'reasonable suspicion' of child abuse according to Oregon law."

Kulogonski can't admit that Leonhardt told him about Goldschmidt's child abuse because he never reported that abuse to the proper authorities.

I never would have guessed that terse denial -- or outright lies -- would serve Kulongoski as well as it did. But as one veteran of Bar politics reminded me Friday, the Bar is forever lobbying the governor's office on such issues as judges' salaries or updated facilities, so there's not a chance in hell that the Bar would come down hard on the man.

I've talked to enough people to know that Kulongoski isn't fooling anyone. It's no coincidence that his approval ratings have floundered. But it is still disappointing that the Bar refused to even interview Leonhardt, a thoroughly persuasive and believable witness.

- Steve Duin


AFSCME-fueled Dem rejected in Iowa

They rolled the dice.

Whether it was because they were eager to leave behind the bitter divides of the last two decades or because they wanted to send a message that a small white state could transcend the issue of race, Iowa voters handed Senator Barack Obama a victory here Thursday and supported his improbable candidacy in defiance of those who warned he was too inexperienced in world affairs.

Instead, what seemed to drive them was the idea that Mr. Obama would present a new face for America in the world, with a coalition of Democrats and independents dispelling skepticism and flooding caucuses in all corners of the state to support a man who came to Washington only three years ago.

“We are one people,” Mr. Obama said. “And our time for change has come.”

It was only a year ago that Mr. Obama, 46, a first-term senator from Illinois, formally decided to seek the Democratic nomination, which even some of his closest advisers feared could diminish his long-term potential. As he learned to become a presidential candidate on the fly, seasoned political hands worked to build an organization here unlike any other, which ultimately helped to nearly double the turnout from the caucuses four years ago.

Mr. Obama praised Iowa voters for casting away a litany of concerns that his rivals had aired about his candidacy, like too little experience and questions of electability. But he conceded that his victory was only a beginning.

“This was the moment when we tore down barriers that have divided us for too long,” Mr. Obama said. “When we finally united people of all parties and ages.”

The strength of his performance — and a strong finish by former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina — shook the confidence of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign and created fresh uncertainty in the Democratic nominating contest. Even before Mr. Obama’s victory had been formally declared, the Clinton campaign announced that former President Bill Clinton would be dispatched to New Hampshire for a five-day blitz before the primary there on Tuesday. (It was Mr. Clinton who suggested that Mr. Obama’s candidacy would be a roll of the dice, a phrase that Mr. Obama turned into a mantra in recent days, often when appearing before overflowing crowds.)

“I congratulate Senator Obama and Senator Edwards,” Mrs. Clinton, of New York, said to supporters, with her husband and her daughter, Chelsea, behind her. “Together we have presented the case for change.”

With a confident smile, she added, “We’re going to get up tomorrow and keep pushing as hard as we can.”

After a yearlong campaign built upon a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign and a network of grass-roots organizers, Mr. Obama was supported Thursday evening by younger voters, voters looking for change, independents and very liberal Democrats. At the same time, he was the first choice of one-third of female voters.

In fact, the poll of Democrats as they entered the caucuses suggested that women were closely divided between Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton. Among men, Mr. Obama did better, according to the poll conducted by Edison/Mitofsky for the National Election Pool of television networks and The Associated Press.

While Mr. Obama’s candidacy gained steadily throughout the year, he also has capitalized on an unsteady electorate craving change. One of the largest applause lines he receives continues to be when he declares that President Bush will be out of office in only a year.

“The huge difference was that we had the greatest organization ever built in this state,” said David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Mr. Obama’s campaign. “And it was built on the backs of idealistic kids who came in here not just because they believed in Obama, but they wanted to change the course of history and the world.”

The Iowa caucuses winnowed the field of Democratic presidential candidates. Senators Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware dropped out of the race after the caucuses.

“One of the charges against Iowa is that we don’t really represent the rest of the country, and here’s a chance to make a statement about the inclusiveness of Iowa,” said Jon Muller, 42, who voiced his support for Mr. Obama at Precinct 73. “I’m just ready for a change, as opposed to a Clinton or Bush.”

At his caucus site at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Des Moines, supporters of Mr. Obama spilled out of the room, as they did in locations across the state.

The results of the Iowa caucuses, with Mr. Edwards and Mrs. Clinton in a narrow fight for second place, heightened the importance of the New Hampshire primary, where a trove of independent voters were already leaning toward Mr. Obama.

Mr. Edwards promised that his candidacy would continue. With his wife, Elizabeth, standing behind him, Mr. Edwards spoke to supporters at in Des Moines.

“The one thing that’s clear from this result here tonight is that the status quo lost and change won,” Mr. Edwards said.

Even though the Clinton advisers began lowering expectations for Mrs. Clinton’s performance weeks ago, saying that she had faced hardened, negative perceptions among Iowa voters that stemmed from her partisan and secretive image as first lady, the results raised new questions about her candidacy.

Indeed, in the closing days of the race here, some of her advisers began recalling that Mrs. Clinton’s deputy campaign manager recommended in May that she skip the caucuses altogether, after internal polling found that she had high negative ratings in the state.

She decided to compete here in spite of the fact that neither she nor her husband had deep political roots in the state.

Still, Mrs. Clinton’s supporters had expected her to win.

“I expected her to be first,” said Mario Gandelsonas, 68, an architect from New York who supports Mrs. Clinton and was in Des Moines on a work project. “But this is just the beginning. I know Hillary. She’ll be first, and she’ll beat them all in New Hampshire. This will give her incentive to fight even harder.”


Change to Win stages Puerto Rico raid on AFL-CIO

The competition between the two most powerful labor federations in the United States has moved to Puerto Rico, where "Change to Win", whose leadership includes New York-based Puerto Rican union leader Dennis Rivera, is trying to compete with the teacher's union, the island's largest.

By the middle of January, Change to Win expects to hold a meeting on the island in which the union will lay out instructions on how it will try to displace the Teacher's Federation of Puerto Rico from its position as exclusive representative of the tens of thousands of teachers working in the public school system.

This labor drama is much more than just a challenge to represent workers, but may well be the battle that marks a major step backward for the AFL-CIO in this Caribbean nation.

The battle takes place in anticipation of a major teacher's strike that threatens to paralyze the public school system and in which Change to Win (United for Change) is positioned as a strategic ally of the island's autonomous government, which wants to push the Teacher's Federation out.


Union political combat shifts from Iowa to NH

Computerized phone calls noting that Sen. John McCain hasn't signed a pledge not to raise taxes. Hundreds of thousands of glossy union mailers using an image of two Band-Aids to illustrate the flaws in Sen. Barack Obama's health-care plan. And personal calls to homes assailing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for disguising her abortion-rights record.

As the 2008 presidential candidates make their quick pivot into New Hampshire today, residents there are already being inundated with negative messages from campaigns and outside groups hoping to sway the primary's outcome. The atmosphere promises to be more intense than in Iowa, with highly charged rhetoric from labor unions and other outside political groups jamming mailboxes and phone lines.

Unions and outside groups have reported spending more than $4 million over the past two months, emboldened by a recent Supreme Court decision overturning a section of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance act meant to curtail union and corporate sponsorship of issue ads during the tense final weeks of a campaign.

Candidates are also becoming more combative. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who lost his lead in the Republican race in recent days to McCain (Ariz.) and is using his personal fortune to help finance his campaign, has organized telephone calls declaring that McCain "is against repealing the death tax," twice voted against President Bush's tax cuts and "repeatedly refused to sign a no-new-tax pledge."

"That is not the kind of leadership we want in the White House," the recorded calls state.

Under the tightly compressed campaign schedule, in which even the best-financed candidates are stretching to compete in dozens of contests before Feb. 5, the added messages from outside groups are intended to make a big difference.

"We understand it's very difficult for the candidates to play in all these states, and yet we have members in all those places," said Ed McElroy, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which has already sent thousands of mailers in New Hampshire supporting Clinton (D-N.Y.). "There's no question the labor activity is going to prove to be very important."

The teachers union has joined with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the political group Emily's List to mount one of the most aggressive drives in New Hampshire, with mailers and radio ads echoing Clinton's campaign message.

One flyer from the teachers group calls Clinton "ready to deliver change -- from Day 1." An AFSCME mailer says her health-care plan is "born of experience." And mail from Emily's List calls her a "tested and proven" leader. AFSCME political director Larry Scanlon said the union will shift 70 to 80 staff members from Iowa to New Hampshire to help with door-knocking and organizational efforts.

Outside groups are not permitted to coordinate or even discuss their efforts with the campaigns. But close ties between a former adviser to Democrat John Edwards and another labor-sponsored group, the Alliance for a New America, prompted Obama (D-Ill.) to raise the issue on the stump.

The group, financed by wealthy individuals and several local chapters of the Service Employees International Union, has flooded New Hampshire with flyers promoting Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina. Obama's campaign compared the effort to interventions by "special interest" groups, provoking a backlash from the unions.

McElroy said he "took umbrage" at the comparison. "Our members have as much a right as Oprah Winfrey does to participate in the process," he said. (Winfrey has campaigned for Obama.)

Other groups have also joined the battle in New Hampshire, including Americans for Tax Reform. The anti-tax group says it persuaded McCain to take its no-new-tax pledge during his 2000 presidential campaign, but not this time. It suffered adverse publicity in 2005 and 2006 when McCain's investigative hearings into the Jack Abramoff scandal concluded that the group was used as a financial "conduit" by Abramoff's tribal gaming clients, who wanted to thwart rival casinos.

The group's founder, Grover Norquist, said yesterday that the New Hampshire phone calls he organized to 430,000 households have nothing to do with the Abramoff controversy. The calls identify all the Republican candidates who have already taken the tax pledge, and they urge voters to call McCain and former senator Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) to press them to do the same. "I have told McCain we will praise him to the sky when he takes this pledge," Norquist said.

The Life and Liberty PAC, run by longtime antiabortion activist Mary Lewis, has spent more than $100,000 since early December on mostly live calls to voters in New Hampshire and other early-primary states, all critical of Clinton's pro-choice voting record. The group may expand the calls to attack Obama and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican, if necessary, Lewis said.

Antiabortion forces aligned with Republicans do not intervene much in the Democratic primaries, instead saving their efforts for the general election. But Lewis said she wants to counter Clinton's efforts to portray herself as a centrist and to appeal to evangelical voters, calling it "fundamental dishonesty."

The phone calls' script says: "Hillary Rodham Clinton is a strong supporter of unrestricted abortion on demand. . . . She is successfully downplaying the extremism of her pro-abortion position in order to win swing voter support."

Many of the groups are relying on automated phone calls to disseminate their messages. Scott Reed, a veteran political consultant who ran Robert J. Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, said phone campaigning has risen dramatically over the years because costs are low and messages can be rapidly adapted to shifting campaign requirements.

"You can make a decision at 3:30 p.m. and be on the phone by 7 p.m. touching thousands of households," Reed said. "People get more comfortable when they feel reached out to by the campaign, especially in a phone call. It's more personable."

Reed said automated calls, or "robo calls," tend to be more risky, with lingering uncertainties about how they affect voters. There is also a danger of voters becoming angry if they receive too many such calls. "Clearly the reports from Iowa are that the calling was bordering on the overwhelming, with people being left messages and being contacted at night," he said.

Steve Duprey, McCain's co-chairman in New Hampshire, said he has received lots of anti-McCain literature and phone calls -- especially from Romney's campaign. "I admire their tenacity, if not their judgment. I get all the mail, too. So far, I found it unpersuasive, but I am glad he is sending it to me," Duprey said. His wife, Susan, said the family's phone in Concord gets about half a dozen political calls each night.


Huckabee stiffed Machinists

Looks like former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) will be among the first to cross the television writers’ picket line when Jay Leno goes back on NBC’s “Tonight Show.”

Huckabee, who’s seeking the Republican presidential nomination, will go ahead with a scheduled appearance when Leno returns to the air tonight. TV writers have been on strike for the past two months for a new contract that includes a fair share of revenues from Internet and electronic distribution of material they’ve written.

According to The New York Times, Huckabee today:

"... professed his support for the striking television writers union just a few hours before he was expected to board a plane to for a taping of the “Tonight Show” with Jay Leno where he will face a vocal picket line of striking writers."

Uh, sorry. Expressing support for striking workers means not crossing the picket line.

Huckabee was endorsed in the Republican primary by the Machinists (IAM), who also endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the Democratic primary. Tom Buffenbarger, president of the Machinists, had this to say:

"Governor Huckabee should not cross the picket line. We have made that abundantly clear to his campaign. With such missteps, he risks losing the support his jobs and economic policies have won for him among trade unionists who will attend the GOP caucuses in Iowa or will vote in the later primaries."

David Letterman also is back on the air. But unlike Leno, his Worldwide Pants production company, which produces Letterman’s “Late Show” and Craig Ferguson’s “Late Late Show” (both on CBS), worked with the writers to reach interim agreements.

In the last round of bargaining early last month, as negotiators for the Writers Guild of America were preparing a counteroffer to the producers’ demand that the writers withdraw half a dozen critical proposals, the TV executives walked out of the contract negotiations Dec. 10.

Huckabee will be the second Republican presidential candidate to cross the picket line. Last month, Rep. Ronald Paul (Texas) crossed the picket line to appear on ABC’s “The View.”

Leading Democratic candidates have been supportive of the writers’ strike. They have refused to cross the picket lines, and the Democratic National Committee canceled a scheduled Dec. 10 debate on CBS to honor picket lines if a strike by CBS News writers were called.


Protecting Iowa's Right to Work law

Today Rep. Linda Miller (R-Davenport) announced her intention to seek re-election to the Iowa House. Miller serves District 82 which includes the city of Bettendorf.

“I worked hard to protect Iowa’s status as a right-to-work state this year, I will continue to preserve that status and encourage new job growth and business expansion in our state,” said Miller. “It’s also important for our state to address the health care problems that Iowans are facing. I will work to make sure the adults and children of Iowa have affordable and accessible health care.”

Upon graduation from high school, Miller graduated from Iowa Methodist School of Nursing, attended Drake University and the University of Iowa. Linda is currently a registered nurse. She belongs to several civic and professional organizations including Davenport One, the Bettendorf Chamber of Commerce, Bettendorf Rotary, Scott Community College Foundation Board and Scott and Iowa Medical Alliance.

“Linda is a tremendous asset to our Republican caucus in the Iowa House,” said House Republican Leader Christopher Rants (R-Sioux City). “She’s been a leader, a hard worker and an intent listener to her constituents during her tenure.”

Linda and her husband, Harold, have six grown children, one grandson, and one granddaughter. They attend Our Savior Lutheran Church in Bettendorf.

In the House, Rep. Miller serves on the House Education, State Government and Human Resources Committees and Health and Human Services Budget Subcommittee.


Teamster organizer blames others for rejection

A Long Island City-based Teamsters local charged that online grocery distributor Fresh Direct intimidated warehouse workers to prevent them from voting in favor of joining the union during an election last week.

Elected officials at the city and federal level had called on federal immigration officials last week to halt their audit of Fresh Direct, an online grocer located on Borden Avenue that delivers to the five boroughs, after nearly 100 warehouse workers walked off the job in early December. Teamsters Local 805 President Sandy Pope said she believes Fresh Direct initiated the audit to prevent a union drive at the company.

"Fresh Direct pulled out all the stops to keep a union out and through intimidation, fear and heartless treatment of its workers the company succeeded," she said. "What the company has done is despicable, but we ask now for Fresh Direct to stop their union-busting and to pledge that they will not retaliate against any worker who was brave enough to stand up for a union."

Only about 500 of the 900 warehouse workers at Fresh Direct were able to vote last week on whether to unionize with Local 805 because of the walkout, Pope said. The workers voted 426-73 against affiliating with the union, she said. Only 31 workers voted to join another union, the United Food & Commercial Workers, Pope said.

Fresh Direct spokesman Jim Moore said the company recognizes employees' rights to unionize. "By a wide margin, the employees of Fresh Direct's plant operations voted against joining a union," he said. "With the vote behind us and our employees' decision clear, we are looking forward to focusing on the busy holiday season and on the months and years ahead."

The warehouse workers had walked out or were suspended last month after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement began auditing the company because many of the workers could not fill out paperwork for the investigation, Pope said.

An ICE spokesman said the agency could neither confirm nor deny any audit. Local 805 had accused ICE of breaking its own internal policies by conducting an audit in the midst of a union drive, but an immigration spokeswoman said the agency's policy would not prevent it from investigating a company if the department suspected irregular activity.

Many of the workers who walked out have not yet been able to pick up their final paychecks, so local elected officials and clergy members are acting as intermediaries.

Pope said warehouse employees at the company often work 13-hour shifts in cold conditions for $7.50 to $9.75 per hour, while most unionized warehouse workers earn between $10 to $20 an hour. She said the workers should be allowed to unionize without being hassled.

"Those employees who choose to continue to organize and seek to bring a union to Fresh Direct should be able to do so without the relentless campaign of lies and scare tactics that workers have had to deal with from the company," she said.

Fresh Direct's delivery drivers are unionized.


Union threatened to strike Convention Center

Union stagehands sacrificed lengthy meal periods, four vacation days and double-time pay in exchange for securing their stake in work done at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The agreement was reached early yesterday morning between the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Local 8, and Elliot-Lewis, the company that employs theater work at the convention center.

Prior to the agreement, Local 8 threatened to strike after the Mummers Fancy Brigade kicked off. Had the stagehands formed a picket line, it would have affected the remainder of Mummers' performances and the set-up for the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention, which began yesterday at the convention center.

"This was a successful negotiation that will lead to additional shows and options for convention center patrons," Michael Barnes, business agent for IATSE, said.

The bone of contention the union had was the issue of who would be operating audio-visual equipment in the meeting rooms at the convention center. Management wanted convention center customers to be able to set up their own simple equipment, such as laptops and screens for PowerPoint presentations.

A stipulation to the agreement allows convention center customers to set up and operate their own audio-visual equipment in meeting rooms, while all other production services, such as light rigging and set building will continue to be performed by Local 8.

Mr. Barnes said the union would not agree to the Elliot-Lewis' proposal to allow non-union contractors to do the work, based on the customer satisfaction agreement.

"We told our employer on Dec. 17 that we would not agree to any extension if the proposal to go non-union remained on the table," Mr. Barnes said.

"We had approximately 60 people show up for picket duty, but we decided not to [strike].

The agreement guarantees the contractor work going forward will be done by union contractors only."

Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority CEO Albert Mezzaroba heralded the agreement with the stagehands as "another giant step in the right direction for the convention center and its partnership with the workers who help us make this a great facility."

According to the customer satisfaction agreement, customers and exhibitors have the right to operate their own equipment.

If the stagehands had gone on strike, it was unclear whether any of the other unions at the center would have joined them, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Laborers International Union of North America, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.


Mercenary labor union troops termed 'volunteers'

As John Edwards barnstormed Iowa during the final hours before the state's presidential caucuses, an army of volunteers continued to push to wrangle votes for him.

Edwards, a Chapel Hill resident and former U.S. senator from North Carolina, was conducting a 36-hour "Marathon for the Middle Class," criss-crossing Iowa to close the deal with undecided voters before they caucus Thursday night in cities and towns statewide to begin the 2008 presidential nomination process. Pop singer John Mellencamp was expected to appear at a Wednesday night concert as part of the get-out-the-vote effort.

Polls indicate Edwards is in a tight race with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in Iowa, although national polls place Clinton far in front of Obama, with Edwards trailing in third place.

Meanwhile, Gus Gusler of Raleigh was going door to door in snow and freezing temperatures in Ames, Iowa, trying to pick up a vote at a time. Some residents were coy in revealing their favored candidates, he said.

"A lot of these people are really cagey. They just won't tell you whether they're decided, and if they're decided, they won't tell you who (they support). They just smile, and we ask, 'Are we in the top two?'" Gusler said.

A veteran of George McGovern's unsuccessful 1972 presidential campaign, he said he enjoys meeting voters. An Obama supporter invited him to dinner Tuesday for a Southern tradition of black-eyed peas, greens and ham hocks on New Year's Day.

"It's pretty amazing to have this opportunity," Gusler said. "Not that many people get the opportunity in life to go out and do something for somebody you really care about and believe in."

Volunteers from across the country said they passed up holidays with their families to campaign for Edwards in Iowa.

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall and Durham attorney Kerry Sutton were joined on the front lines with people from Pennsylvania to Texas to Indiana.

Robin Winston, of Indianapolis, said he wanted to work a phone bank for Edwards in a Des Moines union hall because the candidate hearkens back to former President John F. Kennedy.

"I remember growing up respecting the president of the United States," Winston said. "I want my child – I have an 8-year-old – to grow up in that same environment, where they respect the president, they respect what they're doing and they have a future and an optimism about the federal government and what it can do to make a difference.

"I think, more than anyone else, John Edwards does that," he said.

Campaign volunteer Linda Frankel said Edwards represents a change for the nation.

"He stands for the transformation of the United States and for the world," Frankel said. "This is a new era that's coming when he's president."


Writers religion: Unionism

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