UFCW slates racketeering expansion in '08

Get ready for a Wal-Mart-style battle between a nationwide grocery workers union and a new British-owned, neighborhood grocery chain that's making its debut soon in Sacramento.

Retail giant Tesco PLC has opened about 30 Fresh & Easy stores in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona in the last two months. The stores tout their wholesome food selections, convenience and environmental friendliness.

About 170 more in those three states are in the 2008 pipeline, including what industry observers believe could be about 30 in the Sacramento and Bay Area regions.

That presence would make Fresh & Easy a major nonunion grocery player in California. That's where the United Food and Commercial Workers union comes in.

But rather than focus on labor issues, the union's "Fresh & Queasy" Web site accuses Tesco's British stores of being environmentally careless in selling spoiled and pesticide-tainted food.

Fresh & Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott declined to respond to the union's criticisms. He asserted that the company's nonunion employees "continue to be very happy" and urged shoppers to "come and check us out. It's up to them to judge us."

The UFCW's criticisms are reminiscent of its campaign against Wal-Mart, also a nonunion company that sells groceries. A UFCW-sponsored Web site, WakeupWalMart.com, has continually jabbed the world's biggest retailer for everything from employees' pay and benefits to hazardous Chinese toy imports.

The "Fresh & Queasy" site hasn't yet been as openly critical of Tesco's new U.S. arm, preferring to dredge up past scandals from the company's European stores; for now, UFCW leaders -- including Jacques Loveall of Roseville-based Local 8 -- are hoping that company employees will seek union representation.

"If Tesco is indeed committed to operating nonunion, we would be more disappointed than anything else," Loveall said through a union spokeswoman. "It's a misguided policy that would ultimately damage Tesco's image and make it extremely difficult for them to succeed in the United States."

Fresh & Easy's position: It's up to their employees to choose. "It's their right," Wonnacott said.


NY Times nauseated by AFSCME in N.H.

As we’ve been driving around New Hampshire this week, we can’t help but hear the radio ads playing repeatedly. We’ve heard Ron Paul ads, John McCain ads and then ads that just stopped us — those for Hillary Rodham Clinton and against Senator Barack Obama.

We had to listen hard (and not veer off the road) to hear AFSCME as the sponsor at the end of one of the messages. And while we’ve been paying attention tonight to the debates, Mark Halperin’s item over at The Page caught our eye, and we thought we should share it with you.

As Mr. Halperin reported, several members of the International Executive Board protested loudly in a letter to AFSCME president Gerald McEntee that an independent expenditure unit run by two people had been using funds solely to attack Senator Obama (and no other Democratic candidate). Keep reading this letter, posted on The Page, and keep in mind that it comes at a time when Senator Obama has emerged victorious out of Iowa and is in a very tight race here in New Hampshire.
We are writing to protest in the strongest terms the negative campaign that AFSCME is conducting against Barack Obama. We do not believe that such a wholesale assault on one of the great friends of our union was ever contemplated when the International Executive Board (IEB) made its decision to endorse Hillary Clinton.

"In fact, when the vote to make a primary endorsement was taken by the IEB, there appeared to be widespread agreement that we had a strong field of Democratic candidates all of whom had made a very positive impression on the IEB Screening Committee. The argument for endorsing Hillary Clinton was not that her positions were better than those of the other candidates or that she would be the better president for working families, but rather that she was the clear frontrunner, the most likely primary victor, and the strongest general election candidate."

We were therefore shocked and appalled to learn that our union-through “independent expenditures”–is squandering precious resources to wage a costly and deceptive campaign to oppose Barack Obama. As Barack’s standing in the polls has soared, according to numerous press reports AFSCME has spent untold dollars in Iowa and New Hampshire to send out mailings and run radio ads whose sole purpose is to undercut his candidacy. And now AFSCME has even registered a website with the explicit purpose of “opposing Barack Obama.”

It is also worth noting that the campaign that AFSCME is waging against Senator Obama is fundamentally dishonest and inconsistent with past positions of our union, i.e. attacking him for not forcing individuals to purchase health care even when they can’t afford it. The ads are misleading in attempting to give the impression that they are associated with John Edwards rather than Hillary Clinton and in their claims that Sen. Obama’s health care plan will exclude 15 million people when in fact every person will have the opportunity to participate. This dishonesty is giving our union a “black eye” among many in the media and the progressive community.
Earlier this week, The Concord Monitor reported that voters had received emails criticizing Mr. Obama’s health care plan as “a Band-aid solution” that would leave “15 million Americans uninsured.” (We are pretty sure Mrs. Clinton has used the same term — Band-aid solution — to refer to plans that weren’t hers.) These mails included comments by John Edwards that criticized the Obama plan, The Monitor said, which residents could have inferred meant they were backed by Mr. Edwards and his supporters.

But, no, they were financed by an AFCSCME committee. The Monitor reported that AFSCME had spent nearly $80,000 on such mailings recently. And it had paid for radio ads, as we mentioned earlier.

The issue of primary endorsements has been loudly debated among labor unions. And in fact, some unions or their umbrella organizations decided not to endorse in the primaries — sometimes citing the fact that the field was fairly strong. Others, remembering how they were stung by supporting a candidate who lost in previous cycles, were still skittish this time around.

If you read the entire letter by members of the board, you can sense their concerns about such a scenario. It’s pretty palpable.


Statistical autopsy of a labor-state

A politically enfeebled Gov. Eliot Spitzer is due to lay out his vision Wednesday of where he wants to lead the state this year. Here are some pertinent facts about the state of the state of New York at the beginning of 2008 (many courtesy of the Public Policy Institute):

• State-local tax burden: $5,260 average per person, highest in the country, and 53 percent above the national average.

• Private-sector employment growth, 1996-2006: 9 percent, 40th out of the 50 states. The national average was 14 percent.

• Portion of work force represented by labor unions, 2006: 24.4 percent, behind only Hawaii (24.7 percent).

• Spending by the state and local governments per person: $11,375, second to Alaska and 47 percent above the national average of $7,728.

• Manufacturing jobs: Dropped almost 29 percent between 1996 and 2006, a bigger drop than all states except North Carolina and Rhode Island.

• Cost of doing business (measures wages, taxes, electricity and real estate): second to Hawaii, 30.7 percent above the national average.

• Per-pupil spending on public schools, 2005: $14,119, tops in the country and 62 percent above the national average.

• Classroom teacher salaries, 2006: $57,354 average, sixth behind Connecticut, California, New Jersey, Illinois and Michigan and 17 percent above the national average.

• High-school graduation rate, 2006: 63.1 percent, 43rd among the states. The national average was 70 percent.

• Crime: Declined 5 percent in the first six months of 2007. New York has the fewest serious crimes per capita of any large state, and the fifth lowest overall.

• Average price of electricity, 2007: 14.54 cents per kilowatt hour, fourth highest and 66 percent above the national average of 8.77 cents.

• Renewable energy, 2007: Almost 22 percent of the total, among the highest of any state, mostly because of major hydroelectric plants near Niagara Falls and along the St. Lawrence River. The state is less dependent on coal, environmentally the dirtiest fuel, than almost any other state.

• Cost of auto insurance, 2003: $1,161 on average, second behind New Jersey ($1,188) and 45 percent above the national average of $821.

• Quality-of-life index: 19th, according to Forbes Magazine (measures crime, amenities, commutes and other factors)

• Percent of adults with at least a high school diploma, 2004: 85 percent, 34th highest but just one percentage point below the national average. Tops was Minnesota at 92 percent, bottom was Texas at 78 percent.

• Percent of adults with at least a college bachelor's degree: 31 percent, 12th highest of the states. Massachusetts was highest at 37 percent, West Virginia the lowest at 15 percent.

• Number of state and local government workers per 1,000 people in 2003: 62, ninth highest in the country. Average wages of government workers in 2003: $51,445, second to California. The national average is $40,717.

• State and local-government debt per capita: $11,377, third highest of any state and 71 percent above the national average of $6,659.

• Parks: The nation's largest state park, the six-million-acre Adirondack Park, and 178 others that attract 60 million visitors a year, among the most of any state. But they need an estimated $650 million worth of maintenance.

• Gasoline taxes: 43.9 cents per gallon, third highest and 55 percent above the national average of 28.4 cents.

• Infrastructure: $50 billion in repairs planned over the next 20 years, $100 billion more needed.

• Medicaid spending per capita: $2,316, highest in the country and 128 percent above the national average. But the expense was flat this year.

• Number of out-of-state students at SUNY and CUNY: 2,296, or just under 6 percent. Lower than all states except Texas and California.

• Taxpayer support for higher education: $488 per person, 45th highest and 21 percent below the national average.

• Mass transit: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is the largest transit agency in the Western Hemisphere, providing about 2.4 billion rail and bus rides a year in the New York City region. It helps (along with New York City's millions of apartment dwellers) to make New York the nation's most energy-efficient state.

• Average cost of health insurance: (family, 2004) $10,397 a year -- 10th highest. On average, employers paid $8,307 of that cost and employees $2,090.


SEIU doubles down for Class Warfare

John Edwards may end up stealing “the comeback kid” slogan from Bill and Hillary Clinton, but the ex-North Carolina senator’s enthusiasm and attitude at his three public events today in Manchester, Nashua and Portsmouth did not portray a candidate trying to come from behind.

“I know what it is like to be the underdog. I like it and I embrace it,’ a seemingly tireless Edwards said at his final stop, a packed town hall-style meeting in Portsmouth attended by several hundred people.

Edwards is already being bolstered by an infusion of much-needed cash triggered by his second-place finish in Iowa, which will keep the ex-North Carolina senator in the race through the monster multi-state Feb. 5 primaries, the campaign insisted today.

The powerful SEIU labor organization decided Edwards’ showing in the Hawkeye State was worth investing at least $1.5 million in the Feb. 5 states on his behalf – and the campaign’s own fundraising began taking off while Edwards was giving his concession speech Thursday night in Iowa, the campaign said.

“We took in more money during that speech than we ever have during that period of time … and it’s still coming in,” said spokesman Eric Schultz, who declined to say how much Camp Edwards has raked in. Edwards picked up on the money issue during a loud and electric dawn rally at a packed warehouse in Manchester.

“How about a guy who ran against two celebrity candidates who raised between them over $200 million?” Edwards said of himself. “[We] showed last night that message and what you stand for matters more than money and here in New Hampshire we are not going to have an auction, we are going to have an election.”

All signs are that Edwards has staying power on the campaign trail. “The important thing is we beat Hillary, and coming in second is better than third,” a top campaign official told The Mouth.


Union-only deal stinks

How long are we taxpayers in Broome County (NY) to remain silent on the Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the Harvey Building? This whole deal smells to high heaven.

Mr. Hutchings, a professional union representative by day and chairman of the legislative Public Works Committee by night, apparently "negotiated" this PLA and obtained legislative approval without a blink. Ask yourself why any "special interest group," a union is certainly one of them, should be given a huge advantage in an open competition for this project.

This PLA negates a level playing field, ensures a virtual union shop at the site, will bolster union membership and give the union hierarchy a prestigious victory over companies with craftsmen who prefer not to be unionized.

The union hierarchy is the sure winner here. Taxpayers: Are you winners of losers? You decide.

- Kenneth Lein


Philly collectivists clash over racism, unionism

A landmark agreement reached last month could open the way to diversifying the construction workforce here. Pending approval by the City Council, contractors, the Convention Center authority, and the building trades unions, new major Center City projects could be affected. The deal would set measurable goals and percentages for the hiring of workers of color and women.

While the agreement has not been officially approved by all parties, indications are that the provisions will include percentages approximately as follows. Of the 1,400 workers who will be needed to build the $700 million expansion to the downtown Convention Center, 25 percent would be African American, 10 percent Latino, five percent Asian American, and 10 percent women.

The deal appeared to be in jeopardy in early December when Council Member Frank DiCicco introduced a resolution which would have opened up the project to non-union labor. While many council members were clearly uncomfortable with this move, the resolution put them in a bind because of a City Council tradition of respecting the wishes of members on matters concerning their own districts.

DiCicco’s district includes the Center City area where the Convention Center is located, and he sits on the Center’s board. He claimed the resolution was necessary to insure minority participation.

Labor and African American community leaders, however, resisted DiCicco's attempt to use the issue of minority hiring to undercut the construction unions. At a press conference, African American leaders stepped forward and distanced themselves from the proposal.

Sam Staten, president of Laborers’ Local 332, a predominantly African American local, said he was “totally against” DiCicco’s resolution. He was joined by Laborers' Public Relations Executive A. Bruce Crawley, a veteran advocate for increased minority inclusion, and Recording Executive Kenny Gamble. Gamble said, “We want to make sure the baby doesn’t get thrown out with the bath water.” Crawley told the World that “We in the African American business community are not pushing for the open shop provision. That provision is bogging down the movement for minority inclusion.”

Pat Gillespie, business manager of the Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council, told the World that the agreement for increased inclusion of minorities and women on the Convention Center project was on track and that he felt that DiCicco was using his seat on the board to push his own agenda.

Gillespie supported an agreement between the building trades and the Philadelphia School District in 2006 to admit a number of public high school graduates to trade apprenticeship programs.

The urgency of addressing the issue and overcoming a past history of exclusion, racism and division was underscored by a recent report of a white worker taunting a Black worker with a noose on another Center City project. The Human Relations Commission is investigating.

The Convention Center, to be built with a major infusion of state funding, is being billed as the largest public works project in the city’s history.


Union-backed Dems knock themselves out

John Edwards will need a virtuoso performance at tonight's debate to achieve the dramatic come-from-behind win he needs to stay alive. He's facing an opponent in Barack Obama who proved with his amazing Iowa victory that he is an extraordinary organizer, possibly a strategic genius, and above all an inspiring presence who captured Iowans' hunger for change. And he's got momentum. And let's not forget Hillary Clinton, who can count on lots of money, a ruthless campaign operation, and real affection for her and Bill Clinton in the state.

But Edwards can definitely win - with a slight retooling of his message.

- Give us a little hope

The first thing Edwards has to do is combine his anti-corporate message with an inspiring vision of a hopeful future. Anti-corporate attacks, though they strike a chord with many Democratic voters, can only go so far. You also need to give voters a great hope that you can do better, especially now that most Democrats and most Americans are feeling excited about the possibility of real change that the Iowa result represented. Obama has been very effective at wrapping himself in hope. Reviving Edwards's successful 2004 speech line, "Hope is on the way," would be a great start.

- Talk about Bringing People Together, but the Right People

Obama's message about "bringing people together" to achieve real change clearly resonated with voters. But too often in the past, Obama has brought together the wrong people: corporate executives and right-wing Republicans, resulting in his support for items like expanding the North American Free Trade Agreement to Peru, nuclear power, liquid coal, George Bush's 2005 energy bill (full of billions in subsidies to oil, coal, and nuclear companies). Edwards needs to talk about bringing people together too, but say that he's bringing ordinary Americans together to achieve the transformative change this country needs. After all, Edwards is the guy who somehow managed to win the endorsement of both the anti-coal Friends of the Earth and the coal loving United Mine Workers (in addition to the Steelworkers, Transport Workers, Carpenters and SEIU locals), a really stunning Blue-Green alliance.

- It's about specifics, not about power
Especially of late, Edwards has resorted to broad oblique criticisms of his opponents, saying for instance, that, "You can't nice these people to death," a reference to Obama's repeated willingness to make massive accommodations to corporate executives. These attacks are just to oblique and lots of voters won't connect the dots. They really remind me of Howard Dean's ineffective and overly raw paeans to power in the last days of the 2004 Iowa caucus fight. Rather than saying that Hillary Clinton is too close to lobbyists and Barack Obama is too accommodating of the corporate executives responsible for America's problems, Edwards has to show it. Obama's record is full of dangerous capitulations to corporate executives (which I wrote about here and here). And Hillary Clinton directly lobbied to let International Paper poison New Hamsphireites by burning tires. Also, when you criticize on specifics rather than generalities, it usually seems like a sincere comparison rather than a gratuitous attack. It seems like Edwards's campaign is starting to talk more specifics, but Edwards himself will have to do it himself to make the message really resonate.

An Edwards win - or a very strong second place showing - is possible, but it's going to take something big and new to make it happen.


Workers World: On the picket line

Workers strike war profiteer

Some 4,000 members of 11 Auto Workers’ locals in Georgia, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas who build MaxxPro engines for blast-resistant Navistar trucks used by the U.S. military in Iraq conducted an unfair labor practice strike for nearly two months ending Dec. 17, when the workers ratified a three-year contract. International Truck and Engine, which tried hiring scabs to maintain its war profits, initially took a hard line but eventually gave in to the strikers’ demands.

The most important aspect of the new contract, which includes an immediate $2,500 payment and a 6 percent pay raise over the course of the contract, pension upgrades, and health care protections, is a moratorium on plant closings and outsourcing during the life of the contract.

“While it is not a strike against the war, it is still significant that workers have struck a war profiteer in the midst of war,” noted Larry Goldbetter, member of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981, in an e-mail to U.S. Labor Against the War.

Striking laundry workers hold vigil

In early December, Danny Glover joined striking workers from Prudential Overall Supply, the largest laundry company based in California, when they began a 12-day vigil outside company headquarters in Irvine. The workers at five facilities across the state have been striking against unfair labor practices since Sept. 12. Fighting to improve wages, healthcare and working conditions, the workers, many of them immigrants, have been met by constant threats, coercion and intimidation.

In July the laundry workers and UNITE HERE filed a complaint with the Department of Labor alleging violations of wage, benefit, holiday and paid time-off standards at Prudential facilities in California and Arizona. The workers, who filed complaints alleging violations of local living wage ordinances in San Diego, Oakland, Los Angeles and Ventura County, were vindicated when San Diego and Oakland terminated their contracts with Prudential and sued the company for back wages for $1.82 million and $120,000, respectively.

Prudential backed out of its contract when notified that Ventura County’s Living Wage ordinance would be enforced, and workers’ complaints in Los Angeles are still being investigated. The struggle continues.

Wal-Mart’s sexual discrimination

The three-member Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Los Angeles ruled Dec. 12 that the largest sexual discrimination case in U.S. history could proceed as a class action suit against Wal-Mart. Nearly two million women, who since 1998 have worked for the world’s largest retailer and super-exploiter of workers, stand to collect billions in unpaid wages and damages for being excluded from promotions. But there’s a hitch. The decision also allows Wal-Mart to appeal the ruling. Stay tuned.

Make contracts LGBT-inclusive!

Pride at Work, the AFL-CIO affiliate that promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights on the job, has developed a Union Certification Program to help workers negotiate LGBT-inclusive contracts. Its first training took place in November with OPEIU Local 29 in Oakland, Calif.

During the five-hour training, attendees learned how to add contract language that protects LGBT workers from discrimination and harassment on the job and gives them access to federal programs like the Family and Medical Leave Act. They also learned how to argue for domestic partner benefits and transgender-inclusive health care. To find out more about the program, contact paw@aflcio.org; to set up a training session so your union can become certified, contact jbishop@aflcio.org.

Flight attendants need support

Imagine working up to 20 days a month away from home as a full-time employee and not qualifying for a family or medical leave when you or a family member needs help. That’s what flight attendants and pilots face because of the narrow wording mandating a 40-hour workweek in the Family and Medical Leave Act.

To rectify that, the Airline Flight Crew Family and Medical Leave Act was introduced in Congress last fall. The struggle for passage continues in 2008. To show your support, write a letter to lawmakers; a sample letter is posted on the Flight Attendants’ Web site: www.afanet.org. To ensure hand-delivery to Congress, address the letter to AFA-CWA, Office of Government Affairs, 501 Third St. NW, Washington, DC 20001.

NLRB issues Scrooge ruling

Just in time to qualify for a Scrooge award, the National Labor Relations Board issued a 3-2 ruling on Dec. 21 that gives an employer the right to prohibit workers from using the company’s e-mail system to send out union-related messages. The ruling said it was legal for employers to have a policy barring employees from sending e-mail for “non-job-related solicitations” for any outside organization. But how can bosses dare prohibit workers from communicating about work-related matters of mutual concern? Though the NLRB has never throughout its history been a consistent friend of labor, it’s typical that a Bush-appointed NLRB would issue such a narrow, vindictive ruling. Just another reason workers will continue to organize and fight for their rights in 2008!


Rocky Mountain Way

Since its first union-negotiated collective-bargaining agreement for state workers took effect in July 2005, Washington has spent or earmarked $3 billion in taxpayer money to cover increases in wages and benefits.

The state shelled out $13.9 billion on wages and benefits for about 108,000 workers in fiscal 2006 and 2007, about $1.4 billion more than the previous two years, according to state data. About 70,000 of those workers are represented by unions.

Washington expects to spend $1.6 billion more during the next two fiscal years.

Another $14 million or so has also been spent to fund a newly created agency, the Labor Relations Office, that negotiates contracts with unions, as well as the growing costs of a separate agency, the Public Employment Relations Commission, which oversees disputes between unions and employers.

The expenditures have come amid a healthy state economy and budget surplus. For the most part, Washington has been unscathed by the housing slump that is pounding Colorado and other Western states.

The costs have been financed through increased revenues to the general fund, and no special taxes have been levied, said Peter Bogdanoff, labor-policy adviser to Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire. "We think the system has worked pretty well here," Bogdanoff said.

Since 2002, the state workforce in Washington has grown 4.5 percent.

The legislation that gave workers collective-bargaining rights over wages and benefits was approved in 2002. It took about three years for unions to organize and negotiate the first contract.

Washington's experience with collective bargaining sheds light on what may be in the cards for Colorado. Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, through an executive order in November, effectively granted about 30,000 state workers the right to collectively bargain wages, benefits and other items.

Prior to announcing the order, which drew heated opposition from some business interests and Republicans, Ritter's staff sought input from Washington officials, among others.

The Colorado approach

Evan Dreyer, Ritter's spokesman, said Colorado's "partnership agreement" approach is different from Washington state's, and what has occurred there won't necessarily play out here.

For example, he said, Ritter would not be supportive of a move that requires workers to pay union dues or any other fees to unions.

In Washington, union and state officials say among the reasons for workers' raises are the need to bridge gaps between public- and private-sector wages and help with recruitment and retention.

Not coincidentally, the membership and budgets of Washington's largest unions have grown significantly, allowing them to wield more political influence.

"We're just beginning to see the impacts of the full unionization for state employees," said Don Brunnell, president of the Association of Washington Business. "We think that when the economy starts to slide and when we begin to have revenue shortfalls, it's going to be much more difficult . . . to negotiate a contract with these folks."

Bogdanoff notes that, as a safety measure, the contracts require approval from both the governor and state legislature.

"There are so many checks and balances in a state's political system that it's hard for a collective-bargaining system to go too far astray," said Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents about 40,000 state workers.

Colorado's state budget spending also requires approval from the governor and legislature, and Ritter's order doesn't change that.

The order, however, is sure to be a central focus of the upcoming legislative session, which starts Wednesday. Republicans already have promised to introduce legislation to repeal it. Critics say the order could raise the cost of doing business in Colorado and saddle the state with an anti-business image.

Overall, 28 states give state workers full collective-bargaining rights, meaning they can join unions to negotiate wages, benefits and work rules. The vast majority of those states granted that power through legislation, and most did so prior to the 1990s.

Rights granted through a gubernatorial executive order are more tenuous because any succeeding governor can rescind it. That happened in Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana.

Colorado, Washington and New Mexico are among the few states that have given state workers collective-bargaining powers in recent years.

"It was a dirty deal"

Neither Washington nor Colorado is a right-to-work state. Such states outlaw forced union membership and dues paying.

In Washington, unions were able to write such requirements into negotiated contracts. That created perhaps the biggest controversy to stem from the 2002 legislation.

"It was a dirty deal," said 25-year state employee Darla Braniff of how unions worked union security into the first collective-bargaining agreement.

Washington state negotiators allowed unions to work language into those contracts to require state workers to either pay full union dues or a representation fee, so long as they opened the vote to all workers, not just union members.

Braniff and other state workers contend union officials didn't properly notify them of that fact.

Leonard Smith, director of organizing for Teamsters Local 117, which represents about 6,000 state workers, said the union opened the vote to all workers so long as they had paid one month's dues.

Devereux of the Washington Federation of State Employees said a representation fee is justified.

"For decades we represented 32,000 workers and we had 19,000 members," said Devereux. "We had 13,000 members in the union that we legally had to represent. We spent a lot of money representing them, and they paid nothing for that representation."

The federation, which is affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, has seen its membership rise from 19,000 to 36,000 since 2005, with another 4,000 paying representation fees. Its annual budget has doubled to $12 million. Its staff has doubled to 90, including an additional lobbyist.

Washington state workers have long had the right to bargain work rules and other changes. They won economic bargaining as part of what was billed as compromise legislation between the state Democrats and Republicans that became the Personnel System Reform Act of 2002.

For the Republicans, the act was supposed to lead to the contracting out of some public-sector work. It called for state agencies to allow the private sector to compete with public workers for contracts traditionally done by state employees. A 2006 state audit revealed that competitive contracting has been virtually nonexistent since the legislation passed.

Meanwhile, the first two-year collective-bargaining agreement called for a 3.2 percent across-the-board wage increase in the first year and a 1.6 percent increase in the second year. The second two-year contract, which went into effect in July 2007, calls for similar across-the-board increases.

Additionally, thousands of state workers have received double-digit raises after a state survey found that their wages lagged far behind the private sector.

The state agreed to give increases to certain workers, such as nurses, that brought them to within at least 25 percent of what they would make in the private sector.

That allowed workers like Don Hall, a Washington state park ranger for 15 years, to receive hikes of almost 50 percent. Before 2005, Hall made about $3,000 a month, he said. Now, he earns roughly $4,500 a month.

Hall perks up when asked what full collective-bargaining rights has meant to him.

"I'm able to put my kids through college," said Hall, 48, who has daughters in college. "I was finally able to buy a house."

Additional administrative costs come from the Labor Relations Office, which was created to negotiate union contracts on behalf of the state. It has an annual budget of about $2 million and has been in operation for four years.

The costs of the Public Employment Relations Commission, which oversees disputes between public employers and unions, also has bumped up. The commission's caseload has surged, and during the past four years it has spent about $6 million more than it did prior to collective bargaining.

Rising power of unions

In Colorado, the state Department of Labor and Employment will be responsible for negotiating contracts and dealing with disputes, with some help from the Department of Personnel & Administration.

Despite the raises, many Washington state workers are unhappy with the growing power of unions. Former state accountant Patricia Woodward, 66, Braniff's aunt, was fired in December 2005 after refusing to pay union dues.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation came to her defense, arguing that the Washington Federation of State Employees failed to notify Woodward and others about their rights to pay lesser representation fees, how the fees are calculated and other information required by law.

The foundation filed a lawsuit against the federation on behalf of Woodward and other state workers. The union settled the suit, and Woodward was reinstated months later and paid her back wages. She has since retired.

Colorado vs. Washington

State worker collective bargaining in Colorado and Washington state:


How enacted: Executive order by Gov. Bill Ritter.

Length: Unspecified; can be rescinded by any succeeding governor.

What's on the table: Workers can collectively negotiate any "issues of mutual concern," including wages and health care.

Dues: Workers don't have to join the union or pay any fees to the union, though forced unionism can be negotiated into collective-bargaining agreements.

Prohibitions: Binding arbitration; a no-strike clause is up for debate.

Oversight: Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.


How enacted: Approved by state legislature.

Length: Unspecified; can be rescinded through legislature and gubernatorial approval.

What's on the table: Wages, benefits, work rules and any issues that affect staffing.

Dues: Workers weren't required to pay union dues or "representation" fees as part of the legislation, but so-called "union security" language was allowed to be placed into contracts for approval. The state's largest unions put the requirement in the first collective-bargaining agreements, which went into effect in July 2005.

Prohibitions: Most binding arbitration; a no-strike clause is debatable.

Oversight: Public Employment Relations Commission handles disputes; contracts negotiated by Labor Relations Office created as part of the new law.


Colorado business cools to pro-union Gov.

Metro Denver's most powerful business group plans to work with the governor on transportation, health care, education and economic-development issues despite opposing his stand on unionizing state workers.

"Smart people can agree to disagree and work together on other issues," said Tamra Ward, vice president for public affairs with the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The chamber's board of directors held an extended meeting Thursday to craft an agenda for the upcoming legislative session, which starts Jan. 9. The gathering followed a series of meetings in recent days with the governor and legislative leaders.

Gov. Bill Ritter met with the chamber board Dec. 5 to explain his reasons for issuing an executive order in November approving bargaining partnerships with state workers.

Although the executive order contains a no-strike policy and specifies no binding arbitration, business leaders have angrily attacked it as a collective-bargaining agreement.

The rift is likely to serve as a backdrop to the upcoming legislative session. Already, opponents of labor unions are crafting a "right to work" ballot measure that would bar compulsory union membership in the state. But Ward said such a ballot measure did not come up at Thursday's chamber meeting.

"If it materializes, we will talk about it at some time," she said. "The overwhelming message from today's meeting was that the politics of an election year can't drive the decisions that businesses make."

As it has done in past years, the chamber will focus its lobbying efforts on issues it considers core to the future economic well-being of the state.

Those include transportation, health care, education and economic development. A more detailed legislative agenda will be drafted and released in the next week or two, Ward said.

"There is no question that the business community is actively involved and willing to participate in the longer- term agenda for the state and the city," said Scot Wetzel, president and chief executive of United Western Bank and a chamber board member.

Wetzel, who describes himself as a pinstriped-suit-wearing Republican banker, said common ground needs to be found with those in power.

"The health of the business community translates into the health of the economy," Wetzel said.

Likewise, the governor understands that while he may not sway business leaders to support his plan for labor- management partnerships, he needs the support of business leaders.

"We need to work together on issues around health care, transportation and higher education," said Evan Dreyer, Ritter's spokesman.

Dreyer said the governor in September unveiled an extensive package of economic-development initiatives that require legislative approval. He also recently went on a trade mission to Canada to boost ties with the state's largest export market.

Meanwhile, the Bell Policy Center, a liberal think tank, released a study Thursday reviewing studies that show partnerships usually improve management-worker relations, efficiency and customer satisfaction if structured properly.

"On balance, we found for the most part they have been positive," said Rich Jones, Bell director of policy and research.

But business leaders are concerned that the governor's order will brand Colorado as a pro-labor state and scare off companies looking to locate here.

There is also a concern that state employees, once organized, would be more likely to strike.


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