State AG leads nationwide Casino War v. Tribes

The struggle against the imposition of federal law on sovereign tribal lands will continue at a National Labor Relations Board hearing into the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation's complaints over a union vote at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

The hearing will take place Jan. 15 at the board's office in Hartford.

Foxwoods' dealers voted 1,289 to 852 Nov. 24 in favor of forming a United Auto Workers union. The election was conducted under NLRB oversight after the board rejected the tribe's appeal that federal labor laws do not apply on tribal land.

The tribe re-asserted its sovereignty claim in a complaint filed Dec. 3 with the NLRB. The complaint also listed 11 other objections to the vote, including procedural irregularities and allegations that the UAW interfered with the outcome of the election by threats, harassment and other pressure.

In a response Dec. 21, the NLRB again dismissed the tribe's claim of jurisdictional authority on its lands as being "without merit."

The tribe had urged the UAW and tribal employees to petition for a union under tribal law rather than federal law, but to no avail.

In a statement explaining the tribe's reasons for challenging the election, Mashantucket Chairman Michael Thomas said that the union has "an absolute right" to organize at Foxwoods, but only under tribal law.

"The UAW and other unions were asked to organize under the tribe's laws, available online at www.mptnlaw.com, but so far they have refused to do so. Thus, the tribal nation is put in the unfortunate position of either disregarding its own laws or continuing to take whatever steps are necessary to preserve its right of self-government and have union issues addressed under the tribal laws which should be the case," Thomas said.

Robert Madore, UAW director for Region 9A, said the UAW would not petition for a union vote under the tribal system "because that's like saying I'm putting the fox in the henhouse. The employees would not get the true representation and protection."

The Foxwoods dealers' vote was the first successful contested union vote in a tribal casino under federal law, and as such it is being closely monitored throughout Indian country.

The NLRB hearing is one step in a process that is likely to lead to a long legal battle in federal courts. The board's claim of authority on tribal lands is based on a circuit court ruling last February that a casino owned by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians was subject to federal labor laws.

But experts in Indian law believe the San Manuel case involved a narrowly applied definition of the casino as a commercial operation and did not address wider issues of tribal sovereignty. The ruling is likely to be challenged in different courts under different contexts and claims, and the MPTN is likely to be the tribe pushing forward those claims.

Thomas has promised that the tribe will "do all that we can within the law to try to preserve these [sovereignty] rights."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who has fought tribes all over the country on issues of sovereignty, issued a prepared statement on the upcoming NLRB hearing.

"The NLRB has reaffirmed its basic principle of jurisdiction over the Foxwoods casino - protecting the basic rights of tribal casino workers to unionize. The surviving objections merely relate to the conduct of the union elections - claims that we believe are completely unsupported in fact or law," he said.

"Sovereignty does not mean complete immunity from labor laws. We look forward to dismissal of the remaining claims as promptly as possible."

Bruce MacDonald, a spokesman for the tribal nation, responding to a request for comment from Indian Country Today, said: "We feel the Connecticut attorney general has gotten it wrong. Again. We look forward to presenting our side at the NLRB hearing."


Financial Core members work without censure

When talks broke down last month between the studios and striking writers, it began to hit home that scribes could be jobless for many months to come. One of those writers finally made the agonizing decision to stop picketing and go back to work.

The writer's show, a daytime soap, had run out of scripts. To this writer, the moral choice lay in keeping the show on the air.

"Daytime serials are not in a healthy situation," said the writer, who asked for anonymity, fearing fallout from both sides in the complex and highly charged standoff. "If we can keep shows on the air, I perceive it as something that needs to be done for the future generation of writers."

Although most daytime writers have joined their colleagues on the picket lines, others -- fearing for their jobs or the survival of the soap genre altogether -- quietly have gone back to work. Even those who are still picketing say soap writers' issues are unique.

Residuals, for instance, a key area of disagreement between the studios and the Writers Guild of America, are not an issue for them because their shows rarely are rerun. Instead, their interests tend to focus on health and pension benefits and minimum salary for the Internet, one place where the genre -- whose audience for the daytime perennials has been dwindling -- possibly could survive.

The specialized world of soap operas creates unique situations during Hollywood's periods of labor unrest; it's believed that during strikes in the 1980s, scab writers were hired to keep the soaps going. Some writers currently on strike say producers have tried to lure them back with promises of anonymity. And because the estimated 110 daytime writers are spread out geographically, many working at home, it would be relatively easy to keep such deals quiet.

Others, such as the writer quoted above, are starting to take advantage of a little-known inactive status known as "financial core" that allows union members to return to work without censure.

"You resign your membership but continue to pay dues," the writer said about the financial-core designation. "[The guild] still represents you. You still have your health care, your pension. It's absolutely fair. You remain involved in the protections that the union offers, and you support them financially. There are many reasons people make that decision."

The WGA would not disclose the number of members who've opted for financial-core status.

To encourage more writers' interest in the financial-core option, the studios' representatives placed a Q&A list about the process on the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers Web site.

According to this site, members do not have to do anything to seek financial-core status. They simply choose to work, and the WGA has no right to impose discipline. A WGA site, however, said members must resign first in writing. It is not necessary to prove financial hardship. Financial-core writers may no longer vote or run for office. They also may continue to work without formal repercussions, and the union continues to represent them in bargaining negotiations. Some might choose financial-core status because they need an income; others because they disagree with the union's politics.

So far, the networks have continued showing original episodes of soaps. One reason is that many shows had been stockpiling scripts for almost a year in preparation for the strike.

Another, and one hardly anyone wants to talk about, is that the networks apparently have replaced striking writers with nonguild members, producers, scabs and "fi-core" writers. Viewers have yet to see or judge the work of the replacements, but some say that the stockpiled scripts soon will run out. Depending on the show, that could be anywhere from a few weeks to two months from now. A "General Hospital" writer said that the last team-written script aired Wednesday and that the last team-created story line began airing Friday.

Karen Harris, a writer on "General Hospital" who serves on the WGA daytime committee, said she had turned down offers to work on potential Internet soaps after she learned they were not covered by the guild.

But writer Rick Draughon ("Days of Our Lives") took NBC up on an offer to create "Coastal Dreams," an original Internet soap produced after the network canceled "Passions." Draughon took the job even though he doesn't receive benefits.

"It's better for one of us to get a foot in the door right now while it's an experiment than later when they've already hired a guild person," he said.

He said he had asked producers about paying pension and health benefits but was rebuffed. Other material taken from NBC Universal shows, including Webisodes of "The Office" or scenes from "Battlestar Galactica," have been deemed "promo material," he said.

While "Coastal Dreams" was awaiting word of a second-season pickup, Draughon was picketing with colleagues outside CBS studios recently. A handful of soap actors joined them in a show of support.

If any of them knew how production was continuing on the soaps without guild writers, no one wanted to say; that included network executives, who declined to comment.

"Nobody knows where these scripts come from," said Susan Flannery, lead actress on "The Bold and the Beautiful," as she walked the line. "It's a magic act like a pea under an acorn shell. Is it a bartender in Wisconsin or a janitor in the basement?"

Many of the soap writers on the picket line that day said they had expected scabs to keep the shows going.


AFSCME uses partisanship to cool critics

As the Time magazine political blog The Page reported on Saturday, a group of American Federation of State, Civil and Municipal Employees leaders from around the country has written a letter to the union’s International chiefs protesting their production of mailings and radio ads attacking Senator Barack Obama’s health care proposals.

Their argument is that the while the International board is supporting Senator Hillary Clinton, it should not be engaged in attacking other candidates.

The AFSCME International president Gerald W. McEntee has just responded. Here is his statement:
Seven members of AFSCME’s 35 member board wrote a letter to me expressing concerns about negative campaigns. I believe that personal attacks have no place in our democracy. They degrade candidates, insult voters and reduce politics to name-calling. Negative campaigns attack a candidates character and integrity and they don’t stick to the facts.

While I am not, by law, allowed to participate in any way in the activities of AFSCME’s political action committee in this area, about this I am clear: AFSCME’s independent expenditure effort is not a negative campaign. Rather, it has contrasted differences between the candidates on the issues, and it has focused on the two frontrunners: Senators Clinton and Obama. In an Associated Press story on December 21, Senator Obama got it right when he was discussing campaign tactics and said, “If people are arguing about policy, that’s part of politics and that’s fair. AFSCME’s campaign has been fair and has stuck to the issues.

Health care is an issue where the candidates have a different approach. Obama’s plan does not cover every American. In fact, it leaves 15 million Americans without the medical care they need. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards plans do not leave anyone behind. They cover everyone. This is the difference that the AFSCME political action committee has highlighted. There are 15 million reasons to be opposed to Obama’s health care plan, and the AFSCME campaign is simply pointing them out.

While spirited debate during the primary season is healthy, I don’t think that any candidate or her or his supporters should say or do anything that would hurt the chances of the eventual nominee to win in the general election.

This is why I was troubled when the Obama campaign labeled AFSCME’s political action committee and some of the so-called 527 efforts (such as the one for Edwards in Iowa) as outside groups and special interests from Washington, DC, as if workers are somehow just like insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry.

Workers are not a special interest. We fight for the general interest. And working families and their unions will be critical to making the Democratic nominee the next president of the United States.

Its important for everyone inside our union, as well as all the Democratic candidates and their supporters, to remember that we are all on the same side with the same goal taking back the White House for America’s working families and making it the people’s house again.

Dishonest AFSCME politics blow up in N.H.

Dear President McEntee:

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.

While some of us did not agree with the decision to endorse Sen. Clinton, we all recognized that once the endorsement was made, AFSCME would have to expend a certain amount of resources on her behalf in order to give weight to its action. While the Board was informed at that time that procedures for independent expenditures had been established, there was never any discussion of how those expenditures would be made.

None of the information presented to the International Executive Board suggested in any way that AFSCME intended to utilize its resources to attack the other Democratic candidates. In fact, a number of IEB members stressed–either privately or in their comments at the meeting-how much they respected and admired Sen. Obama. And at least one Board member spoke passionately against the Democratic candidates attacking each other, arguing that such negativity would damage Democratic prospects in the General Election.

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.”

While we would not approve of attacks on any of the Democratic candidates in this race, all of whom have good relationships with our union, it is worth noting that AFSCME has chosen to attack only one of those candidates, Barack Obama.

It is also worth noting that the campaign that AFSCME is waging against Sen. 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.

But even if the ads were not deceptive, we would object to the use of our union’s funds to attack a long-time friend of AFSCME members, a candidate who has stood up strongly in support of workers’ rights from his earliest days as an elected official, a candidate who included the importance of the right to form unions in his announcement speech, a candidate who has been a forceful advocate for working families.

Supposedly, we are involved in this primary because we’re concerned about “access” to the next Democratic president. So why would we want to develop a hostile relationship with the man who could be that next president?

And supposedly, our union’s fundamental commitment is to electing a Democratic president in November. So why would AFSCME’s national political director threaten to dilute AFSCME’s efforts in the General Election if Senator Obama is the nominee? We were stunned to see these kind of threats being made in the national media by one of our union’s primary spokespersons.

It is our understanding that this attack on Sen. Obama is being carried out through independent expenditures which are not under your direction, but that of two members of the International staff. As we understand it, because of the legal “firewall” that exists, those two staff members have essentially undertaken this assault on Sen. Obama entirely on their own initiative without direction from or even consultation with you. Certainly there has not been any direction from the International Executive Board regarding this course of action. And we do not believe that AFSCME members would expect or want their PEOPLE dollars spent in this manner.

We are calling on you to take whatever action that is within your legal purview to immediately end AFSCME’s attack campaign against Sen. Obama. In the event that you are not able to legally compel these staff members to cease these actions, we are calling on you to immediately take action to discontinue such independent expenditures in order to ensure that no further attacks occur. And we also urge you to ensure that no funds are utilized to wage such “attack campaigns” among our own members.

The behavior of these two individuals-so clearly inimical to the interests and allegiances of AFSCME members, as well as to institutional democracy-arguably constitutes chargeable offenses under the International constitution. It also calls into question the role of such “independent expenditures” in our organization. We believe that the IEB needs to carefully review the role that such expenditures play in our activities in this election season and beyond.

At the last IEB meeting, when we all gathered for dinner, you raised your glass in a toast to organizational unity, assuring us that we would all come together to defeat the Republican candidate in November. Today the actions of a few unelected union staff are placing that unity in jeopardy and degrading the reputation of our great union. We urge you to take whatever actions are necessary to see that both are restored.

In solidarity,

Ken Allen, International Vice-President, Oregon Henry Bayer, International Vice-President, Illinois Greg Devereux, International Vice-President, Washington Sal Luciano, International Vice-President, Connecticut Roberta Lynch, International Vice-President, Illinois George Popyack, International Vice-President, California Eliot Seide, International Vice-President, Minnesota

cc: Paul Booth
Lee Saunders
Larry Scanlon
International Executive Board

January 4, 2008
Gerald McEntee
International President
1625 L St. NW
Washington, DC 20036


Lawyers cover up rape lies for Clinton surrogate

The Oregon State Bar has dismissed a complaint filed against Gov. Ted Kulongoski by Lars Larson, a Portland radio talk-show host.

The complaint was about Kulongoski's awareness, or lack of it, of Neil Goldschmidt's sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl in the 1970s, based on what former Goldschmidt speechwriter Fred Leonhardt says he said to Kulongoski at a holiday party in 1994 at the home of Goldschmidt's former wife. Kulongoski then was the state attorney general.

"Your arguments that Gov. Kulongoski is the one with the most to lose do not alter the few known, objective and provable facts," Chris Mullmann, the state bar's assistant general counsel, wrote in a letter to Larson released Friday.

"I find that both Mr. Leonhardt and Gov. Kulongoski are credible in their recollections. However, the conflicting testimony of two equally credible witnesses does not constitute sufficient evidence to support a reasonable belief that misconduct may have occurred warranting further investigation by the bar."

The abuse occurred while Goldschmidt was mayor of Portland. Goldschmidt was elected governor in 1986 and did not seek re-election in 1990, when his marriage broke up. Kulongoski said he did not learn about the past sexual abuse until May 2004, when newspapers disclosed it and Goldschmidt resigned as a Kulongoski appointee to the state Board of Higher Education.

Kulongoski has been a member of the Oregon State Bar since 1970, but currently is inactive.

Friday's decision can be appealed by Jan. 11 to the bar's general counsel, whose decision is final.


FAQs for striking writers from AMPTP

The following is intended to respond to some of the questions we have received and to help familiarize employees with their rights and options as members and non-members of the WGA. Please feel free to contact your own representatives or seek assistance or information directly from the federal National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB phone numbers in Los Angeles are 213-894-5200 and 310-235-7352.

How do I apply for "Financial Core" membership if I am not currently a member of the WGA? If you are not currently a member of the WGA, then you do not have to do anything to apply for financial core membership during a strike. You may simply choose to work, and the WGA will have no right to fine or discipline you. When the strike is over, you may have to pay the same periodic dues and initiation fees as full members of the WGA in order to continue working. When the strike does end, we will provide further information on how to tender those dues and fees, for those who choose to work as financial core members at that time.

As a showrunner, can I be fined for crossing a picket line to work on my show? The WGA "strike rules" specifically state that the Guild cannot and will not discipline or fine hyphenate members who come to work and only do non-writing duties.

As a hyphenate, I assume my employer expects me to perform my non-writing duties? We expect that all of our employees will live up to their contractual obligations and we will vigorously pursue legal remedies if the WGA unlawfully tries to interfere with their ability to do so.

Does resigning to “financial core” status eliminate my health coverage and other benefits? No. Not only would you retain your health benefits, but you would also retain your pension benefits.

Can I (as a WGA member) continue to work during a strike? Federal law guarantees that all non-supervisory members have the right not to strike as well as the right to strike. That is your own personal choice, and no one can force you to do something that you do not want to do. Some different rules may apply to supervisors.

Can the WGA fine me or impose other discipline if I work during the strike? If you are a full member of the WGA, the union may under some circumstances impose fines and other internal discipline in the event that you perform writing services during a strike. However, as explained below, you have the right to continue to work without the threat of fines if you resign your full membership with the WGA and become a “financial core” member.

What happens if I resign from the WGA? After you resign from the WGA, you will be considered a “financial core” member of the WGA, which means that your only obligation to the union is to pay uniform union dues and initiation fees during the term of the WGA Agreement. In that case, the WGA cannot fine or coerce you for working during a strike. Moreover, you will not lose any rights under the Minimum Basic Agreement, including residuals and pension and health benefits. The WGA must also continue to represent you fairly in bargaining and grievance handling whether or not you are a full WGA member. As a “financial core” member, you may not be able to engage in certain union activities such as attending union meetings and voting in union elections or ratifications.

Can the WGA prohibit me from resigning during a strike? No. The National Labor Relations Act provides that you may resign at any time by giving written notice to your union.

After a strike, can the WGA prevent me from working if I resigned? Absolutely not. The National Labor Relations Act guarantees that if you resign from the WGA and go to “financial core” status you have the right to continue to work and your only obligation will be to pay those union dues and initiation fees which are uniformly imposed on all workers during the term of the Minimum Basic Agreement.

How does someone resign from the WGA? The WGA Constitution provides the following procedure: “[The resignation must be] tendered in writing, signed by the member, and personally delivered to and receipted for by an officer or employee of the Guild or mailed by certified or registered mail to the Board of Directors.” (Article IV(F)). You should be aware that your resignation does not become effective until it is received by the union. It makes sense to keep a receipt for your records and protection.

If I am not a WGA member and write during a strike, am I banned from working in the WGA jurisdiction forever? WGA may deny, in the future, full membership to non-members who work during a strike. However, they may not deny “financial core” membership. As a member who went “financial core,” you are entitled to all the benefits of the collective bargaining agreement, including the exact same WGA representation in any grievance and the exact same pension and health plan rights. Also, as a “financial core” member, the WGA cannot fine or coerce you for working during a strike.

Further answers to relevant questions will be added to this FAQ as they arise. If you have further questions, you may submit them anonymously by filling out the form below. Please do not submit any literary material.


Union operatives force their picks on N.H. Dems

Fresh from their work in Iowa, independent political groups are sending money and people to New Hampshire and other early nominating states to shape the outcome of the presidential contest.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, known as AFSCME, has shifted 77 staffers from Iowa to New Hampshire in recent days to boost turnout for Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton in Tuesday's primary. EMILY's List, which aids female candidates who support abortion rights, also has targeted 50,000 Democratic women in the state with pro-Clinton mailers.

On the Republican side, the non-profit Common Sense Issues group already has hit more than 1 million households in Michigan with automated phone calls to promote the candidacy of Mike Huckabee, who upset the GOP field with an Iowa victory last week. The Michigan primary is Jan. 15.

Overall, unions and other independent groups have spent more than $4 million since Dec. 1 on advertising, mailers and voter-turnout efforts in the early states, reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show. That amounts to just a fraction of the more than $258 million candidates have reported spending so far.

Federal law prohibits outside groups from coordinating their efforts with the presidential campaigns, but their activities can alter the course of a tight race even if these groups don't spend a lot of money.

"The right message at the right time could make or break one of the front-runners," said Evan Tracey, an expert on political advertising with the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

In Iowa, Huckabee said he was outspent 20-to-1 by rival Mitt Romney, who has put more than $17 million of his own money into the race. Even so, Huckabee enjoyed the backing of a volunteer force that included evangelical Christians and home-schooling advocates.

One independent group, Common Sense Issues, has funded automated phone calls in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early voting states to promote Huckabee's candidacy and criticize his opponents. In Iowa alone, 850,000 households received the "robo" calls in the month before the caucuses.

Huckabee has denounced the activity. But Patrick Davis, the group's executive director, said "we are very pleased with the (Iowa) results" and weighing the next move.

Americans for Fair Taxation, a non-profit group that favors a national retail sales tax, is working to mobilize its 70,000 members in South Carolina and Florida. Republicans vote in South Carolina on Jan. 19. The Florida primary is Jan. 29.

Spokesman Ken Hoagland said the group is not endorsing a candidate. Even so, its efforts are likely to benefit Huckabee, who strongly supports the tax plan. In August, the group took 10 busloads of voters to Iowa's GOP straw poll, where Huckabee finished second to Romney.

Unions have mobilized to help former North Carolina senator John Edwards and Clinton, who are trying to stop Barack Obama's momentum in New Hampshire after his decisive win in Iowa.

Working for Working Americans, a group funded by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, reported spending nearly $500,000 on Edwards' behalf in Iowa. Alliance for a New America, financed by several local chapters of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), has spent even more, about $1.6 million, FEC records show.

Meanwhile, a coalition of local SEIU chapters has announced that it plans to spend $1.5 million helping Edwards in the states that hold primaries on Feb. 5. The group's spokeswoman Courtni Pugh said most of the money would go to California.

In New Hampshire, the political action committees of the American Federation of Teachers and AFSCME are among those working for Clinton. AFSCME's political director Larry Scanlon said Clinton, a New York senator and former first lady, has been a good friend to labor groups over the years. "Our belief is that you put your money where your mouth is," he said.


Hyper-partisan, pro-union Gov. creates backlash

When Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter eased the path for organizing state workers in November, he set off just one of the high-profile fights destined to take place here in 2008.

Employers and conservative interests also want to place a "right to work" measure on the November ballot. It would make paying union fees voluntary even at workplaces that have voted to unionize and reduce the bargaining power of employees.

And there's more: Efforts to broaden health care coverage for all could reward workers but diffuse a key reason workers seek unions.

And some Republicans would love to come up with a way to rein in the political fundraising of Democratic-leaning unions; they square off against labor advocates who say their voices are still overwhelmed by corporate money.

But the relative power of unions and employers can no longer be tallied in even columns. Numbers say union strength is greatly diminished from a few decades ago. But there are also stories of places where unions are still making life better for Colorado workers.

"We are seeing the next generation of union members coming along," said Mark Schwane, Colorado director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Members like Carmen Monsivuis, a sandwich maker at a small factory called Culinaire in southwestern Denver.

Monsivuis, originally from Mexico, has assembled appetizers and box lunches for nine of her 17 years in Colorado. She helped push her family toward the immigrant dream of bilingualism and high school graduation, despite the low wages and lack of job security.

Few of the Culinaire workers speak English, and it took years of frustration for Monsivuis to find the courage to unionize her colleagues. She knew that a formal avenue to approach the boss might, for example, get workers the cold-weather gear they needed to stay healthy on the plant's chilly food lines.

It's exactly that kind of bureaucratic, mandated dialogue that employers find meddlesome in an era when many workers are already empowered by safety laws, bars against discrimination and more progressive management.

The arguments intensify even as Colorado's actual union rolls steadily shrink — to 165,000 members and 7.7 percent of the workforce last year, down from 8.3 percent in 2005. Union ideals, if not unions themselves, manage to wield enormous workplace clout and draw bitter partisan enmity.

"It's a testimony to unions' earlier success," said Jeffrey Zax, a University of Colorado economics professor. "If you're an employer who wants to stay non-union, you treat your employees well."

A call for savvy help

Mixing raw beef and assembling lunch meat in an obscure corner of food service, Monsivuis felt she needed the backing of an outside voice. She and 50 co-workers, a group that has since grown to about 80, were paid the federal minimum wage of $5.25 an hour with no overtime, health care or seniority for shifts and duties.

Monsivuis called Norberto Ricardo, a full-time organizer for the United Food and Commercial Workers union who makes runs at businesses ranging from Wal-Mart to Sofa Mart. Ricardo, bilingual and street-savvy, is key to recent growth spurts by the UFCW and other service unions.

Highly-paid factory workers may lose their jobs by the thousands, but small groups of janitors and line cooks are banding together. They are risking their minimum-wage jobs for a chance at health insurance — or even just a predictable work schedule.

"The company has grown a lot, but we haven't had any benefits," said Monsivuis. Culinaire management declined to comment.

New way to air disputes

A more open forum for airing such differences was the goal of Ritter's Nov. 2 executive order creating "partnerships" with state workers, the governor said.

What his order actually means will be tested at bargaining tables, legislative committees and courtrooms for years to come.

Opponents believe Ritter gave unions the right to negotiate for wages and benefits. But wage increases have to fit under strict Colorado budget limits, and some analysts believe Ritter left himself plenty of outs.

"My reading is, any agreement isn't enforceable," said CU's Zax. "If the governor wants to ignore it, he's free to."

Leaders of employer groups who vow to fight the order in the upcoming legislative session raise the specter of crippling strikes by state snowplow drivers. Yet legal scholars argue public employees had the right to strike long before Ritter's orders, while union leaders say employees wouldn't sanction walkouts.

"We will make a positive difference, and we will show people that," said Mitch Ackerman, president of Service Employees International Union Local 105. The union helped raise office-janitor wages in central Denver from $4.75 to $10 an hour with health benefits.

In scrambling to organize state workers, Ackerman argues that SEIU, AFSCME and other unions aren't interested in a "1950s" labor model, and neither is Ritter.

"Academic study after academic study shows that partnerships work," he said. "They produce cost savings, more reliable goods and services."

But Ritter upended the business-labor balance by handing unions huge new resources to organize, said Mike Severns, president of the Mountain States Employers Council. "You have 30,000 classified state employees; take $50 in dues a month, that's $1.5 million a month, $18 million a year. A lot of money going into the unions to turn around and use that money for their own gains," Severns said.

First, though, the unions will have to spend months, if not years, persuading state workers to sign up.

14 months of meetings

Monsivuis and other Culinaire workers met in a nearby park and held barbecue meetings for 14 months. A turning point came late in 2006, when Culinaire's local chief stopped work and asked employees who supported the union idea to stand on one side of the room. Slowly but surely, every employee on the floor trickled over to the union side.

"It was a very difficult day," Monsivuis said. "We knew we could get fired, but we had to take the chance.

From there, the Culinaire talks were tough, but not angry, Monsivuis said. "The bosses, they try to be nicer now that we know about our rights. They've corrected some of the problems."

American workers make strides even without local union representation by exploiting the ongoing social and political clout of the union tradition, other observers say.

The fact that unions struggle to win new members these days may be a testament to the widespread acceptance of so many union-backed policies forged in the industrial heart of the 20th century, from health and dental coverage to minimum wage and family leave policies.

At the Culinaire catering plant, persuading co-workers to support a union and then negotiate benefits left one-third of the effort still to come.

A key question in unionized workplaces is whether all covered employees have to pay dues or a smaller administrative fee, whether they support the union or not. Such a "union shop" appeals to vocal unionizers like Monsivuis — all her co-workers enjoy the newly negotiated wages, benefits and protections, so they all should pay something to the union that made it happen.

But many employers and workers object to rules in these closed shops that can result in firing employees who don't pay the fees. Twenty-three states are "right to work," meaning they prohibit mandated membership.

Colorado is the only state that is neither closed- nor open-shop — it instead requires a second layer of worker voting to require workers to pay dues or fees. Once the majority at Culinaire voted for a union, Monsivuis had to help persuade three-quarters of her co-workers to also close the shop and mandate the fees.

The $8.70 a week in dues, she believed, was a fair fee for all they'd won. She was ecstatic to see the second vote go 100 percent for the union.

Democrats and labor leaders proposed a bill last year that would have eliminated the super-majority vote. Ritter eventually vetoed House Bill 1072 but managed to anger both sides in doing so. Business fears a renewed effort in 2008, and employers are going on the offensive, backing signature-gathering for a fall ballot measure that would make Colorado a right-to-work state.

Politics gets its dues

What happens with the Culinaire union dues will also chafe relations for years to come.

For Monsivuis, nearly two decades from Mexico, all politics is local: She is glad the union will use part of her dues to pay for organizing and legal fees not just at Culinaire, but at coming fights at employers like Sofa Mart.

When her union starts using some of the Culinaire dues for its political action committees, workers must "opt out" if they disagree with the practice. This near-automatic aggregation of largely Democratic political money provokes Republican leaders like state Rep. Rob Witwer of Jefferson County.

Under Amendment 27, passed in 2002, individuals and most corporate donors can send only about $400 to each candidate, Witwer noted.

But "small-donor" committees can take $20 anonymously from many donors and give $4,000 to each candidate, multiplied over and over by each union committee. Only unions are in a position to reap donations from members and tip huge amounts to sympathetic candidates.

For the 2006 election, the UFCW donated $151,075 to 44 candidates. All 44 were Democrats.

"Any time you have that kind of imbalance, you have an opportunity for disproportionate influence in the process," Witwer said.

"Corporations in this country outspend labor by millions" in elections, countered Kaiser nurse and Democratic state Rep. Sara Gagliardi of Arvada.

And her union, SEIU, and others frequently support Republican candidates if they agree on the issues, she said.


Negotiating bias may run afoul of NLRA

A deal between United Artists and the Writers Guild of America West to let the production company sidestep the screenwriters’ strike may have opened the door to a full-blown brawl, as other producers demanded to know why writers have granted some companies a special agreement but not others.

Dick Clark Productions, which produces the Golden Globes ceremony for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, has been trying for weeks to reach a similar deal but has been rebuffed. That is presumably because a free pass for Dick Clark would provide NBC, which is scheduled to show the Globes on Sunday, to bring in advertising revenue and promote movies like “Charlie Wilson’s War” for its sister company, Universal.

Alan M. Brunswick, an entertainment labor lawyer with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, said the guild risks violating federal labor law if it refuses to deal with companies on an equal basis.

“If they’re willing to sign the same deal and the guild won’t give them the time of day, I think that raises an issue,” Mr. Brunswick said.

Mr. Brunswick said he represented several companies that were interested in pursuing independent agreements, but was not involved with Dick Clark, United Artists or World Wide Pants, the production company owned by David Letterman that secured its own agreement with the guild on Dec. 28.

The next step for a company that believes it is not being treated fairly will probably be to file an unfair labor practices charge against the guild with the National Labor Relations Board, Mr. Brunswick said.

Anthony R. Segall, general counsel for the West Coast guild, said the union was prepared to meet its bargaining obligation under the law. But, he said, “We have every right to take into account our strategic concerns and objectives” in determining how to deal with each company.

Mr. Segall said the guild intended to focus on major players and “competitors of the biggest companies,” to get the big studios and television producers back to the bargaining table.

In a phone interview on Sunday, Mr. Segall also acknowledged that the agreement with World Wide Pants contained provisions that would allow it to be superseded by any deal reached with bigger companies. The arrangement with World Wide Pants allows a producer to sign an interim deal without risk of accepting worse terms than competitors would ultimately enjoy.

On Sunday, the frantic behind-the-scenes wrangling over the Globes continued. Jeff Zucker, the chief executive of NBC Universal, convened a conference call on Sunday to explore ways of salvaging the Golden Globes, according to people briefed on the matter. One conceivable situation might involve producing a completely staged show around film clips, and perhaps without an audience or stars.

Among the people on the call were Marc Graboff and Ben Silverman, the co-chairmen of NBC Entertainment, leaders of the Hollywood Foreign Press, and Dick Clark executives.

Dick Clark Productions declined to comment on its legal options. “It is apparent that we are being treated differently from similarly situated production companies,” the company said on Friday.

Writers, who have been on strike for two months, cheered the impending deal with United Artists, which is controlled by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, the company’s chief executive.

“This gives the union membership something to get excited about,” said Daniel Cornfield, a labor expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “From the union’s perspective, that is a critical gain in and of itself.”

The agreement, still unsigned as of Sunday afternoon but close to being final, is part of a union strategy to sign deals with smaller production companies to improve its leverage. “Is what I’m doing right now a touchdown dance? Yes, I believe it is,” wrote one writer on an industry blog.

But an analysis of the deal suggests the writers may be gaining less than they think.

Indeed, an agreement with United Artists would not alter the balance of power in the strike. More than 100 production companies signed interim agreements with the union during the last strike to little effect, and United Artists, despite the spotlight Mr. Cruise brings, is a small player. The company is set up to make only four to six movies a year.

Moreover, the writers could be undermining their position by seeking agreements with independent producers because it would allow the big studios to use the fleet of smaller independent producers as processing factories. In the fluid world of Hollywood, where companies often collaborate, a studio could team up with independents, positioning itself to withstand a longer strike.

The guild is also in discussions with the Weinstein Company and has been in contact with Lionsgate, according to people briefed on the matter who were granted anonymity because the negotiations were private. These people say the Weinstein Company is “strongly considering” a deal. A Weinstein Company spokesman and a Lionsgate representative declined to comment.

The United Artists deal took shape over the last week despite pressure from the shareholder Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to abandon the talks. Although MGM would benefit from a United Artists agreement, the company does not want to be seen as a weak link among the large producers in battling the union.

United Artists has been dealt a particularly tough blow by the strike. The company’s first film, “Lions for Lambs,” failed at the box office and Ms. Wagner would like to jump-start other projects left in limbo.

Personal relationships may have played a role in the ability of United Artists to forge an agreement. Jeff Kleeman, the executive vice president of production at United Artists, ran for a seat on the union’s board last year. Although his bid was unsuccessful, Mr. Kleeman was backed by several powerful writers, among them John Wells, the former president of the guild. Mr. Kleeman could not be reached for comment.


Teamster organizers educate non-union bidder

A contract dispute in Revere appears to have fueled a Teamsters protest against a nonunion waste management company in Somerville (MA).

A Teamsters Local 25 picket line turned ugly at the Fred W. Russell & Sons Waste Management yard in the early hours of Dec. 27.

About 100 demonstrators padlocked the Russell gate and threw rocks and barriers at Somerville police, leading to 10 arrests, said Somerville spokesman Tom Champion. The city stationed a police car outside the lot through last Monday.

The Globe reported at the time that union members said police used force to move them away from the gates.

Russell owner Charles Carneglia contends that the protests arose from a dispute over the trash and recycling contracts in Revere. The company put in the lowest bid but did not receive the contract, Carneglia said. Russell handles Somerville's trash and recycling and has contracts with nine other municipalities, including Cambridge.

"Russell was the low bidder and we decided against taking it," confirmed Revere Mayor Tom Ambrosino.

The city now is renegotiating with its existing contractor, Capitol Waste Services Inc., an East Boston-based union shop.

The $200,000 difference in bids on a roughly $1.5 million-a-year contract wasn't enough to warrant switching to a new, nonunion company, Ambrosino said, and legally he was not required to accept the low bid.

The state inspector general is looking into Russell's complaint on the matter, Carneglia said. "We just have to wait, they say. There's going to be a process."

The inspector general can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation, said spokesman Jack McCarthy.

Carneglia said he thought the controversy led the union to target Russell. The day the bid was revealed in early December, he said, the head of Capitol Waste Services told him to beware. "When we were walking out, he said, 'Good luck with the union.' "

The union organizers came to the shop the following day, he said. "They were really nice for the first two weeks. They were talking to the guys. It was nothing."

Capitol Waste Services owner Joseph Ricupero could not be reached for comment.

Local 25 president Sean O'Brien said in a statement: "The protest at the Russell facility is about protecting the rights of workers - particularly immigrant workers - who should not have to work every day under such deplorable conditions and injustices. The majority of workers at the Russell facility want to join the union."

Carneglia charges that the demonstrators shouted anti-Italian slurs, and said his workers were afraid to come in afterward.

"It's a real feeling when you get to work at 1:30 and there's 50 cars around," he said. Along with the protest of Dec. 27, Carneglia said organizers approached an employee that week at his son's funeral.

"I've never had a problem with the company," said 13-year Russell driver Joe Machado. "As far as a union, it's not going to benefit me."

Carneglia said he pays workers $3 more per hour than the union rate and offers health insurance, a 401(k) plan, and paid time off. As for charges that he employs undocumented immigrants, he said all employees must present two forms of identification.

How were they going to get the work done for the low bid, then? Hustle, Carneglia said. "We do a lot of team effort. . . . It's more family-oriented, and they don't understand that."

Russell has no rules against unionizing, Carneglia said. "I would never try to stop anybody from doing what they think is better for themselves."

O'Brien had no further comment.


Union business-as-usual: politics

An interesting statistic was recently reported by the Bureau of National Affairs that calls into question the whole Change to Win defection from the AFL-CIO.

Most readers may recall that the entire engineered split from the AFL-CIO that occurred in 2005 was over the issue of how unions spent money on organizing. Change to Win's chief architects, SEIU's Andy Stern, UFCW's Joe Hansen, UNITE-HERE's Bruce Raynor, and Teamsters honcho Jimmy Hoffa, as well as Laborers' boss Terry O'Sullivan (who defected later) all whined about how the John Sweeney regime was spending too much on politics and not enough on organizing.

Well, one would think that the Change to W(h)in(e) gang would be able to brag that its efforts are paying off. But, alas, this is not the case. According to BNA, citing National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election result reports for the first half of 2007:

AFL-CIO-affiliated unions won 56.6 percent of the 350 elections in which they participated in the first six months of 2007, compared with 60.1 percent of 398 elections in the first half of 2006. Whereas Change to Win-affiliated unions only won 53.1 percent of the 343 elections in which they participated in the first half of 2007.

What makes matters worse for the Change to Whiners is the fact that they only unionized 10,912 workers, compared to the AFL-CIO's 12,493.

On top of that, Sweeney can now boast of expanding his control of the Democratic Party as a result of the November 2006 mid-term election.

To us, it appears as though Andy & Gang are wearing more than a little egg on their face, while Sweeney has earned a big belly laugh at his former protege's expense.

For union-related news, go to EmployerReport.com


Worker choice: If you repeal it, they will come

I can solve the looming worker shortage without the expense of a summit meeting like the one Gov. Culver held on Dec. 18. Make Iowa a high-wage, good-benefits state and workers will flock here.

Why is it that businesses have no problem paying CEOs millions of dollars for bad performance, but they begrudge their workers - who produce the wealth - living wages and health care? If Iowa were to repeal its long-outdated right-to-work law and encourage workers to unionize, our state standard of living would rise overnight. If you pay them, they will come.

- Duncan Stewart, Iowa City (IA)

Related Posts with Thumbnails