AFSCME all in for Clintons

The tight race between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama has opened surprisingly deep and bitter divisions in the ranks of organized labor, as rival union leaders fly planeloads of last-minute volunteers into key states, accuse each other of trying to disenfranchise members, and even launch open attacks on rival Democratic candidates.

In Nevada, which holds its caucuses Saturday, unions backing Clinton are crying foul because some caucuses will be in casinos and hotels where a pro-Obama union's members predominate -- helping that union's members and potentially discouraging others.

Meanwhile, inside the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has endorsed the New York senator and is leading the charge for her in Nevada, several officers are protesting the union's decision to run negative ads against the Illinois senator.

"This race has taken on more intensity than we have seen in the past," said Karen Ackerman, AFL-CIO political director and a veteran of numerous presidential campaigns. Other union leaders lament the vitriolic conflicts they say are developing between unions and worry that the effects could linger into the November campaign.

Organized labor is probably the single-most important part of the Democratic Party's election machinery, providing thousand of campaign workers and millions of dollars for sophisticated get-out-the-vote efforts and others. Though unions have divided over presidential candidates in the past, labor insiders say the closeness of the Clinton-Obama race has made this year's divisions unusually bitter.

It has also made the process much more expensive and thus raised the stakes for union leaders and their members.

Many labor leaders, including Ackerman, say this year's competition is healthy, a sign of how badly Democrats want to retake the White House. They predict unions' support for the Democratic nominee will be all the stronger in November.

That may prove true.

Democrats' hostility toward the Bush administration is a powerful force for unity. But pre-nomination splits have not always healed. In 1980, when Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts challenged President Carter for the party's nomination, the split contributed to Ronald Reagan's victory. And Richard Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey after Democrats split over the Vietnam War.

If Obama becomes the nominee, "it could dampen enthusiasm" among Clinton's union backers because of gnawing public disagreements, said Lawrence R. Scanlon Jr., the political director of AFSCME, which had already flown 100 paid organizers to Nevada and planned to add 100 more.

Despite his concern, Scanlon was optimistic about November. "Time heals wounds," he said. "There is no choice for us among the Republicans."

Still, as rival union groups jockey to help their chosen candidates, elbows can fly.

Interunion tension may be most visible in Nevada, where Clinton and Obama hope for gains after splitting Iowa and New Hampshire. And Nevada, which this year will be the third state to select Democratic delegates, ranks among the most unionized Western states with more than 13% of all workers belonging to labor organizations.

That's why AFSCME is pulling out all the stops for Clinton, and Obama hopes for a major lift from the endorsement last week of the Culinary Workers of America, which has a substantially larger presence in Nevada than any other union. It represents about 60,000 hotel, casino and other service workers. Nevada has only 500,000 registered Democrats.

The Culinary Workers' ability to organize and deliver votes has been legendary in the labor movement. Under their contract, its members are eligible for as long as six months of leave from their jobs to do political work; the union pays their salaries during that time. As of this weekend, about 200 members were working as paid organizers for Obama -- close to the number AFSCME will have working for Clinton.

The most vivid example of the Culinary Workers' potential impact may turn out to be in the nine caucus sessions held in casinos. The arrangement was approved publicly by the state Democratic Party months before the union endorsed Obama. But opponents are now raising concerns because nearly all unionized casino workers are Culinary Workers members.

Members of the union will get time off -- some with pay -- to take part in the caucuses.

The reaction of unions that don't support Obama has been sharp.

The Nevada State Education Assn., which has not endorsed a candidate, filed suit late Friday, saying the casino caucuses provided an unfair advantage to the Culinary Workers. Officials in other unions, while not joining in the suit, denounced the process -- some in virulent terms.

"The deck is stacked in Vegas. The fix is in," said Rick Sloan, communications director for the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which has endorsed Clinton. By holding caucuses in hotel casinos, "they specially invite all the casino workers to participate. They didn't mention the workers at McCarren," Las Vegas' airport where the machinists union dominates. "They didn't mention the post office. Or the workers at other sites" where unions have backed Clinton.

"I have never seen a situation so tilted, so one-sided," toward one union and one candidate, said Sloan, who has worked in presidential campaigns since 1972.

Obama's backers rejected such charges. They noted that the nine on-site caucuses were designed to help shift workers -- union and nonunion -- participate in the presidential selection process. And they pointed out that any shift worker within a 2 1/2 -mile radius of the casino caucuses could participate. Obama's supporters said any effort to eliminate the casino caucuses would prevent workers from participating.

"This is despicable," said D. Taylor, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Workers, denouncing the lawsuit. He accused the teachers union of "tactics that are like those the Republicans used to suppress minority votes in Florida."

At a campaign stop in Reno, Clinton told reporters she hoped the suit would be resolved quickly. Meantime, she said, "I'm just going to campaign as hard as I can here in Nevada."

On Saturday, the Culinary Workers held the first in a series of "mock caucus" events in Spanish for the 40% of its members who are Latino. At the same time, pro-Clinton forces rallied at the painters union hall where breakfast speakers were lined up to exhort workers to go door-to-door in every Nevada county on her behalf.

The divisions were visible Friday too. Hours before hundreds of Culinary Workers workers joined Obama in chanting "Sí, se puede" -- "Yes, we can" in Spanish -- a small group of members waving Clinton signs protested the endorsement outside the union hall.

The intensity of the struggle between the Culinary Workers and AFSCME is matched by controversies inside AFSCME.

Seven board members have protested the degree to which their union is backing Clinton, including running what they described as negative ads in Iowa and New Hampshire about Obama's healthcare proposal. The seven wrote union President Gerald W. McEntee on Jan. 4 saying they were "shocked and appalled to learn that our union . . . is squandering precious resources to wage a costly and deceptive campaign to oppose Barack Obama."

They said the ads threatened unity among labor needed to defeat Republicans in November and undermined the union's reputation. Obama's supporters say his position on healthcare is closer than Clinton's to the union's own position, which opposes a universal mandate such as she has endorsed.

AFSCME, which has only a few thousand members in Nevada, is relying heavily on paid workers from outside the state, a practice virtually all national unions employ when they need reinforcements.

But the Culinary Workers' Taylor criticized the scale of the effort: "I have never heard of such an intensive member education movement in my life."

Scanlon said his members were reaching out to current and retired AFSCME members, contacting them at their homes in all parts of the state.

While top officials attack other unions and candidates, the rank and file often adopt the demeanor of Nelda Hoover, a retired social worker living in Las Vegas and helping AFSCME drum up support for Clinton.

The people on her call list are all members of AFSCME or its union allies who support Clinton. She tells them the location of their precinct and gives some guidance about how the Nevada caucus works. If the person on the other end of the line gives her a chance, she'll add that AFSCME "is encouraging its members to vote for Hillary."


In California, 'S' stands for SEIU

What does the "S" stand for in Proposition S, the $243-million phone tax on the Feb. 5 ballot? Some political backers want voters to think it stands for "safety" because they've loaded their campaign mailers with photos of firefighters and police officers.

It could stand for SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, which has poured $250,000 into the campaign -- just weeks after City Hall gave members a hefty pay raise.

In reality, the City Council voted to make it S, although never explaining why.

Who's going to vote for this tax?

The brain trust in charge of the Prop. S campaign thinks it will fare well among black voters, Latinos, Democrats and Republican women.

Campaign mailers submitted to the city Ethics Commission were accompanied by a cover letter stating that four fliers were each tailored to appeal to one of the groups. Proposition S political consultant Steve Barkan said the letter should have stated that the campaign is also targeting Republican men.

Each of the mailers has the same front, with pictures of firefighters and 911 operators dutifully taking calls. But things look different on the final page. The mailer to Republicans featured the smiling mug of former Mayor Richard Riordan -- Get it? He's a Republican! -- and a photo of Police Chief William J. Bratton.

The version for Latinos is written partly in Spanish and has a picture of Villaraigosa, L.A.'s top Latino pol, as he chats up -- surprise! -- a police officer. Black voters received images of a half dozen politicians, including African American council members Bernard Parks, Jan Perry and Herb Wesson.

And Democrats? They got large photos of Bratton and Fire Chief Douglas Barry. Bo-ring!


'Never in 43 years of union membership ...'

Passions flared Sunday afternoon as two unions tussled for the loyalty of employees at the giant MeadWestvaco paper manufacturing operations here.

More than a hundred supporters of a new organization, Covington Paperworkers Union Local 675, picketed an appearance by United Steelworks President Leo Gerard at Covington High School. The two labor organizations have been at loggerheads since union members at the Covington mill voted to sever ties with the Steelworkers in October in favor of creating their own local.

When Gerard approached one group of pickets before Sunday's meeting, he was shouted down with taunts of "Go home" and "Where were you last year?"

Later, an admittedly irritated Gerard told a similar-sized audience inside that "never in 43 years of union membership have I seen other workers intimidate their colleagues from attending a union meeting."

Tony Markland, one of the new union's vice presidents, denied there was intimidation. "We are very passionate about our cause, but we've not told people not go to the meeting. In fact, we've encouraged them to go to hear what he has to say."

But, he noted, "picket lines are a tradition of unionism."

In a statement released through his organization's lawyer, Markland and fellow vice president Rick Gibson accused the 800,000-member Steelworkers union of having "showered Covington with propaganda designed to mislead and intimidate our members and their families into backing down."

The new union has been trying to force an election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board to determine who will represent the workers.

"We just want a vote," said Doug Persinger, one of the pickets supporting the new union. "Let democracy work. We're willing to live with however it turns out."

He and the others on the line were confident such a vote will sustain last fall's disaffiliation decision, which passed by a 483-17 vote, they said.

The Covington mill has about 960 union employees in all.

The Steelworkers have stymied all attempts to have the NLRB conduct an election, even though a majority of employees at MeadWestvaco have signed up with the new union, its lawyer, John Fishwick, said Sunday.

Inside the school, Gerard acknowledged that the Steelworkers brought charges against the new union to the national labor board, later withdrew some, then reinstituted some others.

"I have an obligation to represent even one or two or three or five or 10 members who believe their rights were violated" by the disaffiliation vote, he said. "I won't decide not to represent them just because people are yelling at me."

Both Gerard and representatives of the new union leveled similar charges at each other -- of intimidating union members and their families, of campaigns of intentional misinformation and of simple misunderstandings.

Both sides were more reticent to talk about specific grievances, which appear to have included such concerns as health care benefits and the length of collective bargaining agreements.

The paperworkers have been working under the provisions of a contract that expired in December 2006, and many expressed frustration over the lack of a new agreement.

Gerard did not apologize for his union's position on those issues or the lack of a contract, although he tried to explain them. But he did acknowledge that the union "had made some mistakes" in its interactions with the Covington local.

He said the death more than a year ago of a key union official who dealt with the paperworkers led to a series of personnel missteps and communication lapses. Those have been corrected, he insisted, and the union simply wants to talk through whatever remaining issues "have created this level of mistrust."

Employees picketing outside said they wanted no more explanations, only a chance to exercise the right Gerard said he also supported -- to cast a ballot for their representatives.

Although Gerard and other Steelworkers staffers insisted that the paperworkers need to be part of a union with national clout to take on the threats of international competition, Markland insisted that the local members have always done their own bargaining with MeadWestvaco anyway.

He and others said they had no misgivings about the power of local workers to continue doing that.

"All we want is a vote. That's all we've asked for since October," said Tim Sparks, a 32-year employee of the plant.


Striking writers gut industry self-congratulation

Could the Grammys be the next awards show targeted by striking Hollywood writers?

Having deflated the People’s Choice Awards and the Golden Globes, the Writers Guild of America may demonstrate at the music industry’s big night on Feb. 10 in L.A. If that happens, Hollywood strike supporters could put strong pressure on their musical allies not to cross the picket line.

Plans are already afoot to appeal to Grammy nominees who are also actors, or who have acting ambitions. Those include Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Queen Latifah, 50 Cent, Jon Bon Jovi, Bjork, Prince, Alicia Keys, Fantasia, Nelly Furtado, Tim McGraw, Kelly Clarkson, The White Stripes, Fergie and Usher.

“The writers are especially interested in artists who might perform on the show,” says a source. “If they pull out, the show comes apart.”

The writers also have an interest in Bruce Springsteen. Even though he doesn’t act, the Boss is seen as a friend of labor, especially after performing all those Woody Guthrie songs.

Despite Springsteen’s three nominations, a friend tells us, “I don’t think he’s coming to the Grammys — not because of a strike, just because he doesn’t always attend the Grammys.”

It’s possible that the Writers Guild could give a pass to Grammy-givers at the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. Aside from some lame jokes for presenters, the show doesn’t involve a whole lot of writing. Still, it is writing for broadcast — which comes under the purview of the Guild.

“As of now, the Guild has not taken a position on the Grammys,” a WGA spokeswoman told us at press time.

Meanwhile, one star-handler says, “We’re all being vigilant. We’re waiting and hoping the producers and writers work out their differences.”


Pro-Clinton Gov. in open-ended rape-lies probe

A Portland-area radio talk show host wants the Oregon State Bar to continue its investigation into whether Gov. Ted Kulongoski told the truth about his knowledge of former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt's sexual abuse of a teenage girl.

The bar rejected the original complaint by Lars Larson, saying Kulongoski was "credible" in his denial that he hadn't heard about the abuse until the night before it was reported in newspapers.

In a letter appealing the decision, Larson said that doesn't square with the bar's conclusion that former Goldschmidt speechwriter Fred Leonhardt also is "credible." Leonhardt said he told Kulongoski rumors about the abuse years before it was reported publicly.

Larson's appeal will be reviewed by the bar's general counsel, who will decide whether to affirm the decision or call for further investigation and possible disciplinary action. There is no deadline for a decision, according to bar spokeswoman Kateri Walsh.


Unions sick of empty campaign promises

When Barack Obama collected the endorsement on Wednesday of Nevada's largest union, Culinary Workers Union Local 226, many observers proclaimed that he may have picked up the key to victory in the state's date January 19 caucuses. But whether or not their backing helps Obama win the presidency, the Culinary Workers will already have secured something better than mere campaign promises: In order to win their endorsement, the leading presidential candidates had to join the union's fight in their contentious battle with the MGM Grand and other Las Vegas casinos over health care benefits and job security guarantees.

Obama pledged to "have his sun tan lotion and hat ready" to walk a picket line if the workers struck, met with the union's negotiating team, and celebrated with them in October when they signed contracts with six casinos. In addition, the Culinary Workers were able to secure pledges from Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards to spend time on the picket line if the union went on strike in Nevada.

Nevada's Culinary Workers aren't alone among unions in wanting more from campaign season than empty promises. The precipitous decline of union membership in the United States--from almost 12 million unionized private-sector workers in the 80s to less than 8 million in 2006--means that the labor movement can no longer afford to plunge endless resources into political campaigns without some guaranteed return. In a dramatic shift from its traditional practices, Big Labor has a new strategy this campaign season that focuses less on propelling their favorite candidates to victory and more on using election-time voter mobilization to build membership and draw attention to unions' own key contract fights. This year will be a critical test of whether those new strategies can help win elections and provide a much-needed blood transfusion to America's unions.

Labor endorsements have long been prized by politicians because union members frequently vote as a bloc--three-quarters of the approximately 12 million union voters who turned out in the 2006 Congressional elections pulled the lever for Democrats--and their members often have prior political experience, making them excellent volunteers. Unions also have significant amounts of money to give to candidates and to spend on independent efforts to sway voters. The AFL-CIO, America's largest union federation representing 10 million workers, spent $40 million on the 2006 elections and has pledged that it and its 55 member unions will spend $200 million on the 2008 cycle, more than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton combined raised through the third quarter of last year.

That support comes with a price: Once in office, union-backed candidates are expected to pursue a broad economic agenda that includes increasing the minimum wage, making it easier to form unions, inserting labor protections in trade deals, and reforming working conditions.

But recent experience has made unions wary of staking their political credibility on endorsements. In 2004, despite blowing away the rest of the Democratic field with his number of union endorsements, then-Representative Dick Gephardt sputtered to a fourth-place finish in Iowa, and then dropped out. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) backed Vermont governor Howard Dean in November 2003, thinking it had found a match for its focus on aggressive organizing and growth--until Dean's candidacy was undone in the blink of a news cycle.

Even when union-backed candidates make it into office, there's no guarantee that they will deliver for the unions who supported them. Take Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who won resoundingly in 2006 thanks in part to hundreds of thousands of dollars from union PACs and a stamp of approval from the AFL-CIO, which gave him a 97 percent positive vote rating. He even wears a lapel pin of a miner's canary, representing the dangers of the workplace before the advent of labor laws and union advocacy. But all his passion couldn't change the Republican decision last summer to block the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would make it easier for workers to form unions and that was a key labor movement priority.

In the wake of these expensive disappointments, seven unions, including SEIU, split from the AFL-CIO, taking six million members with them to a new labor federation, Change to Win. The break-up was prompted in part by a dispute over priorities: Unions who left the AFL-CIO wanted to spend money on efforts to grow union membership rather than political campaigns that they believed offered little return.

Unions' membership crisis has forced them to reorient their political efforts toward bolstering their numbers--resulting in a drastic change in how they engage with political campaigns. Last year, the AFL-CIO used Kentucky to road-test a new national field strategy premised on capitalizing on election-time excitement to bring attention to their own causes. During the state's 2007 gubernatorial election, the group mobilized a record number of volunteers. But the workers were not just stumping against anti-union GOP Governor Ernie Fletcher--they were also raising awareness of a crucial nursing strike at the Appalachian Regional Healthcare network of hospitals occurring at the same time as the campaign. The week before the election, they organized a statewide bus tour to turn out union voters and simultaneously draw attention to the nurse's strike. The group also harnessed national interest in the gubernatorial election to elicit donations and staff support for the nurses' strike from AFL-CIO member unions in other states.

The federation achieved both of its goals: Seventy-seven percent of union voters cast their ballots for the Democrat, union supporter Steve Beshear, and the nurses won a new contract. Even if their investment in Beshear fails to pay off, the election still offered tangible benefits to the federation.

The unions in Change to Win, such as SEIU, are also adopting growth-oriented campaign strategies. SEIU, for example, which represents 1.9 million health and child care workers, janitors and security guards nationwide, is part of a coalition that in 2007 helped more than a million eligible immigrants apply for citizenship--with the goal that they will also become 2008 voters. Adding a million Latino voters to the electorate could help swing key races towards Democrats in districts where Republicans have staked out hard lines on immigration. But perhaps more important for SEIU is that those new citizens are also potential new members.

Even in campaigns where unions do make campaign contributions and endorsements or provide volunteers, the labor movement is expecting its candidates to get intimately involved in union fights. SEIU set up a program called Walk a Day in My Shoes to have candidates spend a day on the job with union members--harnessing the campaign press to further their own initiatives--yielding pictures of Obama serving a meal to a home-bound patient in California and Hillary Clinton making the rounds with a Nevada nurse.

Of course, even if union-backed candidates do win their races, and Democrats take over all of Washington, the 2008 elections won't provide a panacea for anemic union rosters. But if unions can find a way to get two for the price of one, and use their election-year efforts to fight for job security at the Tropicana in Las Vegas and get nurses back to work in Kentucky while garnering a new level of commitment and publicity from labor-friendly candidates, the movement might regain some of its potency--on Capitol Hill, and in union locals across the country.

- Alyssa Rosenberg is a staff correspondent at Government Executive.


Mayor: Re-open Teamsters contract for cuts

New mayor Alfred Cooper said the financial health of Oakland City (IN) doesn't look good, and he intends to do all he can to improve it - starting with the water department.

"I have ordered a layoff of a water department employee," he said. "It was a hard decision to make, but it had to be done." Cooper said the water department has been functioning in the red since November.

They have been able to get through because of some money he said was owed to the water department by the fire department, so some transfers were made. But that is a temporary fix to what Cooper said is a rather serious problem.

The layoff in the water department is just the tip of the iceberg. Cooper said he and the council have much work to do. "I am trying to get control of the finances," he said. "Oakland City has really got to make some changes. It means we have to make some tough decisions."

Another problem area in the budget is the high cost of insurance for the city employees. Cooper said insurance costs cost the city more than $100,000, a cost the city cannot afford. But Cooper said the benefits are stipulated in a contract between the city and the Teamsters. "We are going to be working with the Teamsters to try to reduce that," Cooper said. "We are going to discuss our options and see what can be done."


Nevada Dems at one with unions

A key back-room battle in the contest to nominate a Democratic presidential candidate is raging far from the gaze of TV cameras in places like the workers' cafeteria of the Mirage Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.

There, activists like Amelia Moreland are trying to translate an endorsement from the state's most powerful union into support for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the Nevada caucus next Saturday. Labor unions are especially crucial in the Democratic presidential race for their ability to organize and mobilize voters and get them to the polls.

Both Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton lobbied hard to for the endorsement of the Culinary Union which has 60,000 members. Obama won and his supporters now are trying to turn it into actual votes to balance Clinton's support from most of the rest of the state's Democratic establishment.

"We have to convince these people; it is tough," Moreland said, standing among chefs in white hats and cocktail waitresses in skimpy dresses. "If it is 20 percent (support) now, next Saturday it will be 80 percent."

Much of the politicking is in Spanish -- nearly half the union membership is Hispanic -- and name tags at the Mirage show birthplaces like Mexico, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.

The vast underbelly beneath a Las Vegas hotel that houses cleaning, food and security operations is usually off limits to outsiders, but MGM Mirage managers agreed to allow a reporter to visit this weekend.


Las Vegas has been a powerful economic machine, helping turn Nevada into one of the fastest-growing states in the country. Some 5,800 people are employed at the Mirage alone.

If large numbers of cleaning people, cooks, bartenders and others show up and support the union's choice, Obama could win because overall turnout is likely to be only in the tens of thousands in the state of 2.5 million.

This year is the first time Nevada is hosting a caucus. The process is complicated and party members stand for hours in groups to show support for favored candidates rather than voting in a secret ballot.

People usually vote near their homes, but the Democratic Party has agreed to set up caucus sites at nine Las Vegas Strip hotels so that those working can vote.

The plan has sparked a lawsuit from a teacher's union, which alleges it offers an unfair exception. Republicans are not offering casino hotel caucuses.

This weekend, Culinary Union president Geoconda Arguello Kline campaigned for Obama in the cafeteria. "Hillary Clinton is a good person, no?" Juan Candela asked in Spanish.

Kline agreed, but said Obama would be better for the union. Candela ultimately said he would back his union's choice.

Clinton's supporters are also making a major push. She has twice visited Las Vegas in recent days and is making big efforts in Hispanic neighborhoods. "We have built a ground organization unlike any other," said Ruben Kihuen, a legislator who has hosted Clinton in Hispanic areas.

A win in Nevada could boost a candidate leading up to the biggest day of primary voting, February 5, when California, New York and 20 other states make their choice.


Eyes turn to union town in Right To Work state

The Michigan primary is tomorrow and the Nevada caucuses are Saturday. This schedule calls to the mind the striking contrast between the way Detroit greets air travelers and the way Las Vegas does it. If you fly into Detroit Metro Airport and catch a ride east toward the city itself, you have to go a stretch before a gigantic tire welcomes you to the Motor City. But far be it from Las Vegas to show such reserve. At its airport, just after you exit the jet way, slot machines greet you in the terminal.

As different as it is from Detroit, however, Vegas has imitated it in one respect: Detroit used to be a place where a person with little education could still get a good-paying job. With the contraction of the auto industry in Michigan, and the expansion of the gambling business in Nevada, Vegas has become the town that beckons with this opportunity.

In Nevada, the average hourly wage of a worker with no more than a high school diploma is $23.30, the highest of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. On this count, Michigan is now 10th.

Nevada isn't on top by accident. It's there because the vast majority of the state's workers hold jobs in the Las Vegas area and, though Nevada is a right-to-work state, Las Vegas is nonetheless a union town. In fact, as Hal Rothman reports in "Neon Metropolis," his insightful book on Vegas, it is now "the most unionized city in the United States."

Its largest local union is Culinary Workers Union Local 226. This is the 60,000-member local that endorsed Barack Obama last week, even though a large majority of it members are women and he had just lost New Hampshire to a female opponent, Hillary Clinton. Caucuses aside, though, this union is also a possible model for the future.

The typical hourly wage of a 2008 worker with at least a four-year degree is higher than the typical hourly wage of a 1973 worker with a four-year degree - but the typical wage of a 2008 worker without a degree is lower than the typical wage of a 1973 worker without a degree. Moreover, two of three of today's workers do not have a degree.

One reason why the noncollege jobs of today don't pay as well as the noncollege jobs of 35 years ago, it has been claimed, is that a lot of the 1973 jobs were in manufacturing, and a lot of the 2008 jobs are in the service sector - and rank-and-file work in the service sector, unlike such work in the manufacturing sector, is inherently low-wage work.

But the paychecks of the Culinary Workers Union members rebut this claim. As working stiffs in the gambling industry - hotel maids and fry cooks, busboys and cocktail waitresses, laundry workers and card dealers - they do menial work in the service sector. But they do not have to do it for menial pay. In part, this has to be because unionization has given them some leverage.

To be sure, the pay levels for rank-and-file workers in manufacturing have been higher than those for such workers in the service sector. But this isn't because there is something in the nature of manufacturing itself that makes for higher pay. It's because it has been more unionized. An old issue of Life magazine tells the story of a steel worker whose pay jumped by 260 percent in 10 years. This was chiefly because, at the beginning of the 10-year-period, the steel workers across the country unionized.

Much of the workforce can be divided into two groups. One group is the workers who can build a brand for themselves as individuals, even if the brand works its magic chiefly within just a single institution - as it might for a highly reliable project director in an organization's IT division - or just a tiny occupational or geographic niche, as it might for the best-known real estate agent in a small town. Because such workers stand out from the crowd, they hold bargaining power as individuals, and get paid well.

The other group is the crowd: the workers who are generic. They have little or no bargaining power as individuals. In the way of pay, they often must take what the job market offers to workers like them. If they want to earn more, they can try to brand themselves. Or they can bargain not as individuals, but en masse. It worked that way in Cadillac plants. It works that way in resort hotels.


Carpenter named union hack of the year

This summary is not available. Please click here to view the post.

City taps reserves to give SEIU more

After about four months of negotiations, a labor agreement between the city and its largest bargaining group is set for Santa Maria City Council review this week.

The city and the Service Employees International Union Local 620 had been in contract talks since September before hammering out a proposed contract that includes changes to salary and benefits.

The first year of the two-year deal offers a 5-percent salary increase, with an additional 5-percent increase the second year, according to the proposal. Also included is language that the city will begin paying toward employee dental coverage, a benefit that was never included before.

The proposal has already been ratified by union members and is scheduled to be before the council Tuesday as part of the consent agenda. The council meets at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 110 E. Cook St.

“We reached a fair contract and it was ratified by our members and got an overwhelming vote from them saying yes,” said SEIU chapter chairperson Daniel Vegezzi. “So it was good.”

Full-time employees represented by the SEIU are coming off a three-year contract, and the newly organized part-time employees are coming off a one-year agreement. Both contracts expired Dec. 21.

“We are pleased with the results of the negotiations,” said Bruce Corsaw, SEIU representative. “I think the city did a good job, I think the union did a good job.”

Corsaw noted that the city takes pride in its low employee-to-resident ratio, adding that many of those numbers are kept down through the work of SEIU employees.

“Our membership makes that happen, and I believe the council recognizes that and addressed that accordingly in negotiations,” Corsaw said.

The proposal before the council covers both full-time and part-time employees, and is set to expire Dec. 18, 2009.

The entire package, which covers about 300 employees, is expected to cost the city an additional $556,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year, according to the council's written staff report.

About half of the cost is expected to come from the general fund and will be paid for through reserves.

This is the first of a series of contracts expected to come before the council in the coming months.

The city is in talks with the Firefighters Local 2020, the Santa Maria Police Officers Association, public safety managers and nonrepresented management and confidential employees.

The 42-member Local 2020 is coming off a three-year contract that is set to expire in February, and the 134-member SMPOA just finished up a one-year deal that expired in December.


The most powerful labor union in the nation

The National Education Association (NEA) is perhaps the most powerful labor union in the nation, but it is rarely investigated by the major news media. Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have attended the NEA's annual convention and expressed their appreciation for the union's political support.

At the NEA's July 1993 convention, President Clinton stated: "I believe that the president of this organization (NEA) would say we have had the partnership I promised in the campaign of 1992, and we will continue to have it.... You and I are joined in a common cause, and I believe we will succeed." A few months later, on December 15, 1993, EDUCATION WEEK reported that "Debra DeLee, the former director of governmental relations for the NEA, has joined the Democratic National Committee as its executive director."

A clear majority of the public school teachers in the nation belong to the NEA. Yet probably very few have known what their own union has stood for throughout the years of the 20th century. The following is a chronology of just a few of the revealing activities and published statements of the NEA during that time:

October 19, 1929---The NEA presents John Dewey ("Father of Progressive Education") with a "Life Membership." This is the same year Dewey published INDIVIDUALISM, OLD AND NEW, in which he proclaimed "We are in for some kind of socialism." And it is the year after Dewey in the December 5, 1928 NEW REPUBLIC praised the Soviet Bolsheviks' "marvelous development of progressive educational ideas and practices" and their counteracting "the influence of home and Church."

1932---The NEA makes Dewey honorary president of its organization, and its Department of Superintendence division publishes its tenth yearbook subtitled CHARACTER EDUCATION. In this yearbook, it criticizes the church for employing "outworn dogmas of the past" and states that "relativity must replace absolutism in the realm of morals" and that "the citizen of the future must be a citizen of the world."

July 1934---At the 72nd annual meeting of the NEA, Willard Givens (who will be executive secretary of the NEA from 1935 to 1952) says: "A dying laissez-faire must be completely destroyed and all of us, including the 'owners,' must be subjected to a large degree of social control.... An equitable distribution of income will be sought."

January 1946---NEA JOURNAL publishes "The Teacher and World Government" by Joy Elmer Morgan (editor of NEA JOURNAL from 1921 to 1955), in which he proclaims: "In the struggle to establish an adequate world government, the teacher...can do much to prepare the hearts and minds of children for global understanding and cooperation.... At the very top of the agencies which will assure the coming of world government must stand the school, the teacher, and the organized profession."

October 1947---NEA JOURNAL publishes "On the Waging of Peace" by NEA official William Carr, who advocates that teachers "teach those attitudes that will result ultimately in the creation of a world citizenship and world government."

November 23, 1956---former teacher, communist, and organizer of the New York Teachers' Union, Dr. Bella Dodd, states in an interview in the Los Angeles TIDINGS: "I learned that the function of the Communist Party was to be the lead donkey pulling the drift of American life to the left. Most of the programs we advocated, the National Education Association followed the next year or so."

1962---ISSUES IN (HUMAN RELATIONS) TRAINING is published by the National Training Laboratories of the NEA, and in this book the editors write that human relations or sensitivity training "fits into a context of institutional influence procedures which includes coercive persuasion in the form of thought reform or brainwashing...."

September 23, 1968---NEA president Elizabeth Koontz addresses the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and states: "The NEA has a multi-faceted program already directed toward the urban school problem, embracing every phase, from the Headstart Program to sensitivity training for adults--both teachers and parents." Remember the reference immediately above concerning "sensitivity training" and "brainwashing."

1971---SCHOOLS FOR THE '70s AND BEYOND: A CALL TO ACTION is published by the NEA, and declares that "...teachers who conform to the traditional institutional mode are out of place. They might find fulfillment as tap-dance instructors, or guards in maximum security prisons, or proprietors of reducing salons, or agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation--but they damage teaching children, and themselves by staying in the classroom."

February 10, 1973---In the SATURDAY REVIEW OF EDUCATION, NEA president Catherine Barrett pronounces: "Dramatic changes in the way we will raise our children in the year 2000 are indicated, particularly in terms of schooling.... We will need to recognize that the so-called 'basic skills,' which currently represent yearly the total effort in elementary schools, will be taught in one-quarter of the present school day.... When this happens--and it's near--the teacher can rise to his true calling. More than a dispenser of information, the teacher will be a conveyor of values, a philosopher.... We will be agents of change."

February 1979---The NEA holds its 17th annual Conference on Human and Civil Rights in Washington, DC, and the keynote speaker is New Ager Jean Houston. She states that many teachers have opened "the minds of children from darkness to illuminist humanity.... The moral mandates,...the standard brand governments, religions...are breaking down.... The New Age is seeded and created.... And who is it done by? I suggest largely by educators...."

February 1980 - June 1984 ---John Lloyd is executive director of the Kansas National Education Association (an NEA affiliate). He says that Saul Alinsky's RULES FOR RADICALS is the NEA's "bible." In the book, Alinsky has an "acknowledgment" to Lucifer, and further states that the radical organizer "dedicated to changing the life of a particular community must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; fan the latent hostilities of many to the point of overt expression. He must search out controversy and issues.... An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent.... He knows that all values are relative.... Truth to him is relative and changing."

April 5, 1983---THE WASHINGTON POST editorial, "Political Teaching," accuses the NEA of preparing curriculum materials on nuclear weapons, atomic war, and the American arms build-up, which are "political indoctrination." The NEA curriculum is called "Choices: A Unit on Conflict and Nuclear War."

March 1991---NEA TODAY publishes an interview conducted by NEA staffer Stephanie Weiss with Planned Parenthood president Faye Wattleton, in which the latter expresses her support for school-based distribution of contraceptives and "comprehensive sexuality education" which would begin "well before... kindergarten age."

1994---DICTATORSHIP OF VIRTUE: MULTICULTURALISM AND THE BATTLE FOR AMERICA'S FUTURE by NEW YORK TIMES reporter Richard Bernstein is published. In this book he writes that as long ago as 1973 the NEA proclaimed that "all whites are racists," and in 1991 NEA TODAY declared that "never again will Christopher Columbus sit on a pedestal in United States history. Christopher Columbus brought slavery to the hemisphere."

July 1997---Kansas Education Watch Networks "Update" states that the following are actual excerpts from a transcript of an audio cassette tape used to train NEA labor negotiators in the Midwest: "In order to apply pressure tactics properly, your negotiating team needs to know and understand your board and its negotiating team thoroughly. Uncovering information about the board, the superintendent and the board negotiating team, are critical to your success in negotiations.... The suggested data to be gathered on board members is the following: ...religious affiliation. His estimated income....and don't forget to check into his politics....wear down the board physically and psychologically...."

January 5, 1999---INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY publishes "The NEA's Political Lesson Plan" by staff writer Michael Chapman, in which he explains: "The nation's largest teachers union wants the U.S. to nationalize health care, start a nuclear freeze, adopt national energy policies and pass more gun-control laws. Yet it doesn't want teachers tested or schools privatized.... The NEA has long backed a left-wing political agenda."

Many more revealing facts about and quotes by the NEA can be found in my NEA: GRAB FOR POWER. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the NEA has continued its radical leftist agenda, as the following are excerpts from the NEA's July 2007 ADVANCING NEA's LEGISLATIVE PROGRAM: "NEA supports: (1) repeal of the so-called right-to-work provision of federal labor law (2) a tax-supported, single-payer health care plan for all residents of the United States (3) the addition of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution (4) reproductive freedom without governmental intervention (5) comprehensive immigration reform that rejects the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and includes a path to permanent residency, citizenship, or asylum NEA opposes: (1) the use of vouchers or certificates in education (2) federally mandated parental option or 'choice' programs (3) the testing of teachers as a criterion for job retention, promotion, tenure, or salary increments (4) any constitutional amendment imposing limitations on taxes or the federal budget."


Mayor may disclose collective bargaining info

Pittsburgh schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt said the school district might soon make public its contract proposal to teachers and warned that a strike could damage his reforms.

"We believe the public has some right to know what's happening and why," he said Sunday during a break in a school board meeting. "If there's going to be a strike -- and I hope there's not -- then the public has a right to know what the differences between us are."

The 4,042 teachers and other school employees who belong to the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers authorized union leaders to call a strike whenever they think it necessary. Teachers have been working without a contract since the previous one expired June 30.

By law, the union must give the district 48 hours' notice of a strike. Roosevelt said he has not yet received such notice. "We've not made a final decision as to if or when a notification will be sent," federation President John Tarka said.

Tarka said the union held a meeting of building representatives Jan. 5 at which they discussed what would happen if a strike occurred.

"But the bottom line is we're working to avoid a strike," he said.

The district has not had a strike since 1975-76. Both sides will meet again today, and Roosevelt will attend the session.

"I might bring board members," the superintendent said.

Roosevelt was clearly upset by the lack of progress in contract talks. When board member Randall Taylor asked him yesterday about the status of district reforms, Roosevelt responded, "The situation with the teachers right now has the possibility of threatening everything we're doing."

During Roosevelt's two years as superintendent, the district has closed 22 schools and started a curriculum and eight accelerated learning academies with a longer school day and school year. Roosevelt has proposed closing Schenley High School in Oakland and starting four grade schools serving grades six to 12.

Bargaining issues include pay, post-retirement health care costs, the length of the workday, severance pay for unused sick leave and the term of the contract. Neither side has made its offer public.

The average pay for Pittsburgh teachers is $62,000 a year. The current workday is seven hours and six minutes.

The district contends that health care costs for retired teachers have more than doubled in three years -- from $5.3 million in 2004 to a projected $11.8 million last year. In addition, from 2001 to 2006, annual wage increases for teachers with fewer than 10 years of experience have averaged 3.7 percent.

The union counters that teachers at the top of the pay scale -- those with at least 10 years of experience -- have received an average wage increase of 1.6 percent a year between 2000 and 2006.


SEIU political corruption in desert bloom

This week is dominated by Nevada’s Jan. 19 caucus, and because most commissioners are active in one presidential campaign or another, it’s probably a good thing that fewer items are scheduled for their Tuesday meeting than we’ve ever seen here at Week in Review.

But that doesn’t mean the wheels of county government stop turning. In fact, Commissioner Tom Collins is hard at work on an interesting proposal this week. What’s the proposal? If you’ve been around long enough to know a little about Collins, then you probably guessed it has something to do with a rodeo or organized labor. This time, it’s the latter.

First some background:

The county’s rank and file workers are represented by the Service Employees International Union Nevada. The union’s old collective bargaining contract with the county expired at the end of June 2006. The two sides didn’t reach a new agreement until eight months after that, in March 2007.

The new contract gave workers retroactive pay increases of 3 percent for those eight months. Some workers, however, left the county workforce during that time. The new contract took those folks into account: It gave them 30 days to request the retroactive pay increase from the county.

That sounds boring. What’s the point?

Well, Collins wants to scratch all that. His plan: Just give the raise to all former workers who quit after the old contract’s expiration but before the signing of the new contract. Pretty bold.

Collins didn’t want to talk about the item Friday. He would say only: “Come to the meeting.”

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani said the problem is that the county never set up a procedure through which former employees are supposed to request the retroactive pay hike. She said one former worker tried to hand-deliver a request to the county, but it was rejected.

“They said he had to mail it,” Giunchigliani said.

What’s the price tag on this proposal?

It’s estimated at $130,000. More than 100 former workers requested the pay increase during the 30-day period, but 150 others did not.

It will be interesting to see what the commissioners do. We’re guessing that county management isn’t a big fan of the proposal. They’re probably thinking, hey, a deal’s a deal.

But Collins and Giunchigliani are close to the SEIU. The union played a key role in helping Giunchigliani knock off incumbent Commissioner Myrna Williams in last year’s primary. Collins was the only commissioner to attend Giunchigliani’s victory party.

What else is going on?

A committee of stakeholders is expected to winnow the field of candidates seeking the chief executive position at University Medical Center within the next week or two, according to county spokesman Erik Pappa.

Whoever steps into the position will have a huge task stemming the public hospital’s massive financial losses and restoring a reputation tarnished by former Chief Executive Lacy Thomas. District Attorney David Roger is expected to ask a grand jury to indict Thomas on public corruption charges this week.

What’s the latest with the county’s proposed heliport in Sloan?

Much to the relief of those beneath the flight path of the 100 daily helicopter tours leaving McCarran International Airport for the Grand Canyon, the county is moving forward with the plan.

Commissioners are expected to approve a $2.3 million contract this week for the design of the heliport, which county officials hope will draw noisy helicopter traffic away from residential areas. Residents have been asking for relief for years.

Paying for the design work is a somewhat risky move because the project needs to gain approval through an environmental assessment that probably won’t be completed until spring. The county could wait to invest the money in design work until the project gets a thumbs up, but officials are eager to move the project forward as quickly as possible.

But don’t throw away your earplugs yet. Airport officials don’t expect the new heliport to be up and running until late 2010.


Big Entertainment unions seek divorce

SAG and AFTRA's upcoming film-TV contract negotiations with the AMPTP have gotten a lot messier -- with a possible divorce between the performers unions in the cards.

Long perturbed over AFTRA's refusal to cut back its 50-50 representation on bargaining committees, leaders of the Screen Actors Guild have approved going to SAG's 120,000 members next month with a referendum that proposes ditching the guild's 27-year-old Phase 1 joint bargaining agreement.

Saturday's national board voting was split along geographic lines, with Hollywood reps, who hold 60% of the seats, endorsing the move over vehement opposition from New York and regional reps.

With ballots sent out Feb. 15 and due back by March 31, look for a spirited campaign to unfold quickly. The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists condemned SAG's move Sunday as "divisive, destructive and clearly not in the best interest of performers in either union" and blasted its proponents as "radical."

SAG has 120,000 members while AFTRA has 70,000, so the guild has an automatic advantage in persuading its members to back the referendum. About 40,000 thesps are dual cardholders.

Should SAG members approve the referendum, SAG would first attempt to persuade AFTRA to revamp the bargaining committee composition on a 9-1 basis since SAG takes in 90% of the earnings under the contract. Should AFTRA not comply, that would open the door for each union to negotiate its new film-TV contract separately with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

SAG insiders note that the WGA's film-TV bargaining committee is composed of 14 members from the WGA West and three from the WGA East -- in a reflection of earnings generated by each branch. And SAG president Alan Rosenberg said the Phase 1 agreement is archaic.

"Unless we are able to correct the shortcomings of the current Phase 1 agreement, which AFTRA has thus far been unwilling to do, Phase 1 is as out of date as black-and-white television," said Rosenberg.

The SAG-AFTRA negotiations process is being closely watched by the majors due to fears that thesps may strike this summer. SAG is more closely aligned with the Writers Guild of America than any other Hollywood union, and its members have been supportive of the writers throughout their 11-week strike.

The latest firefight between the performers' unions reflects ongoing frustration at SAG's Hollywood branch due to AFTRA's disproportionate clout at the bargaining table -- and tendency to take far less aggressive positions.

The battle amped up in October, when SAG took a blistering shot at AFTRA, accusing the smaller union of poaching contracts on cable shows and shilling for producers by signing deals that exclude a first run of residuals. As part of an outreach to SAG members, the guild detailed instances of performers being paid as much as 53% less under AFTRA contracts for similar work.

That prompted AFTRA to accuse SAG of trying to muscle its way into control of AFTRA and to reiterate its long-held contention that it's entitled to organize any show within its jurisdiction, and that signing deals at lower terms is preferable to the shows lensing non-union or in Canada.

In answer to a question about how guild members responded to SAG's outreach on the issue, guild national exec director Doug Allen was unequivocal.

"What we found through multiple set visits, house parties and membership meetings is that actors condemn the reductions in basic cable contracts," he said. "Actors are very frustrated with AFTRA's refusal to work with Screen Actors Guild to address the problems we have and to make the joint bargaining relationship more productive for members of both unions."

AFTRA, in its response Sunday, attempted to portray itself as a victim of a lack of unity among SAG's leaders.

"This latest action by SAG is merely a smokescreen for the internal battles between its national membership and a radical Hollywood faction," it said. "AFTRA will not be a scapegoat for SAG's internal politics, and we condemn actions by SAG to terminate a joint bargaining agreement that has been working to our members' mutual benefit for 27 years. AFTRA is prepared to push forward -- with or without SAG -- to win contracts that provide fair wages, good benefits and safe working conditions for all performers."

In another development, AFTRA announced Friday that it had agreed to postpone its skedded talks with the AMPTP for the sake of the DGA talks, which launched over the weekend. AFTRA said the majors requested last Thursday to hold off on the start of its talks on the condition that the AFTRA negotiations begin no later than Feb. 19.

AFTRA also said it would extend the Jan. 31 expiration of the so-called network code portion of its contract -- which covers a wide variety of TV programming -- until March 7.

It's the second time AFTRA has extended the expiration of the net code. It bumped that date from Nov. 15 to Jan. 31 last year to allow negotiators to focus on the WGA talks.

Current contract, which expires Jan. 31, covers about $400 million in annual earnings from dramatic programs in syndication or outside primetime, daytime serial dramas, gameshows, talkshows, variety and musical programs, news, sports, reality shows and promotional announcements.


Iowa Dems seek to ban voluntary unionism

Like other pro-business groups in Iowa, the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce fought Democratic-led efforts last year to pass "fair share.'' The controversial plan, which would allow labor unions to bargain for the right to charge a service fee to non-union workers, passed the Senate, but died in the House. Some legislative leaders expect the controversial proposal to come up again this year.

The Siouxland Chamber is bracing for that possibility. Retaining the state's existing right-to-work law is at the top of the group's "guiding principles'' for this session. Chamber leaders warn that tinkering with the 30-year law would cost Iowa jobs and new business development. In particular, they say Sioux City could lose prospects to neighboring right-to-work states Nebraska and South Dakota.

"We have had numerous site selectors that we work with tell us that Iowa would be taken off the list," Chamber President Debi Durham said. "From a recruitment standpoint, future investment standpoint, it would be detrimental to our state."

Durham said she hopes Democratic Gov. Chet Culver the Democratically-controlled Legislature concentrate on issues with broader appeal.

"I certainly hope that a bulk of our time and efforts aren't spent with issues like fair share,'' Durham said. "We'd like to focus on property tax reform, and other things that affect everyone, from senior citizens to our business and industry community."

The Chamber recently released its agenda for the 2008 session, which begins Monday. The list includes a number of local and regional importance.

The organization again supports a more equitable system of distributing property tax dollars to local school districts. That would mean millions of dollars of added support for Sioux City's district, which is among those forced to levy a higher tax rate than some other districts because they have lower property valuations.

So far, lawmakers have failed to develop a ways to address the inequity without penalizing property-rich districts.

On a related issue, the Chamber continues to call for the Legislature to reform the state's property tax system. Property taxes for commercial and industrial property have kept rising, largely due to the so-called state rollback, a decades-old tax discount for residential property tied to ag land values.

"We need to revisit what property taxes pay for and how they are levied," the Siouxland Chamber said in its position paper. "We cannot support any measures that worsen the gap between the property tax classifications, but, rather we advocate an equitable system."

The Chamber also supports a simplified tax system, and opposes growth in the state budget that exceeds the rate of inflation or the growth index. "Our organization certainly has concerns about spending issues," she said.

Among the Chamber's other priorities for this session:

- The state Transportation Department should expand U.S. Highway 20 to four lanes from Fort Dodge to Sioux City. According to the Chamber, western Iowa is at a competitive disadvantage because of the lack of an east-west highway corridor.

- Lawmakers should look to lower the taxable wages in which an employer's unemployment taxes are calculated. Iowa's 2008 taxable wage base of $22,800 is higher than the average of $12,900 for surrounding Midwest states, putting Iowa businesses at a competitive disadvantage, according to the Chamber.

- The state should keep the present workers compensation provision that allows employers to select the medical care for injured workers. Some lawmakers favor allowing workers instead to pick their own doctors, a change that the Chamber argues would hurt Northwest Iowa businesses' ability to compete with neighboring states.

- The state should continue its efforts to establish a "more customer-friendly'' regulatory environment. The Chamber recommends moving toward online state permitting by consolidating applications from multiple agencies into easy-to-file, non-duplicative online versions with defined response times.


City police union likened to 'jackbooted thugs'

After a year marked by controversy over the discipline of Seattle police officers, the city and its police union appear to be on a collision course over possible changes in the way the Police Department handles allegations of officer misconduct.

Who prevails could shape for years to come how the city's police officers are held accountable.

An expert panel appointed by Mayor Greg Nickels is expected to release recommendations by the end of the month for improving the disciplinary system. The police union and city officials have spent the past several months staking out ground over how far changes can go.

City officials say too much power has been ceded to the Seattle Police Officers' Guild over the years and that the expert panel's work could provide a chance to alter that. "I think this will be a defining moment for police accountability in terms of what has to be bargained and what is a management right," said Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, arguing that not all changes need union approval.

Guild President Rich O'Neill contends that anything other than small "tweaks" to the disciplinary system must be bargained with the union.

2 incidents spur action

Nickels formed the expert panel in June after Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske exonerated two officers accused of using excessive force in a controversial downtown arrest, spurring an outcry from a police-review board and community activists.

Kerlikowske also had come under fire for not disciplining officers who had beaten an African-American man outside a Capitol Hill bar.

In response to the two incidents, the Seattle City Council also formed its own panel to examine police culture.

The Guild has officially supported the scrutiny but complained that the issue has been blown out of proportion.

Seattle cops "are tired of being tarred as a bunch of jackbooted thugs," especially since so few cases rise to the level of serious misconduct, said Chris Vick, an attorney who represents the Guild and 30 other police unions across the state.

Complaints have been lodged against only 13 percent of officers in recent years — a number consistent with national patterns, O'Neill said. Roughly one in eight of those complaints resulted in sustained findings of misconduct.

"We have a squeaky clean Police Department compared to other big cities," O'Neill said. "Some of the things our [internal-investigation unit] investigates would be met with a dial tone if you called another big-city department."

Critics contend that the issue is not the degree of misconduct but the need for the Police Department to be more open about how and when it disciplines officers.

O'Neill insists the city's first priority should be dealing with growing resentment among officers who have been working under an expired contract for more than a year. Consequently, the Guild doesn't want to talk about significant changes regarding discipline until the next round of contract talks in 2010.

Recently, the union has been flexing more political muscle: It purchased bus ads in November to publicize officers' complaints about low pay and demanding working conditions. For the first time this past fall, it financially supported political candidates, and two of three City Council candidates it endorsed won in November's election.

"We want to hold politicians accountable for the decisions they make ... because Lord knows they want to hold police accountable," O'Neill said.

Lower pay in Seattle

Over the years, the Guild has remained a tight-knit organization because of two overriding beliefs: that the city doesn't keep its word and that officers have been held to impossible standards while seeing their working conditions worsen.

Pay is lower in Seattle than in similarly sized West Coast departments, and Seattle police are having a tough time recruiting new officers.

O'Neill is "unapologetically protective" of the union contract and officers' rights and said "it's absurd, the idea the city has given up anything" in the way of political power.

If anything, the Guild's been forced to take an aggressive stance since Seattle is a frequent violator of police contracts, said Vick, the Guild attorney. And it's why the Guild has repeatedly appealed police management decisions to the state labor board, he said.

Between 1999 and last August, the Guild, with 1,181 members, had filed 44 unfair-labor-practice complaints with the Public Employment Relations Commission By comparison, the King County Police Officers Guild, which represents about 550 members, has filed 12.

The Seattle Guild's challenges ranged from fighting the shift of water-rescue work to firefighters to smaller workplace matters, such as an allegation that a commander made a derogatory remark about the union during a meeting.

The Guild filed another complaint this month, arguing that Seattle cops should police the city-owned South Lake Union Streetcar instead of sheriff's deputies, who are responsible for the county-owned Metro transit system.

Guild members in May 2000 voted down the first contract that included civilian oversight, ratifying it only after the city sweetened its salary offer. Even then, it took more than a year before the civilian-led Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) was up and running.

Before that, the Guild had a history of opposing changes in the department. Over two decades it fought various measures, including the licensing of handgun owners and the mandatory use of bulletproof vests, saying it should be up to officers whether to wear the body armor.

The Guild also fought efforts to boost the number of minority and female officers, saying the best candidates need to be hired, regardless of race or gender. It resisted diversity training for officers, arguing that it would give the impression officers were insensitive to racial and sexual minorities.

And the union opposed the appointment of a "citizen observer" in reviews of officer-involved shootings, saying police investigators were best trained to deal with such issues.

More recently, the Guild negotiated an unusual provision in its contract that requires the city to look for any legal exemption to the state public-disclosure law when releasing information about officers. That provision has left police officials with little leeway, but the Guild contends it protects officer privacy.

"Pro-union culture"

Sam Walker, a national expert on police discipline, said the history of Seattle's police union shows that its relationship with the city is out of whack.

"There's the sense the union is running the department, rather than [police] management or the mayor," said Walker, a professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The Guild seems to believe "everything is a bargainable issue," and as a result, Seattle's leaders have become "far too deferential" to the Guild, he said. "It's this very pro-union culture and when the union barks, people salute and that shouldn't be."

Councilmember Nick Licata — who spearheaded the creation of the council's review panel — agrees the city has been too risk-averse in battling the Guild. He singled out Nickels for not being "engaged" in changing police culture.

"I think he's taken a look at the alignment of political forces and determined it's not worth the effort to tick [the Guild] off," Licata said.

Ceis, the deputy mayor, disputed that view, saying Nickels has "tended to take a harder line with the Guild." Previous administrations gave up on issues they shouldn't have, Ceis said. Moreover, once something is set into a union contract, "it's very hard to get one party to give it up," he said.

Ceis said Nickels "wants to make sure there is no more slippage."

The chief's stance

Kerlikowske has said he is open to changes but defended his record.

"I don't know of another police department in the country that even comes close" to the amount of civilian scrutiny built into Seattle's system, the chief said.

Kerlikowske has been criticized over the past several years for reversing some disciplinary recommendations made by the OPA's director without fully explaining his reasons.

But Mark McCarty, the department attorney who closely works with the chief in handling discipline cases, said Kerlikowske must try to be consistent and, at the same time, avoid losing arbitrations that could tie the department's hands in future cases.

"They are an aggressive and assertive union," McCarty said. "They are very protective of their members."

While the department recognizes the Guild's influence, that doesn't mean Kerlikowske has given in, McCarty said.

The citizen board that reviews police-discipline cases believes Kerlikowske needs to do more. It first asked in 2005 for the chief to put in writing his reasons for changing recommended discipline. It was that board that last spring questioned the chief's exoneration of two officers' conduct in a drug dealer's arrest in downtown Seattle.

The 2 controversial cases

Last January, George "Troy" Patterson alleged that two officers roughed him up and planted drugs on him. Discrepancies between a video of the arrest and the officers' police report later called the credibility of the officers into question. In March, prosecutors dismissed charges against Patterson and said as many as 17 other cases involving the officers could be affected because of the credibility issues.

Kerlikowske exonerated the officers of the most serious allegations of misconduct. The chief, who promised the officers a fast-track decision because they'd been publicly accused, delivered his exoneration at a news conference in April, 10 days after the first news stories about the controversial arrest were published.

The Guild commended the chief's swift action. But the citizen review board and the NAACP criticized the chief and suggested he had interfered with the investigation.

The second case that prompted the mayor's review was resolved in November when the city agreed to pay $185,000 to an African-American man beaten by police officers outside a Capitol Hill nightclub in April 2005.

Council ordinances

The City Council has already plowed ahead with changes to police discipline, passing two ordinances on the subject. One gives the citizen review board greater access to police disciplinary records. The other requires the chief to provide written explanation when he disagrees with OPA disciplinary recommendations, or when he doesn't take action within a required 180-day window.

The Guild is fighting both changes and has already filed an unfair-labor-practice complaint over the ordinance on access to records.

Both sides are awaiting a ruling by the state Public Employment Relations Commission on that complaint. The outcome is expected to play a key role in determining the balance of power between the city and the Guild, as well as provide guidance to the city in altering disciplinary procedures.

Meanwhile, the Guild, under the leadership of O'Neill and Vice President Roger Dixon, is trying to increase pressure on the city — both to resolve the stalled contract talks and to bargain any discipline changes.

Officers are asking citizens "to pick up the phone and call the mayor" to push for a new contract, O'Neill said. And because police can't strike, officers are talking about staging informational pickets.

"Can you imagine 200 cops, circling City Hall?" O'Neill said.


Strike devastates TV watchers

Related Posts with Thumbnails