Teamster newspaper journalists win!

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) federal judge in California has ruled that the owner and publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press must hire back the eight journalists she fired in retaliation for their efforts to join the Teamsters Union.

Journalists in the newsroom at the News-Press began a union organizing campaign in 2006 and voted to become Teamsters in September of that year. The judge found that the publisher illegally threatened and coerced workers who supported the union and unlawfully fired eight journalists in retaliation.

"I congratulate our Teamsters members at the News-Press for bravely standing strong and fighting against this unscrupulous publisher who has no regard for reporters and their journalistic ideals," said Jim Hoffa, Teamsters General President.

Many of the fired journalists had worked at the News-Press for more than 10 years.

"We won a significant battle with the NLRB's ruling in favor of our members at the Santa Barbara News-Press," said George Tedeschi, Teamsters Vice President and President of the Teamsters Graphic Communications Conference. "This ruling is a great victory for them and for all workers."

The NLRB's ruling now sets the stage for union representatives to begin negotiating the first collective bargaining agreement.

"We are elated that the judge came down so strongly to protect our right to unionize," said Melinda Burns, a 21-year News-Press veteran who was fired in October 2006. "He understood that we are fighting for workers' rights and journalistic integrity, and he did not let (Publisher Wendy) McCaw get away with breaking the law."

"This has been a long, hard struggle," said Dawn Hobbs, a former crime and courts reporter with the News-Press. "Without the support of the Teamsters, I don't know where we would be today. But this whole ordeal will be worth it when we are able to negotiate a fair contract that protects our rights and when we are able to walk back into the News-Press building and write the quality journalism our community deserves."

The Teamsters Graphic Communications Conference represents more than 70,000 journalists, pressmen, bindery workers and other crafts in the newspaper and book publishing industry in the United States. Founded in 1903, the Teamsters Union represents more than 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.


SEIU jeers Sen. Clinton in N.Y.

Apparently the boos that reporters heard when Hillary Clinton took the podium were inaudible from portions of the stage at this afternoon's SEIU Local 32BJ event at the Manhattan Center on West 34th Street.

"I couldn't hear it," said Mike Fishman, the president of 32BJ, which has endorsed Clinton.

When asked about the empty seats in the hall, Fishman said that it was "dark out there" looking from the stage and that he couldn't see the crowd. But he ventured an explanation as to why some members of the audience, which was predominantly African American, might have left early. "We billed this as noon-to-two and people started going to work to get there on time. I found out she was going to be here when we got here."

Kyle Bragg, the union's vice president and emcee for today's event, also said he didn't hear any boos.

"I didn't hear it," he said. "I don't believe she heard it either."

Bragg said the back-and-forth between the Clinton campaign and the Obama campaign over Hillary's remarks about Martin Luther King Jr. and issues of race were a "distraction" from the more important issues of jobs and health care. When asked who he was supporting, Bragg, who is black, said his union was behind Clinton, but that he would “rather not say” what he’s doing personally.

At least one attendee, Pastor Clinton Miller from the Brown Memorial Baptist Church in Brooklyn, heard the booing and had an explanation for it.

"Many people are in the throes of being excited about Sen. Obama's campaign," said Miller, who is supporting Obama. "The African-American media has spotlighted the comments that Clinton made about Martin Luther King, how Lyndon Johnson capped off his efforts by passing the civil rights legislation, and that rubbed people the wrong way."

Outside the hall, Lydia Scott, 64, from Brooklyn, said she, too, was vexed by Clinton's comments about Dr. King.

"She said L.B.J. is the one who got the bill done," said Scott. "She needs to get her history straightened out. And she tried to do that here today."

When asked if Clinton had accomplished that, Scott, who is undecided about who to support, said "no. Once you've made the mistake it's better to just leave it alone and move on."


Why strikers parade around in circles

The enduring image of a British picket line is one of men in donkey jackets huddled around a fire on a rusty brazier.

But pictures from the writers' strike in the US show a very different practice - the picketers are on the move, often walking round in circles while holding their placards. The tradition is a source of amusement for one of the striking writers, Eric Stangel.


They walk to avoid breaking state laws governing the obstruction of buildings
"I want to know who the person is who gets to decide what direction we walk in," he says in a blog written by writers from The Late Show with David Letterman. "There have been a couple of days where I think we've been going the wrong way."

It's not a ritual peculiar to screenwriters - all US pickets walk in circles. There's a cultural reason for the moving picket line, says Sherry Goldman, spokeswoman for the Writers Guild of America.

"They walk back and forth because they are picketing a company so they walk up and down in front of the entrance," she says. "It's not necessarily a circle, sometimes it could be an oval or just walking up, turning round and coming back."

UK picket lines are less mobile

In California especially - home to Hollywood and thus many striking screenwriters - entrances to company premises can be quite wide, she adds, so people have to cover quite large distances.

There is also a legal dimension, says Pete Hoefer, who teaches at the National Labor College in Maryland. And it's about complying with laws existing at state level that prohibit blocking entry and exit to buildings.

Donald Oliver, a partner in the law firm of Blitman & King, which represents labour organisations in New York state, picks up the theme.

"I believe that the reason that picketers walk either in a circle or patrol back and forth is so that they can permissibly walk in front of a gate or entrance of a picketed establishment without blocking or impeding ingress or egress, which is prohibited by law."

Picket or parade?

But there is also a practical reason, which is that picketers can more effectively convey their message while on the move, Mr Oliver adds, rather than standing to one side next to a brazier (which, even in January, would be a little excessive in Los Angeles). And being on the move makes crossing the picket line all the harder.

Dave Keefe, a lecturer in US law, says walking in circles could be more a matter of style or expedience than law.

"It appears that picketers' claims of 'passage' were swept aside early on in favour of judicial attempts to strike a balance between the right of free speech and expression, protected by the first amendment, on the one hand, versus the rights of those affected by protests on the other."

So picketing is restricted outside places such as abortion clinics and polling booths.

There could also be the consideration that walking in a straight line constitutes a parade, says Professor Peter Ling of the School of American Studies at the University of Nottingham.

And that requires a permit in many parts of the US.


Tom Wolfe on 'Liberal Fascism'

“In the greatest hoax of modern history, Russia's ruling "socialist workers party," the Communists, established themselves as the polar opposites of their two socialist clones, the National Socialist German Workers Party (quicknamed "the Nazis") and Italy's Marxist-inspired Fascisti, by branding both as "the fascists."

Jonah Goldberg is the first historian to detail the havoc this spin of all spins has played upon Western thought for the past 75 years, very much including the present moment. Love it or loathe it, "Liberal Fascism" is a book of intellectual history you won't be able to put down—-in either sense of the term.”

— Tom Wolfe, author of Bonfire of the Vanities and I Am Charlotte Simmons


SEIU caught cheating, decert election re-ordered

A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Administrative Law Judge has ruled that Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers West - Local 399 (SEIU-UHW) engaged in objectionable conduct during the course of a decertification election. The Firm's client, Good Samaritan Hospital of Los Angeles, had previously lost to the Union by a narrow margin, but now the Judge's ruling calls for a new election to take place.

"It is always gratifying to have clients who are willing to fight for what is right," said JMBM Partner Marta M. Fernandez, who was lead counsel on behalf of Good Samaritan Hospital. "In this case, we pursued a legal challenge to the union's conduct because our client, the Hospital, truly felt that its employees had the right to make a choice in a coercion-free environment."

SEIU-UHW has represented approximately 458 healthcare workers at Good Samaritan Hospital of Los Angeles for the last decade. In August of 2006, as the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the Hospital and the Union came up for renewal, a group of hospital employees petitioned the NLRB for an election to decertify SEIU-UHW as their representative. Subsequently, a secret ballot election was held to determine if the represented employees wished to continue to be represented by the Union. At the election's conclusion, the tally of ballots showed 200 ballots cast in favor of the Union, 198 cast against it. Accordingly, the Union held on to its representation by only 2 votes.

Fernandez, who has over 20 years of experience in the representation of clients in union related matters, including collective bargaining, union prevention, neutrality agreements, union representation, decertification elections and NLRB trials, filed objections to the election on behalf of Good Samaritan. After a lengthy trial, on November 30, 2007, the NLRB Judge ruled that the Union engaged in physical and verbally threatening conduct against pro-Hospital employees. The Judge also found that a Union representative had improperly offered a bribe to the leader of the decertification effort in exchange for his abandoning that effort. The Judge concluded that such incident "coerced the exercise of freedom of choice in the election" and overturned the Union's former narrow victory.

"It is highly unusual and very difficult to have an election of this nature overturned by the NLRB because the employer's burden is so high," said JMBM's Managing Partner Bruce P. Jeffer. "This was an important victory for both the Hospital and the Firm's Labor Lawyers."


Steelworkers official-embezzler gets wrist-slap

"I’m sorry" is what a former local union president told a federal judge before his sentencing on embezzlement charges.

In U.S. District Court, the judge talked about the seriousness of violating the public trust for any president of a bank, a corporation, or in this case, a steelworkers union. We’re talking about siphoning off more than $13,000 in union money over about three years.

From 1999 to 2006, Terry Howell was president of a union representing about 300 workers at the Marathon Catlettsburg Refinery.

Court records show Howell used a union credit card for personal vacations, rental cars, gas, auto repairs and more. Union leaders sent the judge letters talking about Howell’s history of hard work and good leadership.

Those union leaders in court refused to make any comment. The judge noted that Howell has paid back more than $11,000 out of the $13,000 he embezzled. Then he sentenced Terry Howell to three years probation.

After the sentencing, a reluctant Mr. Howell said his message for the union rank and file.

"The rank and file already have an answer,” Howell said.

What about the public trust?

“I think you can see the outcome is clear," Howell said.

Terry Howell's probation includes six months of home confinement. He can only go to his job at the refinery and back, maybe to church or the doctor with permission.

He still has nearly $2,000 to pay back and a $2,000 fine. Remember, the judge could have sentenced Howell to a year in prison on his plea agreement, but he didn't.


Hollywood wreckage mounts from Act of God

The force majeure ax swung wide Monday as four TV studios - CBS Paramount Network TV, Universal Media Studios, 20th Century Fox Television and Warner Bros. TV - tore up dozens of overall deals.

All four issued similarly worded statements blaming the writers strike for the terminations, which are expected to save the studios tens of millions of dollars. But none came close to the nearly 30 overall deals axed at ABC Studios on Friday. CBS Par and 20th TV each dropped half that number. UMS and WBTV stayed in the single digits, with WBTV's termination tally said to be less than five deals. Like ABC Studios, CBS Par, UMS, 20th TV and WBTV mostly went after writers, producers and directors with no active projects.

CBS Par's force majeure list includes some high-profile writing and nonwriting producers: Hugh Jackman, whose Seed Prods. inked a multiyear deal at the studio in August; "The Chronicles of Narnia" producer Mark Johnson; veteran writer-producer Rene Echevarria, who co-created CBS Par's USA Network series "The 4400" (he will continue his services as exec producer on the studio's NBC drama "Medium"); the Emmy-winning "Sopranos" writing duo of Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green; Barry Schindel ("Numbers"); and John McNamara ("Fastlane").

Scribes Jennifer Levin ("Without a Trace"), Liz Astrof ("The King of Queens") and the team of Aron Abrams and Greg Thompson ("Everybody Hates Chris") also received termination letters from CBS Par.

"Production companies in the entertainment industry continue to feel the impact of the ongoing writers strike," CBS Par TV said. "As a result of this change in development and production activity, we have made a difficult decision to discontinue overall deals with a number of writers and producers whose talents we greatly value and respect."

In a clear sign about the future of Fox's "K-Ville" and NBC's "Journeyman" - two low-rated 20th TV-produced freshman series whose ultimate fate has remained in limbo because of the strike - the studio terminated the overall deals of "K-Ville" creator/exec producer Jonathan Lisco and co-exec producer Lawrence Kaplow as well as that of "Journeyman" creator/exec producer Kevin Falls.

Also axed at 20th TV were director-producer Greg Yaitanes ("Drive"); writer-producers Chris Black ("Standoff"), Paul Redford ("The Unit"), Barbie Adler ("My Name Is Earl"), Kristin Newman ("How I Met Your Mother"); and the writing duos of Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts ("Women's Murder Club") and Matt Silverstein and Dave Jeser ("Drawn Together").

"Because of the adverse effects of the ongoing WGA strike on our business, we have been forced to terminate overall deals with a number of talented writers and producers," 20th TV said. "We regret these circumstances and wish these creative individuals the best."

Among the writers with force majeure letters from UMS were Moses Port and David Guarascio, creators/exec producers of CW's freshman comedy "Aliens in America," which is now produced by CBS Par and WBTV after UMS dropped out after the pilot. Alex Herschlag ("Will & Grace") and Cheryl Holliday ("Still Standing") also were dropped from the studio's roster of overall deals.

"The duration of the WGA strike has significantly affected our ongoing business," UMS said. "Regretfully, due to these changed business circumstances, we've had to end some writer-producer deals."

And there was more regret in the statement from WBTV.

"As an unfortunate but direct consequence of the strike, we have been forced to release some of the valued members of our roster from their development deals," the studio said.

ABC Studios on Friday became the first TV studio to invoke the so-called force majeure provision that allows them to terminate overall deals four to six weeks into a strike.

Among the talent let go at ABC Studios are veterans Nina Wass and Gene Stein, "Brothers & Sisters" creator Jon Robin Baitz and "Borat" director Larry Charles.


AFSCME singled out for dues hit

The DeKalb (IL) City Council on Monday announced the city faces a $500,000 deficit from the 2007 fiscal year and that layoffs are imminent as a result.

City employees packed council chambers at the meeting. Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) showed up in response to the announcement of impending layoffs throughout the ranks of municipal workers.

City manager Mark Biernacki issued a news release Monday stating the city will cut 10 to 20 jobs due to ongoing deficit worries for DeKalb. Biernacki said DeKalb faced a half-million dollar deficit for the 2007 fiscal year, and this number is expected to grow during fiscal year 2008.

Biernacki said the city is looking at the number of personnel who may be retiring or resigning within the next six months, at which point the positions would be eliminated through attrition.

After any retirements, the city will look for additional jobs to cut to meet the 20-job goal.

Mike Taylor, president of the AFSCME Local 813, spoke to the city council on behalf of union members.

“We have never been asked or included,” said Taylor, noting that budget issues were brought up as far back as December 2007, but no union members were approached to work out a solution to avoid job cuts.

The city gave a 45-day notice to union members Thursday, and Taylor expects to meet with city officials over the next month.

He said job cuts would create service issues for DeKalb residents, with longer wait times for services, such as snow removal and fewer people to take calls from residents in a timely manner.

Taylor said if the proposed layoffs are carried forward, council members will be answering for shortfalls in city services.

The only areas that will not face possible layoffs are police and fire departments, Biernacki said.


Unions are highly profitable enterprises

Trade unions are often viewed as the defenders of the workforce against any unscrupulous practices by big businesses. But unions can, in a way, be seen as businesses themselves, bringing in large amounts of money in dues from its membership.

Just how much income do these unions bring in and what exactly is the money used for? The Freeport News sought to answer these questions and spoke with a number of union representatives on Grand Bahama.

Through this story, the Freeport News discovered that, from just the four unions examined, in excess of $700,000 are collected annually from workers across the island.

The Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers' Union, one of the largest on the island, has approximately 985 members, according to the organization's second vice president Lionel Morely.

He explained that of that number, 895 members pay $10 per month in dues, while the other 90 members pay $9 per month.

When simple math is applied, these figures calculate to a whopping $117,120 in dues annually.

This amount, Morely said, is spent in large part on member care programmes the union provides.

The services include death benefits, sick benefits and scholarship funding.

A significant chunk of membership dues go to the sustenance of legal counsel, which is an important part of union business.

The second vice president explained the union has "top notch" counsel on retainer, since many situations arise where members need legal advice or representation.

Keith Knowles, president of the Commonwealth Electri-cal Workers Union, broke down the expenses of his union as well, noting that administrative costs eat up the bulk of funds collected in dues.

The 130 members of that union in Grand Bahama, pay $28 per month in dues, translating to a hefty income of $43,680.

Knowles said this amount is applied for payment of ordinary administrative expenses of the union, which covers a gamut of matters.

Other expenses include benefits that may be granted to members for various reasons, among them the provision of relief for members who may be sick, distressed or unemployed.

According to Knowles, relief is also afforded to members for maintenance of themselves and family members as well, during sicknesses or infirmities.

The union also assists with legal expenses its members may incur as a result of any disputes that may arise during the course of employment. The vast majority of union funds though, as the president explained, go to the administrative costs of the union.

According to second vice president of the Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU), John Curtis his union has some 572 members in Grand Bahama and more than 9,000 nationally.

This means that the Grand Bahama branch collects some $171,600 in dues annually, after members contribute their monthly dues of $28.

Membership dues, Curtis said, go to the general adminsitration of that union, which include the funding of educational and training seminars, the maintenance of two offices that are fully staffed, the support of a pension and retirement plan as well as a strike fund for the eventuality of industrial action.

Curtis said the BPSU also retains legal counsel, "because there are any number of issues that come up at any time and we need legal advice."

The union executive explained that the organization also has funds allotted for an external audit, which is conducted annually.

Like the above mentioned unions, administrative costs use a considerable portion of monies received by the BPSU in dues.

The welfare of its members, Curtis said, is an important part of the union's responsibility and as such, money is spent on various items for its members, including fruit baskets for those that are sick and wreaths for the family of those deceased.

Member care, in that respect, constitutes a large part of the administrative costs.

The Bahamas Union of Teachers is one of the unions that remain in the headlines agitating for its membership.

With membership fees the highest among the unions examined – at $52.50 per month, the union also boasts a very large membership base, with approximately 600 members in Grand Bahama alone.

Though the amount paid monthly by members in dues could not be confirmed by Rudy Sands, area vice president of the union, the Freeport News obtained the amount from other sources within that union.

This would amount to a whopping $378,000 which Sands explained also covers the union's administrative expenses. Legal fees, he said, also bite out a large chunk of that amount.

While transparency is expected in any organization, public perception of unions often times is that they are profit-making ventures.

The reality, however, according to these union leaders, is that the funds go toward reasonable expenses.


Growing the unions' power base

Throughout the workplace relations debate prior to the federal election, supporters of WorkChoices constantly repeated their standard line that Australian workers have been deserting the union movement. They argued that Australian employees no longer value the collective approach that unions have to offer, that in effect the union "brand" is obsolete and that any polices which provide scope for unions to expand their role in the workplace relations system are policies that take us back in time.

It is a fact that union membership has been declining for a number of years. However, the Australian Worker Representation and Participation Survey, conducted by researchers at Monash University and published in October 2004, showed that union membership is not necessarily declining because employees have a problem with the union brand.

One of the key findings of the survey was that more than 60 per cent of non-union workers admitted to "free riding", and that they don't join unions because they believe they receive the benefits anyway. These findings show that a considerable majority of employees are satisfied with the collective approach that unions adopt and the improved employment conditions that this approach provides.

With the success of their campaign against WorkChoices, the next challenge for unions is to develop a long-term strategy that focuses on growth and transformation of the union movement. Such a strategy should focus on diversifying the services unions offer exclusively to their members, in order to grow their membership by providing an additional incentive for non-union members to join a union. One aspect of this strategy should involve unions using their collective bargaining power to achieve outcomes for their members beyond the workplace.

The main purpose of collectivism in the workplace is to remedy the inherent imbalance in bargaining power that exists between employees and their employers. But imbalances in bargaining power exist in many different contexts in our society, not just in the workplace. Take for example the imbalance that exists between consumers and the major grocery retailers. Ordinary consumers have effectively no bargaining power; they are basically price takers and must accept whatever price the grocery retailers offer.

Australians are currently faced with not only rising grocery prices, but also rising expenses such as childcare fees, health care premiums and petrol prices. These rising expenses were one of the key issues in the recent federal election, highlighting the impact they are having on Australians.

Given this, there is an opportunity for unions to expand their role in our society, beyond just working to remedy the imbalance in bargaining power in the workplace. A union could use their bargaining power to negotiate discounts on grocery prices for their members. Unions would benefit through increased membership as new members join to take advantage of discounts. Current members would also benefit from these discounts and the added value to their membership.

Significantly, there would be a strong incentive for grocery retailers to agree to provide discounts; by doing so they would be able to retain a substantial customer base. If a major grocery retailer refused to provide a discount, then they would risk the union making an agreement with another grocery retailer, and the potential loss of thousands of customers.

It is likely some in the union movement would oppose such a shift in its focus, preferring unions to retain their traditional role in the workplace. However, in order to survive and grow, organisations need to constantly change and adapt. They also need to reassess how they view themselves and their objectives.

Undoubtedly, unions will continue to play a major role in the workplace. With the impending abolition of WorkChoices, unions will no longer be hindered by the various anti-union laws and regulations introduced by the previous Federal Government.

While this may enable unions to survive, it does not mean that they will grow, especially considering that the decline in union membership started before WorkChoices or the election of the previous federal government in 1996. In order to grow, unions will need to adopt a broader role as organisations that focus on the various imbalances in bargaining power that exist in our society. Once they start tackling all these imbalances, it is likely that they will again start to grow.


Teachers' alternatives to the NEA union

A renegade teacher and a rival union are leading charges against one of the National Education Association’s (NEA) largest local affiliates, opening up a legal dispute and a debate over who best represents the interests of teachers.

Ron Taylor is circulating a petition to hold an election that would allow licensed teachers in Clark County, Nevada’s largest school district, to vote out the Clark County Education Association (CCEA) as their bargaining agent. A self-identified “union man,” Taylor claims CCEA provides teachers with inadequate representation.

“If a teacher is being charged with something, they’re not being represented by a lawyer,” said Taylor. “These Uniserv directors that represent members, they’re elementary teachers. They don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re just looking forward to a position with the district.”

CCEA President Mary Ella Holloway disputes Taylor’s claims. She says Uniserv directors are trained to resolve problems favorably for teachers at the building level, but that other options are also available if they cannot reach a satisfactory settlement with the principal or other administrators.

“Any time it proceeds to that, our teachers will have lawyers,” said Holloway.

Raising Complaints

Taylor was provoked to action in 2006 after he learned CCEA charged its members much more ($3,600) to take Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) professional development courses than charged by a regional government program ($810). Both entities since have changed the fee to $2,400.

“They are working in cahoots,” said Taylor.

The CCEA president attributed the higher initial price to overhead costs for facilities and attorney fees.

“After we set everything up, we’ve been able to reduce those fees, because we’re not paying as much overhead,” Holloway said.

After his persistent complaints, CCEA terminated Taylor’s membership in February 2007. He said the group also sought to have him dismissed from his teaching position with the Clark County School District. He has filed several unsuccessful legal challenges against CCEA.

From June to October 2007, Taylor worked with the Teamsters Local 14 to promote decertification of CCEA and to organize new representation.

Petition Disputes

Taylor and the Teamsters, who went their separate ways due to disagreements over tactics and differing agendas, have circulated separate petitions. At press time, Taylor reported having 100 signatures in hand, while the Teamsters had collected 350 cards. The support of 30 percent of the school district’s 18,000 licensed employees is needed to trigger an election. If more than half of current employees sign, CCEA would automatically be decertified as the bargaining agent.

Taylor says a lack of time and opportunity, as well as some resistance from school officials, have kept him from collecting more signatures. At one school, he said, 40 of 43 teachers signed.

“Anyone who looks at the petition when I’ve handed it to them, they have yet to turn it down,” Taylor said.

Holloway said CCEA’s lawyers insist the deadline to collect signatures was November 30, the end of “the only open period to challenge us.”

But another labor expert disagrees, noting CCEA was certified in 1972 by school district recognition without an employee election.

“If the organization was recognized by the employer without an election, then the statutory rules do not govern,” said LaRae Munk, director of legal services for the Association of American Educators (AAE). “All Taylor is going to have to do is show the employer that the CCEA no longer represents a majority, and they will withdraw recognition.”

Alternative Organizations

AAE, a nonunion professional association for teachers, sees the growing turmoil as an opportunity to step up its cooperative approach. In November, the national organization teamed with local members to form the Professional Association of Clark County Educators (PACCE).

“We are so proud of our members because of their motivation to establish a professional educators group that is devoted to working collaboratively with all stakeholders in education,” said AAE Communications Director Heather Reams.

“PACCE is about solutions, not a revolution. We know that this school year has been divisive for many teachers in the district. We don’t want to be a sequel,” Reams said.

Teacher Interests

Holloway discounts AAE because of the organization’s refusal to engage in collective bargaining. “Bargaining is a crucial role that [CCEA] does for its teachers,” she said.

Holloway cited her organization’s recent successes at negotiating a $4,500 increase in starting teacher salary and a 13 percent rise in the school district’s contributions to teachers’ health insurance premiums. She said CCEA is better equipped than other unions to negotiate for teachers.

“We understand education and things the Teamsters don’t understand--prep periods, testing procedures, and those sorts of things,” said Holloway.

Taylor isn’t ready to give up, convinced the current representation is not serving him and his colleagues well.

“NEA represents the best interests of NEA, not teachers,” Taylor said.

(More information on Ron Taylor’s petition campaign can be found at http://teachers4change.net.)

- Ben DeGrow (ben@i2i.org) is a policy analyst for the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado.


Rebuilding the middle class by forced unionism

In 2007 the Democratic-controlled Iowa General Assembly raised the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, increased teacher pay from 42nd in the nation to 25th and accomplished nearly all of its Plan for Prosperity.

With those accomplishments in 2007, many Statehouse insiders are curious what they plan for an encore.

There is still work to be done, Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said in an interview with IowaPolitics.com.

“We are excited about what we accomplished,” Gronstal said. “We put together a package for the middle class to make sure our citizens are healthy and have access to a better life.”

Democrats have touted their efforts to maintain fiscal discipline, while repaying $182.8 million of the $300 million owed to the Senior Living Trust Fund.

Republicans and Democrats have already sparred over spending.

“We want to make sure to keep our fiscal house in order,” said House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines, mirrored Murphy’s take on the budget. “We will again fund our priorities and be vigilant in protecting the state’s pocketbook from Republican attempts to spend recklessly,” he said.

House Minority Leader Christopher Rants and Senate Minority Leader Ron Wieck, both Sioux City Republicans, question that logic, considering Democrats are in the majority. Rants said it took Gov. Tom Vilsack two terms and Gov. Terry Branstad one term to increase spending by $1 billion. He said under Gov. Chet Culver the Dem-controlled Legislature accomplished that feat in 2007.

“There is some really bad news for middle-class Iowans,” Rants said. “They are laying out an agenda they simply can’t afford. I hate to be right in this case, but it is.”

Wieck vowed he and Senate Republicans will fight additional spending in 2008.

“We are going to be the Iowa taxpayers’ spending watchdog,” Wieck said.

Gronstal isn’t apologizing for the funding priorities Democrats made last session. He cited the strides Democrats made to raise teacher pay, fund higher education and repay the Senior Living Trust Fund.

“We did spend a significant amount of money,” the Senate majority leader said. “We make no apologies for that.”

Read below for a summary of top issues that could come up this session.


It is nearly impossible to convene a legislative session without discussing property taxes, and legislative leaders don’t expect 2008 to be any different. But Republicans and Democrats have a different take, as expected, on the issue.

The non-partisan Legislative Services Agency recently released findings that said property taxes could increase by nearly a half-billion dollars statewide in the next five years due to the formula to compute valuations on agricultural land, which is based in part on the price of a bushel of corn. With ethanol pushing corn prices to an all-time high, the LSA report suggests that could raise property taxes on ag land. In turn, residential property values are tied to ag land, which could be troublesome for Iowans, Rants said.

“If you think your property taxes are high now, you haven’t seen anything yet,” he said. “How much more do we expect middle-class families to pay?”

Wieck reiterated his fellow Sioux City lawmaker’s position.

“I say they haven’t really taken everything in account,” Wieck said. “It could be worse. To lower property taxes, we have to cut spending. (The Democrats) are not going to listen to us.”

Gronstal said the added property tax revenues can assist in reforming the current system in the state.

“It is the most absolute perfect time (to address it),” Gronstal said. “It is a perfect time to tackle this issue in a constructive way.”

An interim committee has been looking at the issue, but a solution doesn't look likely to come in this session.


Senate Democrats passed a version of the so-called "fair share" bill last year, but the House could not muster the votes among its Democrats to send the bill to Gov. Chet Culver for his signature. House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque, has said everything's on the table going into 2008 when asked if the lower chamber will address fair share in the upcoming legislative session.

The change would require non-union municipal, county and state workers to pay union dues because they receive the same benefits as organized labor. Iowa has been a right-to-work state since the 1940s, which means workers aren't forced to join unions. Opponents of the fair share proposal say it amounts to forced unionization, while proponents say it's only fair for workers to pay for benefits they get from unions' advocacy.

Murphy’s counterpart, House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City, anticipates fair share being among the issues lawmakers will discuss. In fact, he already has an amendment sitting on the corner of his desk to file when all the speculation becomes a reality.

“I will fight fair share,” Rants said. “This is (something) they are going to have to carry me out of the chamber.”

Statehouse Democratic insiders reiterate leadership faces difficulty securing the necessary votes to get it passed out of the House – especially in an election year. Rants said he is hearing similar rumblings at the Capitol.

“They are in a jam,” he said. “They are going to have a difficult time with the votes. Plus, they have the Federation of Labor breathing down their necks. This is worth $15 million to organized labor. So, I have a feeling we will have a debate.”


Teacher pay was addressed in 2007 as the Senate and House came together to raise the average teacher pay in the state from 42nd in the nation to 25th. Education continues to be an area Gov. Chet Culver wants to focus on. If cuts must be made to the budget, education is a hands-off area, the governor stressed this fall.

While 2007 was the year of the teacher, Republicans want 2008 to be the year of the student, Rants said.

Senate and House Republicans want to see more emphasis placed on student standards. Enhancing student standards has been topic of discussion at the Iowa Statehouse for more than five years. Former Gov. Tom Vilsack urged more rigor to be placed in the state's curriculum.

A Democratic House insider said educational standards are also important to House and Senate Democrats. The goal is to make sure students are prepared to enter college and the global economy upon graduating from high school, the source said.

"Dems are committed to improving student achievement and ensuring our kids have the skills they need to compete in today's global economy," a Democratic Statehouse insider said. "What the Republicans passed in 2006 set goals but had no teeth or enforcement. Last year, the language was changed to the model core references. The bottom line is the requirements are still standing: students graduating in the 2010-2011 school year will complete four years of English, three years of math, science, and social studies."

Higher education will also be an issue Democrats continue to fund. Tuition increases were in the low single digits, said Gronstal, adding that is beneficial to Iowa families.

“We have to be diligent and focused on maintaining the commitment to continue in the right direction in higher education,” he said.


Murphy, Gronstal and Culver have maintained a united front in saying that the issue likely won’t be on the table when lawmakers convene.

Culver said with high fuel prices that he doesn’t want that to be an option. He said he wouldn’t support such an increase, and asks the Legislature to explore other options.

“It seems clear of the governor’s reluctance to raise the gas tax,” Gronstal said. “This is not the time to look at a fuel tax increase.”

Gronstal asked Republicans to join in the discussion to come to a bi-partisan agreement on how to raise revenues to meet transportation needs. With fuel prices predicted to reach $3.50 per gallon or more by next summer, Wieck said he will join Democrats in exploring all options.

“I am on board with that position,” Wieck said of exploring other options than raising fuel taxes. “The question is, how do we do that? We have to find another way (than raising taxes).”

A couple ideas being bandied about include phasing in an increase in pickup registration fees over the current $75 annual registration fee. Gronstal estimates that increase could generate an estimated $55 to $60 million.

Another option is to use local option sales tax money from the sales of vehicles to help supplement the transportation budget. That could also raise $55-$60 million annually, the Senate majority leader said.

“This has to be done in a bi-partisan manner,” Gronstal said. “Roads don’t begin and end in Democratic districts.”


Eight percent of Iowans – nearly 270,000 people -- do not have any kind of health coverage. Most states average an uninsured rate of 15 to 20 percent, said State Rep. Ro Foege, who co-chairs the Legislative Commission on Affordable Health Care Plans for Small Businesses and Families.

“We have bitten off a huge chunk to take on health care,” said Foege, D-Mount Vernon. “We have some big challenges ahead of us.”

The commission has held public meetings across the state to get input from Iowans. Former Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, and former Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, are also involved in the project. The meetings are drawing significant crowds.

“People are concerned about what we are going to do,” Foege said. “People are anxious what that change is going to be.”

Legislative leaders say they could address this in January, but Foege said it is likely three to five years and $200 to $300 million away from a major fix becoming a reality. The first goal of the commission would be to see every child covered by insurance, the Mount Vernon Democrat said. The commission also wants a new outlook on health care.

“I think we can chip away at it,” Foege said. “We are looking for outcomes and results-based medicine. We want to look at incentives to focus on health and not sickness.”

Commission co-chair Sen. Jack Hatch, D-Des Moines, discussed the group’s proposal this week at the Statehouse. He said the 79 recommendations proposed by the commission address universal coverage, medical homes, tele-health, cost containment and transparency.

House Republicans are all addressing health care. Rants is calling for more portability in health insurance for Iowans. The House minority leader said his caucus will propose reforming health insurance in the state, calling for Iowans to improve their health and wellness and reducing the costs of health care.

“If a person has a health plan that covers their bad knee or high blood pressure now and they switch jobs or change to an individual plan under the same company, they shouldn’t suddenly have their coverage restricted,” Rants said. “What has changed? Nothing, you are still covered by the same insurance company and you shouldn’t be subject to any pre-existing condition restrictions. House Republicans will fight throughout the session to provide health care portability to Iowans.”


-- Smoking is a hot-button topic in many communities across the state. Some cities have implemented smoking bans in restaurants and other public places. State Rep. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, pushed for a statewide smoking ban in 2007, but the initiative didn’t gain much traction. Statehouse insiders expect that be addressed again when the legislature convenes.

-- An interim legislative committee addressed the state’s prison system and needed infrastructure improvements. Its recommendations included spending $120 million on a new prison in Fort Madison and spending $25 million to expand the Newton Correctional Facility. Lawmakers could act on some of those recommendations in 2008.

-- Alternative energy and renewable fuels were a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail in 2007, and Iowa officials want to build on that momentum and past legislation to make Iowa a leader in the industry.

“Now is the time for our nation to cut our dependence on foreign oil and embrace innovative, clean-burning and American-made forms of energy,” Culver said. “Produced here in the heartland of the nation from the crops that feed the world, ethanol and other biofuels are helping Americans meet the energy challenges we face. As the nation’s number one producer of ethanol and the second-leading producer of biodiesel, we stand ready to do our part here in Iowa.”


Keystone State Dems endorse no-vote unionism

On Saturday, I was at the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee meeting in Lancaster when they voted to back the Employee Free Choice Act.

There were about 500 people in the room when the resolution was introduced. Nobody spoke against it! Nobody voted against it! It was a great day for both American workers and the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.

I will fill in this post with more details later.


Nurses union organizers withdraw petition

Efforts to unionize nurses at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center are apparently over, with ballots cast five years ago destined to go uncounted.

Suzanne Martin, a spokeswoman for the United American Nurses, confirmed Monday the union has withdrawn its petition — an action that came as hospital owner Iasis Healthcare was waiting for word from the National Labor Relations Board regional office on when the ballots would be returned to Salt Lake for counting.

Doug Boudreaux, spokesman for Iasis Healthcare, said it is still awaiting word on whether and when the votes will be counted. But Iasis had heard rumors that the petition was pulled. "We have not received official word on anything yet," he said. "Until we do, we can't comment."

Officially, Iasis is waiting to be told of the time and place where the ballots will be counted.

The effort to unionize the hospital's nurses has been a long and sometimes contentious one. For years, the issue of whether nurses sometimes assigned as "charge nurses" are supervisors held up the ballot count. The regional NLRB's application of the national ruling in the SLRMC case persuaded the union to step away.

Salt Lake Regional has routinely rotated "charge nurse" duty among experienced nurses. The nurses have maintained that they hold the job two or three times a month at most, not permanently. Also, they "don't hire, fire, counsel or discipline," so they're not really supervisors, according to Lori Gay, a nurse who was the longtime spokeswoman for the nurses' effort to join the union.

The hospital has said that the decisions they make as charge nurses, including which nurse is assigned to which patient for the shift, mean they are supervisors.

It's an important distinction, because supervisors can't push to unionize.

Initially, a regional NLRB decision agreed with the nurses. But Iasis appealed, and after years of waiting, last October the national NLRB answered the question of charge-nurse status in "Oakwood Healthcare," which posed the charge-nurse status question. The board said, 3-2, that permanent charge nurses are supervisors and rotating charge nurses are employees.

UAN was among unions that criticized how the decision defined key words, saying it expanded an employer's ability to thwart unions by calling employees supervisors. The two dissenting NLRB members wrote it "threatens to create a new class of workers ... who neither have the genuine prerogatives of management nor the statutory rights of ordinary employees."

The SLRMC case was returned to the local NLRB, based in Denver, to have that interpretation applied to the facts of the Utah case. And two weeks ago, the board ruled that charge nurses at the hospital are supervisors and their ballots — which had been segregated because of the controversy at the time of the vote — could not be counted.

Nurses who sometimes serve as charge nurses cast more than one-third of the 153 votes in June 2002.

Martin said the NLRB ruling "puts everybody at risk of being characterized as a supervisor, without either the benefits or rights you would get as a supervisor."

She said the union decided it was against everyone's interest to let the election go forward "in the current climate with its wild and bizarre interpretation of the rule where everyone can be a supervisor."

Gay, former union-organizer spokesman for the Salt Lake nurses, was fired from the hospital last week, but company policy forbids discussing personnel issues, Boudreaux said.


Teamster boss mum on suspect's kin-claim

A man who claims to be related to missing Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa was ordered jailed pending a federal indictment on charges he robbed one western Pennsylvania bank and planned to rob another.

William James Hoffa Jr., 47, is accused of robbing a Parkvale Savings Bank branch in Uniontown on Christmas Eve and with planning to rob another Parkvale branch in Chalk Hill last Thursday.

Authorities stopped the second robbery because the FBI said Hoffa was accompanied by an informant wearing a hidden microphone, whom Hoffa enlisted as a getaway driver after Hoffa allegedly bragged about robbing the first bank.

Federal public defender Marketa Sims did not comment on the charges after a preliminary hearing Monday, but she did confirm that Hoffa claims to be the grandson of the famous labor leader's brother.

FBI Special Agent Patrick McGlennon explained the tangled investigation when he was the only witness at Hoffa's one-hour preliminary hearing in U.S. District Court.

Shortly after Hoffa was arrested outside the Fayette County bank last week, he also confessed to robbing another Parkvale branch in nearby Uniontown on Christmas Eve, McGlennon said.

"That was me that robbed that (other) bank," McGlennon said Hoffa told him.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell ordered Hoffa jailed as a flight risk and danger to the community until a federal grand jury hears evidence in the Christmas Eve robbery and last week's aborted heist. Because Mitchell found probable cause Hoffa committed the crimes, a grand jury now has 30 days to indict him.

The FBI and state police had refused to say how they anticipated the robbery attempt at a news conference announcing Hoffa's arrest last week.

The informant told police on New Year's Day that Hoffa, 47, bragged about the Christmas Eve robbery. In that heist, a bearded man acted as though he had a gun and told a teller, "If I have to pull it out, I'll use it" and got away with $1,490, McGlennon said.

Though none of those details — save the facial hair — was publicized by police, the informant explained how Hoffa put his pointed finger in his pocket and pretended to have a gun, and knew what Hoffa told the teller. The informant said Hoffa had said he shaved shortly after the heist, McGlennon said.

Sims said after the hearing that she and the FBI have yet to confirm Hoffa's family ties. Hoffa does resemble the famous labor leader who disappeared in July 1975 outside a restaurant in suburban Detroit.

But Sims suggested while cross-examining McGlennon that the informant took an active role in the plot.

Sims noted that Hoffa didn't have a toy gun, getaway car, mask or accomplice during the first robbery. In Thursday's attempt, the FBI alleges Hoffa instructed the informant to buy a realistic looking toy gun, two ski masks, and stole a license plate that he put on a rental car the informant was driving.

When Sims asked how the agent knew those extra details were Hoffa's idea, McGlennon said he heard them on the hidden microphone the informant was wearing that day.

"I distinctly heard Mr. Hoffa say to the source, obtain a gun and two ski masks," McGlennon said. The agents had also put a tracking device on the rental car, so they were ready when Hoffa and the informant arrived.

Sims argued for Hoffa's release, saying he has end-stage cirrhosis of the liver and takes medication to control psychotic episodes.

"This is somebody who's very ill mentally and physically, and I'm very concerned about his well being" in jail, Sims told the judge.

The judge ordered Hoffa held without bond ordered Allegheny County Jail be advised of Hoffa's condition.


Leave the unions alone

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