Advertisers cool to 'Strike TV' pitch

Writer proposals for the Writers Guild of America's "Strike TV" Internet fund-raiser are due today. Set to launch in February, the online channel will feature original video shows created by working professionals in the TV and Film industry. Funds raised by ad revenue will go toward the Writers Guild Foundation Industry Support Fund, assisting non-WGA members, including IATSE and Teamsters affected by the strike, according to the group's MySpace site, which details how the process will work.

"Strike TV videos will not be about the strike," according to the Web site. "This is a chance for writers to do what they do best--be original and tell stories. These shows will be self-funded and owned by their creators."

WGA members including showrunners, staff writers and screenwriters have expressed interest in participating in Strike TV. "One of the goals of Strike TV is to demonstrate that these kinds of creative ventures can be done on the internet under union jurisdiction," according to the Web site.

Strike TV will use a Web video platform that allows for videos up to 40 minutes in length, although most will likely be 5 to 7 minutes long. Shows will be rolled out in slates, with the number of slates dependent on the number of videos that are actually produced. Strike TV will have its own page on the United Hollywood site, basically a TV guide of all the shows. When you click on a specific show, you'll be taken to that program's Web page. Each show will create and build its own online community.

The Writers Guild of America strike, which began Nov. 5, is against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), a trade organization representing the interests of 397 American film and television producers, over future royalties from online content. Over 12,000 writers have joined the strike.

Another group of striking writers is hoping to launch their own production and distribution company, according to Liz Gannes on the NewTeeVee blog.

Aaron Mendelsohn, writer of the Disney film "Air Bud" and an active WGA member, says he has gotten a group of "A-list" film and TV writers on the team. He's also partnering with online community experts from Silicon Valley and raising "north of $30 million" in venture capital, with the idea of launching a company called Virtual Artists later this year.

Some Web sites are reporting jumps in their numbers since the strike began, which may be indicative of consumers' readiness to further explore online networks as an additional source for entertainment, said Steve Rosenbaum, MTV alum and Magnify.net CEO.

Magnify.net, a peer-driven online video discovery and broadcast channel for Web sites, groups and businesses, is reporting that weekly Web site visits are up 70% versus eight weeks ago. Weekly page views in the same period are up 39.82%.

"While the strike is important to the future of Hollywood and its convergence with Web-based entertainment, consumers are also starting to realize the value of content creation and distribution as well," Rosenbaum said.


AFL-CIO's Dem not union-enough for leftists

Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger, the Washington Post’s "Reliable Sources" gossip columnists, were all smiles in their column for leftist actor Danny Glover as he stumped for a leftist trying for a second time to unseat Democratic Rep. Al Wynn in Maryland, contending he’s too conservative (with a lifetime American Conservative Union rating of 9.9 percent):
Lots of Hollywood types show up to a rally and give a two-minute speech. But who among them will do the real dirty work of politics?

Ladies and gentlemen, Danny Glover. The "Lethal Weapon" star turned out last night for congressional candidate Donna Edwards, doing the kind of chore that cures most folks of higher-office notions: standing at a Metro station on a cold winter night shaking hands with potential voters.
Glover is hailed for his commitment in the cold, and he jokes in the story that Mel Gibson would never do the same. The Post writers made no mention of Glover’s passionate leftist anti-Bush politics or his moonlighting as the chairman of the board of the far-left TransAfrica Forum. The Donna Edwards campaign is all the rage on the left: MoveOn.org, the Sierra Club, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are all focused on throwing out Al Wynn.


Casino War argued, unions swarm Foxwoods

Lawyers for Foxwoods Resort Casino said Tuesday that a November vote by table game dealers to form a union should be invalidated because unlawful tactics by organizers resulted in an unfair election.

Foxwoods made those arguments on the opening day of hearings in Hartford as it fights to block the United Auto Workers from representing 2,600 dealers.

The legal battle over the first union to represent casino workers at Foxwoods hasn't prevented further interest in organizing one of Connecticut's largest employers. Organizers for the United Food & Commercial Workers Union have begun collecting signatures from bartenders, cocktail servers and restaurant workers at Foxwoods in an effort to force a second federally supervised union vote at the casino, Brian Petronella, president of Local 371 in Westport, said Tuesday.

The food workers union is trying to organize 750 to 1,200 casino employees. Petronella said the ongoing fight over the UAW vote is common in organizing drives and isn't dissuading the food workers union. The union plans to collect signatures from a "supermajority" of potential members and will petition the National Labor Relations Board for a vote sometime in the next few months.

"This is a long process. I suspect [Foxwoods] will use every appeal they can," Petronella said.

A third union, the International Union of Operating Engineers, started a signature drive last August to unionize an estimated 250 plumbers, electricians and carpenters at the casino.

Foxwoods presented its arguments Tuesday before administrative law Judge Raymond P. Green, saying the NLRB made mistakes in conducting the vote and that interactions by union officials and some voters were unlawful.

Foxwoods' attorneys said the errors include printing the ballot only in English and providing notices explaining the election in only one form of the Chinese language, disenfranchising some Asian American dealers.

But attorneys for the UAW and labor board said the union and the board provided ample explanation of the election in a variety of languages. As for the ballot, they said, the casino didn't make a strong case that its dealers, who must conduct complicated casino games in English, couldn't understand the ballot.

Foxwoods also alleged that the UAW threatened and intimidated some dealers.

"One such threat was made in the presence of a voter's 12-year-old son. Others took place in front of casino patrons," said Richard Hankins, an attorney for Foxwoods.

The union scoffed at the allegations and accused Foxwoods of stalling.

Green is expected to make a ruling in coming weeks. Foxwoods, which is owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, is expected to continue its challenge if it does not prevail. Although the tribe did not make it part of this week's hearing, the tribe continues to contend that the NLRB doesn't have jurisdiction over the casino, which is on sovereign tribal land. The tribe could take that argument to federal court.


All Nevada is divided into three parts

Hours before a televised debate, presidential hopeful John Edwards said Tuesday he liked his chances in union-strong Nevada, despite a key endorsement for rival Sen. Barack Obama and a lawsuit that could throw a wrench into the tight Jan. 19 caucus race.

Edwards, in his first visit to Nevada since December, shrugged off the endorsement by the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union, and his campaign said he had amassed support from national unions that have 28,000 workers here.

"I think union support is relatively evenly divided here in Nevada," Edwards said outside a restaurant where he greeted supporters. "I've got carpenters and steelworkers and transit workers. They'll work hard for me."

The former vice-presidential candidate declined to weigh in on a lawsuit filed by Nevada teachers last week over some special caucus locations on the Las Vegas Strip that were to allow casino industry workers to participate without going far from their workplaces.

The teachers association argued the sites would unfairly favor workers in one industry over others.

Critics have said the timing of the suit, two days after the Culinary endorsed Obama over Edwards and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, showed it was a blatant attempt by Clinton supporters to blunt the union's effectiveness.

"I don't know anything about the nuances of the lawsuit, but my belief is that we ought to do everything in our power to ensure that anyone who wants to caucus and is eligible to caucus gets to caucus," Edwards said. "Ultimately it's for the party to decide."

A recent poll in the Reno Gazette-Journal showed that the race for the Democratic nod was a dead heat in Nevada, with Obama receiving 32 percent support, followed by Clinton with 30 percent and Edwards with 27 percent. The poll had an error margin of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

Edwards said he hoped his operational machine of about 75 workers transplanted from Iowa - more than tripling the size of his Nevada staff - would help him gain traction.

His national campaign manager, David Bonier, suggested a good performance in the evening debate could mean the difference.

"We're being outspent here by enormous amounts of money, but according to the polls, we're in a three-way race," Bonier said. "I think the debate tonight will determine who a lot of people are going to vote for."

Bonier also pointed out the caucus was on the Saturday of a holiday weekend during the football playoffs, which is expected to draw thousands of tourists to Las Vegas.

"How many of them (Culinary workers) are actually going to show up given that were talking about the third busiest work day of the year here?" he said. "We'll match our labor support with the others any day."

Earlier Tuesday in a speech to about 300 people at a YMCA in Sparks, ex-President Bill Clinton said he has talked with many of the Culinary Union's rank-and-file who intend to ignore the endorsement and vote for his wife.

"In this case, the establishment organization is with him (Obama) and the insurgents are with her," Clinton said. He then asked for a show of hands from about 50 precinct captains in the audience and challenged them to stand up to the union's leadership.

"They think they're better than you are at identifying and physically getting people to their caucus sites. And I bet they're wrong," he said to cheers.


Union embezzlers kept Feds busy in December

The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) today announced its criminal enforcement data for December 2007. During the month, OLMS obtained eight convictions, eight indictments and court orders of restitution totaling $202,228. The office's totals for fiscal year 2008 (which began on Oct. 1, 2007) now stand at 22 convictions, 36 indictments and court-ordered restitution of $754,397. The bulk of the cases involved the embezzlement of union funds.

"The eight convictions this month represent a continuing reminder that OLMS serves a vital role in protecting America's union members," said Deputy Assistant Secretary for Labor-Management Standards Don Todd. "We are proud of our efforts to eliminate wrongdoing against unions, and our work has resulted in the successful prosecution of more than 820 individuals since 2001. We also have obtained 877 indictments and obtained court orders of restitution for more than $103 million during that time."

OLMS is the federal law enforcement agency responsible for administering most provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA). The agency's criminal enforcement program includes investigations of embezzlement from labor organizations, extortionate picketing, deprivation of union members' rights by force or violence, and fraud in union officer elections. The agency's civil program collects and publicly discloses unions' annual financial reports, conducts compliance audits of labor unions and seeks civil remedies for violations of officer election procedures. In certain cases, OLMS also conducts joint investigations with other Labor Department agencies, including the Employee Benefits Security Administration and the Office of Inspector General, as
well as other law enforcement agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

OLMS's public disclosure Web page at http://www.unionreports.gov contains union annual financial reports and additional forms required to be filed under the LMRDA. Other information, including synopses of OLMS enforcement actions, is available on OLMS's home page at http://www.olms.dol.gov.

Editor's Notes: A listing of selected OLMS enforcement actions during December 2007 accompanies this release. An indictment is the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity. As in all criminal cases, each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal charges and indictments noted in these materials are accusations only.

Selected Enforcement Actions in December 2007

Office of Labor-Management Standards

U.S. Department of Labor


Former Union Officer Incarcerated for Embezzling More Than $80,000 in Union Funds

On Dec. 10, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, Danny E. Beyser, former financial secretary of Mine Workers Local 1638, was sentenced to one year and a day of incarceration and three years of supervised release. He also was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $80,135.40 and a $100 special assessment. On Oct. 2, 2007, Beyser pled guilty to one count of embezzling more than $70,000 in union funds. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Pittsburgh District Office.

Former Union President Pleads Guilty to Theft

On Dec. 12, 2007, in the District Court of Maryland for Prince George's County, Wesley Leroy Wicks, former president of Graphic Communications International Union Local 1-C, pled guilty to one count of theft of $500 or greater. Subsequently, Wicks was sentenced to three years of probation and paid restitution to the local in the amount of $4,804.70. The plea and sentencing follow an investigation by the OLMS Washington District Office.

Former Union Officer Sentenced for Embezzling Union Funds

On Dec. 13, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Gary E. Sharp, former president and business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2344, was sentenced to one year probation and a $100 special assessment. On Aug. 28, 2007, Sharp pled guilty to one count of embezzling $630 in union funds. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Chicago District Office.

Former Union Officers Sentenced for Willfully Failing to Maintain Union Records

On Dec. 13 and 17, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Debra Timko and Danny Iverson, former presidents of the Service Employees International Union Local 150, were sentenced for failing to maintain union records. Timko was sentenced to six months home confinement and three years probation, and was ordered to make restitution in the amount of $38,795.10. Iverson was sentenced to three years probation and was ordered to make restitution in the amount of $24,853. On Aug. 23, 2007, Timko and Iverson both pled guilty to two counts of failing to maintain union records. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Milwaukee District Office.

Former Union Officer Sentenced for Embezzling More Than $15,000 in Union Funds

On Dec. 14, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Kathy Rankin, former financial secretary-treasurer of Transportation Communications Union Local 512, was sentenced to three years probation. Special conditions of her probation require her to serve three months in the home confinement program and make restitution in the amount of $15,622.34. On Oct. 12, 2007, Rankin pled guilty to one count of embezzling union funds in the same amount. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS St. Louis District Office.

Guilty Pleas

Former NTEU Local President Pleads Guilty to Bank Robbery

On Dec. 3, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Darren Johnson, former president of National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 78, pled guilty to one count of bank robbery and incidental crimes. On Nov. 16, 2007, Johnson was charged with stealing union funds in the amount of $4,756.75 that were within the care, custody, control, management or possession of Comerica Bank. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Detroit District Office.

Former Union Officer Pleads Guilty to Embezzling Union Funds

On Dec. 3, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, Steve Dobyns, former secretary-treasurer of Glass Molders Plastics Local 325, pled guilty to embezzling funds in the amount of $865. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Dallas District Office.

Former Union Employee Pleads Guilty to Embezzling More Than $28,000 in Union Funds

On Dec. 5, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Paula Adair-Butts, former office secretary for Plasterers Local 577, pled guilty to embezzling union funds in the amount of $28,480. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Denver District Office.

Criminal Charges and Indictments*

Former Union Officer Charged With Making False Entries

On Dec. 13, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Kathleen Drake, former financial secretary of Machinists Lodge 2339-C, was charged with making false entries in union records. The charge follows an investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office.

Former Union President Charged With Embezzling More Than $25,000 in Union Funds

On Dec. 13, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, an information was filed against Carolyn M. Wallace, former president of Steelworkers Local 02-356, charging her with one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $25,200. The charge follows an investigation by the OLMS Milwaukee District Office.

New York City School Bus Inspector Arrested and Charged

On Dec. 12, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Jeffery Berger, a New York City school bus inspector, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit theft and bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, in violation of 18 USC 371. He was arrested and released on a $1 million bond. The charge follows a joint investigation by the OLMS New York District Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General of the New York City school bus industry. That investigation uncovered the existence of corruption in Local 1181 of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the primary union that represents drivers and escorts for school bus companies in New York City.

Former President of Teamsters Local 812 and JC 16 Indicted for Extortion and Embezzlement

On Dec. 17, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Anthony Rumore, former president of Teamsters Local 812 and Joint Council 16, was indicted on charges of extortion and embezzlement. Rumore demanded and obtained services from Local 812's employees, union officers, business agents and staff for the personal benefit of himself and his family. These personal services were unrelated to any union business and interfered with the employees' ability to perform legitimate work on behalf of Local 812's members. Local 812's employees complied with Rumore's demands due to fear that Rumore would cause them economic harm, including the loss of their employment with Local 812. This charge follows an investigation by the OLMS New York District Office.

Former Union Officer Indicted for Embezzling Union Funds

On Dec. 18, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, James Ireland, former financial secretary for the United Auto Workers Local 1672, was indicted on one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $3,662. The indictment follows an investigation by the OLMS St. Louis District Office.

Former Union Officer Indicted for Embezzling more than $13,000 in Union Funds

On Dec. 19, 2007, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Thomas Wallace, former financial secretary of Amalgamated Transit Union Division 757, was indicted on two counts of embezzling union funds in the approximate amount of $13,492 and two counts of making a false statement on the local's annual financial report (Form LM-2). The indictment follows an investigation by the OLMS Seattle District Office.

Enforcement Actions and Civil Complaints

OLMS to Supervise Union Election

On Dec. 7, 2007, the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California approved the stipulation of settlement between the Department of Labor and Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The settlement is the result of the department's May 25, 2007, complaint filed against the local challenging its November 2006 election for vice president, business agent, executive board, and caucus and convention delegates. The parties have agreed that the Department of Labor will supervise the local's current regularly scheduled election. An OLMS investigation revealed that the union improperly declared candidates ineligible to run for office. The settlement follows an investigation by the OLMS San Francisco District Office.

Union Enters into a Voluntary Compliance Agreement with OLMS

On Dec. 14, 2007, the department entered into a voluntary compliance agreement with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) Los Angeles Local concerning the challenged election of officers conducted on May 22, 2007. In that election, some members were mailed a ballot and election notice packet less than 15 days prior to the date that ballots must have been returned in order to be counted. Also, there were errors in the tallying of ballots. The local agreed to conduct a new election for the nine Los Angeles Board of Directors for Actors officer positions and the 13 National Board of Directors officer positions that may have been affected by the violations. The voluntary compliance agreement follows an investigation by the OLMS Los Angeles District Office.

Indictments and informations are the methods by which people are charged with criminal activity. As in all criminal cases, each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Criminal charges and indictments noted in these materials are accusations only.


Unionists cheer as writers take down Hollywood

Does the Hollywood writers' strike hold lessons for reviving the labor movement as a whole?

“Sun-drenched boulevards lined with designer boutiques and coffee shops are an improbable setting for an old-fashioned labor dispute, but that is what is happening,” noted Britain's Observer newspaper.

“Four or five days a week, up to 2,000 writers brandish placards outside the studios, earning supportive honks from passing traffic and nervous glances from executives driving into work. Recently one had a physical altercation with an employee at Fox, where writers of The Simpsons were making a stand. Some writers have picketed production of their own shows.”

The writers' scrappy picket lines over the past three months contrast with the token one- and two-day strikes called by the United Auto Workers (UAW) at General Motors and Chrysler last fall.

Those walkouts were nothing more than the UAW leadership's attempt to give a militant cover for contracts that cut wages for many new workers nearly in half. So much for the UAW's vaunted tradition of pattern bargaining, where winning a good contract at one company chosen as a “strike target” would improve pay, benefits and working conditions that the other companies would have to accept.

By contrast, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is fighting to maintain and strengthen its own version of industry-wide pattern bargaining and raise the pay and conditions of nonunion writers on “reality” TV shows.

Central to the dispute is residual payments for writers for material distributed through the Internet and other new media. The employers, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), are taking a hard line, and walked out of negotiations December 7.

The WGA's struggle has also highlighted the importance of union solidarity, with the Teamsters and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) refusing to cross picket lines.

Now the WGA is trying to sow divisions among the employers. The union has signed separate agreements with production companies owned by talk show host David Letterman and some others.

This is a risky tactic, since it could split the union between those working and those still on the line. And with billions of dollars at its disposal, the AMPTP seems prepared to try and starve out the writers, the vast majority of whom are far from wealthy.

Meanwhile, studios have used their own divide-and-conquer tactics, invoking contractual agreements to force talk show hosts and strike sympathizers Jay Leno, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert back on the air without their writing staffs.

As inspiring as SAG's and the Teamsters' solidarity has been for the WGA, labor's unity in Hollywood is far from complete.

Some unions representing “below the line” pre- and post-production workers have put pressure on the writers to settle. That effort is being led by International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) President Thomas Short, who called the WGA-West a “house of hate” and accused the union of being “strike happy.”

Another potential problem for the striking writers is the Directors Guild of America (DGA), which opened early negotiations with the AMPTP in mid-January and claims to be within “shouting distance” of a deal.

The DGA has been cool toward the WGA during the strike. If it agrees to an early contract with a sub-par formula for new media revenue, it could greatly strengthen the employers' hand. SAG, which has its own contract talks coming up, could also find itself burdened by a bad DGA deal.

With the production pipeline dried up and layoffs mounting, the pressure is on. “It would be more effective if we all went on strike together,” said one IATSE member at a post-production sound studio. But that would mean defying no-strike clauses in union contracts and risking big lawsuits--something feared by almost all union officials.

In short, the WGA strike faces many of the challenges that labor must overcome order to reverse its decline: huge corporations out to crush unions, sabotage by conservative union bureaucrats and countless legal obstacles. But where bigger unions have retreated, the writers have stepped up to the fight.

The outcome of their struggle will have an impact on the entire union movement. They deserve our full support.


AFL-CIO official breaks against Clintons

The head of the politically powerful Los Angeles County Federation of Labor said Tuesday that she is endorsing Barack Obama for president.

The endorsement by Maria Elena Durazo is a coup for Obama that could help the Illinois senator in his uphill struggle against Hillary Rodham Clinton to win substantial support among Latino voters in Southern California. Obama has won the backing of other Los Angeles-area Latino leaders, but this is probably his biggest such endorsement yet, given the broad reach of the county labor federation.

As executive secretary-treasurer of the federation, Durazo heads an organization of more than 800,000 union members, the biggest regional labor group in California. It includes janitors, teachers, construction and hotel workers as well as supermarket and government employees.

Durazo said her endorsement, to be formally announced today, was a personal one. She is taking a leave of absence from her job to campaign for Obama through Feb. 5, when more than 20 states, including California, will conduct primaries or caucuses.

"My passion is the labor movement, and I believe very strongly that Sen. Obama is very clear about his support for workers who want to organize, workers who want to lift themselves out of poverty, and also protect good middle-class jobs," Durazo said in a phone interview before taking an evening flight to Nevada, where she will work for Obama through the state's Saturday caucuses.

"On a personal level, he really embodies the slogan we use a lot, Cesar Chavez's 'Sí, se puede.' (Yes, we can.") He has proved it by the way he inspires voters, the way he mobilizes."

Jaime A. Regalado, executive director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, said California's Latino voters back Clinton by a wide margin, but Durazo's endorsement "might well turn" the opinions of some undecided voters.

"She's a powerful player -- there's no question about that. It will move some people, it will cause some other people to think and rethink," he said. Still, the Durazo endorsement by itself, Regalado said, is "not enough to sway" a large number of Latino voters.

But Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, emphasized Durazo's key role in local politics. He said Durazo "symbolizes the new power in Los Angeles and in California -- the marriage of Latinos and labor."

"And when you have those numbers, that organization and those volunteers, it makes an impact," Guerra said. "There is no person in all of California who could get more people out to the street to go do something, either to march or get the vote out."

Although Durazo's frequent political ally Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is a national co-chair of Clinton's campaign, she said her decision did not represent a serious break between the two, just a difference of opinion.

Durazo and her late husband, Miguel Contreras, who headed the county labor federation until his death in 2005, have had close ties with former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, the third major contender for the Democratic nomination. Edwards helped the federation in 2006 during a national campaign to unionize hotel workers. "He was very active on that campaign and that was very important to us, so it is difficult to make this choice," Durazo said.

Among the factors that influenced Durazo were the Obama endorsements last week by her national home union, Unite Here, along with its big culinary workers affiliate in Nevada. Durazo said she also was motivated by Obama's background as the son of an immigrant father and a U.S.-born mother who raised him as a single parent.

"He wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth; he was raised in humble surroundings and that will carry over when he has to make tough decisions," Durazo said.

Durazo said she also was "excited" by the prospect of Obama's becoming the nation's first African American president. When she discussed her endorsement with her son Michael, a senior at Cathedral High School in Los Angeles, he urged her to choose Obama.

"He said, 'In the end, Mom, it's the chance of a lifetime.' For him to say that means a lot. It's true."


Right To Work tax surfaces, gov't unions suspected

Boulder’s elected leaders are going to have to find new ways to raise money — perhaps by raising property taxes or other kinds of assessments — or else start drastically cutting services within the next few years, according to a report delivered to the City Council on Tuesday.

The City Council held a study session to hear the report from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Revenue Stabilization, whose members were charged with coming up with ways to insulate the city from volatile swings in revenue.

Their suggested solutions include raising property taxes, allowing the city to keep more property-tax revenue instead of refunding it, increasing development fees and imposing a “head tax” on employees who work in Boulder.

Richard Wobbekind, a University of Colorado economist who served on the commission, said increasing taxes is never an appealing idea.

“I’m not saying any of this is easy,” he said. “It’s a daunting task for you.”

But those solutions could offer more stability than sales taxes, Wobbekind said. Sales taxes are volatile — between 2001 and 2004, the city’s sales-tax revenues decreased by 17 percent, forcing officials to cut the budget by more than $14 million.

Volatility aside, Wobbekind said, demographic and economic realities also are going to eat away at the amount of money sales taxes bring in.

As Boulder’s population ages, residents are less likely to spend money at the stores and restaurants that pour money into city coffers. At the same time, the kinds of services the city offers will get more expensive, as the costs of paying health and pension benefits for staffers continue to rise, along with the costs of physical goods such as oil and cement.

By 2030, the gap between what the city takes in and what it would have to spend to provide today’s level of services is projected to be $90 million — assuming voters agree to renew a handful of sales taxes that will expire in the next few years.

Some of the proposed solutions, such as bringing in more property taxes, are much more stable. Wobbekind cited data in the report that showed Boulder’s property values have risen at a steady 6 percent annual rate for two decades.

But Boulder hasn’t been able to keep much of that money because the state Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires local governments to give funds back to voters when revenue growth exceeds the rate of inflation. Instead of raising rates, elected officials could ask voters to let them keep property-tax dollars they’re now required to refund.

Commission members suggested a measure that would phase out portions of the refund slowly, to cushion homeowners from a sudden tax-bill spike.

The commission’s report also suggests the city explore a “head tax” that employees — but not employers — would pay for the right to work in Boulder. While the idea of such a tax has drawn opposition from the business community, commissioners said it might be more palatable if employees, instead of businesses, were required to pay it.

Members of the City Council didn’t endorse any of the proposals at Tuesday night’s meeting. But leaders have talked about bringing forward measures to renew soon-to-expire sales taxes — and perhaps to ask voters to approve other revenue measures — as soon as November.

If that’s going to happen, Mayor Shaun McGrath said, the City Council will have to get to work.

“If we’re going to put anything on the ballot, we’re going to have to start talking about it fairly soon,” he said.


Desert campaign exposes anti-democracy hypocrisy

We're used to Democrats saying one thing and doing another, but the hypocrisy that will unfold at some local presidential caucus sites Saturday will surprise even hardened cynics.

For decades, Democrats have stood against strengthening voter identification standards at polling sites. Modest identification reforms have been enacted in about half the states, with a handful of them requiring photo identification to prevent election fraud and uphold the integrity of balloting.

Although Americans need photo ID to write checks, use credit cards, board airplanes and even collect welfare benefits, Democrats have argued that lower-income and minority citizens are less likely to possess acceptable identification, and therefore more likely to be denied their right to vote.

The party and loyal special interests have spent millions of dollars on court challenges against photo ID laws, comparing them to poll taxes -- even when governments issue photo identification free of charge. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the issue last week and could decide the constitutionality of photo identification laws once and for all.

But for Saturday's much-anticipated caucus, the state party is poised to demand that Strip workers -- many of them minority, low-income citizens -- furnish ID to participate in the "at-large" sites set up near major hotels to accommodate them.

Neighborhood caucus sites will have the registration rolls for their precincts. But because registered Democrats from all corners of the county will be working on the Strip on Saturday, the state party must check at-large participants against a massive voter database. That requires identification -- signatures alone won't do. Some Strip workers will have no alternative but to provide photo identification.

The very inconvenience that supposedly disenfranchises voters is necessary to protect the validity of a party caucus, where people openly debate the merits and shortcomings of candidates for president?

It reminds us of last year's Democratic efforts to impose the card-check system on union elections that would otherwise be decided by secret ballot. Party leaders insisted that having labor groups solicit and collect votes in person would not result in harassment and intimidation. Meanwhile, in congressional leadership elections, Democrats were so fearful of suffering political retribution for publicly revealing their allegiances that they voted in secret.

During tonight's Democratic debate at Cashman Center, you might hear candidates call for energy independence ... then rule out opening coastal areas and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas exploration. You might hear candidates demand more affordable health care ... then propose costly new regulations and government mandates. You might hear candidates command better job protections for workers and higher wages for the middle class ... then advocate huge tax increases on the wealthy investors who provide capital and create jobs.

In its defense, the Democratic Party is a private organization that's free to decide who can join and under what circumstances they can participate. But you can bet that when state party leaders celebrate the conclusion of this week's caucus events, they'll be having their cake and eating it, too.


Iowa Gov. wants #1 union environment in nation

Right after Iowa Gov. Chet Culver’s just-concluded state of the state speech, House Minority Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City said he didn’t appreciate the “lecture” that ended Democrat Culver’s remarks. Culver pitched several new pieces in health care, the environment and education, but his most extended lead-up to a point came before he referenced changing the Iowa Right to Work law by enacting a “fair share” aspect.

That proposal — to allow public-service employee unions to negotiate for the right to charge a service fee to nonunion workers — passed last year in the Senate, but not House, and Culver said today it would be part of creating the best work environment for employees in the nation.

He followed that by encouraging the Republicans and Democrats to set aside partisanship and work for the common good of Iowans.

A few minutes later, Rants was interviewed by Iowa Public Television’s Dean Borg (Rants gets major props for using the words “incongruous” and “incredulous” in just three minutes of remarks). He said a fair share debate is something some House Democrats are scared of, and Republicans see it as the most divisive issue of the year.

Rants added, “I’m a little incredulous to get the lecture on civility.”


Strike fails, Teamsters call boycott

Hawaii Teamsters and Allied Workers Union Local 996 is calling for a boycott of the 12 Times Supermarkets on Oahu. The union announced Tuesday that it rejected the company's latest offer over the weekend and is asking the public to boycott the stores to protest the company's "unfair labor practices."

"Times talks about ohana, but the union and its members are now questioning whether Times even knows what ohana means," said Ron Kozuma, president of the Hawaii Teamsters. "Many of these people have been loyal Times employees for 20 or 30 years. They have dedicated their working lives to this company and built a loyal customer base in their communities. They deserve much more respect than what they're getting."

The Teamsters said the latest proposal they received would have given less than 25 percent of the union's 116 meat department workers their jobs back and would permanently eliminate all deli clerk positions.

The union said the company also wants to eliminate the guaranteed 40-hour work week and the pension plan.

The Teamsters said they proposed no pay increases for the first year in return for a guarantee that benefits wouldn't be cut. On Monday, the union said it offered to return to work to stop Times from hiring permanent replacement workers.

The union said the company recalled 26 meat managers, assistant meat managers and several journeymen meat cutters over the weekend, but it was not clear if the other employees were terminated or laid off.

The workers went on strike Dec. 18.


Mass. union dues used for gambling binge

Governor Deval Patrick is ramping up efforts to pass his casino gambling bill. He’s shepherding labor unions, mayors and other would-be beneficiaries to pressure lawmakers — and hoping election-year politics will help the cause.

The Democratic governor and labor union officials will meet Wednesday to launch their campaign to persuade skeptical lawmakers to support Patrick’s three-casino plan, which they say will generate tens of thousands of jobs.

Robert Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, says he’s treating it like a political campaign. He plans to energize membership to lobby House lawmakers.

House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi opposes casinos, arguing they would alter the intellectual and cultural character of Massachusetts.


Unionist bemoans Big Labor disorganizers

The messages that the AFL-CIO and Change to Win are sending to unorganized workers actually discourage them from wanting to join unions. These workers are told repeatedly that employers currently have too many ways to intimidate them, including firing them; that unions will be in a better position to organize them when Congress passes the Employee Free Choice Act.

The two labor federations continue to publicize scary statistics to document employers' ferocious attacks on workers suspected of being pro-union. As an example: according to American Rights at Work, "every twenty-three minutes a worker is fired or discriminated against for her support of union organizing."

US unions could double their membership if they could recruit even a third of the 50 million unorganized workers who are interested in joining a union.

Surveys show there are more than 50 million unorganized workers who are interested in joining unions. That's a tantalizing potential for labor organizers. If even a third of this enormous group were recruited, it would double the size of the nation's union membership and add substantial economic strength and political influence to the labor movement.

Yet Stewart Acuff, director of the AFL-CIO's Organizing Department, says: "We've lost the right to organize in this country. American workers have lost any effective right to organize and bargain collectively." Imagine the reaction of non-union workers to this defeatist talk by labor's top organizing official.

How can we win the loyalty of these workers, if they hear how unions are constantly advertising the employers' power over their workforce? Why should they trust unions that won't act in their behalf until Congress passes a law that makes it easier to join unions? If unions are that weak and hesitant, why would they even think of joining?

Despite their rhetoric, unions don't seem to be in a hurry to launch campaigns that reach out to large masses of unorganized workers, nor have they developed new strategies to replace those that haven't worked. It's easy to blame corporations for the lack of organizing progress, but you rarely see union leaders blaming themselves for costly blunders. Indeed, even union members rarely know what's really going on among the top rung of labor leaders, who are habitually silent and unaccountable.

Most unions have been downplaying and retrenching on their organizing efforts, because they haven't figured out a winning strategy. They are living with the fragile hope that Congress will pass the Employee Free Choice Act. But under the best of circumstances, that can't happen before the spring of 2009 — and it might not happen at all, even if the Democrats win the White House and enlarge their control of both houses of Congress.

It is also worth noting that neither the AFL-CIO nor Change to Win have sought to involve unorganized workers in the fight for EFCA, who would be the presumed beneficiaries if the legislation were passed.

The opponents of EFCA include some of the wealthiest and most powerful corporations in the country that are prepared to spend countless millions to defeat the pro-union legislation. And don't underestimate their right-wing allies. So what if EFCA fails to pass and remains an issue for years to come? What, specifically, do we do in the next 15 to 20 months before Congress acts? Mark time? Let labor continue to decline? Or shall we expand and intensify our organizing efforts? And how do we do that?

It is a tragic fact that today's labor leaders have not come up with a plan to build a "bigger and stronger" labor movement. Andy Stern, SEIU president, promised to do that. It was his declared purpose for splitting the AFL-CIO. For a variety of reasons discussed elsewhere, he failed.

Is organized labor doomed to decline still further, as some pundits predict? Not at all. But significant reforms have to be made before there is a resurgence of union membership and power.

- Harry Kelber, founder and editor of LaborEducator.org, has devoted his entire adult life to the labor movement as an organizer, strike leader, union printer, labor editor, pamphleteer, professor of labor studies and author of several books and booklets.


Disabled home to close, ASCFME fears dues hit

Baltimore County's Rosewood Center, which has been home to some of Maryland's most severely disabled residents for more than a century, will close within the next 18 months after a string of reports detailing sometimes gruesome cases of abuse and neglect.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's announcement on the steps of Rosewood's administration building Tuesday drew a mix of cheers and boos from advocates for the disabled who stood nearby.

Those who have pushed for shuttering the center argued that community settings provide more freedom and independence for the disabled, but many of Rosewood's workers say its closing will traumatically disrupt the lives of its residents, some of whom have known no other home. The workers said reports of abuse have been exaggerated.

The state's plan also raises a major question for the surrounding Owings Mills community: What will happen to the center's 300-acre grounds, one of the largest potentially developable parcels in the county?

Rosewood opened in 1888 and at its peak, housed nearly 3,700 people. About 150 disabled people live there now, some of whom were sent by the courts after they were found incompetent to stand trial.

O'Malley said he worries how some residents will adjust to the change but decided to close Rosewood after consulting with health care experts.

"The decline of this facility is not something that happened recently. It's a decline that has happened in the course of many decades," O'Malley said. "To turn around that sort of decline, it was my decision, on balance, after a lot of consideration ... that we can do a better job of providing the service in different settings than here in Rosewood."

Last month, the state Office of Health Care Quality reported 130 incidents of "abuse, neglect, mistreatment and injuries of unknown origins" during a two- month period. The state has banned new admissions at Rosewood three times in the last year, and it has been in danger of losing federal funding because of poor conditions.

The report detailed how residents were given incorrect medication, were improperly restrained and were allowed to assault other residents or not given appropriate "behavior plans."

A Sept. 13 report by the state documented problems at Rosewood ranging from the inability of staff members to control aggressive residents to missed feedings of intubated residents.

Brian Cox, executive director of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, attended the news conference Tuesday and praised the closing.

"We've been advocating this for years. If you look at the years of troubles this facility has had, and it's been well documented over the last year, there is no answer short of closure that makes sense," Cox said.

But officials from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents Rosewood's 513 full-time workers, called the center's closing unnecessary.

Barry Chapman, president of the AFSCME Local 422, said he will monitor what happens with the center's employees.

O'Malley said he will work with the union to find jobs for the displaced workers.

"I have to wait and see if that promise is fulfilled," Chapman said.

Sherelle Daniels, who has been working at Rosewood since 1995, said many of its residents were heartbroken after hearing they would have to relocate. She described Rosewood as a place where the workers established lifelong bonds with tenants, often taking them on trips to grocery stores, banks and, at times, vacations outside of the state.

"It's not all what everybody says," Daniels said. "It's not like handcuffs and shackles that people want to seem like it is."

Elsie Platner said she has had a 48-year-old daughter at Rosewood for 14 years and has never seen any signs of neglect.

Platner said she is unsure of whether she will put her daughter in a group home or try to care for her herself.

"It really affects the families," Platner said. "We don't know what we're going to do."

But advocates for the closing said Tuesday's decision was a long time in the making.

Representatives from the Maryland Disability Law Center said they issued a report in February that detailed seclusion, injuries and neglect of some patients, including one who was locked in a room for 23 hours.

Rachel B. London, an attorney with MDLC, said institutions such as Rosewood have become outdated.

London said that about 22,000 developmentally disabled people live in Maryland and that less than 300 live in institutions. The state also runs institutions in Hagerstown, Cumberland and the Eastern Shore.

"People should be able to live in their own communities. It's a civil rights issue," London said.

Health Secretary John M. Colmers said the state will form a transition team to oversee the relocation of patients.

The residents are expected to be released to guardians or placed in community settings such as group homes over the next 18 months.

State officials said the overwhelming majority of residents can live in community settings.

"We're not going to tolerate any shortcuts during this time period," Colmers said. "Everyone will have a safe and secure place to live."

Rosewood Center was established as the "Asylum and Training School for the Feeble Minded" in 1888. Today, there are 26 buildings on the grounds.

O'Malley said it is too early to speculate how the land will be used.


Sprawling USW goes on strike against bank

United Steelworkers' (USW) Ontario/Atlantic Director Wayne Fraser announced Monday that members of Local 2020 are on strike at five branches of CIBC in Sudbury.

Negotiations for a second collective agreement with the bank failed when the 62 employees rejected the bank's offer, which failed to address issues of wages, employer-paid benefits and equal pay for equal work. In November, the bank's employees voted 90 per cent to take strike action if necessary.

USW Staff Representative Jim Kmit, said workers are only seeking a just and fair contract. It is the second such strike in less than a year in Sudbury. Workers at TD Canada Trust went on strike for a month in 2007.

The USW is Canada's most diverse union, representing more than 280,000
men and women working in every sector of the economy, including more than
1,000 in financial services.


Leftists boycott Portland hotel in solidarity

A union campaign urging a boycott of the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower hotel is starting to have some impact.

The union counts at least 275 Hilton workers as members of Portland-based UNITE HERE Local 9. And on Oct. 26, a majority of those Hilton workers voted to support a boycott of their downtown hotel employer after bargaining without reaching agreement on a new contract.

As one of just three union hotels in the entire state, the Portland Hilton has long been a favored spot for progressive political events—making about $1.5 million a year in union business, according to the hotel. But the Oregon AFL-CIO is backing the boycott. And politicians, unions and nonprofit groups have shelved plans to meet or stay there.

Planned Parenthood, the pro-choice group, moved a sold-out, 1,080-person Jan. 17 luncheon to the non-union Marriott, in accordance with union wishes. So did the ACLU Foundation of Oregon, which had a 450-person annual fundraising dinner scheduled March 8 at the Hilton.

“The ACLU has a long history of supporting the freedom of unions to demonstrate,” said James Phelps, the ACLU Foundation of Oregon’s development director.

No specific incident led workers to call their first-ever boycott, which doesn’t preclude the possibility of a future strike.

The top issue, however, is housekeeper workload. UNITE HERE, a 460,000-member national union of hotel and textile workers, has been trying to link the trend toward luxury beds in hotels like the Hilton with a toll on housekeeper health.

On the Hilton’s king-sized Serenity Beds, a housekeeper must lift at least part of a 113-pound mattress eight times while making a bed.

The union says all that lifting, plus having to rush to clean the required 16 rooms in an eight-hour shift, is a recipe for painful workplace injuries. Workers want the quota lowered to 15 rooms per shift; Portland Hilton management says the quota may be 16, but that the average works out to fewer than 15.

Under their current contract, which expired July 31, 2007, Portland Hilton housekeepers get $10.10 per hour. In San Francisco, for example, unionized hotel housekeepers have 14 rooms to clean per shift, and are now up to $17.50 an hour.

“[Management has] been real comfortable up there,” says Mike Casey, president of UNITE HERE Local 2 in San Francisco, of the union’s previous leadership at the Portland Hilton. “Some might even characterize it as a sweetheart relationship.”

In the past, the Portland Hilton’s union workers might not have put up a fight. Local 9 has long had little member involvement. Then, last February, the national leadership of UNITE HERE got rid of local leader Jeff Richardson and brought in seasoned organizers to mobilize members.

UNITE HERE’s national leadership asked Casey, head of the San Francisco local, to oversee negotiations on the Portland Hilton contract.

“We haven’t had any labor issues until this past contract, and the reason is that UNITE HERE on a national level determined that the local representative who was here for many many years was not aggressive enough,” said Portland Hilton general manager Tracy Marks. “Now the people that we’re working with are much more activist, and those are the people that are based in San Francisco.... We’re willing to discuss workload, we’re just really not being given an opportunity to do that. We haven’t said no to anything. They’ve given us a proposal and we’ve given them a counterproposal.”

Ten employees have signed up to become union stewards. One in 10 Portland Hilton workers joined a newly formed contract campaign committee, and union buttons began appearing on work uniforms.

“It’s an incredible cause, workers’ rights—all of us standing up,” says Eryn Slack, a 33-year-old former server at the hotel’s ground floor restaurant. Slack, who was employee of the month in November 2006, now works full-time coordinating the boycott as an employee of the union.

Bargaining sessions, which typically take place behind closed doors, have been opened up to Hilton workers. As many as 70 drop in to watch, and many leaflet periodically outside the hotel on their days off.

“We’re not looking to bring the San Francisco…standard to Portland in one contract,” Casey says. “But we are going to make progress, or we’re not going to have labor peace.


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