Leftists recolor Democratic Party

In a clear warning sign to wayward Democratic House incumbents, a handful of powerful progressive interest groups have endorsed a primary election opponent of veteran Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.).

The list of influential groups endorsing Donna Edwards, the insurgent challenger making her second consecutive bid in the suburban 4th District, includes anti-war group MoveOn.org, the national Service Employees International Union, the League of Conservation Voters and EMILY’s List.

“This is a classic case of the voters being fed up with Al Wynn; they want somebody else,” said EMILY’s List Political Director Jonathan Parker. “We were all surprised with what happened [in 2006], and that showed that people in this district are ready for change.”

The endorsement of Edwards by EMILY’s List is particularly significant since Wynn has a near-perfect voting record on reproductive rights issues. The organization, which backs female Democrats who support abortion rights, has rarely endorsed primary challengers to Democratic incumbents, except in extenuating circumstances.

Wynn hasn’t made too many glaring voting errors — in fact, he’s averaged a solid 90 percent score from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action group over the past three election cycles.

But his 2003 vote to authorize the Iraq war and a relatively business-friendly voting record have given Edwards fuel to attack Wynn as a Washington insider, beholden to corporate interests.

Edwards came within a stunning 4 percentage points of ousting the eight-term congressman in 2006, by running on a similar anti-Washington, anti-war platform. But this time, third-party groups have been much more eager to step off the sidelines and advocate for her in the Feb. 12 primary.

The endorsements aren’t completely unexpected: Edwards worked with many liberal interest groups as executive director of The Arca Foundation, which supports progressive causes. She directed grants to the LCV in her role, though an Edwards campaign spokesman said her connections with the group played no part in its endorsement.

The slew of endorsements has given her campaign a much-needed boost, as she lagged behind Wynn in fundraising at the end of the third quarter, the most recent period for which reported results are available. Edwards reported $116,000 cash on hand, compared to Wynn’s $400,000.

She also has refused to accept corporate political action committee money in her campaign, though she has benefited from third-party spending on her behalf.

The national SEIU just spent $250,000 on an advertisement attacking Wynn’s ties to energy lobbyists, accusing him of being unduly influenced by interest groups. The ad began airing in the district last week.
In response, Wynn’s campaign notes that much of Edwards’ money is coming from outside the district — indeed, 86 percent of her individual contributions reported to date have come from outside Maryland.

“All of her money is coming [from] outside the district, from California and New York. Our support is homegrown, from communities, community leaders,” said Wynn spokeswoman Lori Sherwood.

Wynn has also scored his share of endorsements, from the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association, abortion-rights groups such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

The race is also exposing a geographic split between the two Democrats. Edwards’ base of support is in the more upscale Montgomery County suburbs, where she defeated Wynn by a 25-point margin in 2006.

Wynn, meanwhile, has been concentrating on his Prince George’s County home base, with its larger concentration of African-American voters. But even in Prince George’s County, Wynn won with just 57 percent of the vote against Edwards in 2006, a far smaller share than he is accustomed to winning.

“Donna’s approach has been this: break down that perceived barrier between PG and Montgomery County,” said Edwards spokesman Dan Weber. “Donna’s out there, working Metro stops every morning, visiting churches, you name it. Anywhere she can meet people.”

Internal polling from a third-party group friendly to Edwards has consistently shown Wynn receiving less than a majority of the vote, according to one Democratic operative.

“He’s under 50 in every poll you look at,” the operative said. “Polling shows he’s vulnerable, no doubt about it.”


Colo. Dem mistakenly listed as pro-worker freedom

Despite a news report to the contrary, a right-to-work bill backed by Colorado House and Senate Republicans isn't supported by Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood.

Boyd - along with virtually the entire Republican delegation - was identified as the only Democrat who is co-sponsoring Senate Bill 56, which would make union membership voluntary.

But while Boyd's name was listed in the bill introduced Monday, she never actually signed the legislation.

According to a press release from Senate Democrats, Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, signed his name "so enthusiastically" that his signature "strayed into [Boyd's] signature line, causing the mix-up."

Quoting John Hancock, Boyd joked, "I guess King George would have been able to read that without his spectacles."

The error has been corrected by the Office of Legislative Legal Services.


Police union organizer indicted on 9 counts

Former Teamsters organizer and Metro police Lt. Calvin Hullet and two others were arrested by Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agents Wednesday night after a Wilson County grand jury returned indictments charging them with breaking into a youth camp run by the Fraternal Order of Police and installing video cameras.

Hullet, a former FOP president who helped the Teamsters take over as the union representing Metro officers, faces nine charges including burglary, vandalism, theft of services, conspiracy and resisting arrest.

Also indicted were David Dickerson, 39, of Grand Saline, Texas, who faces many of the same charges, and Amber Renee Kitchen, 28, of Nashville, charged with conspiracy and trespassing.

A former Shelby County sheriff's deputy, Joe Everson, pleaded guilty in federal court in September to lying to agents investigating the break-in last July. In his plea, Everson said he had been contacted by a Teamsters official about obtaining and installing the surveillance equipment.

The deputy also said he received a Teamsters check to pay for the equipment. Everson, according to the U.S. Attorney's office, broke into the camp with two other people and installed the equipment to record activities there.

Authorities did not say if Everson is expected to testify against Hullet.

The TBI began looking into activities at the FOP youth camp after the bureau received a tip about the cameras, TBI spokeswoman Kristin Helm told The Tennessean in July.

Hullett was arrested and charged with aggravated burglary when he returned to the camp, Helm said then.

TBI agents then questioned Metro and Shelby County officers and raided Hullet's home and Teamsters union headquarters in Nashville.

TBI officials said then they had found a sophisticated operation at the camp, with cameras and a hard drive containing about 80 hours of video hidden near a cabin.

Hullet, on a police disability pension since 2006, left the FOP and became a key operative in the Teamsters effort to take over as the negotiating body for Metro police officers.

The Teamsters won the right to represent Metro officers in 2006, but lost an election last year after the FOP camp investigation.

The Teamsters tried to distance themselves from Hullet, who had been identified as a national organizer for the union. The former officer now lives in Lascassas, Tenn.

Teamsters Local president Jimmy Neal acknowledged there had been "an ongoing dispute between the FOP and us" after the TBI raided union offices. A Teamsters attorney said then that the union had cooperated with the TBI.


Sharp knives drawn in Nevada

Just beyond the glitter and bling of the Las Vegas strip, a bitter fight has erupted between Nevada unions over the state's Saturday Democratic caucus.

The Nevada State Educational Association has joined a lawsuit vs. the state Democratic Party to stop Nevada's Culinary Workers Union from being able to caucus at the hotels and casinos where its members work.

The suit was filed just two days after the culinary workers endorsed Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., on Jan 9. The suit has caused a series of charges and countercharges among unions and the campaigns. Some of the rhetoric has been quite bitter.

Division Of Labor

The Nevada row shows just how powerful unions have become within the party in recent years. Candidates eagerly sought union endorsements nationwide for their fundraising prowess and ability to get out the vote. That has also entangled them in interunion disputes.

With Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., neck and neck, the outcome of the union feud could tip the scale in the Nevada vote and maybe even the Democratic nomination.

A District Court judge is set to rule on the Nevada lawsuit Thursday. The state Democratic Party has said it intends to stick by the deal it struck with the culinary workers.

The head of the culinary workers, D.Taylor, said on MSNBC Monday that the suit's injunction, if upheld, would disenfranchise "thousands upon thousands of workers, not even just our members."

He claimed the teachers' union was being "used" by the Clintons.

The Clinton campaign has officially refused to take sides but several of its allies are supporting the suit. Bill Clinton seemed to endorse it in comments he made Monday.

Teachers Rap Rule

Terry Hickman, executive director of the teachers' union, claims the caucus rules unfairly benefited the culinary workers.

"Special accommodations have been given for some to attend the caucus while at every school site many of our members ... are going to be unable to attend their own caucus because they are going to be at work," he said.

Hickman says his union wasn't pressured by the Clinton campaign and notes it has not made an official endorsement. But he was vague on how exactly his union came to be involved in the suit, which was filed by four state party activists.

"I'm really not sure which one of (the lawsuit's originators) contacted us," he said.

It's safe to say this is not what the Democrats, led by Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had in mind when they moved last year to make Nevada an early caucus state, largely because of its union clout.

"It is an indication of the growing pains in the Democratic Party," said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, a pro-union nonprofit group. "Nevada has become a much more Democratic state and the unions there have become that much more influential."

Still the prize is worth it. Overall Big Labor raised $57.6 million for Democrats in 2006, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.

Culinary Delight

Shortly after his disappointment in New Hampshire, Obama rebounded with the culinary workers' endorsement. That gave him an edge going into the Nevada caucus.

The 60,000-member union is heavily Latino and a key player in state politics thanks to the labor-intensive needs of the hotel and casino industry.

Until that endorsement, Hillary Clinton had had the most success in rounding up Big Labor's OK. No one has a clear edge, though.

Unions have found it tough to pick among the candidates, all roughly the same on labor issues. This has caused tensions even inside unions.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, for example, has worked hard on behalf of the Clintons. Too hard for some members.

When the union began airing ads slamming Obama, seven of the union's 35 board members strongly objected in a Jan. 4 letter to President Gerald McEntee.

Calling Obama "one of the great friends of the union" the authors said they were "shocked and appalled" at the "costly and deceptive campaign."

John Edwards had hoped the Service Employees International Union and Unite Here, another service industry union, would give him a national endorsement.

Instead those unions opted to let their state locals make their own decisions. That was how the Nevada Culinary Workers, part of Unite Here, came to endorse Obama.

The endorsement laid bare the simmering tensions among the state's unions, many of which resent the culinary workers' clout.

Last year, the culinary workers struck a deal with the state Democratic Party to let its members caucus inside the Las Vegas strip hotels and casinos where they work.

It was a boon for the union given the time-consuming nature of the caucus. Many — perhaps most — of its members might not have been able to participate otherwise.

Clintons Behind Lawsuit?

Shortly after the Obama endorsement, a lawsuit was filed seeking an injunction to prevent culinary workers from caucusing at their work. The Obama campaign and the culinary workers are crying fowl.

"This (caucus rule) was approved on March 31st of last year. There was a 30-day window for all the campaigns to review the process," said Shannon Gilson, spokesman for Obama's Nevada campaign.

Members of the culinary workers say Clinton is behind the lawsuit.

"If the Clinton campaign comes out and starts saying that this lawsuit is a mistake, I think it goes away," said a source in the culinary union.

The Clinton campaign did not respond to requests for comment. In a speech at a Nevada high school Bill Clinton seemed to endorse the suit.

"I think the rules ought to be the same for everyone. I question why you would ever have a temporary caucus site and limit (it) to certain kinds of workers," he said.


Ron Radosh on 'Liberal Fascism'

For decades, the left has used the term "fascist" to attack just about anyone they disagree with. That behavior continues: The feminist author Naomi Wolf has recently come out with a book condemning what she calls the "fascist shift" in America, in which she describes the 10 steps she thinks America is taking that lead to fascism. (Of course, to Ms. Wolf the no. 1 fascist is President Bush.) Before her, the liberal journalist Joe Conason wrote a book titled "It Can Happen Here" — what could happen, of course, was American fascism emanating from the Bush administration. And the journalist Chris Hedges argued that the Christian right was composed of nothing but "American Fascists" — indeed the very title of his book on the subject.

Now, from the conservative side, Jonah Goldberg — who is rightfully fed up with the left's regularly and somewhat indiscriminately calling conservatives fascist — turns the tide by addressing the issue head on, in "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning" (Doubleday, 467 pages, $27.95). Not only is it a slander to yell fascist at the right; Mr. Goldberg presents a strong and compelling case that the very idea of fascism emanated from the ranks of liberalism. As he argues, contemporary liberalism descended from the ranks of 20th-century progressivism, and "shares intellectual roots with European fascism."

When Mr. Goldberg uses the term "liberal fascism," he is not offering a right-wing version of the left's smears. He knows it is a loaded term. What he is talking about is the historical idea of fascism: a corporatist and statist social structure that creates a deep reliance of its subjects on the government and engenders a sense of community and purpose. In American politics, this tendency toward statism has always been much more at home on the left than on the right.

It is impossible in a short review to do justice to the rich intellectual history of American liberalism that Mr. Goldberg offers to his readers. He has read widely and thoroughly, not only in the primary sources of fascism, but in the political and intellectual history written by the major historians of the subject.

Readers will learn that the very term "liberal fascism" came from the pen of H.G. Wells, the famed socialist author who delivered a speech at Oxford University in 1932 that included hosannas to both Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. "I am asking," Wells told the students, "for a Liberal Fascisti, for enlightened Nazis." Democracy, he argued, had to be replaced with new forms of government that would save mankind, producing a "'Phoenix Rebirth' of liberalism" that would be called "Liberal Fascism." Like the activism, experimentation, and discipline that made the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany new dynamic societies, the West too could reach such a plateau by adopting the new soft fascism that suited it best.

Wells was not unique in offering this call to liberals. In giving us a true alternative history of modern liberalism, Mr. Goldberg shows how the ideological roots of fascism were liberal and left-wing, as were some of fascism's early proponents, especially in the Italy of Benito Mussolini. Most of us today forget that Mussolini, to his dying day, considered himself a man of the left and a socialist, who through nationalism and the corporatist reorganization of the polity sought to modernize a dying, 19th-century liberalism. Many will nevertheless be surprised to find that Mussolini's large band of admirers included the journalist Herbert Matthews, the comic Will Rogers, the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, the historian Charles Beard, and the muckraker Lincoln Steffens. It only strengthens his case to find that one person Mr. Goldberg leaves out, the founding father of American trade unionism, Samuel Gompers, praised Mussolini's creation of a new corporate state as a guide for American labor, and as a model for American society as a whole.

Indeed, America, as Mr. Goldberg writes, certainly had a "Fascist moment." It was not, however, during the current presidency, but one that extended from progressivism through the New Deal. Mr. Goldberg traces the American roots of liberal fascism to the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who saw increased state power as an organic and natural development. His administration's War Industries Board laid the basis for future government-industry regulatory agencies that tied business to the new corporate state. Later on Mr. Goldberg reveals how Herbert Croly, who founded the New Republic as the preeminent journal of the new liberalism, presented classic fascist themes as the prescription for saving the country in his influential book, "The Promise of American Life."

A major New Deal program, General Hugh Johnson's National Recovery Administration, was an American version of Mussolini's corporate state. Entering Johnson's office, visitors found a portrait of Mussolini on the wall behind his desk. Industrial codes were to be enforced by the state and to be made popular by Nuremberg-type rallies and giant parades, as thousands marched under the symbol of the blue eagle. This marked the actual birth of liberal fascism, as President Roosevelt built upon the statist and collectivist roots of agencies created during World War I. As the vice president of the American Federation of Labor, Matthew Woll, put it at the time, "Labor might well assert that the seed of Fascism had been transplanted" to America. The cartelization of industry, he noted, was "a familiar story in the early history of Fascist Italy."

Turning to what he calls liberal racism, Mr. Goldberg offers readers his finest chapter. It is a devastating picture of how liberals adopted eugenics — a basic part of Nazi doctrine — which was not, as some liberal intellectuals have argued, an outgrowth of conservative thought. Fans of Margaret Sanger, perhaps the single most important feminist hero of the 20th century, will never be able to think of her in the same way. Mr. Goldberg dissects her hidden views of eugenics. A socialist and birth-control martyr, she favored banning reproduction of the "unfit" and regulation of everyone else's reproduction. She wrote, "More children from the fit, less from the unfit — that is the chief issue of birth control." She opposed the birth of "ill-bred, ill-trained swarms of inferior citizens." Her words reveal her motive in advocacy of birth control. She sought to remove "inferior" people from being born to poor people, whose mothers by definition were "unfit." Sanger's partisans in Planned Parenthood, the group that stemmed from her work, will be shocked to learn that her publication endorsed the Nazi eugenics program, and that Sanger herself "proudly gave a speech to a KKK rally." That was not surprising, since she clearly viewed blacks as inferior. Hence her "Negro Project," in which she sought to urge blacks to adopt birth control.

Some will rightfully take issue with Mr. Goldberg when he describes the administrations of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Clinton as fascist. On this, he strains and pushes his evidence too far to convince the reader that these paragons of liberalism can be called fascist in any sense of the term. Mr. Goldberg makes a stronger case when he accuses the New Left of classic fascist behavior, when its cadre took to the streets and through action discarded its early idealism for what Mr. Goldberg correctly calls "fascist thuggery." Even if one does not consider the liberal administrations of the recent past fascist, Mr. Goldberg is correct to see the liberalism of today to be state worship, which built upon the original statist liberalism of the Wilson administration.

Mr. Goldberg has, unlike the leftists who yell the term, made the strongest possible case that Americans today live in a soft form of fascism, a statist liberal society whose citizens are unaware of the roots of ideas they hold. Echoing Susan Sontag, who pointed out that fascist ideas "are vivid and moving to many people," Mr. Goldberg ends with a humorous look at the cult of organic foods, vegetarianism, and animal rights, all programs and policies first instituted in Nazi Germany. "We are all fascists now," he concludes. Disagree if you must, but go out and read this brilliant, insightful, and important book.

- Ron Radosh, a contributing editor of The New York Sun, is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute.


Union-only thuggery on the reservation

I would like to commend California State Sen. Carole Migden for standing up to the unions and taking a position against the proposed casino resort for Rohnert Park.

The citizens of Rohnert Park need to be made aware the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria signed a union-only agreement, a project labor agreement, for the construction of the casino with the union building trades. This means that 80 percent of the local construction community in Sonoma County is welcome to come spend money in the casino but is discriminated against when it comes to building it unless they agree to pay union dues and benefits into their coffers and use union-only apprentices.

Despite the propaganda that union-front groups like Friends of Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria put out, the fact is discrimination like this has no place in the community. Project labor agreements are bad for Rohnert Park and for the citizens of the state of California.

- Eric Christen, executive director, Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction, Sacramento


Union activists descend upon school board

Public School Employees union workers clad in blue shirts descended upon the Monday evening Oak Harbor (WA) School Board meeting to talk about the ongoing contract talks.

Union workers in support positions such as bus drivers, para-educators, secretaries and maintenance staff, have been working without a contract since Aug. 31. Both sides have agreed to bring in a mediator to help resolve issues.

The union members stood outside with informational pickets and in the lobby of the district’s administration building prior to the meeting to greet the public and board members.

PSE and the school district met with a mediator last week, after which the union submitted a contract offer to the school district. It is still awaiting the district’s response.

Linda Preder, co-president of the Oak Harbor PSE union, said the members will vote Jan. 24 on either a contract offer or a strike authorization.

Contentious issues include salaries, cost of living increases and affordable health insurance.

Superintendent Rick Schulte said school officials are reviewing the union’s latest proposal and that it appears constructive and will lead to more talks. The two sides are scheduled to meet again Thursday.

The union members took turns speaking during the Monday evening meeting.

They spoke about their various financial struggles, ranging from paying for their children’s college expenses to dealing with rising gas prices and buying braces for their children, or just paying everyday expenses.

Kris Owens, PSE member working at North Whidbey Middle School, questioned why the impasse still exists after the school district and the union have had 17 meetings since negotiations started last May.

“There have been serious and heavy-hearted discussions,” Owens said. “The members will be forced to use extreme means to show their solidarity and steadfastness.”

Kathy Fakkema said that PSE members were the only district employees not to receive cost of living raises.

“We believe this to be an unfair and discriminating decision on your behalf,” Fakkema said.

Preder said the union members were the primary employees who lost hours and positions during last year’s budget reductions and it’s only fair they receive an average wage increase.

Schulte said that the mediator is still willing to meet with both sides and that in itself is a sign of progress.

He warned that a strike by the union employees couldn’t possibly be constructive and that it would have a negative impact on students and families.


AFSCME-Clintons in Dem vote-blocking scheme

Hillary Clinton, who is proud of having stood up against the GOP's attack machine, appears to have borrowed a few vote-suppressing tricks from Karl Rove and his ilk, her critics charge. Steve Rosenfeld, who co-authored a book chronicling GOP vote-denying schemes in Ohio in 2004, was one of the first to call her on the campaign's machinations in a story called "Hillary Clinton's Dirty Campaign Tactics":
The headlines say the latest schism among the top Democratic presidential candidates is over gender and race. But on the ground in the presidential season's opening states, there is a darker narrative: that Hillary Clinton will not just fight hard, but fight dirty, to win. And her tactic of choice is attempting to suppress the votes of her rival's supporters.

The latest example is from Nevada, where the Nevada State Education Association is widely seen as filing a suit on Clinton's behalf to stop Las Vegas' most powerful union, Culinary Workers Local 226, from caucusing inside downtown casinos after the union endorsed Barack Obama. The tactic foments a split along racial and class lines in arguably the strongest union city in America.

"It's horrible," said one longtime Nevada activist, who didn't want his name used. "It will cause fights and damage that will last for years."

But the Clinton campaign has made similar moves in New Hampshire and Iowa.

In the first primary state, her supporters -- backed by New Hampshire Democratic Party officials -- pressured poll workers to remove observers stationed by the Obama campaign. These volunteers had intended to track voters as part of their get-out-the-vote effort. That tactic came after the Clinton campaign sent a mailing targeting women that said Obama would not "stand up and protect" a women's right to choose because he had voted "present" -- but not yes -- on a few abortion-related bills in the Illinois legislature.
A judge is expected to rule today on the last-minute lawsuit brought by allies of the Clinton campaign, including the Nevada State Education Association, that aims to block the heavily Hispanic membership of the Culinary Workers Union from voting in areas set aside for caucuses in the casinos.

The rules being challenged were agreed to by all the campaigns as far back as March (including by four of the plaintiffs). But after Obama won the endorsement of that union, the Clinton team apparently turned to nominally "unalligned" Democrats and the teachers' union to block the casino workers' voting rights. At the same time, the Clinton campaign has offered its usual mix of ambiguous responses and a hands-off approach to the lawsuit itself ( just as it's claimed no prior knowledge of the drumbeat of comments about Obama's youthful drug use offered by such supporters as BET founder Bob Johnson, among others).

As the AP reports:
The Clinton campaign has denied any involvement in the lawsuit, but Obama noted it was filed two days after he was endorsed by the powerful Culinary Workers Union Local 226, which has organized many workers along the Strip. The union is the state's largest with 60,000 members, more than 40 percent Hispanic.

The Illinois senator drew cheers at a Culinary Union event Sunday when he said the rules were fine until the union decided, "I'm going to support the guy who's standing with the working people instead of the big shots."

By Monday, Bill Clinton was defending the lawsuit. "I think the rules ought to be the same for everybody," the former president told high school students near Las Vegas.

The Culinary Union circulated a less subtle message on fliers to members: "Backers of Hillary Clinton are suing in court to take away our right to vote in the caucus." It's airing the same message in Spanish-langauge radio ads.
While the Clintons are giving at least tacit support to the lawsuit, these tactics appear to be at odds with the spirit of the "Count Every Vote Act" she has championed in the Senate to restore integrity to our voting system -- and her support of the reauthorized Voting Rights Act. During a floor speech in 2006, she proclaimed:
When you deny a person his or her right to vote, you strip that individual of dignity and you weaken our democracy.

The endurance of our democracy requires constant vigilance -- a lesson that has been reinforced by the last two presidential elections, both of which were affected by widespread allegations of voter disenfranchisement.
It seems, though, that she's not as eager to "Count Every Vote" if those votes might go to her chief opponent in the race, Sen. Barack Obama.


Iconic Chicago strike-hotel rehab angers union

Risking a new breach with organized labor, the Daley administration is preparing today to authorize an expansion of the Congress Plaza Hotel at 520 S. Michigan, the target of a 4½-year-old strike.

The Congress' New York-based ownership group wants zoning authority to add up to five floors to the 14-story building that sits across from Grant Park. It plans to use the addition for a swimming pool, health club, restaurant and more rooms.

The proposal was slated for a vote today by the Chicago Plan Commission, a mayoral-appointed group that acts on zoning recommendations of city officials. The vote was scheduled despite fierce opposition by Unite Here Local 1, the union waging the strike.

Also, Ald. Robert Fioretti, whose 2nd Ward includes the hotel, said he opposes the expansion. It's rare for a mayor to ignore aldermanic wishes on a zoning deal, but Daley has campaigned to put a new Chicago Children's Museum in Grant Park over another alderman's objections.

Union leaders said approving the expansion would reward owners of a "rogue hotel" that has been cited for numerous code violations and received many customer complaints since the strike began. They said they have catalogued more than 1,000 reports about everything from broken furniture and backed-up plumbing to roach infestations and missing fire extinguishers.

Shlomo Nahmias, the owners' representative at the hotel, said it has corrected code violations, which a spokesman for the city's Buildings Department confirmed.

As for the alderman, "He has no say," Nahmias said. "It's between the city and us."

Nahmias said ownership has spent $40 million on renovations over the past 10 years. "Right now, it's a two-star hotel. Hopefully, it'll be three, three-and-a-half stars by summer," he said.

Approval of the expansion could become Mayor Daley's biggest union controversy since his 2006 successful veto of an ordinance that sought to keep Wal-Mart out of Chicago. Union-bankrolled campaigns led to changes in the City Council the following spring. Fioretti benefitted from union support in unseating an incumbent.

Unite Here plans to bring members to the Plan Commission meeting scheduled for 1 p.m. at City Hall.

Pete Scales, spokesman for the city's Planning Department, said the hotel's zoning application meets landmark standards set for the famous Michigan Avenue streetwall. "We are legally obligated to process that application for approval," he said.

It calls for a one-story addition on the hotel's Michigan Avenue side and five stories on the Harrison Street side.

Fioretti said he opposes the Congress expansion because poor operating history has made it a civic embarrassment. "The Congress has left a bad impression in the minds of hundreds, if not thousands, of Chicago visitors," he said.

The Congress was built in 1893 and once was an elegant stopover for presidents and celebrities. Today it draws budget travelers with rates that drop to about $79 a night during slow seasons, but guests often encounter picket lines.


News jobs move to Right To Work state

An outside company will take over The Californian's printing operations in mid-March, the newspaper said Tuesday. The move is expected to trim the company's payroll by 34 jobs, all of them at the newspaper's Harrell-Fritts Publishing Center at 3700 Pegasus Drive in Bakersfield.

President and CEO Richard Beene said the move to outsource jobs to Nevada-based Brad Moseley Inc. will allow the newspaper to focus on news content, sales and market research. Some other newspapers contract out printing as well, he said.

The changes are the latest of many internal changes aimed at securing The Californian's future in what experts see as an increasingly online enterprise.

While the decision comes during an economic slump that cost the paper 40 jobs in June, Beene said the outsourcing "is not a financial decision. It's a focus decision."

About 20 of the positions being outsourced are covered by a labor contract with the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 404M. Local President Douglas Brown pledged a fight.

"In our opinion, we have jurisdiction over that building, and the work's in that building," Brown said.

Beene countered that the contract permits the change. He said all 34 affected workers should submit resumes to Brad Moseley Inc., which in 2004 took over the paper's packaging and distribution.

The Pegasus Drive facility prints The Californian, The Tehachapi News and some smaller publications but not company niche publications including Mas Magazine and The Southwest Voice.

Beene said the changes will not detract from the publications' quality. "For the consumer, it's going to be absolutely seamless," he said.


SEIU threatens hospital with strike notice

Nurses and other health care workers at Aliquippa (PA) Community Hospital have voted overwhelmingly to send the hospital's new owners notice of a possible strike if they do not recognize their union, respect seniority in layoffs and recalls, and reinstate several workers, including union leaders, who were fired.

Members of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania said that last week, prior to a takeover of the Beaver County facility by Commonwealth Medical Center, all employees were terminated. Some were later instructed to report for their next shifts, but both union officers lost their jobs.

The union, which could walk off the job on Jan. 30, wants management to meet with the union and reinstate all employees. A rally is scheduled for 4 p.m. Thursday at the Aliquippa Serbian Club on Brodhead Road.


Unions dues-counters eye airline merger

A merger between Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines could threaten the union status of Northwest employees because Delta's workforce is largely nonunion, industry observers told the Free Press on Wednesday.

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Northwest confirmed to him that the airline has begun formal discussions with Delta and will look elsewhere if Delta tries to merge with United Airlines. Delta, based in Atlanta, is said to be in discussions with both carriers. Oberstar said he will fight a merger because it will limit options for passengers.

Some say much more is at stake. A marriage involving Delta and Northwest -- the largest passenger carrier at Metro Airport -- stands to jeopardize the union status of thousands of Northwest employees, said Terry Trippler, a Minneapolis-based airline expert.

"I don't think any merger is going to give anyone a pay raise," he said.

Only Delta's pilots are unionized. By contrast, most of Northwest's nonmanagement workforce is unionized. Delta has roughly 51,000 employees while Northwest has 31,000.

Unions representing Northwest employees are skeptical that a merger would hurt the unions.

"It doesn't matter who buys who. What matters is the percentage of union people," said Kevin Griffin, spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants.

Steve MacFarlane, national director of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, said a merger could cause more workers to seek union membership.

"These workers are angry and they have good reason to be," MacFarlane said. "Nonunion carriers have a lot to worry about."

But whoever ends up being the acquirer wouldn't determine the fate of unions, said Michael H. LeRoy, professor at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations and College of Law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Getting rid of a union would require a decertification vote and unionizing Delta's nonunion employees would require a vote, as well.

"It can go either way," LeRoy said. "The acquirer is irrelevant. What matters is the percentage of nonunion to union employees."

Trippler said Northwest might end up being the acquirer because it has more money than Delta, its larger rival.

After winning hard-fought concessions from its pilots and flight attendants, Northwest emerged from bankruptcy on May 31 with $3.2 billion in cash, a record at the time for the airline. Delta had $2.6 billion in unrestricted cash, cash equivalents and short-term investments as of Jan. 30, 2007.

Delta's presence at Detroit Metro Airport is relatively small. Delta has 16 to 18 departures a day depending on the season. Northwest has more than 500 departures per day.

Northwest Airlines spokesman Dean Breest declined comment about possible talks.

Delta spokeswoman Susan Elliott said Wednesday that Delta had formed a committee and is exploring options "that will allow Delta to retain its position in the industry."

But Oberstar, who has opposed airline mergers in the past, said a merger between the two companies would reduce competition and limit options for passengers.

"Further consolidation of the aviation market is not in the best overall public interest," Oberstar said.

A merger among United, Delta or Northwest would vault the combined company past American Airlines as the world's largest airline.

The aviation industry has been rife with merger speculation since late last year when there was talk of a merger between United and Delta.

Delta, which has hired legal and financial advisers, said as far back as October that it was considering merger options and asset sales, and planned to be an acquirer.

Soaring oil prices and high labor costs are the key drivers behind the latest call for industry consolidation.

Northwest customer Mark Levine said he would welcome a merger between Delta and Northwest.

"It would mean something if the service got better," said Levine of Birmingham. "But not if we're still tied to one airline and they happen to go on strike and treat everybody like garbage."

Levine said he has boycotted Northwest as much as possible since the airline bumped him off flights this summer and gave little in the way of compensation.

He is keen on a Delta merger, based on his experiences.

"Delta seems to have it together," he said.

Analysts have long speculated which airlines are most likely to merge.

Delta buying Northwest topped a list of merger possibilities assembled by Calyon Securities in New York in November. The two systems have little route overlap domestically or internationally.

Delta has two dominant Atlantic seaboard hub operations at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and the Atlanta airport, which complement Northwest's two operations at Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul airports.

Northwest is a powerhouse internationally and within Asia, where Delta is weak. Delta is strong in the Atlantic and has a solid position in Latin America, areas where Northwest isn't prominent, according to the report.

A Northwest merger with Delta Air Lines wouldn't have an obvious impact on Detroit, one observer said.

"Detroit is a protected hub," said longtime Virginia-based airline consultant Darryl Jenkins. "There are good international routes; you have less low-cost competition.

"Fares are going to go up, but that's whether we have a merger or not," Jenkins said, adding that higher fuel prices are driving up fares.


Writ-slap expected for police union embezzler

A former Seattle Police Officers' Guild bookkeeper pleaded guilty Tuesday to embezzling more than $40,000 from the union, the U.S. attorney's office reported.

Tara Mullins, 37, of Renton, entered her plea and presented the government with a check for restitution at a hearing Tuesday. Mullins was a bookkeeper for the guild between February 2003 and November 2005.

Mullins paid $77,492, which represents the money she embezzled from an Employee Benefit Plan plus the audit expenses the guild paid, according to a news release.

Mullins prepared fraudulent checks and deposited them into her personal bank accounts, according to the release. In her plea agreement she admitted forging the signature of a guild officer as well as transferring funds from the guild account to her own PayPal account.

She faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced April 18.


Gov't union in court to collect scab fines

In 2004, as 125,000 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada hit the bricks in a week-long strike, at least 200 of their co-workers crossed the picket line and went to work.

One of them was Jeffrey Birch. Birch says he couldn't meet his financial obligations on the $50 per day strike pay. He didn't know how long the strike would last. So he reluctantly chose to cross the picket line. The union issued fines against Birch and the others who crossed the picket lines.

Next came the hard part -- trying to collect. Some simply paid up, but many didn't. Those who didn't pay were sued by the union in Small Claims Court. Some failed to defend themselves or show up in court. The union obtained default judgments against them. Birch decided to fight. He and a colleague who also crossed the line retained a lawyer, John Craig of Heenan Blaikie, who moved to get the case out of the Small Claims Court system and before a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 2007. Smart move.

The case came before Justice Robert Smith. The union argued its constitution specifically allowed it to impose fines on its members and the fines were reasonable. They contended the terms of the constitution were contractually binding on its members and it therefore had a contractual right to impose and collect the fines.

That is somewhat disingenuous as members have no real say in the language of the union constitution. Also, a court will not allow a party to enforce a penalty clause in a contract unless the amount of the penalty bears a reasonable relationship to the loss suffered by the party.

But what loss did the union local suffer? They claimed they lost about one penny per union member and they had about 26,000 members hence a fine of about $260. In a strange bit of number crunching the union fined Birch about $475, equivalent to the gross amount earned by Birch after crossing the line.

The judge concluded the penny-a-member calculation was pure speculation and the union's imposition of fines amounted to a penalty and disallowed it, as it did not bear a relationship to any losses suffered. The judge went further. He said the fines were unconscionable. Levying a fine of the gross wages earned would require Birch to pay more money than he earned after taking into account all deductions.

Case dismissed on every conceivable ground. The fines should never have been imposed and cannot be collected. Good news for all union members who can't afford to be out on strike.

That's where the story should have ended. But the union has now lodged an appeal. They claim if they cannot levy fines, then they cannot enforce their picket lines. How do they stop free-riders -- those who obtain the benefits of the strike without suffering the ill effects?


Well, how about increasing the strike pay, for one. Also, there is nothing to stop the union from suspending members who cross picket lines. True, this doesn't impose a financial penalty but it does bar those members from social functions and disentitles them membership rights such as running for office or voting in elections.

I know no union wants to get into an adversarial fight with its members, but how do you think a member feels when being sued by the very body that is supposed to be protecting him in the workplace?

Stay tuned for the Court of Appeal's take on this. For now, Saskatchewan is the only province in Canada where unions have been given the power to fine members who have crossed picket lines.


Clinton-crony claims monopoly with Teamsters

Yucaipa Cos., which wants to buy Interstate Bakeries Corp., said Tuesday that IBC’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy is so flawed it should not be distributed to creditors for consideration.

Interstate, which has been under bankruptcy reorganization since September 2004, in November filed a so-called disclosure statement, which typically includes a wide range of information, including a company’s plan of reorganization.

But Yucaipa - headed by Clinton-crony Ron Burkle - a party of interest, and two pension funds that have claims against the company say that IBC’s disclosure is full of holes, lacking but not limited to a liquidation analysis and information on claims against the estate. It also said that more than a half dozen exhibits referenced in the disclosure are blank.

In its filing, Yucaipa claimed IBC’s plan is unconfirmable by the court because it calls for an agreement with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which makes up 9,000 of its 25,000 employees. But the Teamsters union has told the court it is negotiating only with Yucaipa. Additionally, the union told the court it would rather see IBC be liquidated than work with current management.

Midnight Tuesday was the deadline for investors to file competing plans for bringing the wholesale baker out of bankruptcy.

If other plans are filed, there will be an auction for the company on Jan. 22.


Striking writers hurt the little guy

In a strike-related move, Warner Bros. has chopped almost three dozen positions from its facilities work force.

The studio notified about 1,000 workers of Warner Bros. Studios Facilities in November that their jobs could be eliminated because of the impact of the WGA strike on operations.

The 60-day notice to employees was required under federal guidelines in situations involving mass layoffs, but it appears lot employees for now have dodged any more sizable number of job cuts.

"There was a great deal of misinformation reported regarding the potential number of layoffs that might be implemented this week," Warners said in a statement Wednesday. "We have worked very hard to come up with solutions -- such as implementing reduced work schedules -- to minimize layoffs. Because of these measures, fewer than three dozen positions were affected this week.

"We will continue to explore alternatives to layoffs, including redeployment to other areas of our businesses," the studio added. "We are very sorry for the impact this has on our nonstriking work force."

A Warners spokeswoman said she couldn't elaborate on the statement.


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