Unions put Dem divisions on full display

The chairs in the Concorde Ballroom of the Paris Casino were arranged as if for a wedding, but were more a prelude to an ugly divorce.

On one side of the at-large caucus room were supporters of Senator Hillary Clinton, led by an organizer for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), overwhelmingly Mexican-American.

On the other side of the aisle were supporters of Senator Barack Obama, led by a shop steward for the Culinary Workers Local 226, overwhelmingly African-American.

Both groups were made up predominantly of women. They shouted at each other, booed, hissed and hurled thumbs down in open, sneering contempt for the opposition. The hostility toward their sister workers on each side had more to do with each other than with the candidates they supported.

Capitalism and its politicians have long played divide-and-conquer to divide immigrants from other economically suppressed demographic groups. A generation or two ago, Irish, Italians and Jews were districted by those in power into the same Congressional, legislative and city council districts to compete for the same scraps of political representation while White Anglo-Saxon Protestants took the rest of the pie. The same has occurred in recent years to shoehorn blacks and Latinos--the two most solid Democratic Party voting demographic groups - into increasing conflict.

During last June's debate over the federal Immigration Reform Bill, the overtly racist Minutemen organization took time off from patrolling the border vigilante style to hold a small march in Los Angeles against reform. They recruited a sole black minister who brought along half-a-dozen men from his congregation for an anti-immigrant rally that had no more than two-dozen participants. This, justifiably, provoked anger among Mexican-Americans and others in LA, and thousands marched in counter-demonstration. Truth is, there were far more African-Americans marching with the pro-immigrant group than that stood with the Minutemen, and that fact saved the situation from becoming uglier.

As census trends explode to bring, just two or so decades from now, the Caucasian population of the United States into minority status, entire industries have been launched to prevent a majority alliance from forming along class-solidarity lines. There are book contracts aplenty waiting for divisive pundits like Earl Ofari Hutchison, author of The Emerging Black GOP Majority (2006) and Latino Challenge to Black America (2007) and who dedicated much of 2007 and, now, 2008 to bashing Obama over on The Huffington Post. Black-Latino tensions bubble up from high school brawls in Los Angeles to City Council antics in Buffalo, and of course in the prison system where gangs choose up sides so often along ethnic and racial lines.

But now it's exploded out into the open in the Democratic presidential nomination battle, with the Clinton campaign leading the charge. In recent weeks, efforts by Clinton surrogates to wage racial politics against Obama were viewed by reporters as efforts to sway white voters away from Obama: a national Clinton co-chair implied that Obama had a drug-dealing past, a former US senator repeated disproved Islamic smears, and most recently a billionaire black entertainment mogul introduced Clinton by resurrecting the drug canard. All three then staged public "apologies." But it's the words of Bill and Hillary Clinton that have sent the signals from above, from the latter's angry uncle acts in New Hampshire and Nevada and his defense of a voter suppression lawsuit there, to the former's exaltation of LBJ as the real MLK, the strategy has been to bait Obama supporters into respond in kind. Then they claim to be "victims" of false accusations of racism.

Remarkably, the race-baiting has had little effect on those white voters that would be expected to bite, particularly those in rural areas--considered by white urban and suburban liberals to be the racist ones--who in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada delivered bigger percentages for Obama than urban and suburban voters. But perhaps the white folk were never the intended target of such divisive politics. No, it led, instead, to the afro-hispano-divide on Saturday in Las Vegas, one that could cause lasting harm to all progressive efforts--electoral or not--in the near future of the United States of America.

The Clinton White House vs. Mexican-Americans

When president from 1989 to 2001, George H. W. Bush tried to gain approval for a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada, just as Ronald Reagan tried before him, he couldn't convince a Democratic Congress to go along. That magic trick required the Democratic regime of Bill Clinton--backed by a multi-million dollar corporate lobbying campaign, off which many Clinton '92 campaign staffers made good money pressuring fellow Democrats--who rammed NAFTA through.

NAFTA took effect in 1994, soon devastated the Mexican family farmer, many of whom fled across the US border while many more were displaced into Mexican cities and border states to work in post-NAFTA sweatshops. That, in turn, sparked a marked increase in undocumented workers in the US, who are now on the receiving end of the same repressive policies and media-fed demonization that were perfected against African-Americans and now utilized, likewise, against Hispanic-Americans.

In 1993, when President Bill Clinton took office, there were 80,815 men and women in federal prisons. By the end of his two terms, in December of 2000, there were 125,692: an increase of 55 percent over eight years, according to the US Department of Justice.

Federal drug enforcement counted for more than half of the 45,000-strong increase in federal prisons, leaving a total of 63,898 drug war prisoners, more than half of the federal prison population, at the end of Clinton's term. That was the consequence of mandatory minimum sentences, which the Clinton administration, and particularly Attorney General Janet Reno, pledged to reform in January 1993, but quickly abandoned during those eight years in power.

The Center on Juvenile Justice concluded at the end of the Clinton years, "When William Jefferson Clinton took office in 1993, he was embraced by some as a moderate change from the previous twelve years of tough on crime Republican administrations. Now, eight years later, the latest criminal justice statistics show that it was actually Democratic President Bill Clinton who implemented arguably the most punitive platform on crime in the last two decades. In fact, 'tough on crime' policies passed during the Clinton Administration's tenure resulted in the largest increases in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history."

The Clinton administration's criminalization of the economically poor fell heaviest upon Hispanic-Americans. By 1997, more than halfway through the Clinton White House years, 27 percent of federal inmates were Hispanic (compared to 17 percent of state level inmates). By 2000, 43 percent of all federal drug war prisoners were Hispanic, the most likely group to be first-time offenders, and the least likely to have committed a violent crime. (If anything, these numbers undercount the real impact, since most Hispanic inmates are classified by the prison system as "white.")

Contrary to what CNN's Lou Dobbs says, these Hispanic prisoners are not primarily "illegal immigrants." US born Hispanic men are seven times as likely to end up in prison than foreign-born Hispanic men.

And during Bill Clinton's presidency, the White House made no effort to reform immigration laws or set a path to citizenship for the millions of new immigrants streaming across the border as a result of NAFTA. President George W. Bush has been more progressive on the immigration issue than Clinton ever was.

But after winning the New Hampshire primary, Senator Hillary Clinton went to Nevada and made a noisy public play for Latino voters. Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, the Mexican-American in the presidential contest, obliged her by dropping out of the race and clearing the path for Clinton. She walked through a predominantly Hispanic North Las Vegas neighborhood as her first post-New Hampshire media appearance, and noshed guacamole and chips at the Lindo Michoacan restaurant. During that session, with the TV cameras running, a man shouted, "my wife is illegal." (What man, if his wife is truly in the country without permission, would advertise that fact on national television? The Clinton campaign had been caught earlier in the campaign planting questions, and this incident carried the same media-manipulating smell.) Clinton's response - "No woman is illegal!" - caused many to forget her doubletalk at a debate last October about drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants when she took both sides of the issue. Indeed, at Saturday's caucus, some of her supporters gushed to reporters that "Hillary supports amnesty" for immigrants.

That blatant level of pandering from the team that had, during eight years in power, done so much damage to Mexican-Americans and their country of ancestry both, has to be viewed now in the context of the race-baiting tactics that dominated the Democratic primaries in early 2008. According to the entrance poll of Nevada caucus-goers, 64 percent of Hispanic voters favored Clinton to just 25 percent for Obama, while 83 percent of African-Americans backed Obama to only 16 percent for Clinton. If those percentages hold in the February 5 California primary (and in contests that same day in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, also with large numbers of Mexican-American voters), Clinton may soon be on the road to the Democratic nomination.

Eight Days to Disarm a Time Bomb

The day after his narrow defeat in Nevada (while, due to white rural voters in the northern Nevada 2nd Congressional District, Obama edged out Clinton, 13 to 12, for Democratic National Convention delegates), Obama went to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and seemed to acknowledge that he has work to do to reverse, or at least dampen, the trend of Latino voters for Clinton.

From the pulpit where Martin Luther King once preached, he said to the predominantly black congregation:

"if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we're honest with ourselves, we'll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King's vision of a beloved community.

"We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity."

The Obama camp certainly recognizes the problem, but so far hasn't taken that message to the ground level, to the homes and neighborhoods and restaurants, and, yes, in front of television cameras, to break bread together with Mexican-Americans and make his case more forcefully.

Obama--not Clinton--was a co-sponsor of the Immigrant Reform Bill that was the central issue of 2007 for the Latino population. He has to make that case and do so fast or the black-Latino rift that the Clintons have so cynically encouraged could become the story of the remaining Democratic primaries, leading to such acrimony that one group, or the other, stays home in November.

In addition to those factors, Obama needs to shine an eviscerating light upon the actual record of the first Clinton administration and the brutality of its increased prosecution of Hispanics for non-violent federal drug crimes. According to a 2003 survey by Fairbanks, Maslin, Maulin & Associates for the Drug Policy Alliance, a wide majority of Latinos in California oppose prison terms for drug offenders.

Short of a rumored, pending--but as of yet unconfirmed--Obama endorsement by Senator Ted Kennedy, the most visible sponsor of the Immigration Reform Bill and highly respected by many Latino voters, Obama is going to have to confront the black-Latino rift seen in Nevada head-on if he has hope of gaining the nomination.

The terrible Clinton legacy of US government mistreatment of Mexican-Americans--including the majority that are legal citizens--provides the constitutional law professor and civil rights lawyer from Illinois the opening to do so. But the time bomb of black-Latino division is ticking and could explode, if not disarmed in the next week, as soon as Tsunami Tuesday rolls in on February 5.

Parts of this story were originally published in The Field--http://ruralvotes.com/thefield - where Al Giordano has been writing about the presidential campaign.

Al Giordano, the founder of Narco News, has lived in and reported from Latin America for the past decade. His opinions expressed in this column do not reflect those of Narco News nor of The Fund for Authentic Journalism, which supports his work. Al encourages commentary, critique, additional analysis and news tips for his continued coverage of the US presidential campaign to be sent to his email address: narconews@gmail.com.


Workers need protection from union abuse

Unions can play an important role in protecting their members. But what happens when a member needs protection from his union?

Last week I reported on a court case where a Public Service Alliance of Canada local fined its members for crossing a picket line. The court ruled the fines had no rationale, were unconscionable and therefore were unenforceable. What I didn't report at that time was there were some union members who were forced to work by their employer, the federal government, as they were deemed to be essential workers, during the 2004 PSAC strike.

People like Arthur B. Grant, of Winnipeg, had a choice: Cross the picket line or be fined $1,000 per day by the government for refusing to work. So he had no real choice but to work during the three-day strike. His union then told him he had to pay 25% of his net wages as a "contribution" into its hardship fund.

He did some checking into the union constitution and the amount of the hardship fund, which he says had a surplus of about $950,000(!) at the time, and concluded the union didn't have the right to force him to pay the money.

He questioned the PSAC president about the hardship fund and the union's power to force him to pay into the fund, but it was punted to the local unit president. Before Grant could get any answers he was suspended from the union for two years, but, get this, he still had to pay the union dues of $60 per month.

To this day Grant has never received answers to his questions about the hardship fund and the union's right to force contributions to it. Maybe he'll get them after this column is published.

So just who is it union members are supposed to go to if they feel they are being oppressed by their unions? When Jeffrey Birch of Ottawa felt oppressed for being fined by his union he got the help of a judge. But that was only possible because the union went to court to collect on the fine.

It's unrealistic for someone like Grant to go to court to contest his suspension. It's also doubtful that a court would even hear the case.

So what happens is people like Grant take their punishment and hope their fellow union members understand. Otherwise they look for employment elsewhere. It doesn't seem fair.

Unions hold immense power over their members. They need to protect their members and not get into adversarial fights with them. Fining them or imposing mandatory contributions (which are really only disguised fines) is just plain wrong.

I know unless a union can exercise its ultimate weapon - a strike - or can at least show management it is serious about striking, getting a good deal for its members in a collective bargaining agreement is going to be tough. So strikes, or threats of strikes, are inevitable.

The problem for the striking members is they lose their salaries and have to live on savings and small sums of strike pay without knowing how long the strike may be. There's a huge financial pressure on members to cross the picket line, but if the union can't enforce the picket line the strike will fail and the union's bargaining position weakens.

That's why unions are desperate to have the right to fine members who cross the picket line. And that pits the union against its members. But if large numbers of members cross then just maybe there shouldn't have been a strike.

So here's a better idea courtesy of a Sun Media reader: Work to rule, while conducting a public information campaign.

That way the public still gets some service, employees get paid and the onus is on the employer to discipline employees.

It's not perfect, but then what is?


WFP: Union-only thuggery is best for all

A recent Binghamton (NY) Press & Sun-Bulletin editorial suggested we need to specify only local labor for the Harvey Justice Building renovation. I disagree. We need to specify local union labor.

Governments across the land have passed the same kind of Project Labor Agreement for contracts that our county legislature passed, and I am glad the legislature stood firm behind its decision, even in the face of the court action by outsider organizations.

Project Labor Agreements make sense for taxpayers. Having a firm agreement in advance of a job means that labor terms and conditions are set in advance. There will be no strikes or lockouts. There will be no hidden costs or cost overruns.

Using our own local highly skilled union workers means the highest quality workmanship on the job. We taxpayers need that assurance.

Eileen Hamlin Chair, Working Families Party, Kirkwood


Political curb on Firefighters goes to trial

The city of Farmington, NM and its firefighter's union failed to settle a collective bargaining lawsuit Tuesday, sending it to trial.

The union says the city's rules are too strict, leaving it little room to function and impeding union members' freedom of speech. "The city's ordinance is a very prohibitive ordinance," International Association of Firefighters Local 2850 President John Davis said. "(It) does take away from the ability to do normal, everyday functions as a labor organization."

The ordinance prohibits taking a "no confidence" vote in any city official, including a fire chief, negotiating with an elected official, using city property for union business and endorsing a candidate or issue in an election.

The trial is set for Feb. 5 in U.S. District Court in Santa Fe.

If the court sides with the union, the city would have to pay its attorney fees of close to $20,000.

City Attorney Jay Burnham had no comment on the suit Tuesday.

"When you enter into settlement negotiations, it's confidential," he said.
"It's not a good time to make a comment on a case, when it's headed for trial."

The city isn't asking for attorney fees, Burnham said. A defendant accused of violating civil liberties has a much higher burden of proof to claim attorney fees, requiring more time in court to prove a lawsuit is frivolous.

The firefighters and the American Civil Liberties Union filed the complaint in September 2005. The City Council passed the ordinance in the 1990s, when only city electrical workers were unionized, to get an ordinance on the books before the state of New Mexico passed one, Burnham said.

Davis said the state's collective bargaining laws are less restrictive.

The union complaint also pointed to two incidents in 2004 when city officials said the firefighters couldn't discuss union matters at the fire station or solicit membership there on or off duty.

"We work 48 hours at a time. Sometimes that's the only chance to talk to other guys. We try to do it on break or off-hours, but that doesn't always happen," Davis said. He declined to discuss the specific incidents, citing the ongoing lawsuit.

There are now about 90 firefighters in Farmington, and 55 are in the union. Davis said the relationship with the city is generally friendly, with no major past disputes.


Scab denies it

If we had a hammer, ILR prof and Union Scab Extra-Ordinaire Ron Seeber would deserve a mighty whack on the head — at least that’s what everyone’s been telling us. Seeber went on The Daily Show on its first night back from the television writers’ strike. The only problem was that — oops! — the strike is still on. Apparently, somebody missed the memo.

Since the fall, the union for film and television writers has been off the job in a dispute over the distribution of Internet and DVD revenues. When Comedy Central’s Daily Show and Colbert Report went back on the air without their writers, most actors and (Democratic) politicians refused to appear as guests on the shows in support of the union.

So when Seebs went on the show as an expert on, you guessed it, labor negotiations, some ILRies cried foul and picketed the entrance to the studio. Seeber told The Sun he didn’t really see what the big deal was because, you know, he hadn’t really crossed a picket line.

“I value picket lines and don’t cross them ever,” Seeber said, noting that he entered the studio through a side entrance. Which is sort of like saying you thought the song lyrics went “solidarity for-never.” A side entrance? Safety school it may be, but we go to Cornell, buddy. And we’re calling bullshit.

If Barry Hussein Obama and Sarah Jessica Parker won’t go on Jon Stewart’s show, neither should you. Period.


Well, sort of. Whether he wants to admit it or not, Seeber crossed a picket line. But Seeber is not, as these things go, one of the more putrid stinkers we’ve ever encountered. He went on The Daily Show — er, A Daily Show — to present a pro-union point of view to a pro-union host with a pro-union audience. In the face of controversy, silence is more damnable than speaking out. Seeber’s appearance was in keeping with the notion that you can’t make a case for change by keeping yourself on the bench. When all’s said and done, we share Seeber’s faith in the values of openness, inquiry and the free exchange of ideas. Dirty laundry exists to be aired.

Still, Ronnie’s real crime was being boring and un-funny. As the Orlando Sun-Sentinel wrote, his appearance was not so much Comedy Central as it was C-Span. Labor issues aside, Seeber made Canadian Parliament look like good television. When you do that, you know you’re really doing something wrong.


Iowa Gov. declares war against worker choice

During his Condition of the State speech last week, Iowa Gov. Chet Culver asked lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to work together during this legislative session. A day later during an interview with the Journal’s editorial board, Culver renewed that call.

“That was from the heart yesterday,” Culver said Wednesday. “It’s almost comical to see the antics on both sides.”

Yet, the proposals Culver ticked off during his speech and his behavior in the days after haven’t been entirely consistent with a man who wants to change the “rhetoric and tone” in the statehouse.

Take Culver’s call to renew talks on “fair share,” which would allow unions to negotiate for the right to charge fees to non-union members to whom they provide services. Democratic leaders aren’t sure the bill has the support to pass. House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City, said Culver’s support for a fair share measure amounts to declaring war on Iowa’s right-to-work law, which prohibits mandatory union membership.

In a meeting with the Journal editorial board, Culver characterized Rants’ opposition as “a lie” and “not responsible.” Purer bipartisan words have never been spoken.

Last week, when a key Democratic leader joined the chorus of criticism over Culver’s community college budget recommendations, Culver took aim at his critics by calling the outcry partisan rhetoric. Culver also noted an election year was coming and indicated electoral politics might also be a factor.

A more constructive way to approach those concerns might be to consider that those who oppose his education budget feel an $11.4 million gap between requests and his recommendations is too large. Perhaps, there is a substantive discussion to be had. If anything, there seems to be bipartisan agreement that the gap poses problems.

Lies. Partisanship. Electoral politics.

Those responses to critics don’t seem consistent with a heart-felt call for bipartisanship. If Culver wants to live up to his Condition of the State rhetoric, he still has some work to do.


AFSCME confab outgrows NYC

The Massachusetts Convention Center Authority said Tuesday that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will hold its 39th international convention at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in 2010.

MCCA officials said the event will bring one of America's largest labor unions to Boston and will attract over 5,000 attendees. The event is slated for June 21-July 2, 2010.

Officials also noted AFSCME had originally chosen the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City for their 2010 convention, but when New York could not meet the events needs, discussions started about the possibility of shifting to Boston.

The AFSCME international convention is the organization's major vehicle in launching campaigns for reform in public service policies, and is often host to local and national politicians seeking union support. The 2010 event has already booked over 26,000 hotel rooms, and is expected to generate $12.5 million in economic impact for Boston, according to a release from MCCA officials.


Out-of-state union cash opposes tribes

The gambling and labor interests who want "no" votes have shelled out more than $26 million to date, assailing the casino expansions as bad for California, a blow to workers' rights, unfair to poor tribes and a reward to the politics of power.

The four Southern California tribes seeking "yes" votes have spent more than $82 million in campaign cash to expand existing casinos into gambling resorts bigger than the largest casinos in Las Vegas.

They argue that the new gambling agreements – negotiated with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and approved by the Legislature – will create thousands of jobs and $9 billion in tribal revenue payments to the state over 20 years. The state legislative analyst says the state can count on at least $131 million a year.

The outcome of the four referendums – propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97 – may well depend on the influence of Schwarzenegger, who appears in commercials on behalf of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.

With California in the throes of a searing budget crisis, with an estimated $14.5 billion deficit, Schwarzenegger touts a "historic, bipartisan agreement with the California Indian tribes." He declares: "Vote 'yes' for billions of dollars for California families. Vote 'yes' for California."

That argument is good enough for Burbank resident Phil Bartus, a loyal customer of California tribal casinos who has played slots at both Agua Caliente's Spa Resort & Casino in Palm Springs and at Pechanga's regal resort in Temecula.

"If this will make more money for our state, I'm for a 'yes' vote," Bartus said recently during a visit to the Chumash tribal casino in Santa Barbara County.

But Bartus' wife, Wilma, wonders how much is too much.

"I like the casinos. I like the gambling," she said. "But we don't want Las Vegas. It's too big, too crowded. I don't want Pechanga to go crazy with more slots. I think they have enough already."

Her argument reflects claims of the opponents' No on Unfair Gambling Deals campaign, paid for by the United Auburn and Pala tribes, the Hollywood Park and Bay Meadows horse tracks and the UNITE HERE labor union.

They argue that the four casino deals, which could increase the total number of slot machines in the state by nearly one-third, would be an unprecedented expansion of Indian gambling in California.

They say the four tribes, which already operate 2,000 slot machines each, could combine to surpass the total number of slot machines at the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Caesars Palace, Mirage and Mandalay Bay resorts in Las Vegas.

They also are advancing a populist argument that the four Southern California tribes – which in 2005 netted $200 million to $425 million from their existing slots – are getting rewarded for their political clout while other tribes still suffer.

Many California Indian tribes still live in poverty, despite a casino revenue-sharing fund that pays $1.1 million a year to each tribe without a casino. The money paid out is the same for the 4,000-plus member Yurok tribe as other Indian bands with far fewer members.

"The thing that gets me is that there is a perception that all Indians are rich from the gaming industry, which is not the case," said Nelson Pinola, tribal chairman of the Manchester-Point Arena Band of Pomo Indians in Mendocino County.

Pinola's 1,000-member tribe is eligible for a casino, but there is little market in its isolated region. Many of the 200 members living on its 350-acre reservation live without running water or electricity, Pinola said.

"There is some irony when we have these four (Southern California) tribes (asking) us for our support when tribes like mine have nothing and still live in poverty," Pinola said.

But such arguments of unequal treatment for California Indian tribes are undercut by the identity of the narrator in "no" campaign commercials decrying tribal poverty. That narrator, Leroy Miranda, is vice chairman of the Pala Band of Mission Indians, which operates a lucrative 2,300-slot casino in northern San Diego County and is a direct competitor to the Pechanga tribe.


Jobs are gone but strikers, boycott continue

Striking workers at Times Super Market will be joined by other union members at a rally this afternoon at the Times Kahala store.

About 80 union workers who have not been called back to work by Times and members of the Hawai'i Teamsters & Allied Workers Union Local 996 and Hotel & Restaurant Workers Union Local 5 will be handing out fliers to shoppers from 2:30-5 p.m. at the store. The group wants to let shoppers know that a labor dispute continues and will ask them to boycott Times stores.

The 116 unionized workers in the Times meat department went on strike Dec. 17 over medical benefits. More than 30 employees have been recalled to work last week, but the remaining workers were not asked to come back and their status is uncertain.


City pins dues hit on AFSCME

Half of DeKalb's 230 employees jammed council chambers last Monday, after receiving notice late last week of 10-20 “permanent layoffs.”

Mike Taylor, president of Local 813 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), says he's been with the Illinois city 19 years, and there has been no layoff during that period.

Former Assistant City Manager for Finance Linda Wiggins, who was with the city for two decades, said she did not recall any layoffs during her tenure with the city. The last time the budget was tight, then Mayor Greg Sparrow recommended increasing the sales tax one-half percent and the council approved the recommendation.

At a news conference before the meeting, City Manager Mark Biernacki, and assistant city manager, Rudy Espiritu, noted there is a half million dollar shortfall in the budget this year, and the figure is projected to be $1.5 million in next year's budget. Espiritu said the budget is being held together now by dipping into the city's Reserve Fund.

In a statement to news media talking about the “restructuring of city government,” Biernacki said, “Currently, we are evaluating the number of personnel who may be voluntarily resigning or retiring in the next five to six months. Those positions will be eliminated through attrition. In March, we will determine the number of additional layoffs to reach the target of 20 positions once we learn of the number who will voluntarily choose to leave the city.”

Taylor told the council, “I apologize for not saying ‘good evening' tonight, but there is nothing good about it...The city anticipates that up to 17 AFSCME employees will be included in layoffs.” He wanted to know what the tax levy is, then noted it hasn't been increased for several years. He questioned why the city continues to fund the airport, saying it posts a continuing deficit. He questioned the city giving tax rebates to corporations to get them to move to DeKalb.” He said that the city's action could result in “sacrifices” by the residents such as broken water mains, inadequate city inspections.

“There are many other services taken for granted to be accomplished (by city workers). It will be you, council, who will have to hear and see the difference in we make. I would also ask that, instead of the term layoff you think of using the word longevity” and keep the employees, Taylor said.

When asked by a reporter at an earlier news conference if there would be special retirement incentives, Biernacki said “no,” the city is still trying to amortize (pay off) the costs of a prior early retirement agreement.

The city has not overspent its budget; rather, parallel to the nation-wide economic slowdown-which is now being called a recession by several economists- revenues have slumped and failed to keep up with costs.

Kris Povlsen, veteran city council member, said there hasn't been a layoff in the 11 years he's served on the council. But Povlsen said, “In the past, we've been in a period of growth, with new developments and new commercial growth. Now that retail growth has leveled off, and revenues have not kept up with costs.”

Asked to identify some of the costs that are hurting the city, Biernacki mentioned the cost of gasoline, utilities, employee insurance and retirement benefits among others.

Biernacki continued, “The final decision on how we will reorganize city government will be dependent on the final number of positions to be eliminated and after a thorough review of our various programs, city council priorities and our various bargaining unit contract provisions. This will occur over the next 45-60 days. Our challenge will be to balance the budget while minimizing as much as possible the negative effect on city services in the community.”

Dozens of public works employees, wearing orange t-shirts, filled council chambers and one indicated there had been only one additional staff added in one department since 1989, despite the city's growth.

Mayor Frank VanBuer elaborated on the planned restructuring, “It is clear that our priorities are to maintain existing staff levels in our police and fire departments. It is also clear that we should continue in our progressive efforts toward revitalizing the downtown, not only because of the positive effects it is having on our community, but also because TIF dollars used in that effort cannot, by law, be used to address the city's operational budget issues.”

At no time has the city council mentioned the possibility of layoffs in open meeting discussions, though they have discussed the half million dollar shortfall, and were told that changes would have to be made.

VanBuer said the topic has been addressed in executive sessions because it concerned “personnel.”

Povlsen and VanBuer expressed sadness at the prospect of layoffs, but both added, “It would be irresponsible if we didn't figure out a way to solve this problem.”

The mayor added, “There will be adequate time for everyone to participate. We have to learn to do things differently so we don't have crucial positions tied to cyclical revenue.

“One of the biggest problems we have is related to medical insurance.

“Years ago, DeKalb decided that it would relate payment of the insurance premium to a percentage of the employee's income.

“Then medical costs to the city increased up to 20 percent, but the employee continued to pay (a lower and lower percentage of the actual cost)....A lot of that is wrapped up in contracts.”


Socialists: Rank-and-file irked by union officials

To make the unions fight for workers' interests, rank-and-file workers must organize themselves independent of the union officials. - From the ISO “Where We Stand”

In our last article, we described the contradictory nature of trade unions - that they are organizations of basic self-defense for workers, and at the same time exert a moderating influence on the class struggle.

A look at the formation of the CIO unions in the 1930s - born out of mass strikes and sit-downs - makes the first side of the contradiction clear. The efforts by CIO leaders to contain the sit-down strikes and curb militants in the unions showed the other side of the contradiction.

Rank-and-file workers are driven by conditions to organize and fight back, and they learn in the course of struggle that militant tactics--strong mass pickets, solidarity action and so on--get results.

The union officialdom, on the other hand, tends toward a cautious conservatism when it comes to fighting back, for fear of risking the survival of the organization, which is the basis of its own position.

The bureaucracy's role as a mediator between workers and bosses elevates it above the rank and file, distances it from the latter's conditions and experiences and places it in some respects closer in outlook and lifestyle to the managers it negotiates with.

This development has reached its apex in the United States, where some union officials make hefty six-figure salaries. Gus Bevona, who once ran New York City's 65,000-member building service workers' union in the 1980s and 1990s, made more than $400,000 a year--and received a $1.5 million retirement package after he was forced out under pressure from a lawsuit filed by dissidents.

A former president of the hotel and restaurant union, Edward Hanley, had the union purchase a $2.5 million jet for his personal use while he was president. Bruce Raynor, the current head of UNITE-HERE, made $351,854 in 2006.

Trade union officials are not workers any more, but neither are they employers. Their job is to represent the interests of the rank and file. They therefore come under pressure, to varying degrees, to answer to the interests of their members.

British Marxists Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein put it this way: The trade union bureaucracy “holds back and controls workers' struggle, but it has a vital interest not to push the collaboration with employers and state to a point where it makes the unions completely impotent.”

That means even the most bureaucratic union leaders, if put under enough pressure from the rank and file, can be compelled to take action--though their inclination will always be to contain such action and wind it up as quickly as possible.

Cliff and Gluckstein draw the following conclusion from this, a point that relates particularly strongly to the state of today's unions in the U.S.: “If the union fails entirely to articulate members' grievances, this will lead eventually either to effective internal changes to the leadership, or to membership apathy and organizational disintegration.”

Apathy and disintegration has been like a disease eating at the U.S. labor movement for the past few decades, resulting in a low level of union membership and a weak labor movement that has yet to mobilize an effective resistance to three decades of employer attacks on wages, benefits and conditions.

THE CONCLUSION socialists draw from this understanding of the limits of the trade union bureaucracy is that the rank and file must organize itself independently of union officials, supporting them insofar as they represent members' interests, criticizing them insofar as they misrepresent those interests, and ready to act independently of the officials where necessary.

Rank-and-file organization can take a number of forms: as a campaign for union reform or new leadership; as a caucus to put pressure on the leadership to act in the members' interests; or as directly elected workplace or shop delegates that organize independently of the leadership.

The union leaders' position as part of a distinct social layer means that even leaders that rise from the ranks adapt and become alienated from the rank and file. For this reason, union reform movements, while crucial in awakening the rank and file and fighting for a union more responsive to the membership, cannot completely alter the nature of the trade union bureaucracy, which is a product of its social position.

A case in point is the Miners for Democracy, a rank-and-file reform movement in the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) that ousted a vicious and corrupt leader, Tony Boyle. Boyle had succeeded John L. Lewis as union president in 1963; he later rigged his own re-election in 1969 and hired gunmen to murder his opponent, Jock Yablonski.

The Miners for Democracy demanded an overhaul of the union administration, democratic elections in all districts, moving the union headquarters back to the coalfields, a new contract increasing pensions and health benefits, and a six-hour work day--all demands that a revived labor movement would certainly resurrect.

Arnold Miller, a UMWA member who had risen from the ranks to become president of the Black Lung Association, ran on the Miners for Democracy (MFD) ticket in 1972 and beat Boyle. After that, the MFD and other rank-and-file miners' groups disbanded. Miller became distant from the ranks, and like his predecessors, negotiated less-than-satisfactory contracts behind closed doors, without rank-and-file input.

As the magazine Labor Notes recounted, “Five years later, as Miller began his second term in office, the UMWA leased a new, nine-passenger Cadillac limousine. This, said Miller, would allow the officers to travel with 'proper dignity.' The story of the limousines is symbolic of what happened to the Miller administration. Swept into office on a wave of rank-and-file anger and activism, Miller resigned in 1979, scorned by many of those who had elected him.”

The lesson is that reform movements cannot rest having elected better leaders, but must maintain rank-and-file organization independently of whatever officials are in office.

The UMWA made a number of gains in 1972 that made the union more democratic. But even in the most formally democratic union (of which there are very few in the U.S.). there are always a layer of officials whose distinct social position, as described above, engender a tendency to dampen rank and file initiative.

SOCIALISTS SUPPORT independent rank-and-file initiative and organization for a few simple reasons.

First, because, it is only through the initiative of workers themselves that confidence in their own power grows and their consciousness shifts leftward. The more bureaucratically led a strike is--built top-down, setting up only token picket lines, with only passive participation from the membership--the less it promotes those qualities that prepare workers to transform society and themselves.

Conversely, the more the organization of a strike is in the hands of workers themselves, the better the potential for victory, the greater the energy and self-sacrifice exhibited, and the greater the likelihood that the strike will have a radicalizing effect on members (the same reason that union bureaucrats discourage such initiative).

The union bureaucracy is inherently conservative, and therefore as a social layer resists not only militancy, but also, ultimately, revolution. Not so the working class. The consciousness and militancy of the working class can and does change very dramatically from period to period, but as a class, workers are capable of overcoming the “ruling ideas” of society and, through their own activity, becoming capable of fundamentally reshaping society.

To do so, however, it must create more than unions--though in the first instance working-class militancy expresses itself in a growth of unions and union membership.

To move beyond the limits of unions, the working class must build organizations--preferably organizations of workplace delegates--that overcome the sectional divisions unions take for granted (between workplaces, between different skills, between different industries).

And it must build rank-and-file organizations inside the unions that guide the struggle forward when the union officials act as a block to further struggle.

- You can read previous installments of Paul D’Amato’s articles on the ISO’s “Where We Stand” statement.


Labor-state Steelworkers reject contract

One Appleton Spring Mill employee voted to accept a contract proposal, while an additional 355 voted the contract down Tuesday.

Mitchell Becker, president of the United Steelworkers of America Local 10-0422, said the employees denied the three-year contract because of seniority rights, job bidding procedure, health care and mandatory overtime, among other negotiations.

The Local 10-0422 represents 370 employees at the mill in Roaring Spring (PA). The company employs 105 salaried workers, but only hourly employees belong to the union.

The employees’ old contract expired Nov. 17, and they have been working under the old contract.

“If voted down as expected, we will go back to the company and say we voted down the contract and see if they are willing to go back to the negotiating table,” Becker said before the tally. ‘‘We have a federal mediator who will assist. If we don’t feel we are making any headway, we could call for a strike vote. We have no immediate plans to do that. No one wins in a strike; that would be our last recourse.’’

Bill Van Den Brandt, Appleton spokesman, said the company is disappointed the union rejected the offer.

“The company feels that the contract offer includes the total package of wages and benefits that will keep the Spring Mill union employees well-compensated, compared to local and paper mill averages,” he said.

Van Den Brandt said the company is committed to working with the union to reach an agreement.

Appleton became 100 percent employee-owned Nov. 9, 2001, in one of the largest employee buyouts ever.

The Appleton, Wis.-based company employs 3,100 and is the 35th largest majority-employee-owned company in the U.S. based on total company employment.


Teamsters too costly for trash-transfer stations

When Vero Beach Highlands (FL) resident Mark Elliott had to get rid of an old dryer and freezer Tuesday, he took them to the county's Oslo Convenience Center on First Place. And there, Bruce Jenkins, the supervisor, heaved the appliances from the bed of Elliott's pickup into a bin that would be taken later to the county landfill.

"The county employees here are always friendly and helpful," Elliott said, adding he has taken his trash to the center once a week for seven years. And customers Tuesday said they were happy with the county's service and didn't see what a private contractor could do to improve the transfer stations — or why county commissioners would be seeking bids to run the center.

In a 4-1 vote that morning, county commissioners authorized Utilities Director Erik Olson to seek bids for a private contractor to operate the county's five trash-transfer stations.

"If it's not broke, don't fix it," resident Roland Coq said, tossing yard debris and five bags of garbage into one of the bins.

Seeking bids doesn't mean the county will contract out the operation, Olson said. If it does, he said, the county would make sure a private company gives the same service, if not better.

Meanwhile, Olson and Himanshu Mehta, director of the county's Solid Waste Disposal District, said the county is spending about $2 million a year on the transfer stations, including $1 million in salaries, and would save some of that by hiring a private company.

Residents who pay the county's annual $70 solid-waste assessment get to take their trash, bulky items, recyclable items or household hazardous waste to any of the county's five trash-transfer stations instead of having to drive to the county landfill on 74th Avenue Southwest.

County Administrator Joe Baird said reductions in county revenue, such as local sales taxes, are down and are forcing him to consider contracting with the private sector to save money.

But county commissioners were cautious about privatizing a service that employs 23 people. Vice Chairman Wesley Davis asked Olson to give his workers the chance to propose cost-saving methods.

"If there's an opportunity for them to show how we can save money, we should be working on that tomorrow," as opposed to waiting for a private company to be hired, Davis said.

In fact, Commissioner Peter O'Bryan suggested letting Teamsters Local 769 submit a bid for the current staff to continue operation.

Olson said he would give workers an input as his engineers draw up the bid specifications and also let them give feedback on the bids coming in.

•Indian River County operates trash-transfer stations in Roseland, Winter Beach, Fellsmere, Gifford and Oslo so residents don't have to subscribe to garbage collection or drive their own trash and recyclable items to the landfill on 74th Avenue Southwest.

•The county cites $2 million in expenses on the centers, including $1 million on salaries and benefits for 23 employees at the centers.

•The county could save some of those expenses by going to a private contractor. But the contractor's price depends on bids to be drawn and advertised in the next month.


Union hazardous to N.Y. hotel workers' jobs

For almost two years, the labor union UNITE HERE has targeted the Crowne Plaza Hotel's work force in an organizing effort to increase membership. There is no evidence that our employees, as a group, sought out the union because of perceived need for "representation."

UNITE HERE and Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) continue to perpetuate the myth that our employees are being mistreated, taken advantage of by hotel management and stymied in an attempt to form a union. UNITE HERE and CLUE have only been successful in negatively impacting the economy of Rochester due to New York State United Teachers' decision to move its 2009 convention to Buffalo.

# Fact 1: The Public Employees Federation recently canceled its contract to reserve a block of Crowne Plaza rooms for its 2008 convention. PEF returned a signed contract to the hotel in November 2006, well after there was public knowledge of a union organizing campaign. Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy publicly dedicated the 2006 Labor Day Parade to the Crowne Plaza employees just prior to PEF's signing the contract.

It is unfortunate that a prestigious organization like PEF would succumb to public pressure and cancel its convention at the Crowne Plaza and choose another Rochester nonunion hotel. It could be viewed that PEF chose to sign and cancel the contract so as to focus more attention on inaccurate information perpetuated by the union.

# Fact 2: The Crowne Plaza owners and management have been absolutely clear and direct that the hotel would abide by the results of a properly conducted National Labor Relations Board election. Such an election can only be held if at least 30 percent of employees, or the union on their behalf, file a petition with the NLRB. No such petition has ever been filed, presumably because there has never been sufficient support among our employees for such an election or for the union.

The union, in conjunction with CLUE, has launched a campaign to embarrass and pressure hotel management to recognize the union and force employees to join it without a freely conducted election.

The union and CLUE continue to pester our employees and guests with propaganda; threatened to picket and parade in front of the hotel; and are trying to organize a boycott. It would be a shame and a real injustice if the economic impact of the loss of the New York State United Teachers convention for 2009 to Buffalo, the recent cancellation of the PEF contract and the clergy's threatened boycott also put their employment in jeopardy.

# Fact 3: No hotel's employees in the Rochester area are represented by a union. Yet the Crowne Plaza is continuously targeted by these activities and singled out as the sole reason for conventions not coming here — even when the Crowne Plaza has not been the primary hotel for such convention activity.

# Fact 4: The majority of the NYSUT's convention would have been housed at the other two nonunion hotels downtown. No meetings or conferences were scheduled at the Crowne Plaza, and the hotel was only to be used for overflow attendees. If this was just an issue with the Crowne Plaza, NYSUT could have canceled its rooms at the Crowne Plaza and chosen another Rochester hotel to use for overflow rooms. Moreover, there are few, if any, unionized hotels in Buffalo.

The Crowne Plaza Hotel has a proud reputation, and our hotel staff has always presented a favorable impression to those who visit.

However, UNITE HERE, in its own self-interest, seeks to tarnish our reputation and jeopardize the employment security of the people it wishes to represent, and in the process, negatively impacts the entire Rochester economy.

Our hotel management has and will continue to treat our employees with respect. It is unfortunate that the union and CLUE will not do the same.

- Paul Kremp is general manager of the Crowne Plaza Hotel.


Union-happy Gov. wants to change the subject

Republicans are ramping up to pick the fight they promised this session over Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter's executive order making unions a bigger player in state government. Ritter and his fellow Democrats in charge of the legislature, meanwhile, are maneuvering to draw attention away from the debate.

The fight will last at least two rounds and could be over two weeks from now.

That's roughly when Sen. Shawn Mitchell, R-Broomfield, expects his bill, which would toss out the so-called employee partnership agreements Ritter signed, to be deep-sixed by the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee, where Democrats hold a 3-2 edge. "There's always the hope that (the bill) will find one Democrat more interested in good policy than partisan politics and union payoff. But State Affairs is a stacked committee, so hope is dim in that dungeon," Mitchell said.

Prior to that, round one begins in the House this week with a debate over how to deal with a decision by Attorney General John Suthers that Ritter's executive order could not repeal state workers' never-used right to strike.

Ritter's lawyers believe the order keeps employees who enter into partnership agreements from striking. But the governor has committed to signing a bill clearing that up.

Republicans have seized on Ritter's concession, drafting a bill that would ban strikes not just by state workers but all public employees, including RTD bus drivers and teachers.

The bill also establishes stiff fines for striking - including $10,000 per day per involved union and automatic termination of striking employees.

"The purpose of my bill is to prevent the public from being held hostage by employee labor unions," said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs.

Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, has a competing bill banning state employees from striking and making it a misdemeanor for an employee to violate that prohibition. Of the bills addressing Ritter's executive order, it is viewed as having the only chance of passing.

"It seemed like the best thing we could do, as early in the session as possible, was to try to solve this issue," Riesberg said. "We have so many issues to deal with this year around health care, transportation and education. And I've been around a lot of state employees, and I've never heard them talk about a strike."

Ritter supports Riesberg's bill. Republicans say it's toothless.

This morning, Gardner plans to offer a two-page amendment to Riesberg's bill, inserting all the provisions from his bill that punish striking employees.

It's not expected to get very far.


Out-of-state unions confuse voters to kill tax cut

Voters are confused about the proposed property tax amendment, elections officials and property appraisers say.

In particular, they want to be assured that the amendment won't take away the Save Our Homes protection now in the constitution that caps increases in the assessments on their Florida homesteads at 3 percent a year.

"They want proof," said Martin County Property Appraiser Laurel Kelly. "Show me in writing. "There is a lot of confusion out there. When people are confused on something, they're not going to vote for it."

Palm Beach County officials also are getting calls about what the amendment means.

So with a week until election day, a pro-amendment group Tuesday launched a new round of radio and television commercials that emphasizes that homesteaders can keep their 3 percent cap if the amendment passes.

Stan Launer of Stuart was one of the confused voters.

He read, and re-read, the amendment's ballot summary on his absentee ballot. He asked his wife, Lila, to look it over.

"I couldn't find that we would retain Save our Homes," he said, so he voted no.

He didn't realize he could keep the cap until he got a letter from Gov. Charlie Crist in the mail that said he would be able to keep it, he said. And then it was too late.

Vivian Myrtetus, spokeswoman for the pro-amendment group, Yes on 1, said the group is trying to get the message out but acknowledged there has been confusion among voters because of the legislature's previous tax-cutting efforts.

An earlier amendment placed on the ballot would have phased out the 3 percent assessment cap and replaced it with an exemption as large as $195,000.

But a Leon County circuit judge tossed the language from the ballot for being "misleading," and the state legislature reconvened in an October special session to place a new property tax amendment on the ballot.

That version, which is the one on the Jan. 29 ballot, leaves the assessment cap in the state's constitution as it is. It doesn't explicitly say that it is leaving the 3 percent cap in the constitution, but nothing in the language of the amendment removes the cap.

Crist has been traveling the state pushing the property tax cut proposal, known as Amendment 1. His campaign speeches and commercials have focused on the increased homestead exemption and the opportunity to transfer Save Our Homes savings to a new homestead in Florida. Very little has been mentioned about the 3 percent cap. That changed with this week's commercials.

"We do want to make sure that people understand, this essentially doubles the homestead and does retain the Save our Homes cap while adding the benefit of portability," Myrtetus said.

The four-part constitutional amendment, which requires a 60 percent approval vote to pass, would cut about $9.2 billion in property taxes over five years. County, city and special district governments would take a $7.7 billion hit while public school budgets would lose $1.5 billion.

In addition to savings for homesteaders, the amendment would cap increases in assessments of non-homesteaded properties at 10 percent a year and give businesses a $25,000 exemption from the tangible personal property tax.

Supporters, including Crist and Realtors, say the amendment will help reignite a sluggish real estate market and provide needed tax cuts to everyone.

Labor unions, firefighters and some schools and local governments oppose the amendment.


Union official taking bribe on tape

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