Seniority-system sleight-of-hand opposed

Proposition 93 is a measure on the February 5 presidential-primary ballot that would modify current law pertaining to legislative term limits. It would not extend the term limits per se—in fact, it would actually shorten the total term allowed by two years—but would allow for the entire limited term to be served in either one house or the other. The sticking point, though, is that it would allow current incumbents a longer term.

A central issue in my campaign for the District 4 U.S. congressional seat is the introduction of term limits for the U.S. legislative branch, along the lines of California’s legislative term limits. America is not well-served with the government being run by a crowd of privileged lawyers assured of lifelong re-election based merely upon their incumbency. That this will require a constitutional amendment should not prove daunting, considering the average American’s disgust with the poor performance and behaviors of the good old boys and girls in Congress.

Getting back to Proposition 93, I believe that this measure is nothing but a scam, dreamed up by politicians who are nearing the end of California’s current term limits and are petrified by the prospect of having to go out and find a real job again. Two score of our legislators have become so addicted to the taste of power that they are trying to amend California’s Constitution to serve their own appetites. Just throw the bums out!

This is further proof of the old truth that power corrupts. I believe that any person, no matter how fundamentally good they may be initially, will be corrupted in some manner by unending political power.

I encourage a no vote on Proposition 93. California’s current term limits are quite satisfactory. If we are to preserve freedom for our children and grandchildren, we must embrace the concept of educated, common citizens holding political office for limited periods of time. We are already familiar with the mess that professional, life-long politicians can make of our world. It is time to put our trust in each other.

- Paul Netto is the Libertarian Party’s candidate for Congress in the 4th District.


Unions double-up on labor-state ballots

The Oregon Independent Party became ballot-qualified in January 2007. It was formed by people who were angry that the 2005 session of the Oregon legislature had made ballot access so difficult for independent candidates.

Oregon law provides two methods for a ballot-qualified party to remain on the ballot. Either it must poll 1% for any statewide race at the last election, or it must keep its registration above one-half of 1% of the state registration total. Currently, the Libertarian and Green Parties of Oregon have more than one-half of 1% of the state registration total, so their ballot status is “safe”; they will remain on the ballot, even if their entire statewide slate fails to poll 1% in 2008.

Now, the Independent Party of Oregon has also just about qualified for “safe” status. The November 2007 voter registration tally shows that it has registration of .48% of the state total, and is growing rapidly. At the rate at which it has been gaining registrations, it is virtually certain to be above .50% in the December 2007 tally, and in the various monthly tallies of 2008.

By contrast, the Working Families Party registration in Oregon for November 2007 was only .08%. Statewide offices on the 2008 ballot will be president, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Attorney General. Unless Working Families registration increases drastically, the party will need to poll 1% for one of these offices, or it will lose its ballot position immediately after the November 2008 election.


UFCW racketeers play dirty tricks on Latinos

The young labor union advocate is addressing the small crowd of immigrant neighbors in the carport like a fired-up schoolteacher.

"How many people shop at Bashas'?" he asks in Spanish, following up his question with a call for a boycott of the grocery chain, which includes the Hispanic-oriented Food City supermarkets. "We need to remember César Chávez. We're doing like how he taught us."

It's a comfortable fall evening and the six women and five men sitting on folding chairs and standing in the driveway are dressed casually, some having just gotten off work. Three men are wearing T-shirts with the logo of the same landscaping company. The house in the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood near the Phoenix Children's Hospital is being remodeled. Its new carport has raw wood beams, and portable work lights illuminate the scene.

"How many of you will commit to stop shopping at Food City?"

About half of the people raise their hands.

"Who are we trying to help?"

"Ourselves. Immigrants. Shoppers," come the answers.

Katy Giglio, the twentysomething spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 99, calls the event a "house party" for Hungry For Respect, an anti-Bashas' organization affiliated with the union.

The speaker says he's a student and a former Bashas' employee. He volunteers to talk at such house parties for free and doesn't want to give his name for publication.

"Just use 'Alex,'" he tells New Times. Giglio later confesses that Alex probably chose not to be identified because he's undocumented.

Giglio doesn't seem to find it odd that an illegal immigrant has been chosen as the spokesman for a union that negotiates wages and benefits for U.S. workers.

Alex leads the group in a discussion of Bashas' advertising habits. He notes that the non-union Bashas' chain put ads on the radio show of J.D. Hayworth, a former Republican congressman known for taking a hard line against illegal immigration.

Nestor Castro, who works for Hungry For Respect but is paid by the UFCW, translates: "He's talking about how Bashas' is giving lots of money to J.D. Hayworth. He's basically saying it's paying for racism."

Says one woman, "I've heard the owner of Food City is anti-immigrant."

Says another, "I think Food City supports [Maricopa County Sheriff] Joe Arpaio."

After the meeting, Alex makes it clear he's well aware that the head of Bashas', Eddie Basha Jr., is the grandson of entrepreneurial Lebanese immigrants who started the family company. He also knows Basha Jr. is one of the state's highest-profile Democrats and a supporter of many liberal causes.

But, for now, Alex is happy to let the conversation roll.

A man named Jesus tells the assembly that many of his friends are undocumented, and he feels the U.S. government did nothing for them despite the well-attended 2006 protest marches in Phoenix. But, he says, the union can benefit illegal immigrants by "speaking for the workers."

Alex appears to like what he hears.

"Maybe we can't fight the whole immigration stuff," Alex says. "But we can take care of stuff in our own neighborhood, starting with the products at our local stores."

Several boxes of pizza arrive, and Giglio hands out free slices on disposable plates.

The banter continues as people eat. A couple of the attendees claim to be current Food City employees, and they complain that the company treats its workers poorly. Another topic is the allegedly dirty conditions at Food City stores, and how such conditions symbolize the idea that parent company Bashas' doesn't respect Hispanics.

Alex asks people to spread the word about the boycott and ends the meeting by leading the group in what he called a "unity clap," historically used by farm worker unions. He passes out red, white, and green bumper stickers that encourage Spanish speakers to be "una mas" (one more) who won't shop at Food City.

In the fall, Hungry For Respect hosted many similar house parties in the Valley, sometimes two an evening. Giglio says the organization is made up of current and former Bashas' employees, other grocery store workers, community members, and union officials. Its members have been bad-mouthing Food City and Bashas' since the union formed the group last spring.

In fact, the group is indistinguishable from the UFCW itself. And the union is clearly trying to punish the chain for staying union-free. Bashas' has about 14,000 employees, and almost none pay union dues. (The exception: a few employees at stores bought by the Bashas' chain who have remained under UFCW representation.)

To the UFCW, the Bashas' chain represents a formidable challenge, but one with an immense potential reward. Slamming the company is part of an orchestrated plan to make it clear to top-tier executives at Bashas' that they'd better capitulate to the union.

When New Times asked to speak to Bashas' employees who are friendly to the union, Giglio and another UFCW official, Antonio Sanchez, brought several employees to a dinner at a Denny's restaurant. The employees with the harshest allegations had been working at the Bashas' food distribution center in Chandler for only a few months. They described the center as a "hellhole" — spoiled food everywhere, the place crawling with rats, maggots, and cats.

But two longtime Hispanic employees at the dinner meeting, who had worked at the center for years, said they had never witnessed such filth.

Tolentino Lazaro, a 64-year-old janitor, said he used to see cats in the building occasionally, but not anymore. The place can get dirty, he admitted, but he said he never saw rats.

Lazaro's said his problem was that he didn't like how Bashas' treated him after he was injured on the job. He said the company paid him less because he was on light duty for a few months.

When Lazaro was finished telling his story to New Times, Sanchez fished a $5 bill out of his wallet and started to hand it to Lazaro.

"No, no!" Giglio told Sanchez. "You're not supposed to pay him in front of the reporter."

Chagrined, Sanchez slipped the bill back into his billfold.

The UFCW's aggressive stance against Bashas' isn't an isolated effort. Across the United States, labor organizations that have suffered huge member losses for decades have launched robust campaigns to increase their ranks.

Right after World War II, about a third of U.S. workers claimed membership in a union. But union ranks have dwindled over the decades, with most members being lost to automation, changes in labor laws, jobs moving overseas, and more employment options.

The downward trend accelerated in the 1980s and '90s and continues today. Membership seemed to level off nationally in 2005 after falling to just 12.5 percent of the workplace. Then it dropped again in 2006, to 12 percent.

Unions are desperate to infuse themselves with new blood. Two campaigns in Arizona exemplify the struggle: the one against Bashas' and another against Milum Textile Service in downtown Phoenix, part of an effort by Unite Here! to unionize the state's laundry shops, hotels, and restaurants.

At the heart of both conflicts is the unions' goal of forcing management into labor agreements without giving employees the chance to vote in a secret-ballot election. Businesses that won't comply are made to suffer under what's called a "corporate campaign" — that is, a barrage of negative publicity. According to the targeted companies, union tactics have included obvious distortions, outright lies, and publicity stunts aimed at third-party patsies who buy services or products from them.

The unions figure if they can sully a business enough, its managers will let unions do what they want. The strategy is the principal tactic of a new coalition of unions designed to reverse the membership slide nationally. Three years ago, seven unions broke away from the venerable AFL-CIO to form the Change to Win coalition: the UFCW, Unite Here!, United Farm Workers, Service Employees International, Teamsters, Laborers and Carpenters.

Union membership is relatively low in Arizona, but climbing. It grew from 6.1 percent of workers in 2005 to 7.6 percent in 2006. Unions see Arizona as fertile ground, and unionizing the Bashas' chain is one of Change to Win's top goals.

Bashas' and Milum have fought back, leading to labor complaints investigated by the National Labor Relations Board. The crux of the complaints is that the companies have unfairly discouraged workers from unionizing.

The union fight has been a public-relations nightmare for both companies, but also for the unions. The most serious accusations made by the unions — that Bashas' and Milum allow filthy and hazardous conditions and are disrespectful to employees and customers — remain unproven.

In light of the unions' stated goals, their allegations should be questioned, just as voters might question the promises of politicians, says Amy Hillman, chair of the Management Department at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business.

"These union campaigns can be very effective if there is an employer that needs to clean up his act," Hillman says. "But that 'if' is a big one, and if that isn't something that's readily apparent to the community, then the union does risk losing its credibility in these fights."

The UFCW's attack on Bashas' is "transparent," Hillman says. For one thing, the 75-year-old Arizona company has invested money on Indian reservations and in disenfranchised neighborhoods, she says, negating the idea that Bashas' is callous toward minorities.

Even the UFCW acknowledges that Bashas' pays its workers slightly more, on the average, than the unionized chains of Safeway or Fry's — and that's without taking union dues into account.

"Despite their best efforts to make this look like a corporate bad-guy situation, they lack the credibility to really make that argument," Hillman says of UFCW operatives.

The union stands to gain millions of dollars by organizing Bashas' employees, though it guarantees them nothing in return except "a voice, dignity, and respect," says UFCW Local 99 President Jim McLaughlin.

Local 99 dues now average between $27.65 and $47.88 a month, depending on a worker's position. Even with the lower dues, if Bashas' 14,000 employees unionized, the UFCW could collect $4.6 million a year. Local 99 took in about $7.5 million in dues last year, so roping in Bashas' would be a major coup.

One ardent supporter of unions, Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, says the UFCW's "harsh" campaign may have gone too far.

"I think it's gotten too personal on Eddie and the Bashas' family," says Grijalva, who represents Tucson and parts of southern Arizona. "I understand the principle behind the efforts, but the tactics are debatable."

Officials at Bashas' and Milum Textile say they want secret-ballot elections overseen by the National Labor Relations Board to decide whether their workers are unionized. If more than half of their employees vote to unionize, the companies would have to work with respective unions to set wages, benefits, and workplace rules for affiliated employees.

The unions have a different plan. They want to do an end-run around such elections, which long have been the usual route to organizing workers. They want the matter decided through what's known as the "card-check" system.

Though polls show that most Americans approve of unions, workers reject them in ballot elections most of the time. The reasons are many, but union officials believe a big one is that the NLRB became soft in the 1980s, allowing companies more latitude to propagandize against labor organizations.

Under the card-check system, union advocates gather workers' signatures on union-approval cards over time. If they eventually get more than half of a company's workers to sign up, the union can legally represent the firm's employees without an election — as long as the employer agrees to acknowledge the card-check system.

Neither Bashas' nor Milum will acknowledge the system.

Company officials claim card-check will tip the balance too much in favor of the unions. Under card-check, union officials know who hasn't signed up and can apply pressure. Just as unions claim companies intimidate workers before an election, critics of the card-check system claim unions intimidate workers into signing cards.

The labor-relations board agrees that elections are the best method, says Nancy Martinez, the NLRB's Phoenix spokeswoman.

But card-check could be on its way to becoming the law of the land.

As part of the new organizing push, Change to Win, the AFL-CIO and other unions lobbied nationally for a new law, the Employee Free Choice Act, that would make card-check the dominant method of unionizing.

Also known as the card-check bill, the act would force employers to recognize unions that obtained a majority of workers' signatures, eliminating the need for a ballot election. The bill passed the House last summer but failed to find enough votes in the Senate. There are predictions that it will resurface after the November election.

Tim Miller, a representative of the Web site www.unionfacts.com, says the card-check bill is "nothing but a power grab." The proposed law, he says, is the unions' payback for making large donations to Democrats who took control of the House and Senate in the 2006 elections.

All of Arizona's Democratic U.S. representatives voted for it.

Grijalva, whose 2006 campaign benefited greatly from union money, says support of the card-check bill isn't as much payback as it is "trying to rectify a very tough situation."

The barriers to a successful union election are steep, and going to a card-check system would make sure employees could "start the process" of unionization, he says.

The UFCW is pushing for card-check at Bashas' because it doesn't have another option: When it determined that Bashas' employees were poised to reject UFCW representation in an election scheduled for 2002, the union withdrew its petition for the vote.

"I think there was intimidation, and it [would have been] an unfair election," says Local 99 president McLaughlin. "My feeling is the card-check process is probably the most democratic you can possibly have. You're voting with your signature."

Now, the focus is on getting Bashas' to agree to the method. Or else.

A former UFCW leader, the late Joe Crump, heralded the new strategy in an essay he wrote in 1992 for the Labor Research Review.

"Organizing is war," he wrote. "[It] means putting enough pressure on employers — costing them enough time, energy, and money — to either eliminate them or get them to surrender to the union."

His "definition of successful organizing" is the UFCW pressure campaign that put a Michigan grocery chain, Family Foods, out of business in the late '80s.

Hundreds of cans of baby formula stand stacked in loose pyramids in a back office of the UFCW Local 99 headquarters at 2401 North Central Avenue. Katy Giglio, the union's spokeswoman, claims they're the 683 cans of expired formula bought at 55 Food City and Bashas' stores last summer by teams of "union workers, community members, and Bashas' employees."

The cans represent the single-most damning attack on Bashas' yet by the UFCW. Union officials claim the cans are evidence that Bashas' doesn't care about its employees, who are too overworked to deal with problems like expired food, or its customers.

Local 99 — which represents workers at most of the major grocery chains in Arizona: Fry's, Safeway, and Albertson's — has been trying to unionize Bashas' for years. The union ramped up efforts after Bashas' bought the original Food City store in 1994 and used the name brand to create a new line of stores for Hispanic immigrants. When Bashas' began buying formerly unionized grocery stores that were closing down and turning them into Food City stores, the UFCW lobbied the NLRB to allow it to represent all Food City workers. A judge ruled against the union.

Still stinging from the unsuccessful attempt to stage a labor-affirming election in 2002, the union began its corporate campaign against the 168-store chain in earnest four years later, seeking donations for the cause and distributing fliers picturing Eddie Basha Jr. that alleged the grocer was mistreating his workers.

Then came the neighborhood meetings, the allegations of disrespecting Hispanics and the supposed disparity in cleanliness between the Mexican-flavored Food City stores and Bashas' other markets. The union made its biggest splash in July with the claim that Bashas' routinely sold out-of-date baby formula. A slick brochure put out by the union following an announcement of the "discovery" of the old formula pictures a woman and infant and warns: "If infants do not receive the proper nutrition . . . they may develop potentially serious developmental problems."

In response to the corporate campaign, Bashas' slapped the UFCW and its most strident advocates with a defamation lawsuit last month. At a press conference inside a south Phoenix Food City store, Bashas' President Mike Proulx lashed out at the union in front of TV news cameras, his voice shaking with anger at times.

"Certainly, the negative stories, the lies, intimidation, insinuation, and innuendo that the customers are hearing are very, very damaging to our business," Proulx said. "The loss of our sales is measurable — it's measurable every day."

Proulx accused the union of using the unsavory tactics to convince Bashas' management that it had better abandon the ballot-election requirement and accept employee signatures as a route to unionization.

"This campaign is to put pressure on management to either make us give up our members' legal right to vote or to shut us down," he said. "And we're not going to let them close our business that has been in Arizona for 75 years."

In its lawsuit, Bashas' says the UFCW planted the baby food.

However, Phoenix attorney Mike Manning, hired by the chain, admits there's no proof of that. Although Bashas' says the union hasn't given it access to the cans, the UFCW held a press conference in July at which at least some of the cans were presented for inspection. Bashas' officials didn't show up to check out the containers.

In publicizing the formula buys, Giglio told the Arizona Capitol Times in July that they were only about protecting children, "not about union organizing."

Yet the Hungry For Respect group, which Giglio claims includes non-union members interested solely in helping consumers, made no attempt to inspect union-represented Fry's or Safeway grocery stores. In addition to the formula purchases occurring at the same time as the union campaign against Bashas', New Times discovered that the entire operation was led, staffed, and funded by the UFCW.

In a list provided by Giglio of people who helped with the formula buys, the majority were UFCW employees. Of the remaining Valley residents listed, either they or their organizations receive funding — in some cases, substantial funding — from the UFCW.

Another curiosity is that the UFCW pulled the bad-baby-formula plan from an old playbook.

In the early 1990s, the UFCW claimed the Food Lion grocery chain — then the target of a UFCW card-check campaign — was selling expired baby formula. Government workers who inspected the Food Lion chain in the southeastern United States for bad products simply couldn't believe the union's claim — since their own investigations showed Food Lion had fewer problems than its competitors.

As in the Food Lion case, government inspections in Arizona have had vastly different results from the union's, casting suspicion on the UFCW's claim.

Karen Sell, director of the federally funded Women, Infants and Children program, says random inspections of about 120 Arizona stores in 2006 and 2007 uncovered 11 cans of expired formula on the shelves of nine different establishments. But unlike Hungry For Respect, Sell's inspectors checked more than just one grocery chain. She wouldn't reveal where the formula was found, but she says the nine stores belonged to at least two separate grocery companies.

About the same time as the Bashas' formula buys, the California Healthy Communities Network held a press conference in San Francisco to announce it had found cartloads of expired products at Farmer Joe's stores. Newspapers and television news stations interviewed a private investigator named Dan Rush who had helped lead the sting on Farmer Joe's. It turns out that Rush is a former political director for the UFCW and the Network is a front group for the union.

Similarly, the people advocating on behalf of the UFCW Local 99 have a far cozier relationship with the union than has been reported in the daily press.

When Giglio was asked to name the unaffiliated "community members," as the union has called them, who helped with the baby-formula project, Giglio suggested that New Times meet with the Reverend Trina Zelle of Interfaith Worker Justice and Hector Yturralde and Alfredo Gutierrez of Somos America.

New Times determined that there was nothing unbiased about these three on the topic of Bashas' and the union. Each either benefits personally from union funding or represents an organization that does.

Trina Zelle, a Presbyterian minister in her late 40s, says she doesn't think it was unfair for her and other Hungry For Respect members to go into Bashas' stores exclusively to buy formula for the UFCW's campaign. She argues that the project was about keeping babies safe, not about helping the UFCW attack Bashas'.

The reason the group ignored union-represented chains like Fry's or Safeway in its effort to keep infants from harm, she contended, is that "you can only allocate your resources so much."

Pressed further on the issue, Zelle says "they" were receiving complaints about only Bashas' baby formula, so there was no need to check other stores. She wouldn't disclose who "they" were.

Zelle's group, Interfaith Worker Justice, a national organization, receives lots of money from unions, including the UFCW. Government reports show that it got at least $338,000 in union contributions in the past three years. By Zelle's own admission, union money makes up about 30 percent of her paycheck.

She denies that the union dollars influenced her decision to investigate the single grocery chain, Bashas', targeted by the union. But when it came to questions about the UFCW's involvement in the project, Zelle's answers descended into a series of memory lapses. Zelle says she can't recall when she first heard of the idea to buy baby formula, when or who invited her to do it, who instructed her in how to make the buys, or where the preparatory meeting took place.

Asked repeatedly who led the project, Zelle says, "I'm trying to figure out exactly what you're asking. I know I'm being frustrating."

Zelle says she spent the entire day of the formula purchases with a teammate. But she says she can't remember his name, whether he was connected to the union or where the man got the money to pay for the formula.

Zelle was only slightly more specific during the July 11 press conference about the expired formula, in which she acted as one of the project's front people. The man she worked with was a "community member" and she had "no idea" whether he was reimbursed for the buys, she told the news media at the time.

The minister repeatedly tells New Times that she has all the answers about the people she worked with on the project written down in a notebook at home. New Times asks to see the book.

"I'm not interested in proving to you I have notes," Zelle responds.

Giglio eventually tells New Times that Zelle's partner was indeed a union worker, and that the UFCW paid for all of the formula.

Like Zell's Interfaith Worker Justice, Hector Yturralde's Somos America also receives union funding, Giglio says, though she refused to divulge how much. Somos America is, in fact, a coalition of groups that includes the UFCW, and the union allows Somos to use its facilities and other resources.

Yturralde's activist partner in Somos, former state Senator Alfredo Gutierrez — who has been at the forefront of union allegations that Bashas' is anti-Hispanic — has an even closer financial relationship with the UFCW. His consulting firm contracts with the union.

One of the union's key claims is that the chain's Food City stores have far more health violations than its Bashas' markets. After the union presented a report on the subject, titled "Is There a Double Standard?," to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in November, Gutierrez aired the findings two weeks later on his Spanish-language radio show on Radio Campesina 88.3 FM.

"There were 51 percent more major violations at Food City in 2005 than in Bashas'. . . and Food City is focused on our community, right?" Gutierrez said on the show. "We are talking about feathers, birds, mice; dead mice, live mice, and flies" at the Food City stores.

But the numbers are misleading, especially if other grocery store chains are considered — which the union didn't do. As the Bashas' lawsuit against the union points out, many Food City stores dinged by inspectors actually do better, violation-wise, than unionized competitors in the same Hispanic neighborhoods.

Inspection data on grocery stores by the county can be found on its Web site, www.maricopa.gov/envsvc, after clicking, oddly, on "restaurant ratings." The numbers paint a much more complicated picture concerning grocery store violations than the union wants the public to believe.

Illuminating are the most recent cleanliness awards handed out by the county, which reviews stores about every three months. If an inspector finds everything in order, the store and its various departments — such as the meat market, bakery and fast-food eatery — get a gold award. Major violations found usually merit a silver award or no award.

Using the award system, New Times found that Food City stores, indeed, get fewer gold ratings and more major violations than those carrying the Bashas' name.

But Safeway stores, as a whole, rated about the same as Food City markets. Using Gutierrez's logic, it could be argued that if Bashas' disrespects Hispanics, Safeway — and by extension the UFCW, which represents Safeway workers — are dissing everyone they serve.

Combine the Food City and Bashas' stores and you get percentages similar to the whole Fry's chain. In other words, overall, Fry's has about the same number of violations per store as Bashas'.

Certain poorly performing Fry's stores bring down the average — and many of those are in Hispanic neighborhoods. The Valley's three Ranch Market stores, often held up by critics of Food City as a cleaner alternative for Hispanic shoppers, fare no better on violations than some of the worst Food City violators.

It's not that Gutierrez is incorrect about certain problems at Food City stores. He just conveniently fails to mention the same conditions that crop up at unionized chains.

Another piece of evidence that Bashas' disrespects Hispanics, according to Gutierrez and union advocates, is that the chain advertises on 550 AM (KFYI) during J.D. Hayworth's show.

But spokeswomen from Safeway and Kroger, which owns Fry's, confirmed that their chains advertise plenty on two AM radio stations known for their conservative commentary, KTAR and KFYI. Sure, Hayworth talks tough about illegal immigrants, but not more so than most of the radio personalities on either station.

Despite the weak link between advertising and bigotry, Gutierrez wrote in an e-mail to Univision in late October that the Spanish-language TV network should stop dealing with Food City "or any other company that advocates our deportation and the stripping of our children's constitutional rights."

He apparently was referring to the harsh rhetoric espoused by Hayworth or other right-wing commentators concerning a proposal to take citizenship away from the children of illegal immigrants. But no Bashas' or Food City official has ever been quoted publicly saying anything like that.

In fact, Gutierrez tells New Times he has no idea whether other grocery chains advertise on J.D. Hayworth's show, or on other shows with equally conservative opinions. Nor does he care.

"It's very possible that I bought an auto part from a store that advertises there," Gutierrez says. "I'm an advocate. I don't pretend to be an objective voice."

But Gutierrez and other UFCW advocates want the public to think they're objective, to a certain extent. They want people to believe it's credible that Bashas' is somehow worse than other grocery chains, that the assertion is based on reasonably fair research, and that a union would make things better.

In Gutierrez's case, however, he's more than just biased — he's getting paid big bucks by the UFCW, a fact he admits readily to New Times. How much is he getting?

"I don't want to answer that because I'm getting sued," he says, referring to his status as a defendant, along with Trina Zelle and Hector Yturralde, in Bashas' defamation claim against the union.

But even though Gutierrez won't fess up, it's right there in the suit that the UFCW pays his consulting firm, Tequida and Gutierrez, a whopping $20,000 a month.

Questioned about the ethics of such a relationship with the union, Gutierrez says he sees no problem with getting paid by the UFCW and then blasting its target, Bashas', on his radio program.

The Milum Textile building at Sixth Avenue and Van Buren hasn't changed much since it was built in 1935. Neither has the work done there, says owner Craig Milum: Washables get dumped in 400-pound capacity machines, dried and then moved to steamroller-like pressers.

The Milum building looks old inside, and not in any retro way. The worst of the soiled stuff handled there includes hospital sheets and pillowcases smeared with bodily fluids and sometimes hiding bloody needles. Anyone assigned to work directly with the washables has to be vaccinated against hepatitis B within 10 days. But following the start-up of a union campaign targeting Milum Textile in 2006, a visit by state inspectors revealed that some workers might not have been getting the shots right away.

The inspection also turned up other violations, like a dirty conveyor for soiled materials, and no routine cleaning schedule for the machine. Milum was fined $2,500. The company was found guilty of a few similar violations in 2002.

To Unite Here!, which began organizing the state's laundry plants in earnest in 2006, the violations at Milum were pure gold. It would soon become part of Unite Here!'s campaign to force Craig Milum to accept a card-check system aimed at unionizing his plant.

The first step was to find the perfect Milum customer. Soon, the union discovered a restaurant chain that certainly wouldn't want its customers to find out it was employing a firm that had paid fines for unsanitary conditions.

The business was Fox Restaurant Concepts, which operates Olive & Ivy restaurant on East Camelback Road.

Brian Callaci, a regional Unite Here! representative based in Phoenix, created fliers about the union's campaign to organize Milum employees. The focus was on the seemingly unrelated Olive & Ivy. The fliers featured cartoon foxes on the front and back. They were titled: "Where is Sam Fox hiding?" (Fox owns Fox Restaurant Concepts.) Inside the fliers were some "facts about Milum" — including that Milum Textile washes the tablecloths and napkins used by Fox Restaurant Concepts (including four other restaurants in the Phoenix area), that the state found Milum in "serious violation of multiple blood-borne pathogens standards," and that "serious" means a possibility of death or injury.

The insinuation was that Milum washed hospital and restaurant linens together. The union never presented evidence of that, and even if the materials had been washed together (Milum says they weren't), they would have been safe and sterilized when done, a state inspector later determined.

The union paid people to stand on the sidewalk near Olive & Ivy handing out the leaflets. Sam Fox told New Times that the union's claims were outrageous, but they must have had an effect on him. He started sending his tablecloths and napkins to another firm recently.

For Unite Here!, that's evidence its campaign is working. The union had used disinformation to separate Milum Textile from one of its biggest clients.

Unite Here! also targeted another Milum client, Oaxaca Restaurants, which has two locations in Phoenix. To attempt to force Oaxaca to choose another laundry service, the union handed out a flier to customers reprinting the news of the restaurant's recent health-code violation, which included beans and chicken that weren't cooked well enough.

Union officials went after Oaxaca "just because [Craig Milum] wouldn't do what they wanted him to — it's just dirty politics," maintains Mia Verdugo, whose family owns Oaxaca. Unlike Fox, the owners of Oaxaca are sticking with Milum.

As in the case of Bashas', the question in the fight to organize Milum workers isn't so much about whether the company is worse than all of its competitors; it's about whether a business owner can reject union pressure and continue to operate in peace.

To Unite Here! local organizer Callaci, the answer is a resounding no. The union is on a roll. It has managed to capture half of the state's laundry workers in two years.

Unite Here! is an amalgamation, formed in 2004, of the former UNITE textile workers union (of "Look For the Union Label" fame) and HERE, the union for restaurant and hotel workers. It's one of the only unions that saw increases in members in the past two years. But it has paid for its aggressiveness: Last year, the union was slapped with a $17.2 million penalty after a court found it libeled the Sutter Health hospital chain in California.

Callaci makes no apologies for the leaflets distributed outside Oaxaca and Olive & Ivy, saying there was no libel in them. Incredibly, he denies that the Fox flier was misleading, claiming that restaurant customers shouldn't have drawn a connection between tablecloths and blood-borne illness.

Milum Textile is far from perfect. But that could probably be said of most laundry shops. A review of state OSHA records showed Milum drew more violation notices than all of his competitors in the last two years. Then again, he received the most scrutiny and complaints because of the union campaign.

Craig Milum inherited the business from his father, who taught his son how to stave off unions after a few successful battles of his own. He admits he's made a few changes because of Unite Here!'s campaign, but he doesn't want the union coming in and telling him how to run his company. He says his wages are competitive and, in some cases, his workers make more than their unionized counterparts.

Milum is angry at the union, which may have played right into its hands. Unite Here! claims Milum disciplined employees for wearing union buttons and for conducting other union activity during work hours.

Milum says he wants his workers to vote up or down on the union in a secret-ballot election.

As with Bashas', the campaign at Milum is focused on avoiding an election and forcing the company to accept unionization based on signatures solicited by the union. Callaci says he's just trying to make life better for Milum employees like Evangelina Guzman, a single mother of five who claims Milum fired her for supporting the union.

At a meeting with New Times, Guzman and two current Milum workers complain that the company often did not allow workers to reach full-time status, telling them to stop work after about 36 hours so they wouldn't qualify for health benefits.

But it turned out the union wasn't treating Guzman much better.

Guzman, who says she's a legal immigrant from Mexico, began working for the union a few months ago. The union pay is good, she says, but she gets to work only about 36 hours a week.

She adds that she gets no health benefits — all her kids are on the state's indigent healthcare plan, AHCCCS, just as when she was at Milum.

Asked about the blatant double standard, Callaci admits it might seem hypocritical.

A few weeks later, Callaci phones New Times to say, in a sheepish voice, the union is now covering Guzman and her kids under its healthcare plan.


Big Print bleeds, takes it out on union workers

Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen makes no secret of his antipathy toward unions. Part of the Times' current financial woes trace back to Blethen's clash with the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild seven years ago. A 49-day strike during the height of the 2000-01 holiday season cratered what should have been a bright year for the paper's advertising, and the Times never bounced back.

Now Seattle's largest daily is about to tangle with an even tougher union foe. Last week, the Times notified two Teamsters locals, which represent drivers, mechanics, and others, that it plans to outsource the work done by 74 union members — the entire trucking unit — to Penske, the big Detroit-based truck leaser. The outsourcing is scheduled to take effect Feb. 29, the day after the Teamsters contract expires.

Times officials were apparently hoping the truckers would go as quietly as customer service reps whose jobs the company farmed out in 2004. But Teamsters officials say they intend to fight, not switch. The Times outsourcing plan would be the first time a newspaper has farmed out a newspaper trucking operation, Teamsters leaders say, and they fear it could set a pattern for the rest of the ailing newspaper industry.

"We are adamantly against this outsourcing, and The Seattle Times knows that," says Joseph Molinero, director of the Teamsters Newspaper, Magazine and Electronic Media Conference. The union has been closely monitoring the Times negotiations here and sent representatives from its D.C. headquarters to sit in on several meetings with Seattle Times Co. officials.

Under its joint operating agreement (JOA) with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Times handles all non-news functions for both papers, including production, distribution, and marketing. The Teamsters negotiations would affect both papers' distribution.

"We're willing to sit down and meet with them if they have financial problems," says Molinero. "But any time an employer confronts us with outsourcing, it's a problem. We'll dig in and fight, if that's what it takes."

Local Teamsters officials complain that Times Co. labor relations director Chris Biencourt tried to pressure the union to bargain in secret, without telling members about the negotiations. "We ignored that," says Patty Warren, senior business agent for Local 174, which represents 67 Times drivers. Officials from the local and Penske plan to meet for the first time Thursday, Jan. 24. "There's a lot we need to know," Warren says.

A showdown with the Teamsters could make this a long spring for Times negotiators. The paper recently told the Guild, which represents about 600 Times workers and another 140 newsroom employees at the P-I, that it plans to cut 14 union circulation jobs, part of an overall plan to eliminate 86 jobs through layoff and attrition. The Guild hasn't received any notice that the Times plans to cut news or advertising positions, says the Guild's Seattle administrative officer, Elizabethe Brown, but the Guild's contract with the Times expires July 21, and bargaining on a new contract is scheduled to start in May. Brown says the union has lost about 10 percent of Times and P-I membership through attrition at the papers in recent years and is in the second year of a wage freeze at the Times.

"It's been hard on our people," Brown says. The Guild will seek to unfreeze wages when contract negotiations begin in May, she says. "They're trying to make the operation smaller, and that will free up money for wage increases," says Brown.

Blethen laid out the Times' financial crunch in a stark memo to the paper's employees Dec. 27. The Seattle Times will lose a total of about $33 million on its print operation for 2007 and 2008, he estimated, and is seeking to cut expenses by $27 million.

Times spokesperson Jill Mackie says a number of other newspapers have taken similar steps toward outsourcing some or all of their logistics and maintenance work, including papers in Kansas City, Indianapolis, Dallas, Atlanta, and Florida. The paper chose Penske, she says, because it has contracts with the Teamsters and agreed to fill more than half the outsourced jobs with Times truckers.

Both the Times and Teamsters could simply be engaged in some early-round bluffing. Molinero says his union has dealt with outsourcing proposals before. "The name of the game is money," he says. "If they need relief we're willing to talk with them, but not about outsourcing."

Mackie says that while the Times has signed a letter of intent with Penske, nothing is final. "We will listen to what the Teamsters have to say," she says.


Out-of-state union lies parroted by local pols

Florida's cities have stooped to a new low in their effort to keep their fists wrapped tightly around your property-tax dollars.

It's bad enough they trotted out firefighters and cops and threatened to fire them if voters approve the Amendment 1 property-tax cut -- even though privately they admit that won't happen.

Now it has gotten even sleazier. The Florida League of Cities is lying about Amendment 1's impact on longtime homeowners in a mailer sent to thousands of Floridians. The mailer even goes so far as to try to scare senior citizens into voting against Amendment 1.

The mailer features two photos designed to tick you off. One picture is of a slick, arrogant "out-of-state property owner" standing in front of an estate, giving two thumbs up. He's flashing a sly grin. The other image is of two elderly "Florida homeowners" standing in front of a modest house. They're frowning.

The message: "He Gets a Great Deal" and "We Get a Raw Deal."

The truth is Amendment 1 favors longtime homeowners over new home buyers. About 75 percent of the $9.3 billion in savings projected over the next five years would go to Florida homeowners.

In fact, one of the chief arguments against Amendment 1 is that it treats current homeowners better than others and worsens Florida's already unfair tax system by making the Save Our Homes tax break portable.

Who says that? Why, the same Florida League of Cities.

Here's a quote from "Amendment #1: Why It's Wrong for Florida," posted on the league's own Web site:

"The amendment will further shift the property-tax burden from homestead property to non-homestead," the white paper says. It adds that first-time home buyers would be treated unfairly whether Floridians or "whether it's a family relocating from Ohio."

So which is it? Would Amendment 1 stick it to poor Ohioans seeking a better life, or poor seniors on fixed incomes?

Don't try to get a straight answer from league Executive Director Mike Sittig. A couple of weeks ago he argued Amendment 1 would force cities to raise their tax rates, but then admitted that wasn't really true. Instead of sticking it to the taxpayer, he conceded, cities could actually set priorities and cut spending.

After all this, can you blame Floridians for not believing local governments when they cry poor? Tax collections grew three times faster than inflation and population combined over the past decade. Where did the money go?

You'd be surprised. The Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale reported that at least six Broward County cities are using taxpayer money to send out mailers about Amendment 1. City leaders say they aren't trying to sway voters, but who are they kidding?

Tired of all this? Then send a message on Tuesday by voting for Amendment 1.


Unions placed prez politics ahead of workers

With contract negotiations still in process, Gilford (NH) voters will not see any new union contracts for either Department of Public Works employees or the recently-formed Police Department union in 2008.

Town Administrator Evans Juris said Tuesday that an agreement has not been reached during negations and due to the lack of time before the town vote in March, these contracts will have to be put on hold until 2009.

The DPW union is organized through the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and has been established in Gilford for quite some time.

Provisions of the existing contract continue in effect until a new contract is approved.

The DPW contract previously allowed for a 21⁄2 percent cost-of-living increase and a 2-1⁄2 percent performance-based increase. For 2008, employees will only be eligible for a 2-1⁄2 step increase, as provided by the "evergreen clause."

All of the town's non-union employees are subject to a discretionary merit pay raise up to 5 percent, under a policy approved last year by the Board of Selectmen.

DPW union President Bob Doverger said that while the "evergreen clause" does provide somewhat of a safety net, union members will feel a pinch over the next year without the added pay increase available.

"Right now it's just kind of going to be one of those things," said Doverger, explaining that in the long run everyone will benefit from the extended negotiations.

Both Juris and Doverger noted that what could be divulged about the current negotiations was limited and restricted.

However, the lack of a contract is not expected to have any impact on the functioning of the department.

The Gilford Police Department union, organized through the Teamsters Local 633, does not have an established contract to keep in place like the DPW does.

"They're status quo," Juris explained.

This means that until a contract is established for the department, there will be both no pay increases and no changes to benefits or anything else.

"We are continuing negotiations and we are progressing, just nothing will come to the voters until March of 2009," said Juris.

Police Department union spokesmen Officer Steve Colcord was unavailable for comment.


Recommends NO on Prop 93 seniority scam

How stupid do legislators think California voters are? OK, maybe you shouldn’t answer that. We have swallowed some pretty big political “whoppers” over the years.

But not this time. Proposition 93 is a clumsy political sleight of hand that lacks the finesse of even an amateur magician.

Here’s the “scam.” Proposition 93 is being peddled as a tightening of the term limits California voters imposed on legislators in 1990. (By the way, the limits were imposed because voters were disgusted by do-nothing and sometimes corrupt lifetime legislators who were sucking the system dry.)

Proposition 93, on the Feb. 5 ballot, proposes to reduce from 14 years to 12 years the time a politician can serve in the Legislature. For those who favor term limits, so far so good.

But University of Southern California political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe is correct when she notes the “Legislature was just too cute by half” when lawmakers crafted this ballot “reform” measure.

The existing formula allows legislators to serve no more than six years in the Assembly and eight in the Senate for a total of 14 years.

Proposition 93 would cap the years of service at 12, but allow all years to be served in one house.

Proposition 93 creates a special loophole that will benefit 42 incumbent politicians, including our very own Assemblywoman Nicole Parra, who are termed out. It will give them more time in office. Working the numbers right, some will be able to serve 20 years — forget about the existing 14-year cap.

And that’s why Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata are among those who are working so hard to get voters suckered into passing Proposition 93. The termed-out legislators would be able to serve an extra six years and four years in office, respectively. They want to hold on to their power.

If legislators had played it straight and not shaped this measure in such a self-serving way, voters might have gone along with it.

After all, California’s term limits are among the nation’s tightest. And an argument can be made that existing limits have created a distracting system in which career politicians bounce from one post to another — more interested in their next political step than in serving their constituents.

Institutional knowledge in Sacramento has dwindled with the churn. The power of lobbyists and special interests — and the money they ply — has grown. California has become nearly incapable of solving its increasing problems.

But opponents are correct to denounce Proposition 93 as nothing more than an arrogant power grab by career politicians.

That’s exactly what it is. Voters should tell these “too cute by half” politicians that we aren’t swallowing their baloney. Vote no.


AFSCME's sleaze parade

Politics can be a rough game. Candidates need to hold their competitors accountable and challenge distortions and lies. And God knows, we need a Democratic nominee who's willing to fight. But Hillary Clinton's campaign has included far too many cheap shots, sleazy manipulations, and unsavory players.

New questionable actions emerge daily. You're probably familiar with many. But it's the broader pattern that disturbs me -- how much the Clinton campaign seems to nurture questionable actions from her operatives, supporters, and surrogates. And how the campaign's actions go beyond drawing legitimate political lines to an all-too-Rovian instinct to do whatever's deemed necessary to take down those blocking Clinton's potential victory. Here's a representative list of actions that, taken together, offer a troubling portent for her candidacy and presidency.

Start with the hiring of chief campaign strategist, Mark Penn. He's CEO of a PR firm, Burson-Marsteller (B-M), that prepped the Blackwater CEO for his recent congressional testimony, is advising the giant industrial laundry corporation Cintas in fighting unionization, and whose website proudly heralded their union-busting expertise until it became a potential Clinton liability and they removed that section. B-M has historically represented everyone from the Argentine military junta and Philip Morris to Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster.

Then there are Clinton's campaign donors. Any major candidate has some dubious supporters, but Clinton's gotten money from particularly noxious sources. Start with her donation from Rupert Murdoch, who's given to no other Democrat. Add in massive amounts of money from Washington lobbyists and from industries like defense, banking, health care, and oil and energy providers (though Obama's also gotten a lot from some of these industries). Then there's Norman Hsu, who brought in over $850,000 to Hillary's campaign after returning to the US, following his flight to evade a fraud conviction (Hsu was subsequently rearrested, sentenced to three years, and is facing further federal charges). There's the Nebraska data processing company InfoUSA, whose CEO, Vin Gupta, used private corporate jets to fly the Clintons on business, personal, and campaign trips, gave Bill Clinton a $3.3 million consulting contract, and is now being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly diverting company money to his own personal uses. Mississippi attorney Dickie Scruggs recently canceled a major December 15 Hillary fundraiser (with Bill Clinton headlining) after being indicted for trying to bribe a judge. Major international sweatshop owners, the Saipan-based Tan family, have given Clinton $26,000, complementing their previous massive support for Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay. That doesn't even count dubious supporters from the past, like Peter Paul, the convicted con-artist turned event producer who coordinated a massive Hollywood Clinton fundraiser during the 2000 election. Taken together, it's a pretty tainted constellation of backers.

Like most candidates, Clinton spends the bulk of her money on ads and mailings, and she's taken some pretty problematic approaches there too. I wonder how many of the New Hampshire women who voted last minute for Clinton were swayed by a mailing claiming that Obama wasn't really committed to abortion rights because he'd voted “present” on some abortion-related legislative votes. Except that Obama had done so as part of a strategy devised by Illinois Planned Parenthood to protect vulnerable swing district representatives. New England Planned Parenthood’s Board chair strongly refuted Clinton's letter, pointing out that Obama had a 100 percent record on all the votes that really mattered. But the mailing may still have damaged his support.

The distortion of Obama's position on abortion echoes Hillary's audacious argument that Obama really wasn't against the Iraq war and betrayed his promises by failing to vote against war appropriation bills after the Democrats couldn't override Bush's veto. I wish Obama had bucked the Democratic leadership and taken a stronger stand. But it's a gross distortion of history to equate his positions with Clinton's overt support for the war authorization, refusal to apologize for her vote, and claim that she was really doing it all to promote more diplomatic solutions.

We can find further distortions in a mailing sent out before the Iowa caucuses by the independent expenditure committee of a key Clinton ally, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The AFSCME mailing attacked Obama on his health care plan by using a John Edwards quote that was featured so prominently that recipients could assume that his campaign was the source of the attack piece. This and other actions so disturbed a group of seven AFSCME International vice presidents who wrote a public letter to their union president, saying that although the union had endorsed Clinton on a split vote, the political committee had no mandate to attack Obama. They demanded the committee stop what they called "fundamentally dishonest" attacks.

Other surrogates have attacked Obama's character. Twice they've tried to raise Obama's early drug use as a campaign issue -- despite his having addressed it directly and frankly in his book, Dreams From My Father. Hillary's New Hampshire campaign chair, Billy Shaheen, mentioned it first, claiming that he was only worried about how the Republicans might use it. Sheehan resigned from the campaign after a storm of criticism, then Black Entertainment Television CEO Robert Johnson (who's backed Bush on issues like the estate tax) raised it again, with Clinton standing next to him at a South Carolina rally. After Johnson's words drew major heat, Clinton belatedly distanced herself from them, but the smear still stands, along with the disingenuous claim that those making it were just neutral participants, only trying to serve the party’s best interests.

Clinton's campaign also attacked the John Edwards campaign for appearing in New Hampshire with the parents of Nataline Sarkisyan, the 17-year-old leukemia patient who died after CIGNA refused her a liver transplant. Clinton press secretary Jay Carson claimed that the US needs to elect "somebody who's actually going to help people and not use them as talking points." Never mind that the Sarkisyans had initiated the chance to speak out by contacting Edwards about appearing at a Manchester, New Hampshire, town hall campaign appearance. To the Clinton campaign, their appearance had to be suspect, because they were supporting Edwards and his ideas.

The campaign has also attempted more directly to discourage participation by voters who might support Clinton's opponents. A judge just shut down the lawsuit filed by the pro-Clinton leadership of the Nevada teacher's union, which sought to prevent long-scheduled caucuses from being held at central locations on the main casino strip, where workers largely represented by the Obama-endorsing Culinary Workers Union would find it easier to attend. When asked, Hillary Clinton claimed to have "no opinion on the lawsuit" and Bill Clinton overtly supported it.

New Hampshire saw parallel voter suppression tactics, as the campaign encouraged the New Hampshire Democratic Party to evict Obama get-out-the-vote observers from the polls. In Iowa, the Clinton Campaign tried to discourage out-of-state students from returning to their campuses to participate in the caucuses. In the Michigan primary, Clinton kept her name on the ballot after the state violated Democratic National Committee rules by moving its primary ahead of the Feb 5 “Super Tuesday” vote, while Edwards and Obama took theirs off.

Campaigns can have either closed or open information styles. Clinton's comes far too close to the Bush-Cheney model, as when the Clintons successfully killed a major story in the national men's magazine GQ about Clinton campaign infighting. Author Josh Green had written a long critical previous piece on Clinton for The Atlantic, and campaign press secretary Jay Carson threatened to deny the magazine access to Bill Clinton for a separate cover story on his international foundation work. GQ acquiesced and pulled the critical piece.

The flip side of trying to stop negative coverage is manufacturing praise. Clinton's campaign did this when they gave planted questions to Iowa student Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff, and, according to Chasanoff, to other students as well. After being driven to a public event by Clinton interns, Chasanoff was introduced to a Clinton staffer who showed her a list of suggested questions to ask, one of which she used at Clinton's forum. It's not quite like Bush inviting the softball inquiries of former male-prostitute turned right-wing blogger Jeff Gannon. But it isn't so different either.

Taken together, these examples echo the Bush's administration's tendency to attack anyone who challenges them. They echo Clinton's refusal to apologize for her Iraq war vote or for an Iran vote so reckless that Jim Webb called it "Dick Cheney's fondest pipe dream." They hardly bode well for reversing the massive erosions of transparency of the past seven years.

The list could go on, but it's the pattern that's important. It's true that one person's cheap shot artist is another's fierce competitor. Obama himself has called politics "a full-contact sport," and used legal maneuvers to block a long-time state legislator when he first ran for office. And Democrats will need to be fierce in their campaigning if they're going to defeat the right-wing Swiftboating machine that gave Bush the last two presidencies. So maybe I'd be more charitable if I didn't disagree so strongly with Clinton's Iraq and Iran votes, and utter failure to take leadership in standing up to Bush when he was riding high in the polls. But I think I'd still have a problem. I look at the actions of her campaign, and see an ugly example, a ruthlessness not remotely equaled by either Obama or Edwards. I'll vote for the last Democrat standing, because the Republicans will continue the current administration's disastrous priorities. But Hillary's scorched-earth approach threatens to fracture the party if she does get the nomination, and to leave a trail of bitterness even if she wins. We can do better for the Democratic nominee.


Gov't unions lobby for more dues income

State leaders of Big Labor -- including the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- have told supporters of several local tax-increase measures in California that they are willing to commit "whatever it takes" to ensure the ballot measures pass on February 5, 2008, according to a state AFSCME member.

Right now, several large localities in California, including the cities of Los Angeles, Pasadena, Richmond, and San Bernardino, are pushing utility "modernization" ballot measures that would essentially raise consumer taxes on Internet and cell phones users.

The unions are getting behind the measures because the bulk of the tax dollars raised from the change in local tax laws would go toward civil service costs related to public safety and municipal operations -- in other words, their membership.

"It's kind of surprising that anti-tax groups haven't been pushing harder against these initiatives," says a Southern California political consultant. "We're talking about millions in new tax revenue off these little changes, and it's all being done through the backdoor."

Essentially, what the localities are trying to do is extend a 40-year-old utility tax on phone service to services that most consumers use over the Internet or on their cell phones or Blackberrys.

"The old utility taxes are between 10 and 7 percent per month, and show up on the bottom of phone or cell phone bills," says the consultant. "Some municipalities are actually lowering the rate with their ballot initiatives, but changing the definition of what a 'phone service' is to include things like data services, so while the rate may appear lower, most taxpayers who use those services will actually see the amount they pay in taxes go up. Some may even see their cell phone tax bills double."

Data services include things like text messaging, music and video downloading, and down the road, many policy experts in the field believe even e-mail could be taxed under a "data service" definition.

The city of Pasadena, for example, is calling its initiative, Measure D, a utility tax "modernization" plan. While the rate of the utility tax would remain at about 8 percent, the city would impose the tax on consumers who use text messaging or who download music or movies online.

"These pols are being clever. They tell the voters 'We aren't raising taxes and we aren't taxing the Internet,' and they are being accurate, but in fact, they are taxing what you use the Internet for," says state assembly staffer. "They are being accurate, but they aren't being honest with the voters."

Adding insult to injury, the campaigns in support of the tax-increase initiatives are being financed by the municipalities and the labor unions, in other words, by taxpayer dollars.

AFSCME, according to the state union official, is prepared to commit more than a million dollars to get the local initiatives passed. "It could mean three to four times that in money back in union-member pockets," says the official. "This is worth the investment."


Unions rush into Colorado

A Colorado House committee will debate today whether to impose a ban on strikes by public employees.

Evan Dreyer, spokesman for Gov. Bill Ritter, said that if a strike were to occur, the state would rely on its plans to keep the government running during a time of emergency or natural disaster. But he said the issue should be considered moot because Ritter has promised to sign a strike ban.

On Nov. 2, Ritter signed an executive order allowing employees more power to join unions and bargain as a group. The order prohibited public employees strikes, but an opinion by Attorney General John Suthers said the governor could not override court rulings allowing the action.

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, introduced a bill that would ban strikes by all public employees, including teachers and Regional Transportation District workers, and would impose $10,000-aday fines and firing for violators.

Ritter said in December that he would not sign that bill because its scope exceeded the executive order that he had directed only to state workers.

On Friday, Rep. Jim Riesberg, D-Greeley, introduced a competing measure that would ban strikes by employees in the state personnel system. This is the governor’s preferred bill, Dreyer said.

Gardner said he believes more punitive measures are needed to ensure prison guards or snowplow drivers do not walk off the job when they are needed.

“My bill takes care of the problem for all public employees and has some teeth in it,” Gardner said. “Representative Riesberg’s will be the minimum political cover for the governor’s office to deal with the can of worms he opened in his executive order.”

Dreyer noted that the state has a basic plan for situations in which it must operate with a skeleton crew, but specific departments seemed less prepared.

Catherine Sanguinetti, public information officer for the Department of Corrections, said she didn’t believe publicsafety workers could strike. The Teamsters recently opened an office in Cañon City and several unions have asked for employee information, she noted.

Department of Labor and Employment spokesman Bill Thoennes said that if the department lost many workers, managers could handle duties such as unemployment insurance claims temporarily. “It would break down pretty quickly, probably within a number of days,” he said.


Jumbo gov't unions hound Oregon petitioners

Tim Trickey should be proud. Petitioners for his conservative-oriented signature-gathering operation have largely qualified nine initiatives for Oregon’s November ballot, after racing to gather 1.3 million signatures months ahead of deadline — and before a stricter initiative reform took effect this month.

But now Trickey’s nemesis, a union-funded arm that focuses on ballot measures, is casting a cloud over his work, saying there’s no way all those signatures could have been gathered properly because petitioners vanished from normal Portland petitioning locales.

“There’s no physical evidence of them out there,” or at least “nothing at all commensurate with the number of signatures turned in,” said Kevin Looper, executive director of Portland-based Our Oregon.

Trickey, whose Clackamas-based Democracy Direct gathers signatures for conservatives Bill Sizemore, Kevin Mannix and Russ Walker, dismissed that notion.

His signature gatherers are purposely staying “under the radar” to avoid detection and confrontations with Our Oregon representatives, Trickey said. His petitioners also concentrated in different areas, he said, such as Southern Oregon.

Our Oregon, largely funded by public employee unions, has been locked in an ongoing war with conservate ballot-measure sponsors, who lately have dominated Oregon’s initiative system.

Our Oregon keeps a close watch on the activities and locations of petitioners, relying on tips and observations from union members and other supporters.

Trickey and other conservatives accuse Our Oregon volunteers of harassing legitimate signature gatherers.

But Our Oregon’s dogged pursuit of initiative abuse often has borne fruit. Allegations, research and lawsuits by the group and its union backers have led to fines and court rulings, including a multimillion-dollar fine against Sizemore’s operation that is still under appeal.

Last month, the Oregon Elections Division assessed steep fines against a Portland company called B & P Campaign Management and its owners for paying petitioners by the signature for 2006 ballot measures, in violation of a constitutional amendment that requires payment by the hour.

Smaller fines also were levied against Democracy Direct and Trickey, who contracted with B & P for signatures, and against Sizemore, Walker and others, whose initiative campaigns relied on those signatures.

Looper offered no proof that signatures gathered for 2008 initiatives were not gathered legally. But Our Oregon is poring over petition sheets and contemplating legal actions, or other ways to bring its charges before state authorities, he said.

John Lindback, director of the Oregon Elections Division, said several people have noticed that many signatures were gathered in 2007 without the typical petitioner presence in Portland hot spots.

“It seemed that way to a lot of people,” Lindback said, referring to folks from Our Oregon, his own elections staff and some lawmakers.

“They didn’t see much evidence, which suggests to me they’re circulating their signatures out of Portland,” Lindback said. “Maybe they’re doing it in places where they don’t think they’ll be watched and hounded by the Our Oregon people.”

The first three batches of 2008 signature sheets provided by the Elections Division do show a decline in the share of Multnomah County signatures, and a corresponding increase from Southern Oregon, when contrasted with a random sample of 2006 and 2004 ballot initiatives.

There also has been an increase in signatures gathered from largely rural counties such as Union and Umatilla.

“There are not numbers that we have seen for these counties in the past,” said Summer Davis, compliance specialist for the Elections Division. “They are different.”

However, Multnomah County still was the leading source of 2008 signatures for the first three ballot measures for which data is available. In the three measures, Multnomah County voters supplied about one-fifth of the signatures.

“We’re still seeing Multnomah County signatures and no evidence of signature gathering in Multnomah County of the level of them turning in hundreds of thousands of signatures,” Looper said.


Union front-group promotes taxes, spending

Two influential interest groups from opposite ends of the political spectrum are united in their opposition to Governor Spitzer's budget proposal.

The Business Council of New York State, a group that represents business interests, and the Working Families Party, a liberal grassroots operation financed by labor unions, took shots yesterday at the governor's $126.5 billion 2008-09 spending plan, which the administration unveiled on Tuesday.

Until yesterday, both groups had been generally supportive of the governor and his policies. While their displeasure is shared, their specific grievances are not.

The Working Families Party, which cross-endorsed Mr. Spitzer in 2006 and delivered to him 155,000 vote on its ballot line, claims the governor turned his back on middle-class New Yorkers by not raising income tax rates of wealthy residents.

The Business Council is criticizing Mr. Spitzer for lifting state spending by 5% despite the turmoil in the economy.

"With the nation's economy heading towards recession, with state revenues tanking, now is not the time to hammer the private sector with new taxes and fees," the president and chief executive officer of the council, Kenneth Adams, said. "The way to avoid that is to cut government spending."

The governor's proposed spending hike of 5% is about the average annual growth rate of budgets passed during the Pataki administration, fiscal analysts say.

The executive director of the Working Families Party, Daniel Cantor, said in a statement that Mr. Spitzer "put himself in a box where he had to make some difficult choices. Increasingly hard economic times didn't help. But he didn't need to be in that box at all."

He said Mr. Spitzer could have balanced the budget with a "modest tax increase" on incomes exceeding $300,000 a year. Such a hike, he said, would generate $6 billion in additional revenue.

In an interview, Mr. Cantor said Mr. Spitzer "is trying to govern in a progressive way, but on this topic he can do better." He said he didn't know if the governor's decision to exclude an income tax hike on the rich would jeopardize a future endorsement by his group.

Mr. Spitzer proposed closing a more than $4.4 billion budget gap by trimming Medicaid spending growth, by scrapping a prior plan to give middle-class homeowners additional property tax breaks, by raising $1.1 billion in fee increases and new tax regulations, and by relying on nonrecurring revenue, such as the sale of state-owned land.

The governor, meanwhile, yesterday announced members of a commission he set up to recommend a plan for imposing a cap on property taxes levied by school districts.

The members are Nassau County's executive, Thomas Suozzi, the president of Stony Brook University, Shirley Strum Kenny, a longtime Harlem political leader who is the father of Lieutenant Governor David Paterson, Basil Paterson, a former Onondaga County executive, Nicholas Pirro, a municipal finance expert at Merrill Lynch, Michael Solomon, a philanthropist who is a member of the New York State Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, and a former assemblyman, Paul Tokasz.

The commission's preliminary recommendations are due May 15.


Unions push labor-state to tipping point

“Our state is at a tipping point,” Gov. Donald L. Carcieri said in his sixth annual State of the State address, presented in the House Chamber last night before a joint session of the R.I. General Assembly.

“It is teetering, ready to move dramatically in one direction or another. All of Rhode Island’s virtues, all of its assets, all of Rhode Island’s bright promises are overshadowed – and, in fact, threatened – by the budget crisis we face. It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room.”

For the fiscal year that ends this June, and the next, “we are staring at a combined $550 million deficit.” But, Carcieri said, the taxpayers already are struggling to meet higher prices for food, heat, gasoline, health care and housing. “The last thing they need is rising taxes!”

Therefore, the governor said, “I am proposing a budget for the remainder of this year, and all of next year, that will reduce spending by $300 million. This will result in a fiscal ’09 that is less than the previous year’s – the first time since the credit union crisis. All state employees, all state vendors, contractors and providers, and all municipalities will be affected.”

Carcieri said he is proposing cuts in each of the three major categories of state spending: personnel expenses, including wages, health care costs and pensions; welfare, social service and entitlement programs; and local aid for school and other services.

• Of personnel costs, he said: “The average state employee earns $61,000 per year in salary, with fringe benefits valued at another $34,000 (a total of $95,000), [for] a 35-hour work week. Bringing the health care, pension benefits and work week into line with the private sector could save the state tens of millions per year. This will be the focal point of our contract negotiation with labor leadership.” Carcieri specifically cited “the state’s overly generous retiree health plan.”

To achieve further savings, he also suggested the privatization of some state services. “The barriers to competition, such as the anti-privatization statute passed last session, must be taken down.”

• Of social service programs, he said: “Our current social service system is badly broken …. [It] perpetuates dependency and strips individuals of their ability to make reasoned and responsible choices.”

For instance, the governor said, supporting long-term home care for seniors would not only “result in greater longevity and improved quality of life – in fact, it is less costly.” Yet, he said, “5.2 percent of Rhode Island seniors are in nursing homes, more than twice the rate of leading states.” So next week, Carcieri said, he will propose a “fundamental reform” that “will transform the state’s Medicaid program – the state/federal partnership that provides health care to the needy – from one centered on institutions and agencies to a system that focuses on the people who use it.”

In addition, he said, the state currently “has one of the poorest records in the country for getting people off welfare and into the work force.” So along with the new budget, “we will introduce Rhode Island’s Work First Program … to accelerate movement out of poverty.” The program will require an immediate employment plan for all participants and limit support too a maximum of two years.

• Of municipal aid, he said: “We need our cities and towns to undertake the same kinds of personnel, health care and pension reforms that state government is advancing.”

To help the cities and towns, the governor said, he will propose legislation that would allow a single umbrella health-care contract for all state, municipal and school employees. “This will save tens of millions of dollars for property taxpayers by creating competitive bidding by the health insurers.”

“In addition, we need for our cities and towns to look aggressively at consolidating services and reducing overhead,” Carcieri said. “Rhode Island municipal cost for fire protection is first in the nation, and its cost for police protection is 10th. … Municipalities need to look at ways to share these services and save money.”

Yet, he noted, the largest expense for Rhode Island communities is their public schools – another area where he hinted at the possibility of consolidation.

“In Rhode Island, we have 36 school departments overseeing 150,000 students,” Carcieri said. By comparison, “the County of Fairfax, Va., with the same student population, has one. “I have asked RIPEC to evaluate various options, and to project the statewide savings to the taxpayers. This will provide the data we need for real action.”

“Everyone must be part of this plan,” the governor told his State House audience. “We may be Republicans, Democrats or Independents,” he said, “but we are all Rhode Islanders, and we’re here because we love our state. To fix this problem, it will take all of us in this room working together.”

In a response last night, House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox said “We are a state of great potential – but there is no avoiding the dire fiscal crisis that we are facing this year and in years to come. … We are going to have to make some very difficult decisions. But these decisions must be informed.”

He praised the concept of consolidation of services. But he criticized some aspects of the governor’s budget plan – such as a proposal to raise $5 million in a year by banning cell phone use while driving, a sum Fox said would require ticketing 10 percent of all Rhode Islanders – as “just not realistic.”

“Budget decisions must be based on facts,” Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed said in a separate statement. “The proposed supplemental budget includes eliminating health benefits for 9,000 women and children.” RIte Care, she said, “is a highly cost-effective program. In examining necessary Medicaid cuts we cannot simply shift costs to our health centers and hospitals. Our priority should be to keep people out of emergency rooms for routine care, and support them at home for long-term care.”

But, she added, “Accountability and efficiency will be a critical part of any proposal. The Senate is holding hearings next week to review the efforts currently being made by the state’s five regional collaboratives to determine if they can be building blocks for increased collaboration among our school districts.”


Union power yields labor-state backlash

In a recent Delaware Voice essay, Eleanor D. Craig, associate chairwoman of economics at the University of Delaware, analyzed the benefits of locating an automotive manufacturing plant in Delaware compared to Mississippi.

She says government decisions are the primary reason Toyota is breaking ground for a new plant in Mississippi, while the Chrysler plant in Delaware is on the brink of closing. As she sees it, "Delaware's economic health is being threatened by government actions which make other states, like Mississippi, the preferred choice for both new and old business."

According to Craig, at the top of the list is the fact that Mississippi is a right-to-work-state, while Delaware is not. A whopping 12 percent of our workers are union, while Ole Miss has just 6 percent. She said that in Delaware that means a 20 percent paycheck "premium" for union workers.

Mississippi also doesn't have a prevailing wage law. We do. That means we mandate higher wages for construction workers on public projects. Again, according to Craig, we pay carpenters, electricians, steelworkers and masons about 20 percent more than we have to.

She also said Delaware ranks lower than Mississippi when it comes to income and employment growth prospects, and that Mississippi has a better income tax rate than Delaware does .

The more I read, the more it dawned on me: The message seemed to be Delaware should shape up and be more like Mississippi. I don't think so.

For all the advantages of cheap labor in business-friendly Mississippi, Craig neglected to mention that Mississippi ranks as the poorest state in America, with one of the most atrocious unemployment rates.

According to the CNNMoney.com ranking of rich and poor states, Delaware ranks around 11th richest. Mississippi is the poorest at 51. When it come to unemployment among states, Delaware ranks ninth, while Mississippi ranks 49th.

Need I go on? Measuring household income, per capita income or poverty levels, Delaware is doing great. Mississippi, unfortunately, is an economic basket case.

Anti-union backlash

What bothered me most about Craig's attempt to make us believe Mississippi is better than Delaware when it comes to economic growth was not just the deceptive statistics, but singling out workers' wages as a culprit.

The article was a thinly veiled argument for cutting union membership, as well as trimming wages paid to construction workers on state building projects.

Why pick on the paychecks of hard-working men and women as a way to make Delaware better? Why hold up Mississippi as a model for us?

At a time when working family budgets are being squeezed on all sides, are we to believe this is the moment to dismantle the prevailing wage mechanisms propping up wages for a fortunate few blue-collar families in Delaware?

Direct wage subsidies, such as Delaware's prevailing wage laws, should be viewed with no less respect than the indirect subsidies granted to corporations. When AstraZeneca was looking for economic incentives, Delaware forked over nearly $100 million in land, cash and road construction. The purpose was to subsidize high-paying white-collar jobs.

So why gripe when blue-collar workers pushing wheel barrels of cement on state construction jobs get a little slice of the huge subsidy pie normally feasted on by corporations with connections? Blue-collar workers pay back in taxes and increased purchasing power, just like their white-collar brethren.

Anti-union sentiment is rooted in rusty conservative thinking from way back when. The traditional conservative antagonism toward unions needs to be rethought to match the realities of the new economy.

Finding ways to maintain living wages for American workers is the most important priority. That challenge requires us to focus on creating intrinsic, non-exportable jobs, paying solid wages as well as devising means to protect those jobs. We should not be exploring ways to cut paychecks and wage protections so we can compete with China or Mississippi.

Delaware has great brains who will find ways to maintain economic growth and generate high wages for workers. Calling for Delaware to become a right- to-work state, or to repeal prevailing wage laws, is not a humane way to pursue growth.

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