Attack on gov't workers' freedom tripped up

Partisan war erupted in the Virginia House Thursday when Democrats refused to vote on a sensitive bill introduced by one of their members and Republicans, invoking a rare procedure, cast the votes for them.

Democrats accused Republicans of being bullies. Republicans mocked Democrats for lacking courage to vote on their convictions. In the end, the House posted an improbable 82-0 vote against legislation that would have allowed collective bargaining by state and local employees.

The fight began when Del. Adam Ebbin, D-Arlington, asked for permission to withdraw the measure, HB852. Requests by patrons to have their bills spiked are routinely honored in the General Assembly. But Ebbin was denied.

GOP leaders said they wanted to corner Democrats into a difficult vote that would force them to chose between labor or business interests. They accused Democrats of wooing organized labor during elections by suggesting they might ease the state's venerable right-to-work law, which bars compulsory union membership. They said the Democrats know the measures will be quickly killed in a committee, often without even a recorded vote.

This year, House Republicans set a trap.

Using their majority, the GOP passed rules that allow Speaker William Howell to bypass the usual committees and send bills of his choosing straight to the House floor.

Ebbin, learning his bills was headed straight for the floor, asked Howell on Tuesday for permission to spike the bill and was turned down.

He appealed to full House on Thursday as the legislation as called up for vote. "This bill is not fully drawn to what I want it to say," Ebbin said.

House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong, D-Henry, accused Republicans of breaching decorum to score political points. He said bypassing usual committee procedures denied the public a chance to testify.

"Your side of the aisle has the majority and it can pretty well do whatever it wants to do," Armstrong said.

"This is a bad precedent. Don't do it."

House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, questioned the Democrat's grit. "Part of having freedom is courage," he said. "You had the freedom to talk about this bill. You had the freedom to put this bill in. Now you ought to have the courage to vote for it."

Ebbin's motion to strike the bill was denied on a party-line vote.

Democrats refused to debate the merits of Ebbin's bill. The legislation was defeated on a 57-0 vote. All but two of the 44 Democrats present refused to cast a ballot.

The Republicans weren't finished, however. House rules require all legislators to vote when they are in their seats and a matter comes up, although the regulation hardly ever is enforced. It was on Thursday. Griffith went down the rolls requesting Democrats, one by one, to cast a vote. When they remained quiet, Griffith had their votes recorded against the bill.

Griffith quit after calling the names of 25 Democrats. "I'm tired," he said, stopping the voting at 82-0.

Armstrong called the Republicans "bullies."

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, replied, "What I just witnessed in this body was a complete lack of courage."

Republicans left the chamber gloating.

"This will allow us to say to union leaders that although we disagree with you on some issues, we are no different that the Democrats," said Del. Clifford Athey, R-Warren.


Labor-state A.G. does dirty work for Teamsters

The disposal company responsible for picking up the Somerville's trash is being investigated by the attorney general's office for allegedly refusing to pay its employees a fair wage.

At a Jan. 16 Finance Committee meeting Michael Lambert, chief of staff for Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, told aldermen that Assistant City Solicitor David Shapiro was present at a meeting where officials from the Massachusetts attorney general's office confirmed an investigation into F.W. Russell Disposal was underway.

Calls to the attorney general's office were not returned before presstime.

At the meeting, aldermen held off on extending the company's contract to collect garbage for the city. “I'm concerned about the attorney general's investigation,” said Alderman-at-Large William A. White.

The contract being considered is a fourth-year renewal of the city's current contract, with no major changes, said Stan Koty, commissioner of the Department of Public Works. The only increase would be an additional $12,000 for the disposal of yard waste. F.W. Russell has been working without a contract since January 1.

Lambert said the allegations that Russell Disposal is not paying workers according to the prevailing wage laws are being made by a competitor and not company employees. Koty said city officials examined a Freedom of Information Act request made by a labor union to learn what employees at the company were being paid and, he said, they were getting acceptable wages.

In December Carneglia said he paid more than $20 an hour to his workers.

Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston said any investigation into Russell should not change how the city does business with the company.

“In the meantime, the trash needs to be picked up,” she said. “None of these allegations have been founded and if we hold up a contract based on a one sided view and unfounded allegations, then shame on us.”

However, Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah L. Gewirtz said she was concerned to move forward and approve the contract without more examination. No resolution was reached at the meeting and aldermen will take up the issue again on Jan. 23.

In December, ten Teamsters from Local 25 were arrested after a scuffle broke out during a picket of Russell Disposal. The Teamsters were reportedly at the business to try and unionize employees and end what they said was exploitation of immigrant labor by Russell owner Charles Carneglia.

White said beyond the union troubles he would like to see if the city is getting a fair rate for its trash pickup.

“We've never had a chance to look at the rates and see how they compare to other communities,” he said.

However, Koty said the city won't “get a better price anywhere.” Somerville pays considerably less to dispose of its trash than Medford and other surrounding communities, he said.


SEIU's appalling push for huge phone tax

The campaign for a $243-million telephone users tax on California's Feb. 5 ballot has amassed nearly $2.6 million, almost three-fourths of it from labor unions, according to campaign contribution reports filed Thursday.

Unions provided nearly $1.9 million to the Proposition S campaign, which is seeking to preserve a tax on cellular and land line calls that has been challenged repeatedly in court.

The size of the donations appalled foes of the tax, who said that city employee unions were rewarding politicians for giving them raises -- and ensuring that more will be granted in the future.

"This is the economics of special interests," said Walter Moore, who has been battling the measure. "You have a special interest that can make hundreds of millions of dollars by putting in $1 million or $2 million at City Hall."

Foes of Proposition S have raised only $5,100. By comparison, the backers of the tax have bought television commercials featuring Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Douglas Barry and LAPD Chief William J. Bratton, who said the loss of the tax revenue would seriously harm the city's ability to provide public safety.

Ten unions have written six-figure checks in an effort to preserve the tax, which represents about 6% of the city's general fund budget. In recent weeks, the campaign received $100,000 from International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18, which represents workers at the Department of Water and Power.

The campaign received $250,000 apiece from the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents police officers, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents clerks and secretaries, among others.

And the campaign took in $300,000 from Service Employees International Union, whose members belonged to a coalition of city employees that received a five-year package of pay increases worth $255 million from L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council last month.

SEIU Local 721 spokeswoman Elizabeth Brennan defended the contribution, saying her members -- including those not employed at City Hall -- supported the tax out of concern for the city's financial stability.

"We represent tens of thousands of people who live and work in Los Angeles who care very deeply about quality public services, so it's a natural that we would support Proposition S," she said.

Proposition S would lower the city's existing telephone users' utility tax from 10% to 9%, a move designed to entice voters.

Though the phone tax campaign has relied heavily on unions, it also has received help from real estate companies.

The campaign picked up 12 contributions totaling $20,000 from developer Sonny Astani, who wrote checks through a dozen separate real estate holdings. Astani has already given $130,000 to other initiatives backed by Villaraigosa.

Proposition S received $50,000 from J.H. Snyder, which is seeking the city's approval for a major rehabilitation of Valley Plaza mall in North Hollywood.

The company has given $110,000 to other causes backed by the mayor.

The campaign took in $100,000 from Anschutz Entertainment Group, which is building the L.A. Live entertainment complex -- a project that will receive up to $270 million in tax breaks if successful.


NYC's mobbed-up bus drivers union

The feds have busted a school bus company owner implicated in a growing scandal that's tarnished the city's Department of Education, the Daily News has learned.

Joseph Fazzia, owner of Jofaz Transportation, was quietly charged last week with making false statements to the FBI, court records show.

Fazzia has denied making payments to the mob-controlled union that represents school bus drivers, Amalgamated Transit Workers Union Local 1181.

But that union's corrupt president, Salvatore Battaglia, last week pleaded guilty to taking payoffs and said several bus company owners have made regular payments to his union for decades.

The union has been controlled by the Genovese crime family since the 1970s, helping private bus companies milk the taxpayers and pumping millions into mob pockets.

Prosecutors identified three owners who said they had made payments to the union: Domenic Gatto, owner of Atlantic Express; Ray Fouche, owner of Rainbow Transit and Robert Dimino, owner of Safe Coach.

These companies currently have millions of dollars in DOE contracts to transport tens of thousands of New York City students.

Prosecutors say all three have admitted making payments to Local 1181. However, Fazzia denied paying off the mobbed-up union, prosecutors allege.

Fazzia is free on $150,000 bond. His lawyer declined to discuss the case.

Fazzia's company and its several affiliates transport hundreds of city elementary and special education students every school day.

Education Department spokesman David Cantor did not respond to a request for comment on the status of DOE contracts with companies implicated in the scandal.

Last summer, the FBI investigation of the mob-controlled bus drivers' union expanded to include corruption in the Education Department after The News revealed bus companies were being tipped off to "surprise" safety inspections.

The head of the school bus safety inspection unit has pleaded guilty to corruption charges and is cooperating with the FBI, as is one of his inspectors.

That inspector has told the FBI that 10 bus companies regularly made payments to inspectors. Those companies have not been named.


Liberal Fascism for sale

“Fascists,” “Brownshirts,” “jackbooted stormtroopers”—such are the insults typically hurled at conservatives by their liberal opponents. Calling someone a fascist is the fastest way to shut them up, defining their views as beyond the political pale. But who are the real fascists in our midst?

"Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning" by Jonah Goldberg offers a startling new perspective on the theories and practices that define fascist politics. Replacing conveniently manufactured myths with surprising and enlightening research, Jonah Goldberg reminds us that the original fascists were really on the left, and that liberals from Woodrow Wilson to FDR to Hillary Clinton have advocated policies and principles remarkably similar to those of Hitler's National Socialism and Mussolini's Fascism.

Contrary to what most people think, the Nazis were ardent socialists (hence the term “National socialism”). They believed in free health care and guaranteed jobs. They confiscated inherited wealth and spent vast sums on public education. They purged the church from public policy, promoted a new form of pagan spirituality, and inserted the authority of the state into every nook and cranny of daily life. The Nazis declared war on smoking, supported abortion, euthanasia, and gun control. They loathed the free market, provided generous pensions for the elderly, and maintained a strict racial quota system in their universities—where campus speech codes were all the rage. The Nazis led the world in organic farming and alternative medicine. Hitler was a strict vegetarian, and Himmler was an animal rights activist.

Do these striking parallels mean that today’s liberals are genocidal maniacs, intent on conquering the world and imposing a new racial order? Not at all. Yet it is hard to deny that modern progressivism and classical fascism shared the same intellectual roots. We often forget, for example, that Mussolini and Hitler had many admirers in the United States. W.E.B. Du Bois was inspired by Hitler's Germany, and Irving Berlin praised Mussolini in song. Many fascist tenets were espoused by American progressives like John Dewey and Woodrow Wilson, and FDR incorporated fascist policies in the New Deal.

Fascism was an international movement that appeared in different forms in different countries, depending on the vagaries of national culture and temperament. In Germany, fascism appeared as genocidal racist nationalism. In America, it took a “friendlier,” more liberal form. The modern heirs of this “friendly fascist” tradition include the New York Times, the Democratic Party, the Ivy League professoriate, and the liberals of Hollywood. The quintessential Liberal Fascist isn't an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.

These assertions may sound strange to modern ears, but that is because we have forgotten what fascism is. In this angry, funny, smart, contentious book, Jonah Goldberg turns our preconceptions inside out and shows us the true meaning of Liberal Fascism.


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Intimidation marred Casino War union vote

Several dealers testified this morning that they had been intimidated by pro-union employees before a union vote at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Others said they were either told directly or overheard union supporters telling dealers prior to the election that their jobs were in jeopardy if they voted against unionization.

Some of the dealers, both men and women, testified at the National Labor Relations Board hearing that unidentified individuals were polling people in the restroom across from the Sunset Ballroom, where the election was held Nov. 24.

The individuals, according to several witnesses, were holding a piece of paper and either a pen or pencil in hand. Some dealers presumed that the individuals were writing down the names of people who did not support the United Auto Workers.

Nine witnesses were called during the morning session of the hearing, which is in its fourth day. Attorneys representing the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns and operates Foxwoods, said they are prepared to call 14 witnesses to the stand.

The purpose of the NLRB hearing is to decide whether the union election is valid.

Table game and poker dealers voted 1,289 to 852 in favor of union representation by the United Auto Workers. The tribe challenged the results, citing a dozen objections.


Unions fail to unite Democrats

Two weeks before California’s presidential primary election, two of the Democratic Party’s core ethnic constituencies — African Americans and Latinos — are deeply divided over whom to support, a reflection in part of years of political battling between California’s ascendant Latino population and the smaller but politically well-organized black communities. In the background hovers the ghost of Proposition 187, the voter-approved anti-illegal immigration initiative of 1994 that galvanized the Latino electorate and was later dismantled by the courts.

“Even though it (Proposition 187) is not a topic within the Democratic primary, hearing Republican candidates talk about their stances on immigration puts it back in our minds. It’s there,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, a supporter of New York Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The burgeoning Latino population is California’s most important political and ethnic phenomenon — and has been for two decades.

Nearly 4 in 10 Californians are Latino, and 6 in 10 Latinos are registered Democrats. As the proportion of whites has shrunk to a minority of the total population, the Latinos have swelled and the percentage of blacks has declined to about 6 percent, roughly half of the Asian American population. But despite that growth, Latinos are still only expected to comprise about 15 percent of the overall electorate, essentially unchanged from 1998.

The numbers suggest that California’s Democratic presidential primary presents a classic battle between the party’s mainstream, Clinton’s base, as represented by increasingly Latino organized labor and blue-collar workers; and what one veteran political observer called the “starry-eyed reformers on the left,” the young, the black and the affluent activists, who want a break from the tradition and favor Illinois Sen. Barack Obama. “We’ve seen this division go back 60 or 70 years. Clinton represents the hard-shell Democrats, who want to know what government will do to help put money in their pockets. Obama represents the reformers. This is a big, long division in California politics, and it is playing out in this campaign,” said Tony Quinn, a political historian and co-author of the Target Book, which handicaps legislative campaigns.

The latest Field Poll bears this out, with Clinton ahead of Obama by 12 percent overall, drawing Democratic support from moderates, women, Latinos, lower-income voters, those without college degrees and those with family incomes averaging $40,000.

By 3-to-1, Latinos favor Clinton, a dramatic edge, particularly in Los Angeles County, the heart of Latino labor, where a third of the state’s voters live, and Asian Americans favor Clinton by 2-to-1. Conversely, Obama is supported by blacks by better than 2-to-1, the young, the left and the more affluent Democrats, those with $80,000 or more in annual family income. On issues, the Clinton supporters see the economy as the crucial issue in the race — which could prove decisive at a time when the economic outlook, state and national, is souring. On the very day that the Field Poll was released, the state reported some 36,000 residential foreclosures for the final quarter of 2007, a record and the latest in a series of grim economic reports. Obama’s supporters view the war in Iraq and foreign policy as hot-button issues. “Clinton is perceived by voters as holding a big advantage over Obama as being the candidate with the right experience and who has the best chance of winning the November general election. Obama, on the other hand, is viewed by more voters as the candidate who best represents change,” the survey reported. About a fifth of likely Democratic voters are undecided. The two Democrats are neck-and-neck among white, non-Hispanic voters, with Clinton at 32 percentage points and Obama at 30 — a statistically insignificant division.

Obama is likely to target the 20 percent of the state’s voters who register as “decline to state.” Independent voters are allowed to vote in the Democrats’ contest on Feb. 5 but will be barred from voting in the Republican primary.

While there are sharp divisions among rank-and-file Democrats over supporting Clinton or Obama, the positions of elected officials cross lines regardless of ethnicity. Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, a former lieutenant governor and congressman, heads the Black Caucus and supports Clinton, while most of the other members back Obama. Democratic Sens. Dean Florez of Shafter, Gloria Romero and Gil Cedillo of Los Angeles, and Assemblywoman Nicole Parra of Bakersfield — all members of the Latino Caucus — support Obama.

“Those are significant numbers, and I think that the notion that there is a great divide (between blacks and Latinos) may or may not be true. It is yet to be determined,” said Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas, an African American and Los Angeles Democrat running for the L.A. Board of Supervisors, who also supports Obama.

“This is all good for the electorate, and Obama’s candidacy made it a lot more interesting and a lot more vibrant,” he added.

According to the state Department of Finance, which tracks California’s shifting demographic landscape, from 2000 to 2004, the Hispanic and Asian American populations increased their shares of the state’s population by 2.3 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively, while the shares of whites and blacks declined, down 2.5 percent and 0.5 percent respectively. The shares of the state’s other three race/ethnic groups increased very slightly (American Indians, up 0.04 percent; Pacific Islanders, up 0.03 percent; and multirace persons, up 0.13 percent) over the four-year period. Although still the largest race/ethnic group, whites were, by 2004, 44.6 percent of the population, down from 47.2 percent in 2000. In the same period Hispanics grew to almost 35 percent of the total.

Asian Americans grew from 11 percent to 11.6 percent of the total, and blacks dropped to 6 percent from 6.5 percent. Multirace persons held the next-largest share, 2 percent, with the two smallest groups, American Indians and Pacific Islanders, holding 0.58 percent and 0.35 percent of shares, respectively. These rates of growth and decline resulted from very different patterns in the components of change (births, deaths and migration) by race/ethnicity.

In the ethnic shifts, Latinos remain the most significant politically, according to one Field study.

“Whereas Latino voters favored Democrats over GOP candidates for governor by 6 percentage points in both the 1986 and 1990 elections, this advantage has grown dramatically in recent elections — to 46 points in 1994 and to a record high 61 points in 1998.

At the same time, Latinos have become a larger part of the California electorate, increasing from 5 percent of voters in 1990 to 14 percent in 1998. These two factors — Latino voters’ greater preference for Democratic candidates and their larger share of the overall electorate — have combined in recent election cycles to produce a structural advantage for Democratic candidates in top-of-the-ticket election contests,” Field reported.

Publicly, at least, few black or Latino politicians wish to discuss the ethnic or political tensions between the two groups. But it does exist.

“There is a lot of ethnic hostility between blacks and Latinos that goes way back. It simply reflects the divisions in California politics,” Quinn noted. “If you take a look at city council seats in south Los Angeles, you see a real history of the Latino insurgency against the existing black power structure, the whole South Central area, in Compton, where the blacks had taken over the power structure and are now losing it to Latinos.”

For Clinton and Obama, there also is a clear north-south division, he added.

“Obama does better in the north, and she does better in the south. She does well among the more down-scale whites. They associate with the Clintons because the Clintons were good for them, did put money in their pockets, and they vote their pocketbooks,” Quinn said. “He runs with the idealistic left, with exactly the same people who supported Gary Hart, Bill Bradley and, for a while, Howard Dean.”


Union thugs patrol Dem politics

Accused in radio ads of condoning voter suppression, Hillary Clinton and her campaign are now attempting to turn the tables, hitting Barack Obama and his supporters with charges of voter intimidation.

The Clinton campaign held a conference call with reporters this afternoon to denounce Spanish-language ads that call Clinton “shameless” for her campaign’s tacit support of a lawsuit — since dismissed — that sought to block casino workers from participating in the at-large caucuses on the Vegas Strip this Saturday.

The dust-up over the ads was quickly obscured, however, when farm-worker heroine Dolores Huerta accused the Obama camp of intimidating voters. Speaking on behalf of the Clinton campaign, Huerta said:
These ads that they have, saying that Hillary is trying to deprive Culinary Workers of their vote? It’s just the opposite. It’s Obama supporters and organizers who are telling Hillary supporters that they cannot vote.

We keep hearing stories of intimidation by Obama supporters and Obama organizers that are out there telling workers that… if they vote for Hillary they could be fired.
Huerta — who repeatedly belittled Obama, referring to him with the epithet “¿Cómo-Se-Llama?” or “What’s-His-Name?,” saying he was unknown to Hispanics — provided few details to back up these explosive charges.

Obama spokesman Bill Burton called the intimidation charges “wild” and “sordid.”
We’re in the day before the caucus and we’re hearing sordid attacks that have no substantiation behind them. It’s a fairly typical political game to play in the last minute — to try to get people to believe something that isn’t true and hope that the election happens before it gets cleared up.

These sorts of wild charges have nothing to do with the substance of the campaign. And it also points up the fact that the Clinton campaign isn’t comfortable with its candidate or comfortable with the issues they’ve been advocating. They have to make up these charges.
Clinton spokesperson Fabiola Rodriguez, reached this evening for comment, clarified that Huerta did not intend to implicate organizers employed by the Obama campaign itself, rather Culinary Union supporters who organize on his behalf.

Asked whether any of the alleged dirty tricks were linked in any way to the Obama campaign, Rodriguez said, “These are people who have endorsed him and who are organizing workers to come vote for him. I would say there is some kind of connection there.”

The Clinton campaign put Rolling Stone in touch with two casino kitchen workers who claim to have either experienced or witnessed union intimidation to vote for Obama. While their stories make clear that the union — which endorsed Obama last week — has aggressively encouraged its members to close ranks behind Obama, their experiences are far less black-and-white than the charges levied by Huerta. In neither case was any worker threatened with termination.

The first instance involves a food server at the Luxor who is also a shop steward for the Culinary Union and disagreed with the union’s Obama endorsement; she asked that her name not be used for fear of reprisal. The worker says she was told by the union that she would not be given time off to caucus if she did not pledge to vote for Obama. Ultimately, she complained to Luxor management and was assured she would be allowed to attend.

In the second case, Matthew DeFalco, a kitchen runner at Paris casino, told Rolling Stone he saw a union field representative tell a co-worker that she could not caucus if she didn’t commit to supporting Obama. After DeFalco and his mother, a cook, intervened and argued with the union rep, the worker was eventually assured she could caucus. The worker in question, a woman named Silvia Atuna, told the Las Vegas Sun she believed a language barrier between she and the union rep may have led to “a miscommunication.”

Calls to the Culinary Union to discuss Huerta’s accusations were not immediately returned.

Phil Singer, national spokesman for the Clinton campaign said the campaign stands by Huerta: “We’ve been getting a lot of calls [from people being told] your job is on the line unless you sign a supporter card for Senator Obama, or you can’t take off work unless you support Senator Obama.”

As to the UNITE-HERE ads themselves, Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle called on Obama to “denounce” them. Asked why Clinton could plausibly disavow responsibility for the lawsuit filed by her union surrogates and then insist that the Obama campaign assume responsibility for ads produced by his union surrogates, Rodriguez said the ads were different.

“They’re using Senator Obama’s name,” she says. “The lawsuit did not have Senator Clinton’s name in it.”


SEIU makes time for collectivist politics

Service Employees International Union officials on Friday said that the issue of universal health insurance will top the policy agenda for the group in 2008, CongressDaily reports. According to SEIU Treasurer-Secretary Anna Burger, the union this year plans to spend at least $75 million, in large part to pay about 2,000 members to take leave from their jobs to advocate for the agenda. Burger added that SEIU will leave the infrastructure in place after the 2008 election to lobby lawmakers to address the issue of universal health insurance "within the first 100 days" of the new administration.

This year, SEIU will lobby lawmakers for an increase in the percentage of matching funds states receive for Medicaid as part of an economic stimulus package and work with Senate Finance Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Pete Stark (D-Calif.) on two bills that would regulate nursing homes (Johnson, CongressDaily, 1/18).


Voter-intimidation hypocrisy

As our democratic process grinds toward selecting the next leader of the free world, it is also shedding light on the values a democracy should hold dear. Last weekend in Nevada, former president Bill Clinton said he witnessed voter intimidation firsthand. According to Clinton, a union representative was telling workers to agree to caucus for Sen. Barack Obama or expect to get a work schedule making it impossible for them to attend at all.

We all know that things like this happen and that our electoral process isn't perfect, though it is the best available. One benefit of the secret ballot is that it minimizes incidences of such pressure because those doing the intimidating can never be sure if their threats worked. But in a caucus there is no secret ballot, so these union leaders would be able to tell how their members voted if they participated.

I wonder if, having seen such voter intimidation, the Clinton campaign will change its position on doing away with government-supervised secret-ballot elections for union representation. Under the Orwellian-named Employee Free Choice Act, secret-ballot elections to decide whether a plant is unionized would be replaced with a public "card check" system, under which both employers and union organizers would know how each worker voted. Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama and former senator John Edwards all support this bill.

But a card-check system would offer even more room for intimidation of workers. A union card can be signed by workers at any time during an organizing campaign, which can take many months. Union organizers can pursue workers in their homes, at churches and civic clubs, and at watering holes after hours. Workers' family members can also be intimidated during this process. So much for a "free choice" for employees.

The bill assaults workers' rights in other ways, too. For example, it would make it a crime for management to raise pay or improve working conditions while a plant is being organized. So the only way to get a raise would be to get the campaign over with and bring the union in. Such an arrangement might strike some as government-mandated intimidation.

Now that Bill Clinton has seen for himself that union leaders can and do intimidate employees over whom to vote for in a party caucus, he might want to think about whether union leaders might do the same things when something even more relevant to them is at stake -- such as whether their union can win an organizing battle and begin forcing workers to pay dues. Hillary Clinton may have lost a few votes in Nevada because of union intimidation, but the Clintons should keep in mind that workers have a lot more to lose from a bill she is supporting.

- Lawrence B. Lindsey, president of the Lindsey Group, is the author of "What a President Should Know ... But Most Learn Too Late." He was assistant to the president for economic policy from 2001 to 2002.


Jumbo unions operate outside political rules

Hillary Rodham Clinton's union supporters are working hard for her in Florida, although the New York senator can't come into the state herself because of the state's defiance of Democratic Party primary rules.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is mailing its 110,000 members in Florida as well as its retirees urging them to vote for Clinton. In addition, the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, is working its 250,000 members for Clinton as well.

This effort is ongoing despite a national Democratic ban on candidates campaigning in Florida for its Jan. 29 primary. Clinton, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards have not appeared in the state since August and aren't advertising there.

The national party stripped the state of its convention delegates and told candidates not to appear in the state after Florida Democrats decided to hold the primary earlier than party rules allow.

But unions are not bound by Democratic Party rules.

Both unions were already ramping up their turnout efforts for the Jan. 29 vote, because Floridians will vote on that day on a constitutional amendment cutting property taxes.

The proposal is estimated to cut local property taxes by $12.4 billion over the first five years including $2.7 billion collected for schools.

"Our folks are being told and being encouraged to do everything possible to ensure they come to the polls to vote no on Amendment 1," said Alma Gonzalez, special counsel to AFSCME's Council 79. "Is it a lovely convenience that on the same ballot is the presidential preference? You bet. It's a nice thing."

Union voters will expect whoever becomes the Democratic nominee to get their delegates seated at the Democratic national convention, Gonzalez said.

"You cannot get to the White House without coming through Florida and winning Florida. Ask Al Gore," she said. "You don't win Florida, you don't make it to the White House. It's that simple. We believe that the presidential candidates understand that and when we get to that convention our delegates will be seated."


Labor-state diocese disregards teachers union

The Diocese of Scranton (PA) will not recognize the teachers union as a collective bargaining unit, the diocese announced Thursday.

Instead of recognizing the Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers, the diocese will implement an employee relations program comprised of employee councils and wage and benefit, health care and grievance committees.

The plan drew harsh criticism from union officials, who learned of the news Thursday by reading The Catholic Light, the diocesan newspaper.

In a press release, the union claimed the viability of Catholic education in the region is in “extreme jeopardy” and by taking a position contrary to church pronouncements on the rights of working people, the Diocese is risking its “moral standard” and “credibility to continue to teach the children in its schools.”

William Genello, diocesan spokesman, would not comment on the union’s claims.

“All the information we’re providing is already in the (Catholic Light) article,” he said.

Teachers association President Michael Milz said he spoke with many teachers on Thursday, who said they would continue to push to unionize.

“This is union-busting of the absolute worst sort,” Mr. Milz said.

The union office received a two-sentence letter about the rejection in the mail on Thursday, hours after reading The Catholic Light, Mr. Milz said.

“It was kind of par for the course,” he said.

Teachers were sent letters Wednesday explaining the new system, and the union was also sent a letter on Wednesday, Mr. Genello said. He declined further comment.

When Mr. Milz met with teachers Thursday afternoon, he said one of the biggest concerns was how to explain the news to students. Educators have taught students that the Catholic Church has consistently supported unionized workers.

“What do we tell the kids tomorrow about this?” Mr. Milz asked. “Is this church part of the Roman Catholic Church, or is it breaking away?”

The Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers held a meeting Thursday night in South Wilkes-Barre to consider its options. As they plotted their next move, members of the association voiced strong reactions to the news.

“I feel saddened, betrayed, deceived and lied to,” Holy Redeemer teacher Jim Lynch said.

“I’ve had many meetings with Diocesan officials who have told me exactly the opposite would happen,” Mr. Lynch added. “They’re throwing years of social teaching out the window.”

Whether or not it’s at odds with church teaching, rejection of the union is lawful, and a possible next step for the union is to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a representational election, said Cara Fies-Keller, acting assistant to the regional director of the Philadelphia office. There may be jurisdictional issues, because the employer is a Catholic diocese, but any such issues would be addressed when a petition is filed, she said.

Union officials had been waiting for a response from the diocese for many months.

In June, workers were told to wait until a new board of directors took control of school operations.

In November, the association petitioned the newly formed boards for the Holy Cross System for Lackawanna, Wayne and Bradford counties; the Holy Redeemer System for Luzerne County; and the St. John Neumann System for Lycoming County for formal recognition. The three boards were formed in the restructuring of diocese schools.

The union did not request recognition from the Notre Dame System for Monroe County, and the system has yet to vote on the new employee program.

Last year, the diocese closed schools in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties in hopes of fixing a school system in debt and plagued by plummeting enrollment. Under the new system, the diocese took over all the finances of the remaining schools.

In the old system, employee relations were handled on a school-by-school basis. The diocese will now hire a human resources consulting firm to address compensation. The new program will cover all school employees.

“This program will continue our commitment to provide fair and just employment for teachers and everyone else who works in our Catholic schools,” Bishop Joseph F. Martino was quoted as saying in The Catholic Light article.

Teachers weren’t so sure.

“Once they start cherry-picking the doctrine, what else are they going to pay lip service to? The Virgin Birth? The Resurrection,” Mr. Lynch asked.

“Are they going to pick and choose like cafeteria Catholics? They’re the leaders, we’re the flock, and they’ve abandoned us.”

Holy Cross teacher Gerry Skwish was equally blunt, if more terse in his assessment.

“We have the same rights as a McDonald’s employee: Here today, gone tomorrow,” Mr. Skwish said.


Hiding gov't union negotiations from the public

Later this year, at the same time Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) is campaigning for re-election, her representatives will enter into contract negotiations with the leaders of multiple state employee unions. Two years worth of salary increases for thousands of state employees in this and other communities will hinge on the outcome of those negotiations.

We believe the public has a right to know what's being negotiated on their behalf.

Let's play devil's advocate, here, for a moment.

What if the governor instructed her negotiating team to "give the unions everything they want," in exchange, say, for pledges of union support in the upcoming election against Republican Dino Rossi.

We're not saying that Gov. Gregoire would ever sell out the citizens of this state for political expediency, but an unscrupulous governor might — and the laws of this state apply to all, the good and the bad.

We would argue that the citizens of this state have a right to know — at the conclusion of the collective bargaining sessions when the two sides have reached an agreement — what went on behind closed doors. Members of the public deserve to know what the government's starting position was on salaries and benefits and how much negotiators compromised.

We believe — and so does Rep. Bruce Chandler, a Republican from Granger — that the negotiating records should be available for public inspection once the two sides have reached an accord. Chandler has introduced House Bill 2911 which would do just that.

Chandler's bill is an answer to a court test.

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation, an Olympia think tank and frequent foe of organized labor, had sued to get the records.

Not surprisingly, public-employee unions resisted the request. The unions, including the Washington Public Employees Association, argued that releasing such notes would undermine their ability to candidly fight for pay raises and other benefits by making their strategies public.

Last summer, King County Superior Court Judge Chris Washington ruled that notes made by the governor's negotiators during union talks are public record. In a letter to the parties involved, Judge Washington said the notes should be public once the Legislature agrees to pay for the salary increases. "Disclosure prior to this time could adversely affect the collective bargaining process," Judge Washington wrote.

He was half right. The records should be available to the public, but they should be available before the Legislature acts, not after the vote.

Rep. Chandler's bill says, "Any records which are created or presented by an agency in the course of collective bargaining, or which are received from the bargaining representative by the agency in the course of collective bargaining, are not exempt when the agency and the bargaining representative agree to the terms of a written collective bargaining agreement."

Why should the public care?

Two reasons. First, the last negotiated agreement in 2006 amounted to $2.1 billion in extra pay statewide. Those are hard-earned tax dollars.

Second, it's a matter of accountability. Taxpayers deserve to know what concessions government negotiators made on their behalf. The negotiations might have been on the up-and-up — or maybe not. The only way to know for sure is to see those records before lawmakers cast their vote, not after.


WGA too busy for organizing

How about some quick, late-afternoon strike news to break up the unpleasantness of today's dominant, thoroughly depressing story? OK then! In an e-mail blast to members, WGA West/East presidents Patric Verrone and Michael Winship say that they're happy to join in informal talks with the AMPTP, and that they've decided to pull their reality and animation proposals off the table to help get a deal done. Also, the Guild won't be picketing the Grammys, one awards show we really wouldn't have missed if it gave its life for the Cause: "In order to make absolutely clear our commitment to bringing a speedy conclusion to negotiations, we have decided to withdraw our proposals on reality and animation. Our organizing efforts to achieve Guild representation in these genres for writers will continue. You will hear more about this in the next two weeks." The full message:
To Our Fellow Members, We have responded favorably to the invitation from the AMPTP to enter into informal talks that will help establish a reasonable basis for returning to negotiations. During this period, we have agreed to a complete news blackout. We are grateful for this opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion with industry leaders that we hope will lead to a contract. We ask that all members exercise restraint in their public statements during this critical period. In order to make absolutely clear our commitment to bringing a speedy conclusion to negotiations, we have decided to withdraw our proposals on reality and animation. Our organizing efforts to achieve Guild representation in these genres for writers will continue. You will hear more about this in the next two weeks. On another issue, the Writers Guild, West Board of Directors has voted not to picket the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Members of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) face many of the same issues concerning compensation in new media that we do. In the interest of advancing our goal of achieving a fair contract, the WGAW Board felt that this gesture should be made on behalf our brothers and sisters in AFM and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). Best, Patric M. Verrone President, WGAW Michael Winship President, WGAE

SEIU forces children to lobby

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