Union members choosing Financial Core Status

Thanks to the continuing writers strike, original episodes of prime-time comedies and dramas have become rare beasts. Fresh episodes of soap operas, however, continue to run wild.

From "Days of Our Lives" to "General Hospital," the broadcast networks' soap operas continue to run with new episodes every day. Insiders attribute the feat to select writers declaring "financial-core" status, which allows members of the Writers Guild of America to return to work without necessarily being punished, and to certain producers taking on more of the work themselves.

Soap operas have seen their audiences erode over the years, which is cause for concern among the people who keep the programs going day in and day out. "Whoever is involved in these shows realizes that, from a creative standpoint, they have to put original product out there, because they are concerned about the longevity of the daypart," said Shari Cohen, co-executive director of national broadcast at WPP Group's MindShare. "They are concerned about their survival."


Union-dues protection law is untouchable

Although much of what happens on the floor of the state House has a scripted feel, every so often spores of debate can randomly blossom.

On Friday morning, after a presentation by Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, about his bill to expand universities' authority to sell bonds for projects, Republican Rep. Tim Moore of Elizabethtown suddenly changed topics. He suggested that if the legislature really wanted to help universities, it should roll back Kentucky's prevailing-wage laws.

The jaws of more than a few lawmakers visibly tightened.

The prevailing-wage law requires contractors who are building government facilities and schools to pay the typical wage for similar construction work done in the region. Two years ago, when former Gov. Ernie Fletcher suggested repealing it, union workers marched on the Capitol several times.

Some Republicans, however, say the law is fiscally irresponsible and unnecessary.

By rolling back prevailing wage, Moore argued, universities could save 20 percent on construction costs at a time when they're having to cut back over budget concerns.

It was a bold move by the freshman lawmaker, who up to that point had been most known for serving in Afghanistan with his Kentucky Air National Guard unit last year.

Moore said he told House leaders that he wanted to introduce an amendment to Damron's bill that would repeal prevailing wage. But he said they told him it would most likely kill the legislation.

So Moore decided to talk about the issue instead. But his brief floor speech was immediately met with sharp criticism, mostly from Democrats who represent union districts.

Even the normally mild- mannered Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, rose to politely scold Moore, even though Wayne said he normally tries to give new lawmakers latitude during their "honeymoon period."

Moore responded that that time has seemed more like "a one-night stand."

Some Democrats later speculated that Moore might have had a political reason of his own to try to divert attention from Damron's bill: Moore's brother Chris W. Moore has filed as a Republican candidate against Damron in this fall's election.

But Moore said his motives were purely philosophical, and he vented his frustration at having been slapped down on the House floor without an exchange of facts.

"That wasn't a debate. That was animosity," he said. "What I hoped was that we would have a conversation."

He said he thought some of his colleagues are afraid to take on controversial issues before the Jan. 29 candidate filing deadline for fear of inviting election opposition.

"Maybe I'm too naive. But I'm not afraid," Moore said. "I was told, 'You can rise and speak.' But it was kind of like walking the plank -- you only do it by yourself."

Casino bill sponsor

Gov. Steve Beshear said last week that he's still shopping for a lawmaker to carry his administration's eventual bill that will call for revising the state constitution to allow casinos. He said he was awaiting feedback from House Democratic leaders about who might be best suited to sponsor the measure.

House Speaker Jody Richards told reporters that he thought that they had just about settled on someone "who could get it passed" but wouldn't say who it was.

Some speculation has focused on Rep. Charlie Hoffman, the Democratic caucus chairman from Georgetown, who attended last week's closed-door briefing with Beshear. On Friday, Hoffman denied that he had been tapped already, but he indicated his interest in becoming the bill's primary sponsor.

"I would consider carrying it if asked by the governor," Hoffman said.


America's prosperous gov't unions

AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee released the following statement in response to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report released today indicating that union membership in the United States increased by 311,000 to 15.7 million – the largest annual increase since 1979:

“The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ announcement that more workers are joining unions is good news for all Americans. AFSCME’s growth, which has been consistent even during challenging times, is now part of a broader trend that’s spreading throughout the union movement.

“In a statement released today, the AFL-CIO recognized AFSCME's leading role in organizing victories during the past year. In 2007, 47,000 workers gained a voice by organizing with us, including 7,000 child care providers in Kansas, 7,500 family child care providers in New York, and 2,500 workers in hospitals in New Mexico and California.

“The labor movement will continue to grow and workers will prosper as more unions make organizing and politics top priorities, as AFSCME does. More than half of all workers say they would join a union right now if they could, which is why Congress must pass the Employee Free Choice Act, giving workers the freedom to join without interference from their employers.”


Unions dominate U.S. political elections

If the national news media had been right, the culinary workers' union would have swept Sen. Barack Obama to victory in Nevada's Democratic presidential primary.

That, of course, is not what happened; Sen. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote -- though not the most delegates to the party's national convention -- in the Silver State. But the attention paid to the culinary workers' endorsement of Obama suggests labor unions will play a more prominent role in this year's presidential election.

Pennsylvania's presidential primary isn't until April, but the lack of a clear front-runner in either party leading up to Super Tuesday -- on Feb. 5, when 24 states will vote -- could keep it on candidates' radar. Union endorsements could be key for presidential contenders seeking Pennsylvania's 21 electoral votes.
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Gov. Ed Rendell announced his endorsement of Clinton on Wednesday. Political analyst G. Terry Madonna said Rendell's endorsement is significant because if the races stay as muddy as they are right now, despite the late primary, Pennsylvania could still be a key player in the election, much like it was in 2004.

"We will be a battleground state, no question," said James Kunz, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66. "The 2004 election went Democrat in large part because of the efforts of organized labor going door to door. Our impact comes from our grassroots work."

With Pittsburgh's designation as the birthplace of the modern labor union­s -- it was home to the first conventions of both the AFL and the CIO -- and the state's above-average union representation, it's not a leap to expect labor to play a major role in the upcoming election.

Nearly 14 percent of Pennsylvania workers -- 745,000 people -- are union members, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Union members don't vote in lock step, said Jack Shea, president of the Allegheny County Labor Council, but the figures are pretty high. About 70 percent of union workers vote how their union advises them, Shea said.

"Our program is very simple; we want to touch you anywhere from eight to 12 times, whether it's literature, on the phone, in person or on the job," he said. "All we try to do is make people aware. You can talk to some folks who don't realize what's going on."

At their zenith 50 years ago, labor unions had about a third of the work force organized in this country, said James Craft, professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh's Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business. It is around 12 percent today.

"They've lost a lot of potential clout in terms of numbers," Craft said.

Unions have adapted by using more sophisticated strategies to influence the outcome of elections.

First, despite the restrictions of campaign finance laws, labor unions still make sizable contributions to political candidates, Craft said. "It's about half the amount that business contributes, but we're still talking hundreds of millions of dollars," he said.

Unions have extremely active programs to get their workers to the polls, Craft said. They call members personally, they go door to door, they even register people to vote and then make sure they do vote, he said.

And that on-the-ground effort includes members of different unions, Shea said: "It may be a transit worker visiting a Teamster, or a Teamster visiting a steel worker."

United Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard was surprised at the attention received by the 60,000-member culinary workers union in Nevada. "I think it was impossible to think you would see a unanimous consensus from a membership that diverse," Gerard said.

They made the mistake of not identifying their issues until late in the game, he said, unlike the steel workers, who decided early on they wanted a candidate who would work for change. Gerard said his union has endorsed John Edwards. Kunz's and Shea's unions haven't decided whom to endorse yet, but both said it will almost certainly be a Democrat.

Madonna, a professor of public affairs and director of the Center for Political and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, said labor unions in Pennsylvania typically play little to no role in Republican primaries, but are extremely active on the Democratic side.

Labor activists are usually well-represented among Pennsylvania's convention delegates, Madonna said, to the tune of about 35 percent.

And if the Democratic nominee is still undecided by March 4, Pennsylvania and its labor unions will play a huge part in the process, he said.

"There's no other primaries between March 4 and April 22, and no one bigger than us after April," Madonna said. "Labor could end up being a major element in this campaign."


Jumbo gov't union opposes capitalism

In late 2007, the investment firm The Carlyle Group purchased one of the country's largest nursing home chains despite the concerns of regulators, lawmakers and workers' groups that the acquisition would lead to staffing cuts and cause a decline in quality of care for residents. The $6.3 billion purchase of Toledo, Ohio-based Manor Care Inc. closed after a Michigan judge lifted a restraining order that temporarily halted the sale.

"The problem is, in the nursing home industry, making money means cutting care," says Julie Eisenhardt, a spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents employees at about 15 Manor Care homes and which spearheaded a campaign to raise awareness about the buyout.

In 2006, Manor Care, which operates more than 500 nursing, rehabilitation and assisted living facilities in 32 states, posted $167 million in profits and $3.6 billion in revenues. Manor Care shareholders were slated to get $67 for each share as part of the deal.

The Carlyle Group has holdings in several industries, including healthcare, defense and energy. Former President George H.W. Bush was one of its advisers until 2003.

Officials from both firms have denied plans to reduce staffing or slash services following the takeover, and have said Manor Care will continue to be run as it was before the buyout. "There's not going to be a cut in staff and there's no reason for quality to go down," says Rick Rump, a spokesman for Manor Care. "Carlyle is going to realize a return in investment by our company growing and becoming a better provider of healthcare."

The deal's critics also say investment companies create Byzantine ownership structures that impede regulation and shield the firms from accountability for negligent care or wrongful death accusations.

Rump says that Carlyle would not separate its assets from its operations as some private equity firms have done and that the Manor Care management team would remain the same.

Carlyle officials did not return calls by deadline, but Karen Bechtel, the company's managing director and global head of healthcare, said in a statement: "We are pleased to back a high-quality company and management team. We support [Manor Care CEO] Paul Ormond's strategic vision and support his commitment to quality patient care."

But a preliminary study of a large nursing home chain owned by a private investment firm found that staffing of registered nursing homes dropped by 8 percent and deficiencies that harmed residents doubled.

"They're not there to invest in the care for the residents, they're there to make money," says Charlene Harrington, a professor of nursing at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of the 18-month study. "The way these chains have made money is by cutting the staff to the bare bones and pocketing the profits."

Harrington, who is part of a team that has researched nursing homes for 25 years, says the privatization of chains allows companies to shirk regulatory scrutiny because they are not required to file financial documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or state regulatory agencies.

"These chains have had so many quality problems that they have wanted to go private in order to keep from having the litigation they have," she said.

A recent New York Times analysis of government data from 2000 to 2006 found that the quality of care declined at nursing homes that were taken over by investment firms such as Warburg Pincus and Carlyle because of cost-cutting and staff reduction.

David Adams, 40, entered one of Manor Care's homes in Pittsburgh, Pa., after he ruptured his Achilles tendon playing basketball. He says the care at the Shadyside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center was substandard before the takeover, and he's concerned it will only get worse.

"They're coming up short -- they do the minimum they can get away with and no more," says Adams, a former construction worker and cook, who testified during state hearings in Pennsylvania on the buyout. Adams says he contracted infections because his bandages weren't changed regularly, received the wrong medication and was stranded for 45 minutes after falling in his bathroom.

"One day I will leave," he says, "but there are people that are going to die here."

The Carlyle Group's buyout was announced last summer and given the green light by the SEC. Shareholders approved the deal in a December 2007 meeting. After the sale, several state health departments, including those in Illinois and Michigan, still had to approve the transfer of licenses from Manor Care to Carlyle, but Manor Care's Rump says he expected the transfers to be granted.

In November, legislators in Washington, D.C., held hearings on the issue of care at facilities owned by private investment firms, and hearings took place in several states.

In West Virginia, regulators reconsidered their initial approval of a deal just days before the completion of the sale. But after a Dec. 14 hearing, the state Health Care Authority lifted a stay on the approval, which would affect seven West Virginia nursing facilities. Manor Care had protested the stay, saying the delay was costing investors $1 million per day.

In Illinois, legislators and union leaders voiced concern about the deal.

"I think the size of the transaction, the nature of the business of the proposed buyer and the effects that could be felt by our most frail and vulnerable populations require us to give the proposal extra scrutiny," said State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) at a December hearing before the Illinois Department of Public Health, which regulates the state's nursing facilities.

In December, financial news service Bloomberg reported that the Manor Care purchase was the eighteenth sale of a nursing home operator in the United States in four years. Experts say investment firms' interest in nursing facilities is partially an effort to cash in on the aging of baby boomers into the system.

"As boomers get older, taking care of them is going to be big business," says Eisenhardt of SEIU. "The question is: Do we as a society think it's right that people are trying to make money off taking care of our most vulnerable population?"


Teachers union mildly refers to strike

If Brighton (MI) Area Schools teachers are rattling their sabers, they are doing it in a relatively quiet, low-key way. That's a good thing.

Spokespeople for the Brighton Education Association, which is the union that represents Brighton's 370 teachers, said Monday that although a strike is possible, it would be a last resort. One would hope that even a mild reference to a strike is merely a tactic by union leadership to let teachers know that they are willing to consider all options as contract negotiations drag on. The last contract expired in August, and teachers have been working without a contract since.

In fact, there should be no strike. Teacher strikes in Michigan are illegal. That provision may limit the bargaining power of teachers, but it's the law. The men and women who teach our community's children should not be in the position of advocating an illegal strike.

Further, what's the point? Union leaders claim that teachers are frustrated at not having a contract, but that's largely a public relations ploy. There should be no teacher stress because the teachers are working under the terms of the previous contract that expired last summer.

Even without a new contract, teachers who are still moving up the experience level — and that's more than half the membership — still get their yearly "step" increases, which generally run about 4 percent to 5 percent and in a few cases are double that. So the majority of the teaching staff is already getting a raise well above the Michigan average. What teachers haven't received is the additional contract improvement, which lately has run between 1 percent and 2 percent. It's not great to have to wait for that, but it's hardly a crisis.

Further, the teachers continue to receive the top-notch health-care benefits defined by the prior contact. This is an area where the school district should be seeking change — either by converting to a good but less expensive package, or by charging the teachers more for coverage (currently they pay about $10 a week), or both.

If such changes were enacted, the value of the total compensation package could actually decrease. In such a case, teachers avoid the impact of a new health-care package as long as the new contract is unsettled.

Such a scenario assumes that a contract includes significant changes in the health care package — and that's a huge "if." Union leadership has long insisted that it won't make major changes in the health-care package. The school board has said that — because of a precarious financial picture — it must gain significant concessions in teacher compensation. If it doesn't come from health care, then it must come from wages.

This is surely why there is no contract. Although teachers claim to want a contract, they don't want one that the board believes is prudent. So neither side can reach agreement.

The picture was somewhat muddied last week when BEA President Barry Goode claimed that board effectively reneged on a union offer that would save the district $500,000. Details of that offer were not available. It would be a surprise if the board would accept such an offer. Earlier, spokespeople said much more significant savings were needed.

It's impossible to know what actually happened because the public is excluded from the details of bargaining. It doesn't have to be this way. State law allows for bargaining of teacher contracts to become public, but both sides must agree.

Now would be a good time for such open bargaining. That way, the public could get a good picture of the school's current financial state as well as how board and union positions affect the budget. It's an unusual step, but not unprecedented. It's not the board's fault nor the teachers' doing that the state can't provide more funds for schools. A clear airing of the facts — and the positions — might avoid the strike talk and focus attention on the options.


Dangerous flirtation with collectivism

RECENTLY THERE was a political ad on TV in which a number of children appear consecutively pleading for politicians to tell the truth and not to make promises they cannot keep. The final battle cry was, "Health care and financial security for all."

"Financial security for all" sounds great -- if you know nothing about the consequences. What would happen to the incentive to work, to productivity, creativity, competition and all the other factors necessary to support a thriving economy and a decent standard of living if we all had financial security provided by the government?

The answer is that all of the above would be stifled to the point where no one would have much of anything. Each and every dollar that goes into the government's communal cornucopia and every perceived "free" goody that comes out diminishes to some extent the productivity required to support an acceptable standard of living.

As an example of perceived free goodies, consider the following. I recently had cataract surgery and lens replacement in both eyes without ever asking what the cost would be. Why? Because I knew Medicare would pay for it. Would I have done that if the cost came out of my pocket? Not likely.

The number of examples of collectivism's failures are too numerous to address here. Let us discuss just one, collectivism's first failure on this continent.

After years of very hard times and significant loss of life, the Pilgrim governor William Bradford of Plymouth Colony decided that the people should put all their provisions in a communal barn. Each would contribute according to his ability to produce, and each would take what was dictated by his needs.

After several years the governor noted that many people were not contributing according to their ability to produce, and many were taking much more than their needs indicated. So he abandoned the communal barn idea and came up with a new edict. If you don't work, you don't eat!

He recognized that people need a threat, not financial security for all, to do their very best. Too bad Karl Marx and Frederick Engels didn't know their history. They could have saved a lot of people in the Soviet Union and elsewhere a lot of pain and anguish.

When I was a child of age 10 or so, there was a huge wooden building in back of the school. It was called the "poor farm." Teachers used to tell us that was where we would end up if we didn't do our homework. This provided a great incentive to do our "shoulds," as did the men in the square selling pencils, apples and shoe strings during the 1930s. So much for the government providing financial security for all. There is nothing like a few bad examples to get the best out of us.

I wish all the conservative pundits in the media would stop addressing one crummy socialistic idea at a time -- health care, for example -- and start attacking the pitfalls of the whole miserable concept of socialism.

As has been shown over and over, socialism, collectivism, communism, progressivism, whatever you choose to call it, doesn't work. Marx and Engels had it wrong. Their ideas are doomed to failure because they go against the very grain or nature of the way in which we evolved or the way God created us. Take your pick. We are not communal by nature like the bees or ants.

Some might find this dissertation a bit on the sarcastic side. It is going to take a lot more than sarcasm, though, to overcome the situation we find ourselves in. If the Democrats win the next election, I will see you all at the communal barn. Look for me. I will be riding a donkey and frequently using a very large whip vigorously.


SEIU serves strike notice in labor-state

HealthPartners workers represented by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, the union said.

A walkout could involve more than 1,500 registered nurses, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, lab techs, physicians assistants, nurse midwives, and other healthcare workers at 29 metro area HealthPartners clinics.

The collective bargaining agreement between SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and HealthPartners expires at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31. The vote authorizes the members of the SEIU Healthcare Minnesota negotiating team to call a short-term strike after 10 days notice has been given to HealthPartners and the National Labor Relations Board.

HealthPartners workers said they needed to take a stand to ensure safe staffing, quality patient care, and affordable health care exist for the entire community.

"It saddens us that we have gotten to the point where healthcare workers need to consider a strike just to bring attention to the issues of safe staffing and affordable healthcare," said Nancy Wickoren, a Licensed Practical Nurse at HealthPartners Woodbury Clinic.

"HealthPartners should be a role model for our whole community when it comes to collaborative efforts to provide quality, affordable healthcare — not slashing coverage and ignoring the voice of frontline caregivers," continued Wickoren.

"It surprises me that a healthcare provider interested in improving patient satisfaction would disregard the voice of those of us who interact with patients everyday," said Jean Pfarr, a Registered Nurse at HealthPartners Specialty Center in St. Paul & HealthPartners Como Clinic also in St. Paul.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota represents 14,000 people working in Minnesota’s hospital, nursing home, and homecare industries.


Ohio teachers union wants easier dues hikes

A teacher's day doesn't end when the bell rings at 3 o'clock. Teachers are some of the hardest working professionals in Ohio, and deserve respect for their contributions to our communities.

That said, a student's right to learn at one of Ohio's public schools shouldn't come to a screeching halt when a union has labor problems with school boards.

Senate Bill 264, legislation introduced by State Sen. John Carey, a Wellston Republican who is calling his proposal the "Kids First" plan, would put teachers in the same category as the state's police officers and firefighters. It would also disallow teachers' unions from striking when contract negotiations come to an impasse.

Instead, the proposal would have teachers and school board negotiators go to binding arbitration to resolve disputes - as public safety officers do now - and keep educators in the classroom.

In his weekly column, Carey admitted he doubted his plan would pass in the legislature. However, he wanted to get a statewide discussion going about the issue.

Ohio's Constitution promises an adequate education for students enrolled in the state's public schools. A district with teachers on strike, with unfamiliar and possibly untrained substitute teachers, does not live up to the promise laid out by the state constitution.

So, which is more important? A student's constitutional right to an education or the method by which teachers and school boards resolve differences?

It's a tough issue to consider, which is why starting a debate about the issue is a good thing. While teachers are one of the greatest influences on a child's life, a student takes their education with them throughout their lives. And, the tensions of labor negotiations and a teacher strike weigh on young minds.

When parents dream about their child's education, they don't think about having to cross a picket line.


SEIU-backed phone-tax is a sham

Let there be no mistake. The political power elite of the city of Los Angeles is so anxious for you to pass Proposition S that they're willing to ride to victory on bad-faith efforts. Nearly every element of Proposition S, which is on the ballot for the Feb. 5 election, is engineered to baffle a negligent voter. And you can start with the name.

Officially, Proposition S is called by this disingenuous and elliptical mouthful: "Reduction of Tax Rate and Modernization of Communications Users Tax." That sounds confusing, but mostly it sounds like less taxes, doesn't it? Silly you.

This "reduction" and "modernization" actually extends and potentially expands the city's tax on communication technologies, mostly with cellphones in mind. It also gives the city the right to collect taxes that two courts have found it couldn't collect without your approval.

In the last two years, courts determined that the way the city was cashing in on your cellphone calls violated Proposition 218, which requires voter approval for new taxes. (In case you're wondering, the city didn't immediately stop collecting any questionable dollars.) Now more court cases are pending about other technicalities related to the tax. If enough of you vote yes, Proposition S will outflank the court cases, establish the requisite voter approval and open the door for taxing more "communication services" in the future. If the city were playing fair, Proposition S would be labeled "Legalizing and Extending the Phone Tax"-- except voters would never go for that. So the proponents included a meaningless 1% drop -- from 10% on various services to 9% -- so they could call the thing a "tax reduction."

The proposition was born in bad faith. In order to get it on the Feb. 5 primary ballot, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council had to declare the city to be facing a fiscal emergency. But what emergency? It's so extreme the $178,000-a-year City Council members voted for a pay raise for 22,000 of the city's workers, just in time for the holidays.

If voters get beyond the hype and the title, they'll see that Proposition S is hardly a reduction in taxes. From the proposition's Section 21.1.3 in the voter information pamphlet:

"(a) There is hereby imposed a tax upon every Person with a billing or service address in the City of Los Angeles who uses Communications Services. ..."

Or how about this one from paragraph (d)?

"Charges subject to the Communications Users Tax include, but are not limited to, the following: connection, reconnection, termination, movement, or change of telecommunications services; late payment fees; detailed billing; voice mail and other messaging services; directory assistance; access and line charges; universal service charges; and regulatory, administrative and other cost recovery charges."

That's the kitchen sink when it comes to "communication services," right?

But let's say you don't read the fine print and head instead for the city's analysis of the proposition's financial consequences.

City Administrative Officer Karen Sisson's "financial impact statement" says that the sacrificial 1% sliver of existing phone tax "is expected to reduce revenue by approximately $27 million in the first year"-- an amount the City Council routinely spends in a day, sometimes even in an hour. She omits the key fact that the city actually hopes its "kitchen sink" language will allow it to gain revenue.

Or maybe you go straight to the pro-and-con arguments, where the "against" side has a single signatory, Walter Moore. He was not allowed to identify himself as a candidate for mayor, though he ran in 2005 and is planning to run again (the filing date for the 2009 election hasn't arrived yet; he isn't technically a candidate, says the city attorney). Conveniently enough, Moore is up against a phalanx of plutocrats and community activists with resplendent titles like "Mayor of Los Angeles" and "Fire Chief."

The mayor's office also has lined up organized labor and top developers to contribute to the "Yes on S" effort, just in case some kind of organized opposition were to emerge between now and Feb. 5. (AEG, whose tax breaks on its planned downtown hotel amount to about a year's worth of phone taxes, is "spearheading" the fundraising, according to The Times.) But they won't need to spend that money.

Until the voters demonstrate that they will not vote propositions up or down on the strength of their titles alone, the city will send them fraudulently titled, bad-faith ballot measures into perpetuity.


Unions pull GOP to the left

This just in: Some Republicans no longer brag about being conservatives. Now they're centrists. They're mainstream.

If that sounds like an election strategy designed to woo unaffiliated voters, there's a reason for it: Democrats scored huge victories in Colorado in the last two election cycles, thanks to unaffiliated voters, who generally snubbed Republicans.

A hint of how the GOP is trying to woo back unaffiliated voters - the second largest voting block in the state behind Republicans - came this month when Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer welcomed visitors to the grand opening of his campaign headquarters in Greenwood Village.

Schaffer introduced various state lawmakers, including Sen. Dave Schultheis, of Colorado Springs, known as one of the statehouse's most conservative legislators.

"Our legislators down at the state Capitol are doing an excellent job of showing the real contrast of a very centrist, mainstream Republican Party vs. what has captured the majority in both houses, which is kind of an extremist brand of political leadership," Schaffer said.

Schaffer's view elicited a rebuke from Matt Sugar, spokesman for the Colorado Democratic Party.

"What planet is Bob Schaffer on?" he said. "But, then again, Bob Schaffer is so conservative, from where he stands Republican legislators probably do look mainstream."

Schaffer's remarks and the response to them signal that the campaign for the U.S. Senate - as well as legislative races in Colorado - will be defined by familiar themes.

Republicans will try to paint Democrats as take-your-money-and-run liberals with kooky ideas.

Democrats will portray Republicans as out-of-touch right- wingers focused on social issues. Both parties will describe themselves as sympathetic to voters' economic needs.

But this time there's a twist: Rarely do Colorado Republicans run from the conservative label, but Schaffer is doing so despite billing himself as such for years.

Schaffer likely will take on Democratic Congressman Mark Udall, who has no serious contenders, in the Nov. 4 general election.

They are vying for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Loveland, who is retiring.

When Schaffer first ran for Congress in 1996 against two primary opponents, his slogan was "the real Republican, the real conservative."

And four years ago, when running against Pete Coors for the GOP nomination to the U.S. Senate, Schaffer repeatedly touted his conservative credentials.

But in September, Schaffer took issue with the Colorado Statesman for describing him as a conservative. Schaffer told the Statesman he's "mainstream" compared to his "liberal" Senate opponent.

Responded Mike Melanson, Udall's campaign manager: "I'll bet Mark Udall has worked with more centrist Republicans in his career than Bob Schaffer has in his."

At his campaign headquarters opening, Schaffer criticized Democrats nationally and locally, saying they want to "move the wealth out of the pockets of Coloradans and the people who worked hard to run their farms and businesses . . . into the hands of those who tend to see it vanish at the hands of big bureaucracy and government."

State House Majority Leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder, dismissed that characterization as "fantasy." She helped engineer the Democrats' stunning win of the state legislature in 2004 - the first election in which that has happened since 1960. She said voters concurred with the Democratic message that the Republican majority was out of touch.

"The former House majority leader, Keith King, when asked the biggest problem facing this state, responded, 'The question of gay marriage,' " Madden said. "Not health care, not education, not the economy - although the state was in a budget crisis - but gay marriage."

King, a Republican from Colorado Springs, says he never made that comment.

With Democrats in charge, Madden said, the focus now is on health care, better education and renewable energy, an industry that also helps ranch and farm economies.

But Schaffer countered that Democrats are going to have trouble defending their actions over the past two years. Schaffer named Democratic bill after bill that called for regulations or controls, something he said doesn't suit independent-minded Coloradans.

"This Democratic majority and Democratic governor are increasing taxes and catering to union labor bosses," added GOP state party chairman Dick Wadhams. "What's mainstream about that? These are extreme actions catering to their left- wing benefactors."

At the statehouse, Rep. Al White, R-Hayden, was asked whether it was accurate to call the GOP caucus centrist and mainstream.

"I certainly wouldn't describe them that way," said White, who over the years has taken heat for bucking his party on issues ranging from education to gay rights.

But he laughed when he heard that it was Schaffer who used that description. He said Schaffer is doing exactly what Udall is doing.

"They're both going to the middle," White said. "That's what happens in an election year because that's where most Americans exist on the political spectrum."


Labor-state teachers picket for sympathy

For months, the Janesville (WI) schools and teachers' union have failed to agree on terms of a new contract. This weekend dozens of teachers took their cause to the street in the form of a picket line. The reason: According to the teachers, there's a lot of confusion in the public as to what is actually going on in negotiations.

More than 200 days have now passed since the teachers' contract expired. The teachers union, the Janesville Education Association, feels the picket is necessary for the public to put pressure on administration.

"What we need now is we need people in our community to start stepping up and start saying stuff to the school board and administrators, and start getting the word out that they care about their kids' education, they care about the good teachers that we have here, and we need to start showing it," said Jon Maglio, an art teacher at Janesville’s Marshall Middle School.

Union officials say they, and the school district, aren't able to agree on terms for health care and salary.

The union says negotiations turned sour earlier this week.

"We met again yesterday at 2 p.m. until about 4 p.m. to try and clear the air, make sure that we're all on the same page,” said union president Sam Loizzo. “It’s amazing how people can perceive things differently."

The teachers say picketing is one of the few things they can do to gain leverage.

"Its not like it's going to make all the difference in the world, but its just more awareness, and that’s what we're looking for," said Loizzo.

"We can't strike. It's actually illegal for teachers to strike, we don't have that as an option, so we have actually lost a lot of our bargaining power,” said Maglio. “We can do stuff like this, we can talk to people."

Ultimately, both sides want to agree on a contract. How they go about doing that will make the difference.

"We're not going to get rich,” said Maglio. “But on the other hand, we're not going into teaching to go into poverty."

Union officials say the school board is holding a special meeting early next week to discuss whether to continue negotiations or go into mediation.


Ivy League unionists want anarchist lattes

Companies are finding even more ways to screen job applicants — by checking club discussion boards. Starbucks Corp., the nation’s leading coffee retailer, is under scrutiny after a series of e-mails revealed the company’s anti-union practices. The pinnacle of the events in question came when Starbucks managers read through the discussion boards on Cornell Organization for Labor Action’s website in order to identify job applicants and current employees that were labor activists.

In a series of e-mails uncovered by The Wall Street Journal, Starbucks managers pulled names from the discussion board and then cross-referenced them with an employee database. They found that three employees were members of the University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and active union supporters, and asked executives if they could inform local managers of the workers’ identities.

Daniel Gross, an organizer for the SWU and a former Starbucks barista, testified that Jim McDermott, a Starbucks executive, admitted on the witness stand in a pending NLRB case that he had approved of these activities.

The company has already singled out three graduates of the University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations as union activists — Tomer Malchi ’03, Peter Montalbano, and Sarah Bender. All three worked as baristas and are members of the Starbucks Workers Union, SWU, which is a part of the Industrial Workers of the World.

The SWU has been trying to organize Starbucks baristas since 2004. The movement stems from some workers’ claims that Starbucks does not treat its employees in a fair manner by paying low wages and not providing enough hours to work. These two factors can make it very difficult for someone to support themselves, according to the Starbucks Union website.

Because the content on the discussion board is public information, it is not illegal for managers to read through it. However, some consider it a questionable practice to use the information against current or prospective employees — similar to an employer’s use of a person’s Facebook profile or MySpace account to find information that could be used against them.

According to Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research, Starbucks was not looking to single out students and graduates of the ILR school, instead they were aiming to target individuals who were known labor activists and pro-union workers.

Bronfenbrenner said, “Cornell sends more students into the labor movement than any other university in the country and corporate America is aware of this.”

Currently, the IWW has taken Starbucks to court in New York arguing that the corporation has committed at least 38 labor violations during 2005-2006. The National Labor Relations Board found that there was enough evidence to support these allegations and has passed the case onto to an administrative law judge, who will determine if there is enough evidence to support these charges.

Gross claims he was fired because of his union activity, which is a subject of the pending NLRB case.

“This case is important because it tells about the reality of employment at Starbucks. Starbucks has tricked people into thinking it is a better place to work, but the trial has shown just like Wal-mart, Starbucks will go to great lengths to coerce and restrain workers’ right to organize,” Gross said.

Starbucks maintains that it complies with all labors laws in New York state and recognizes workers’ rights to organize. Forbes Magazine ranked Starbucks as the number two “best company to work for” in the large company category. It claims that the average hourly worker nets $35,294 a year.

The e-mails are part of an exhibit in the case that exemplifies Starbucks’ anti-union stance by denying workers the right to engage in concerted activity and discuss working conditions on the premise. Gross said the union-busting mentality stems directly from the top with Chairman Howard Schultz.

“A company-wide message was sent out within days of our announcement that we were going to try to organize the workers saying [Schulz] was disappointed with the union. The union busting started immediately at this point,” Gross said.

However, even if Starbucks is found guilty, Bronfenbrenner speculates it will receive no more than a slap on the wrist. As punishment for its action, it would merely have to hang a poster on the wall stating that it will not terminate or discriminate against union supporters. Starbucks would have to reinstate the worker and pay any lost wages that accrued during the case minus any wages the worker made in the meantime.

“That’s the problem with American labor law… if a worker gets fired for union activity he is not going to want to go back to that employer,” Bronfenbrenner said.

In light of these revealed e-mails, COLA has been forced to modify how they distribute information through online channels in order to protect their members from being discriminated against.

“We are disgusted by the fact corporations read our e-mails to screen out applicants. The reading of the e-mails itself is not illegal, so there is not a lot we can do but we have switched to a private list serve for specific campaigns like the one against Starbucks right now. Fil Eden ’10, president of COLA, said. “Because we are so integrated with our alumni network and it helps people who don’t go to the meetings . . . It’s difficult to keep [names] anonymous on the listserv . . . we know have to be careful about what we write.”

The last time Starbucks executives came to campus was more than a year ago to recruit ILR graduates for positions in the human resources department of the corporation.

This is not the first time the University has allowed an organization facing labor law violations to recruit on campus. In 2003, Cornell came under fire for violating the Open Hearts, Open Mind policy by allowing the uniform manufacturer Cintas to recruit at on-campus career fair after they had purposefully screened out applicants who were labor activists. But due to pressure from students in COLA and Students Against Sweatshops, University did not permit Cintas to recruit at any more events.

“Employers do not want a unionized setting because it takes away some of their control. Unionized workers make more money and have more control of their schedules, while also providing a way for workers to ensure there is just cause for discipline. They gain stability and morale,” Bronfenbrenner said. “It’s an issue of what kind of country do we have.”


Artists battle union intimidation

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