Fi-Core members work during writers strike

Some television shows are managing to avoid re-runs during the protracted writers' strike. How are they managing to do this and what are the implications, if any, for organized labor?

Historically, of course, "the strike" has been an effective means to keep both sides of the bargaining relationship focused on reaching agreement (to avoid the costs that an interruption of services can inflict on all parties). Accordingly, any observer of labor relations and collective bargaining, not to mention negotiations generally, would have an interest in what the incentives (and impediments) to effective negotiations are and appreciate that 'structural elements' can affect the bargaining dynamic.

And so it is with more than passing interest to note that the daily daytime dramas, the soap operas, "General Hospital," "As the World Turns," "All my Children," "The Young and the Restless" and the old standby, "The Guiding Light," among others, are reportedly still producing fresh shows. Indeed, none of the eight network shows have gone into reruns since the writers' strike began, and, reportedly, none intend to do so. So how are the shows being written when nearly all their writers, guild members, are on strike?

Sure, a few writers have crossed picket lines and returned to work but not many. A few others have received dispensation from the guild due to hardship; they are granted what is called "financial core status" and are allowed to return to work without recrimination or penalty. But the majority of writers remain 'officially' on strike. So, how, then, are the shows continuing to thrive?

Here, evidently, is the kicker: People don't have to cross a picket line to produce copy over the Internet. Who would know? How many officially striking writers are, in fact, sending copy to their shows? How can the guild monitor, much less enforce, the withholding of work? And, if non-guild writers are submitting copy, and the writing is acceptable, don't guild writers fear for their jobs?

In a twist of irony, it is the invisible picket line that the Internet makes possible--that undercuts the effectiveness of the strike--that may well be the salvation for the writers. The need to expand the pool from which to draw assignments for writers, and thus enhance salaries and benefits prospectively, may well be the Internet itself. As viewers of daytime television decline and the number using the Internet for programming increases, the prospect of soaps appearing exclusively on the Internet may not be far off.

But beyond this medium and this strike, are there other implications for the Internet and collective bargaining? Aren't there other contexts in which services can be delivered when the providers of those services need not physically cross a picket line to provide them? Teachers can teach students online, for example, if the buildings that house classrooms are being picketed.

In order to maintain the force of a strike, or even the threat of a strike, to keep collective bargaining vital, it seems essential to find a means for bringing pressure on both sides of the bargaining relationship so that interruptions of services are few and far-between to be sure but that fair and equitable terms for wages, salaries and working conditions can be effectively negotiated.

What will substitute for "the strike" in this altered universe, the age of the Internet, seems, at this point, to be anyone's guess but it is a challenge that requires serious attention. Maintaining balance in the bargaining relationship is essential to its effective functioning; that objective is clearly in the public interest.


Labor-state Gov. pays back gov't unions

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland signed an executive order Friday allowing certain child care workers paid through state programs the right to unionize. The directive was the second of its kind since July, when the Democratic governor gave similar collective bargaining rights to some home health care workers paid by the state.

Critics have said Strickland is overstepping his authority. The governor -- whose campaign was strongly backed by labor -- has countered that unionizing would give the workers the chance at better wages and job conditions.

A November article by The Associated Press, based on e-mails obtained through a public records request, reported that a pair of public employee unions generous to Democrats was included in the drafting process for both orders.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees asked for the earlier order to apply to child care workers, the e-mails showed, but the administration opted not to combine the two issues. The home health care order was promoted by the Service Employees International Union.


Federal court cancels gov't-union benefit cuts

A court has once again ruled against the city of Benton (AR) in a lawsuit filed by Local 2957 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and retired employees. The latest action came from the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, in St. Louis. The court affirmed the district court’s judgment for the plaintiffs and denied the city’s motion to amend the action.

The suit stemmed from action taken by the 2003 City Council, which, by resolution in 2003 and a motion in 2004, discontinued medical retirement benefits promised to AFSCME employees — and paid by the city for many years — and also reduced other benefits included in a union contract.

City Attorney Brent Houston said the Eighth Circuit decision represents the third loss for Benton in this suit. No decision has been made regarding what, if any, action the city will take after the latest ruling, Houston said.

“I don’t anticipate there being any further appeals or a motion for rehearing, which could be the next step,” Houston said.

“Right now we are evaluating the decision with our attorney, David Fuqua, who represented the city on behalf of Central Arkansas Risk Management Association, which, effectively, is the city’s insurance agent.

“I believe this is a sound decision for those employees,” Houston said. “We intend to meet with Mr. Fuqua in the coming week to discuss the practical effects for the plaintiffs in this particular suit as well as the plaintiffs in the Garner lawsuit.”
Dan Garner, a retired Benton police detective, and other retired police officers filed a similar suit against the city.

“It’s the same issue, but a different contract,” Houston said.

“One thing that we’re reviewing in the decision is that in the AFSCME lawsuit, it dealt heavily on the contract term where 100 percent of their benefits would be paid after retirement. We’re determining if the other contracted issue has that equivalent decision.”

The city has not been out any litigation costs, Houston said.

“Our insurance company has paid the legal expenses for the city and the same insurance company will pay the attorneys if so ordered by the court,” the city attorney noted. “The big question is how this decision will affect the Garner lawsuit and how it may affect other employees who were not plaintiffs in either suit,” he said. “There are different contracts at issue,” Houston said. “The second issue is whether or not there were AFSCME employees who could have joined in the lawsuit but didn’t and whether or not the city is going to treat them any differently. Procedurally, I don’t think, as a matter of law, the city would have to pay them because they weren’t named plaintiffs. That will be a political decision of the city as far as whether they pay them.”

Houston declined to comment on how he believes the city should handle the court ruling. He was not involved in the earlier action of the city, having served as city attorney only since January 2007. Sam Ed Gibson was city attorney when the AFSCME case was filed.

“The Arkansas Municipal League represented the city at the very beginning regarding a motion to dismiss [the suit],” he said. “Then CARMA picked up the representation and David Fuqua became involved.

“The city lost the motion to dismiss, then filed an answer and sought a motion for judgment on the pleadings. We lost that in a hearing ... ”

In all of the decisions in the case, the rulings have stated that the city erred, Houston said. The courts have determined that the city breached its contract with the union.

The changes the city made in employee benefits occurred during a budgetary crisis when the majority of the aldermen contended the action was necessary for the city to become financially solvent.

In September 2003 the council enacted an ordinance providing for 11 paid holidays instead of 14. The city refused to arbitrate the dispute regarding holiday pay and, in March 2004, the council approved approved a motion to terminate insurance for the city’s medically retired employees.

All of the benefits the city eliminated had been negotiated through a collective bargaining process approved June 14, 2002. The agreement established rates of pay, hours of work and other conditions of employment, including giving the employees the 14 paid holidays.

Some of the aldermen contended that it wasn’t legal to pay for the retirees’ insurance, but the courts have ruled differently.

Following one of the rulings, in a meeting where the issue was discussed, Kathy Kirk, the city’s personnel director, contended the city had not eliminated the insurance because the retirees were told that they could continue carrying the insurance if they were willing to pay the cost of the premiums.

Alderman Steve Lee, a retired firefighter, quickly challenged that theory, noting that Kirk was misrepresenting the situation. He pointed out that he fulfilled his obligation to the city, but the city of Benton did not do the same for him.

Listed as defendants in the case were Mayor Rick Holland and Aldermen Doug Stracener, Phillip Montalvo, Karla J. Haley, Willie Floyd, Ray Freeman, Leroy Allen, Ann Hall, Claudine Ramsey, Robin Berry and Charles Cunningham. Only Stracener and Cunningham remain on the council.

When a vote was taken on the elimination of the benefits, three aldermen voted “no.” Those votes were cast by Floyd, Ramsey and Berry.

Following an earlier ruling, attorney Jim Nickels, who represented the AFSCME employees, said a basic premise was involved in the lawsuit: “The city promised the employees would have health insurance when they retired and that the city would pay for it, but the city reneged on the promise.”


Seniority-scam has a deceiving ballot title

The power that deep-pocketed lobbyists wield over our state representatives too often sidesteps the people. Let's consider the cleverly worded Proposition 93. The initiative's title is "Limits On Legislators' Terms In Office."

Granted, legislators that serve in both the Assembly and the Senate would be limited to 12 years in office -- as opposed to 14 at present. This, however, is a self-serving, deceptive ploy to lure voters into extending Assembly term limits from three two-year terms to six two-year terms, and the Senate from two four-year terms to three four-year terms.

Millions in contributions from lobbyists have paid for Proposition 93 and the advertising behind it. I'm referring to corporations, labor unions, utility companies and attorneys' political action committees.

Make no mistake, completely eliminating term limits is the primary goal of nearly all lobbyists. In contrast, a sizable number of concerned individual citizens are funding the fight against Proposition 93. The California Correctional Peace Officers Association has given huge contributions toward the measure's defeat as well.

Senate and Assembly leaders broke their promises to reform redistricting. Let's send a message to Sacramento. Defeat Proposition 93.

- KEN LANE, Ceres, CA city councilman


Ethicist: Collectivism justifies labor strikes

Q: Should you go on strike if your union asks you?

A: Being a member of a union says something about the ethics of the broader society I inhabit. It says I live in a society that values the rights of those who produce the benefits we all enjoy.

In the mid-1990s I taught singing in a state school. There were many bad things happening in education at that time; the Kennett government had closed schools and sacked thousands of teachers.

On one occasion, the Australian Education Union called a one-day strike and, as a member, I complied. But one of my colleagues, a woman whose criticism of the government's behaviour had been trenchant, declined the opportunity. "I can't afford to lose a day's pay," she said.

"Neither can any of us, but we're still striking," I replied.

She had joined the union for insurance, as her job was under threat, but she felt no reciprocal responsibility to support other teachers.

There were, unfortunately, too many like her.

This memory comes up now at a time when the AEU is once more trying to involve its members in industrial action.

Its leaders, like most of its membership, feel concerned about the precipitate decline in teachers' pay, conditions and morale over the past generation. And crucially, public respect for the profession has dropped as its conditions toughened.

Yet the biggest problem the AEU has always had has been members who behave as unethically as my colleague did. Teachers have caved in to continual "productivity" demands and failed to support their profession as a whole. This has had repercussions for the whole community.

And as for the non-union members of the profession who enjoy the benefits that union members have gained by losing pay through striking, there is no ethic in that position; it is merely parasitical.

And now it's very difficult to attract new entrants to a profession that is continually under attack and which has little of the public respect it once commanded.

The fallout from teachers' decline affects our whole society. As teachers' workplace influence has waned, state governments (particularly in Victoria) have managed to make teachers accountable for all manner of systemic problems affecting the education system.

When a government wants to run an education system on a shoestring, it is easy for it to scapegoat teachers if the teachers don't support each other. This reaches into the ethics of our whole polity, for when citizens don't exercise their rights, governments become less accountable.

Union membership is not just about the individual benefits gained: it's about being part of a democratic society that cares for all.

But as hedge-fund managers, financiers, merchant bankers and money-market players extract trillions out of the rest of us, the connection between the work we do and its result in wider society gets ever more tenuous: the gap between rich and poor is widening catastrophically and this has been achieved by reducing employees' influence in the workplace.

- Juliette Hughes is a Melbourne writer and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance.


AFSCME takes dues hit in labor-state school cut

It was a day of mixed emotions for the Salem (MA) public schools. While two dozen teachers and library aides learned their jobs had been saved through state assistance and community donations, another 33 teachers' aides, custodians and secretaries were laid off.

"It's a bittersweet day," said Joyce Harrington, president of the Salem Teachers Union. "We're grateful for all the support — it's been wonderful. But, on the other hand, we still have to face the harsh reality that people lost their jobs."

Yesterday's layoffs were supposed to take place last week but were put on hold at the last minute when Gov. Deval Patrick and legislative leaders agreed to back special legislation to aid the city. Although the state assistance and community funds allowed the School Department to retain many personnel, there was not enough money to save every job.

"It did give me some hope, but what can you do?" said Kay Hancock, 64, an aide at Carlton School who was laid off yesterday. On her final day, she came dressed in a Patriots sweatshirt and red pajama bottoms as part of Super Bowl dress-up day.

Hancock, who reads the morning announcements and is well-known to students, said she was sad to be leaving a job she loves but happy that teachers and many others aides kept their jobs.

"All the things that are back are really wonderful, and I'm glad for the kids," she said. "... I'll get by, and I'll be in to see them."

The topsy-turvy world of the Salem schools looked bleak three weeks ago, when Superintendent William Cameron Jr. announced that an estimated 80 staff members — including 29 teachers — were going to be laid off due to a $4.7 million midyear deficit.

All of the teaching jobs, 10 special education aides and nine library aides were spared due to special legislation signed Thursday by Gov. Patrick, which made up to $1 million available to the schools, and thanks to more than $300,000 raised by community donations, city employee furloughs and other sources. Mayor Kim Driscoll said she plans to use $500,000 of the funds made available through the special legislation and keep the rest as a safety net.

The new development yesterday was that the library aides were being saved, which meant elementary school libraries could remain staffed. The library positions, some of which are at secondary schools, were retained in part due to a campaign by the city's elementary school Parent Teacher Organizations, which raised about $27,000 in two weeks.

"I'm very excited," said Tommie Rae Mills, president of the Saltonstall School PTO. "(Students) are going to be very happy that their library doesn't have to close."

"Some of the schools were much more successful raising funds than others, but as a group they were willing to share so all could benefit," Cameron said. "That was a very magnanimous way to proceed."

"It affects every child in our city," Mills said. "We don't live in a bubble. We live in a community."

While every school and department suffered losses, among the hardest hit were school custodians. Five were laid off yesterday, and several more jobs that have been vacant will not be filled, according to Cameron. That leaves 22 custodians to cover nine school buildings.

"That group is really stretched," the superintendent said.

"It's emotionally very draining," said John Robinson, president of AFSCME Local 294, which represents custodians, clerks and other school staff. "... Anybody that loses their job is going to be hurt in more ways than one."

While making no promises, Cameron held out hope that more jobs can be restored if additional funds are raised. Fundraisers will be held the next two Saturdays — Feb. 9 at the Peabody Essex Museum and Feb. 16 at the Knights of Columbus.

These past few weeks have been a "sorely trying time," the superintendent said in a memo yesterday to school personnel. "Few of us, I think, have been through anything quite like this before."

Yesterday's layoffs:

Teacher aides 24
Custodians 5
Secretary/clerks 4


Teachers union OK with binding arbitration

School's out in Downingtown (PA), the teachers are on strike, and even if it's all resolved by the time this paper lands on your lawn, students' education has been disrupted. More than 30 other states have laws that ban teacher strikes and set up a variety of ways to resolve contract disputes. Pennsylvania doesn't, but there are two bills in the legislature that could change that.

One, sponsored by State Rep. Todd Rock (R., Fayette) and co-sponsored by State Rep. Curt Schroder (R., Chester), who represents the Downingtown area, would ban strikes, fine teachers who do strike two days' pay for each strike day, and call for nonbinding arbitration and public disclosure by both sides of their contract positions, among other steps. The other, sponsored by State Sen. Robert Mellow (D., Lackawanna), would ban strikes but require binding arbitration.

The teachers union, the Pennsylvania Education Association, opposes the Rock bill, arguing that it would tip the balance in negotiations in favor of school boards and deprive teachers of their only leverage, the ability to strike. It also opposes the Mellow bill, but not as forcefully.

Homework: To find out more, go to www.reprock.com (the Rock bill); www.senator-mellow.com (the Mellow bill) and then click on "outlaw school strikes. For the union's position, go to www.psea.org/voice and write "strike" in the "go" box at top right, then click on "new threat to the right to strike."

Imagine that you're a Pennsylvania legislator and could vote for or against these bills. Tell us by Tuesday what you would do, in 200 words or less. Send an e-mail to chesterletters@phyllomes.com. Include a home address and day and evening phone numbers. Writers' phone numbers, street addresses and e-mail addresses will not be published. Only e-mails can be considered.


AFSCME-backed hopeful dumps on enviros

When it comes to Hillary Clinton, there is no shortage of unfair and unprincipled reasons for disliking her -- and if you listen to AM talk radio for an hour, you'll probably hear them all. I reject the sexism of those who still think a former First Lady has no place in policy debates, just as I reject the absurd theories of those who think she had a hand in the death of her close friend Vince Foster.

Having volunteered on Clinton's first senate campaign, I get mad when I hear Rush Limbaugh savage her as a liar and an opportunist. I'm also grateful to her for keeping Rudy Guiliani and Rick Lazio out of the Senate.

But you don't have to be a sexist or a conspiracy theorist to oppose Clinton's candidacy. I don't dislike Hillary; I distrust her. And my reasons are both substantive, and based on direct personal experience. When a major issue hit the Hudson Valley, Clinton was less than honest with her constituents, and all to eager to take credit where none was due.

For nearly 7 years, our communities were riven with controversy about a vast, coal-burning facility proposed by St. Lawrence Cement here in the Hudson Valley.

Given the harsh health, scenic, noise, traffic, economic and other negative potential impacts, opponents naturally wanted to get the ear of Mrs. Clinton -- and we tried everything. She was approached at campaign whistlestops, at private dinners, and public fundraisers. Printed factsheets were pressed into staffers' hands, and handwritten letters beseeched our new Senator to help end this dangerous idea. But she refused to take any public stand.

Finally, as the leader of the grassroots opposition, I tried an old- fashioned political route. A friend identified a celebrity donor in nearby Dutchess County who was opposed to St. Lawrence's plans, and he called in a big favor. Driving to the capitol in his limo, we met with Hillary first in a chamber outside the Armed Services Committee, then took a long walk and tram ride under the Capitol to her offices. Hillary was both charming, and surprisingly well-informed on our issue.

At last, here was my big chance to make a full case for her involvement. But when I launched into a carefully-prepared spiel, the Senator stopped me: "You don't need to do the presentation," she said. "The plant is a terrible idea. Just tell me how I can help." Delighted, I described the various Federal permitting processes in which she could intervene, and the benefits of her taking a public stand.

She called in her chief environmental policy advisor, and gave detailed instructions: Get a memo on her desk right away, listing the necessary action steps and the policy rationales for each, and she'd get right to work on it. Her performance was smart and convincing, and her celebrity backer and I practically floated down the Capitol steps on the way out.

The rest was silence. After promptly delivering the requested memo, I was never able to get her staff (let alone the Senator herself) to discuss the issue again, let alone take action to stop the plant.

About a year later, Clinton was cornered on the SLC issue by an interviewer from The National Trust for Historic Preservation, who finally got her to say that she thought the proposal was "not the right direction for the Hudson Valley." These remarks were published in Preservation Magazine, which Clinton apparently thought no one would read... because when we then alerted local media to her statement, Clinton's staff denied the remarks and claimed she still had not taken a position.

Only after nearly 14,000 residents and 40 groups wrote in opposition to the Republican administration of George Pataki did this terrible project get scrapped -- without any help from either of our Democratic Senators.

But there was one more damning chapter in our Clinton saga.

After we won, the group I co-founded received an award at the Waldorf-Astoria from the Preservation League of New York. During the award ceremony, it was announced that there would be a video tribute from someone who couldn't attend, but who wanted to pay her respects. Up on a giant screen came Hillary Clinton, talking about how we'd all fought such a good fight together.

Those of us who had been in the trenches for years looked at each other in amazement. All the awful things people say about Hillary were horribly validated: She didn't deliver on her promises, and then she took credit for a victory achieved without her help.

Now, some friends say, "Come now, Sam -- all politicians are the same. They tell you what you want to hear, and then do the opposite. Get over it!" Others say, "Well, Hillary dropped the ball on that one, but I still trust her on health care, education, abortion, the economy, et cetera."

To these excuses I say: Other politicians from five states had the guts to take a stand on an issue affecting hundreds of thousands of downwind residents; why couldn't Clinton?

Why should we expect her to act differently the next time a major regional controversy hits? If she won't stand up for the health of children and the elderly, and won't expend any political capital to save a broad swath of her own adopted State as its Senator, why should we expect her to behave differently as President?

And why shouldn't I get behind another candidate who is just as strong on core Democratic issues, such as Barack Obama -- whose campaign overtly rejects this cynical brand of politics?

The whole experience brings to mind that phrase famously mangled by our current President: Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice, shame on Hillary.
And that's why Senator Clinton doesn't have my vote on Super Tuesday. She will almost certainly carry this State, but our votes can help ensure that at least a portion of New York's delegates to the Democratic convention are awarded to a more deserving candidate.


Nevada unions left racism-brand on Dems

The Jan. 19 caucuses allowed Nevada voters an early voice in the race for the White House. They could help make a difference, especially in sorting out and whittling down the Democratic field. The Democratic caucuses served as a critical dress rehearsal for the campaigns of Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as they head into Tuesday, the biggest day of presidential nominating contests in U.S. history.

The campaign lessons they learned in Nevada, and how successfully they have applied them since Jan. 19, may help determine Tuesday’s outcomes.

After splitting Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton and Obama, for the first time in the campaign, encountered a diverse population in Nevada — one that more closely resembles those of many of the two dozen or so states voting in the so-called Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses.

It was that diversity among voters that persuaded the Democratic National Committee to authorize Nevada as the third contest in the nominating season. It was the earliest Nevada voters have had the chance to weigh in, and they responded in record — almost startling — numbers.

Nevada is 24 percent Hispanic and has a sizable black community. Fifteen percent of the state’s workers belong to a labor union.

How Clinton and Obama fared among those groups has triggered early season strategy adjustments. It also validated some strategies.

“They are using the template first utilized in Nevada to secure delegates in Colorado, California, Arizona, New Mexico,” said Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore’s campaign in 2000 and was part of the national committee that awarded Nevada an early caucus. “This will help to expand the electoral participation and turnout, as it did in Nevada, in the region which ultimately could alter the Electoral College this fall.”

In the immediate wake of the Nevada caucus, the candidates were citing Nevada to sell themselves to South Carolina voters. Obama uttered the word “Elko” in the debate that preceded the state’s Democratic primary, using his 30-point win in the rural Nevada county to highlight his appeal to rural voters — and by extension, whites, independents and Republicans. (Indeed, Obama won 11 of Nevada’s 17 counties, nearly all of which were rural, but lost the state to Clinton by 6 percentage points.)

“We showed in Nevada that we have this natural appeal to rural voters,” Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “Elko and other parts of the state made that real.”

Nevada also provided the first indication that Obama was dominating the black vote, which, according to exit polls, he won by nearly a 70-point margin.

Obama won the South Carolina primary, where more than half of those who voted were black. (In Nevada, Obama won 83 percent of the black vote; in South Carolina, he got 80 percent of it.) Among the states voting Tuesday are Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, which have large black populations.

But Obama learned he had to beef up his work on getting the Hispanic vote, and no wonder. According to exit polls, Hispanics made up 15 percent of Nevada’s Democratic caucusgoers, and they chose Clinton by more than 2-to-1. That bodes well for Clinton come Tuesday, when populous states with sizable Hispanic populations, such as California, Arizona and New Mexico, vote. Clinton holds a double-digit lead over Obama in California, polls indicate.

The exit polls showing Clinton’s support among Hispanics in Nevada don’t include the nine Strip caucus sites, which went overwhelmingly for Clinton, despite the endorsement of Obama by Culinary Workers Local 226, the 60,000-strong union of hotel and casino workers. Nearly half the union’s members are Hispanic.

Robby Mook, who managed Clinton’s Nevada campaign, said the Hispanic support was the result of aggressive outreach. Clinton herself went door to door in a Hispanic neighborhood full of Culinary members and held a round table at a popular Mexican restaurant in the days before the caucus.

The Obama campaign was left licking its wounds. “We have a ways to go, not just in terms of his name ID but his record with Hispanic voters,” said Psaki, the spokeswoman. “We have some work to do in educating Hispanics about his record on immigration, health care and other issues.”

There was some pouting within the Obama campaign that the Culinary’s endorsement — important for its potential sway over Hispanic caucusgoers — came too late to do much good, coming 10 days before the caucus.

Even so, endorsements need to be backed with action by the candidate, particularly in the Hispanic community, said Louis DeSipio, a political scientist who studies Hispanic voter behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

“The elite endorsements are important, but you really need that community-level campaigning to win Latino votes,” DeSipio said. “Obama didn’t do as much of that as Clinton and he paid a price for it ... Some of Clinton’s campaigning in Nevada sent a message to California: This is the candidate that goes to a taqueria.”

There are any number of examples of how Obama is now more aggressively courting the Hispanic vote after failing to capture it in Nevada.

Obama has joined Clinton in running Spanish-language ads on radio and television in California, and Obama is backing up his union endorsements with neighborhood campaigning, DeSipio said.

Obama told an audience at Los Angeles Trade Technical College last week that the country must work to bridge its “black-brown divide.” When he tells the story of his humble beginnings as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, he now emphasizes that plant closures in the city affected Mexican-Americans, blacks and whites alike.

Political observers also note that the recent endorsement of Sen. Ted Kennedy could help Obama in the country’s Latino communities. President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy worked hard to cultivate support in the Latino community before it became an important part of the Democratic coalition, DeSipio said. Still, the lure of the family legacy could be limited because many Latino voters are either young or newly minted citizens.

Regardless, Ted Kennedy brings weight to Obama’s campaign as the leading national advocate for immigration reform.

He also provides a counterbalance to Bill Clinton, who relentlessly campaigned in Nevada for his wife.

That boldness carried over into South Carolina, where Clinton served as attack dog, hitting Obama on several fronts. But the strategy backfired when he made racially tinged comments, likening Obama’s campaign to that of Jesse Jackson’s in the 1980s.

“They either overlearned the lesson or they learned the wrong lesson from Nevada,” said Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington. “Bill Clinton being aggressive is a bad thing. People don’t want to see an angry Bill Clinton.”

The former president has since moved back into the role of a supportive spouse.

In the end, what’s Nevada’s legacy?

Well, we’ve won at least a footnote: Nevada is the first state so far in which one candidate won the popular vote and the other won more delegates — although their ultimate apportionment is to be decided.

Though Nevada’s results suggest certain demographic trends for the candidates, they won’t be validated until Feb. 5, she said.

“This is different from everything else,” Duffy said. “We’ve moved from a phase where a win is about momentum, credibility and validation. Now it’s about math. It’s about counting noses. Their strengths aren’t necessarily as important as they were in the early states.”

And Nevada as an early state? We’re now in each candidate’s rearview mirror.

Neither the Obama nor Clinton camps made its national campaign managers or strategists available to the Sun for interviews over a three-day period.


Catholic teacher-unionists negotiate in the press

In the six months since the Diocese of Scranton (PA) restructured its schools, teachers say their work conditions have changed for the worse.

- A 3-percent wage increase went directly to insurance costs teachers never paid before.

- Workloads and workdays have increased. Teacher salaries aren’t equal.

- Without union representation, teachers don’t know what to expect next.

“The only way we can move forward is with stability,” said Holy Redeemer High School chemistry teacher Mary Humiston, who has taught in the diocese for 29 years. “I’m truly worried about the future of Catholic education.”

On Jan. 24, the diocese announced the teachers union would not be recognized as a collective bargaining unit. Teachers say the decision doesn’t guarantee them any choices, a voice, or knowledge about future wages or benefits.

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

The rejection has teachers and union officials questioning whether the diocese has turned its back on the Church’s traditional support of labor rights. A rally last week drew hundreds of teachers, parents, students and area union workers, who called for Bishop Joseph F. Martino to reverse the decision.

The decision also fosters a feeling of paternalism, said Rita C. Schwartz, president of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers and president of the Association of Catholic Teachers in Philadelphia.

“It’s almost like this bishop is patting these teachers on the head and saying ‘Don’t worry, we know what is best for you,’” Schwartz said.

The diocese declined to comment on the teachers’ concerns or its stance on labor rights.

“You have all the information we’re going to provide,” diocesan spokesman William Genello told Times-Shamrock Newspapers.

Genello was referring to the announcement of the plan in the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Light, and a statement issued Tuesday on the diocese’s commitment to its employees.

The only way the teachers will get a union is if diocesan officials change their minds.

In most cases when an employer rejects a union, the next step is to file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a representational election.

But lay teachers in Catholic dioceses are not protected by labor law.

In a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court case, the court ruled that schools that teach both religious and secular subjects are not under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Act, because of possible infringement of religious rights and because the act does not explicitly mention lay teachers.

In the past, the union has operated within the diocese. From 1978 to 2007, union President Michael Milz estimated the union negotiated about 300 contracts with diocesan schools. Teachers in nine of 10 high schools and all large elementary schools in the diocese were represented. It was a system that worked, Milz said.

Last year, the diocese closed schools in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties as part of a plan for fixing a school system plagued by debt and plummeting enrollment. Under the new system, the diocese took over all finances of the remaining schools. They are now overseen by regional school boards, not individual parishes.

After restructuring, about 450 of 550 teachers within the regional boards petitioned by the union signed union authorization cards. For months, the diocese told union officials to wait for representation until the regional boards took control of school operations.

“They asked us to be patient,” said Gene Gowisnok, a Holy Redeemer physics teacher who has taught for 31 years.

“What were we patient for?”

A history of support

The Catholic church has long supported the rights of workers. In Northeastern Pennsylvania, Bishop Michael J. Hoban supported John Mitchell, president of the United Mine Workers of America. A photo of the two with President Theodore Roosevelt hangs in the teachers union office in Wilkes-Barre.

The 1986 pastoral letter from U.S. Catholic bishops, “Economic Justice for All,” explains the church’s position.

“All church institutions must also fully recognize the rights of employees to organize and bargain collectively with the institution through whatever association or organization they freely choose,” the bishops wrote.

The Scranton Diocese’s school policy #417, provided by the union, states:

“Catholic social teaching strongly supports the rights of lay teachers to organize and to bargain collectively. A corollary of the right of lay teachers to organize is the right which they possess to determine the agency or organization which is to represent them in the collective bargaining process.”

Teachers say the decision to reject the union contradicts the policy.

“I don’t know how you can champion every other worker’s rights and deny your own workers their rights,” Schwartz said. “The church talks about the dignity of the human person. How much dignity are they showing to their employees?”

Diocesan teachers are not the only employees who have experienced changes since the restructuring.

The schools’ clerical workers have also seen an increase in their workday. They once worked half-days in the summer, but now will work full days with no pay raise, Milz said.

With the diocese’s new employee relations program, which in a Tuesday statement the diocese said was proceeding, there would be ways for employees to voice their concerns, according to the diocese.

The program would also “bring a consistent format to the entire school system,” according to The Catholic Light article.

The next move

Scranton Diocese teachers are worried about the future.

Although the diocese has maintained it will do the best for its employees, teachers say they can’t be sure.

Several years ago in the Archdiocese of Boston, the union dissolved after the archdiocese separated itself from school governance and gave individual schools control.

With no contract, Boston teachers didn’t know what to expect.

“There was a great fear,” said Robert B. Anspach, former president of the Boston Archdiocesan Teachers Association.

For some teachers, not having a union contract has affected them negatively. It depended by school, Anspach said.

Scranton Diocese teachers don’t want any teacher to feel a negative impact because of not having union representation.

Diocesan teachers will meet on Monday to discuss their next step. The union also plans to appeal to the Vatican.

“Everyone’s done their part,” Humiston said. “Now all we want is a little bit of dignity.”


Show-me unionists like a two-fer

About 3,000 people jammed the commons area of Central High School on Saturday night to hear former president Bill Clinton stumping for his wife, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, in her presidential bid. The former president, who appeared in Columbia (MO) earlier in the afternoon, was greeted in Springfield by a roaring crowd that rose to its feet when he was introduced.

In his speech, Clinton explained and espoused Hillary Clinton's positions on issues such as health care, education, mortgage, jobs, trade, taxes, the Iraq war and foreign policies. "Hillary will send two messages to the world," Bill Clinton said. "The No. 1 message is America is back."

He told the crowd that Hillary Clinton would seek cooperation from the rest of world on issues such as global warming, terrorism and immigration.

The second message is that she would reform the government that has been hobbled by special interests and ideology, Bill Clinton said.

But, before he went into detail on his wife's plans, he told his audience that Hillary Clinton would be a force of change.

"She doesn't want to go back to the past," Clinton said. "She just wants to see America back on its feet so that we can walk into the future together."

He also said he would be supporting Hillary Clinton in a heartbeat, even if he were not married to her.

"Hillary will be the best person (for president)," Bill Clinton said, "because she's grounded in what's going on."

He told the audience that his wife is the only presidential candidate who supports universal health care, giving health care to everyone in the United States.

He said she would help America reform its education system, promote job growth, "radically change" the No Child Left Behind law and curb the mortgage crisis.

Speaking on the repeal of tax cuts instituted by the Bush administration, Clinton said it would only be fair that the very rich of the country pay their share of taxes.

He also said Sen. Clinton is more conservative than President Bush on one issue — the budget.

After his speech, Patricia Reed of Kimberling City said she is pleased Bill Clinton touched on veterans.

Reed has two grandsons in the armed services; one is in the Air Force and the other, a Marine, has been on three tours of duty.

"I think Hillary will not forget our veterans, and they do need our help," Reed said. "We all think about education and health care, but we tend to forget about our veterans once they're home safe."

Springfield resident Lesa Haase said Bill Clinton's speech confirmed her vote.

"I don't know that I knew the depth of (Hillary Clinton's) commitment to America from very early on," Haase said.

Haase was also happy about the Clintons' view on the No Child Left Behind law.

"I think we need to fix No Child Left Behind," she said. "I thought it was a remarkable speech."

Moments before the event, rock music was playing in the background.

A big American flag provided the backdrop, and the crowd filled the first floor of the commons, with more people on the second floor.

Blue "Hillary for President" signs waved throughout the crowd and hung from the metal partition between the first-floor crowd and the media risers.

While many came to cheer on Hillary, a good number came for the former president.

"I'm the No. 1 fan of Bill Clinton," said Joan Isbell of Springfield, who was the first to arrive at the rally.

She came at 11 a.m., about 9 1/2 hours before Bill Clinton was to make his appearance. She said she would vote for Hillary because she is Bill's wife.

Betty Burk, 63, of Fair Grove, believes it is time for a woman to be the president.

"It will take a woman to clean up the mess," said Burk, who arrived shortly after Isbell. "And she's a smart woman."

Kecia Leary of Nixa came to the rally Saturday night with her young child. She said she came here to show her support for Hillary Clinton.

"I think she is the most qualified candidate. She has great experience. She has great leadership," Leary said.

Bill Clinton will be "be a great supporter of hers," Leary said.

But Chris Dodge had a different view. "He can't speak for Hillary, but I'm just glad he's here. I regret it ever since he's been out (of the White House.)"

"Really, this is just a celebration for Hillary," Dodge said.

Some came to the rally for answers.

"I'm hoping to hear something that will help me with my decision on who my vote's going for," said Anne Brooks, a member of the Springfield Labor Council. "I'm on the fence."

Brooks said her three main concerns in the 2008 election are the war, health care reform and the lack of paying jobs for middle-class citizens.

"We're sick of bargaining for health care," she said. "(We want to) go for wage increases."

"I think Bill does an excellent job at whatever he does," Brooks said. "I think he's the best thing since sliced bread."

Also undecided, Drury University student Jessica Schneider, 23, said she came for the learning experience. "I'm here to learn about the lessons he would share with us."

Calvin Holden, brother of former Missouri Gov. Bob Holden, said Hillary Clinton's election would put America "back on track."

"When she took on health care when she was first lady, that was a courageous thing to do," Holden said.

"I think she'll be the best to be our next president," said Callie Holden, 15. "She'll have the most experience, and she's been (in the White House) before."

For hours before the rally, volunteers were keeping order outside the high school.

Willie Prothro of St. Louis, a student at Missouri State University, was one of them. "Because I support Hillary for president," he said.

Of the contest between Hillary Clinton and her rival Barak Obama, Prothro said, "She's the better of the two. She's more qualified. It's her time."

Misty Diers and her fiance, Richard Nelson, both of Springfield, also were in the line waiting to get in. Diers said she came to show her support and to learn about the candidate.

She said she's not 100 percent sure whom she would vote for. Both said they wanted a change in the White House.

"Anyone who's a lot different from what we have now," Nelson said.


Strikers shut down nation's largest steel plant

More than 14,000 workers at Venezuela's largest steel plant, the Argentine-controlled Ternium Sidor, look set to extend a 48 hour strike Friday night, after negotiations for a collective contract, which has dragged on for almost a year, broke down.

The President of the United Steel Industry Workers Union (SUTISS), José Rodriguez, blamed what he called the intransigence of the company. The intention of the union is to achieve an agreement that is "serious, decent, and respectable," Rodriguez said. However, "Despite the intermediation by the Labor Ministry, the company has maintained a stubborn position," he added.

While the workers lowered their initial demand for a daily salary increase from Bs.F. 80 Bs.F. to 70 (US$32.56) during negotiations on Wednesday, Sidor management said the workers' demand was "totally inviable" and offered an increase of only Bs.F. 22. The union is also demanding a retroactive payment of Bs.F. 50,000 for each worker, for retirement funds, which it says had been agreed to in 1998, but that the company never paid.

The Vice Minister of Labor, Rafael Chacón, who has been mediating the dispute since early January, proposed a daily salary increase of 45 bolivars and a retroactive payment of Bs.F. 20,000, which the company said it would review. However, after 9 hours of discussions, Sidor management suspended negotiations without any concrete agreement being reached.

Nerio Fuentes, General Secretary of SUTISS, who pulled thousands of workers off the job in a 24 hour work stoppage last week over the same dispute, said they will extend the strike indefinitely if the company fails to meet their demands.

Fuentes added that the mediation of the Labor Ministry had been what the workers had hoped for, because they had respected union autonomy and not interfered in the actions decided on by the workers.

Workers also blocked major transit routes in Puerto Ordaz today and Wednesday causing traffic chaos in the city.

"If there is no solution, we will continue in the streets, we will continue with the paralyzation," Rodriguez declared.

The strike involves 5,400 permanent workers and a further 9,000 contract workers outsourced from 350 small and medium businesses that service the steel industry. Omar Martinez, president of the Steel Industry Business Alliance in the state of Bolivar, said that these small and medium businesses linked to Sidor are losing approximately US$3 million per day as a result of the strike.

Sidor, which manufactures wire and metal piping, is the number one steel production plant in the Andean region and the fourth largest in Latin America. Management has estimated that the company has lost an estimated US$7 million for each day of the strike.

Located in the state of Bolivar in the south of Venezuela, Sidor was privatized in 1997. Argentina's Trechint now owns a 60% controlling stake, 20% belongs to workers and retirees, and the remaining 20% is owned by the Venezuelan state.

Since privatization the company has reduced its number of permanent employees from 18,000 to 5,400 and increased outsourced labour from 3,000 to 9,000. The union says working conditions have decreased dramatically and 18 workers have been killed in workplace related accidents over this period. They also said the outsourced workers, who earn significantly lower salaries than the permanent workers, suffer inferior working conditions and are victims of 65% of workplace accidents. The company "has applied a policy of savage neoliberal capitalism for more than 10 years," Rodriguez said.

Last year, in the framework of President Chavez's call to "re-nationalize everything that was privatized," sections of the Sidor workforce called for the company to be nationalized and put under worker's control.

Chavez also threatened to nationalize the company if it did not prioritize production for the domestic market and pay more for the raw materials, which it had obtained at a subsidized rate from a state-owned mining company. However, the government and the company later reached an agreement.

A report in the February 1 edition of opposition daily, Correo del Caroni criticized what it described as "union impunity" and said the strike in Sidor was "very dangerous" and "compromising" for the national government because it would "generate a new scenario of conflict."

The report, along with Sidor, and other industry groups, also claimed the strike was "illegal" and that Sidor workers were some of the highest paid workers in Venezuela.

However, SUTISS finance secretary José Meléndez, rejected the claims of "newspaper columnists who are the spokespeople of Sidor," and invited them to verify the workers' pay.

Stalin Perez Borges, national co-ordinator of the National Union of Workers, who visited the strikers on Wednesday, condemned the treatment of the workers in Sidor and called for unions to carry out actions in solidarity with the strike.


Corporate-unionist fascism rears ugly head

As head of a political action committee that will dole out about $1 million by Election Day, Craig Wolf made a critical decision a while ago: He decided to shift his group's donations so that two-thirds will go to Democrats rather than, as before, to Republicans.

"I'm looking for people who support our issues," explained Wolf, president and CEO of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America Inc. of Washington, D.C., which two years ago gave only about a quarter of its campaign contributions to Democrats, according to figures compiled by the Campaign Finance Institute, a Washington-based think tank.

Wolf appears to be part of a trend.

About 56 percent of the money given so far by corporate America—business-related PACs and individuals—has gone to the Democrats. That's a near reversal of what happened during the last election cycle in 2006, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization.

And in a number of cases the increase in campaign funding to the Democrats, who have controlled Congress since 2006, counters long-term funding links between the GOP and business and trade organizations.

For example, most recent figures show that just under half of the insurance industry's money has gone to the Democrats, a level that the Democrats have not seen since 1990.

Also, over half of the money from health professionals has gone to the Democrats, ending an advantage that had favored the Republicans since 1994, figures from the Center for Responsive Politics show.

The rationale behind the shift is "very, very simple," contends Dr. Stuart Weinstein, a physician at the University of Iowa Hospital and chairman of the political action committee for the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

"Our goal is to improve the health of Americans. The only way you can do that is to work with the leadership party and in this case it is the Democratic Party," said Weinstein, of Iowa City. About 60 percent of his organization's contributions lately have gone to Democrats, up from 40 percent in 2005, he said.

As a result of the switches in business contributions, Republicans are seeing their usual dominance in campaign support fade, said Larry Sabato, a long-time election observer at the University of Virginia.

"For the first time since Watergate, Republican committees are raising far less than Democratic committees and this in part is because business and their allies are not giving as much," Sabato said.

Some stay course

There are exceptions, however. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest trade group, and leading spender on lobbying in the last decade, much of it lately on pro-business Republicans, is not changing course.

In fact, it intends to step up its campaign efforts, especially on behalf of pro-business candidates, said officials with the Washington-based organization.

One reason for its concern is the anti-business populism that it is hearing from candidates, said Eric Wohlschlegel, a chamber spokesman. The chamber plans to spend over $40 million in the current election, up from $38 million in 2006, he said.

Sabato views the chamber's strategy, however, as "literally swimming against the tide."

Indeed, Michael Toner, the former head of the Federal Election Commission, said the Democrats' newfound support from the business community should be no surprise, considering Corporate America's inclination to embrace Congressional incumbents regardless of their party.

When Congress went Republican in the early 1990s political donations flooded their way, he said. The question now, he suggested, is how large the shift will be. To be sure, other experts cautioned that the funding patterns may shift again as the presidential and congressional races heat up. But Steve Weisman, an official with the Campaign Finance Institute, said he did not expect the pattern to markedly change.

Labor also backs Dems

While business is making friends anew with some Democrats, organized labor's overwhelming embrace of the Democrats has notched up a little higher, reaching 90 percent of its campaign support, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.

Union officials also say they expect their spending on campaign issues, which has been rising for the last few years, to continue to grow. Adding that they expect to be massively outspent again by their business foes, they say their strength will lie in their ability to put "boots on the ground" to help their campaign favorites.

The 1.5 million-member Service Employees International Union, the nation's largest union, spent about $65 million in 2004, and it will top that amount this year, said Anna Burger, the union's secretary-treasurer.

But the union's more dramatic growth will come in terms of members who volunteer to help campaigns, she said. "We will have about 100,000 volunteers, about double what we had in 2004," she said.

In a sign of new cooperation, the dissident Change to Win Federation, which split from the AFL-CIO in 2005, will also be working closely with the veteran labor federation on political campaigns, said Greg Tarpinian, head of the organization formed by seven unions. The SEIU is one of the seven.

From $50 million four years ago, the AFL-CIO, made up of 55 unions, will boost its campaign spending by $3.4 million this year, said Karen Ackerman, the AFL-CIO's political director.

Like the unions, business groups and others who hope to win politicians to their side, Craig Wolf of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers has some basic rules about campaign giving.

He believes in giving to friends in Congress, both Democrat and Republican, who can help his organization. He believes in helping friends stay in office, especially when they have power in Congress. And he likes to make friends with the new arrivals in Congress, who can ultimately help his group.

"It is cynical to say you support people just because of the power shift," he said. "But clearly when the power in Congress changes, there is a tendency to support those who wield authority."


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