AFL-CIO legal fight joined by Mrs. Inevitable

The nation's largest labor organization has filed a lawsuit to block federal regulators from requiring unions to disclose more information about their officers' finances. The AFL-CIO says new rules by the Department of Labor "should be held unlawful and set aside," according to a lawsuit recently filed against Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao. The Labor Department says the new rules aim to help disclose potential conflicts of interest.

Under the regulations, officers and employees of a union in many cases must file a report with the Labor Department if they get loans or payments from vendors that do business with the union.

But attorneys for the AFL-CIO, which represents 55 unions and 10.5 million members, are criticizing the rules, saying Mrs. Chao doesn't have the authority to enact the regulations.

The labor organization declined to comment on the lawsuit yesterday, but the AFL-CIO recently posted a statement on its Web site in which Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton sharply criticized the regulations.

"Under the new rules, tens of thousands of union members will be forced, without justification, to navigate a bureaucratic maze of financial-disclosure forms and meet onerous reporting requirements about information as private as their personal mortgages and loans," said Mrs. Clinton, New York Democrat.

Mrs. Clinton's presidential bid has won the backing of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which is one of more than 50 unions in the AFL-CIO and has committed to spending tens of millions of dollars to aid in her election.

The Labor Department, in its official rule-making notice last year, cited a dozen examples of questionable financial arrangements at unions, which regulators say could have been discovered through financial disclosures.


Congress asked to boost union-dues

The so-called RESPECT Act could have a broad-ranging effect on skilled professional employees and unions, say a pair of local attorneys. The Re-Empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction TradeWorkers Act - which is now out of committee and likely will be coming up for a vote in the U.S. House soon - would widen the pool of those eligible to join a union by effectively changing the definition of "supervisor."

A supervisor, who currently is not eligible to be in a union, could become eligible if he does not spend at least 51 percent of his time directly supervising employees, under the act.

"The unions are in favor of this legislation, and they're behind it for one reason: If it passes, it will make it harder to be a supervisor, and that will create potentially millions of dues-paying members for the unions," said John Birmingham Jr., a Rochester attorney and partner at Foley and Lardner, where he is vice chair of the labor and employment practice group.

The proposed act is a reaction to decisions by National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB was called upon to render a decision in a case involving charge nurses at Oakwood Healthcare Inc., and whether they could be protected by union membership.

According to Birmingham, the NLRB's definition of supervisor was probably too broad, and in turn unions exaggerated the impact of the decisions.

The result has been a battle between pro-labor and pro-employer representatives in Washington.

"The biggest impact would be that there would be divided loyalties," Birmingham said. "Traditionally, someone who's in management is an agent of the company. But if your supervisors are also union members, that could create a conflict." The nature of those relationships would be complicated, he added.

"There are times when the union's interests and the company's interests are adverse to each other, even though generally speaking the union and the employees may have an excellent relationship," Birmingham said. "During those times, even if they are limited times, the supervisors and managers have to be company people, so to speak."

Said Robert Harrison, of Bloomfield Hills-based Robert Harrison and Associates: "It's a little confusing and controversial. It's generated a lot of angry discourse between labor groups and employers."

Harrison predicted that if the act passes, it would affect large companies, particularly automotive and manufacturing companies, and any business with a lot of employees and multiple layers of supervisory control.

"It's difficult to say how it would shake out if it passes. It's being pushed by labor groups, so the employer rhetoric is that it's a means for labor groups to boost their membership. And labor groups are saying that isn't the case, and that it came out of the requirements in the Oakwood case with the charge nurses," he said.

The bill has a lot of weight behind it, with 133 sponsors.

"This act has gained a good deal of momentum, maybe because we have a Democratic majority in congress, and maybe because there hasn't been a lot of labor legislation passed during the Bush administration, so there is this pent up need for some," Birmingham said.

One thing is for sure, said Harrison: "If this passes, there will be a tremendous amount of litigation."


AFSCME members to serve divorce petition

Members of Duluth, Minnesota's largest union, AFSCME, want to break off and start their own bargaining group. They say they are unhappy with how contract negotiations went last year and would be better represented on their own.

Disgruntled members are now circulating petitions throughout city buildings and 104 employees, or 1/5 of the union, have signed on.

Nick Economos of Utility Operations was one of the union members who started the petition. He says members say the AFSCME negotiating team should have taken a tougher stance against the city administration when they conceded on stripping seniority and overtime protection from the contract.

Under the proposal, seven departments including utility operations, street maintenance, fleet services, forestry, street lighting, parks and comfort system would become a new bargaining unit.

Economos says employees from these departments, typically work on the street and have different needs than the rest of the union, which is comprised of city hall staff and library workers. He says seniority negotiating team's weak stance on seniority "left a bitter taste" in the mouths of many workers.

Under the proposal, around 330 of the union's 500 members would be represented as their own group in future negotiating sessions. The idea isn't sitting well with AFSCME leadership because it strikes at their best defense: solidarity.

"Generally what happens is the boss wins when they can separate, defeat and conquer," said Jennifer Munt, spokesperson for AFSCME Council 5. "Separating workers and pitting them against each other, that is how the boss wins."

But supporters of the change say the wheels are already in motion. They will present the petition to union leadership on Feb. 12.


Unions lead record political bribery spree

Spending by special-interest groups in the current presidential campaign is on pace to far exceed the record amount spent by outside groups in the last presidential election -- and could top $1 billion for the first time, according to new campaign-finance reports.

The data show that spending by 50 of the largest independent political groups -- ranging from American Federation of Teachers on the left to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth on the right -- jumped to $130.8 million in 2007, up 55% from 2003, the year before the last presidential election. There were 28 groups that spent more than $1 million each on politics in 2007, twice as many as in 2003, according to the reports released this week.

If that pace continues in 2008 -- and there is every indication that it will -- the amount of money spent by interest groups to influence elections will exceed $1 billion. Outside political entities spent at least $800 million during the 2003-04 campaign season.


The figures come from new disclosure reports released over the weekend by the Internal Revenue Service. They cover one large set of outside political groups that are called Section 527 organizations for the name of the tax code under which they were incorporated.

Groups formed under Section 527 are obligated to make public their donors and spending. In 2004, the 527 organizations spent $650 million on elections, according to forms the entities are required to file with the IRS.

Spending by another type of interest group, Section 501(c) nonprofit corporations, wasn't included in the IRS report because they don't need to disclose their spending for the most part.

Although no disclosure is required, a Wall Street Journal survey of the largest 501(c) political organizations found $150 million in campaign spending by the organizations in 2004, and that those entities also plan a huge increase in spending this year. Just one of these 501(c) organizations, the conservative Freedom's Watch, plans to spend as much as $250 million on the election.

The 527 organizations were widely criticized for injecting big money into the political system when they first came to prominence in 2004. In August, the Federal Election Commission fined the largest Democratic group, America Coming Together, more than $775,000 for accepting large donations from donors with the premise that the money would be used to defeat President Bush. The fine amounted to less than 1% of the $78 million that group spent in 2004.

Among Section 527 groups, a new Democratic organization called the Fund for America plans to spend $200 million in this election cycle. The group, formed in November, is run by John Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Clinton; Rob McKay, a prominent Democratic philanthropist; and Anna Burger, the secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU gave $2.5 million to the effort. Hedge-fund manager George Soros, who bankrolled massive campaign efforts in 2004, also gave $2.5 million.

Another 527 organization, run by the SEIU, spent $14 million in 2007, more than any other organization, though it didn't make the list of top 527 organizations in 2003. Seven of the top 10 organizations were liberally oriented, the same as in 2003.

The reports showed a large amount of spending by another Democratic group, America Votes. The group, which tries to coordinate get-out-the-vote efforts among independent progressive groups, spent $5.4 million in 2007, according to the filings.

It paid $459,000 for services from Catalist LLC, an organization that uses corporate marketing techniques to find Democratic voters and get them to the polls on Election Day.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, in late 2006 formed a group called American Solutions for Winning the Future, which spent $6.8 million in its first year of operation. The group's largest expenses were $1.2 million for telemarketing and $1 million for services of Moby Dick Airways, a charter-jet company.

That group's largest donation was $1 million from Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Sands Casino. Mr. Adelson was the second-largest individual contributor to 527 organizations last year, after Mr. Soros.

Mr. Adelson is also backing Freedom's Watch, the group that plans to spend as much as $250 million this election. Freedom's Watch, which is active in the Iraq war debate, comes under the 501(c) tax rules, so isn't required to file disclosure.

Hotel and casino executive Bill Young, real-estate developer Fred Godley and hedge-fund manager Donald Sussman each gave $1 million as well to 527s.

The newly filed reports show that the group called Alliance for a New America, which ran advertisements backing John Edwards's presidential bid, spent a total of $4.1 million last year, more than the $2.4 million already reported to the Federal Election Commission. The group's largest donations, $3.5 million, or 73% of the total, was from a partnership whose sole member was Bunny Mellon, the wife of late philanthropist Paul Mellon.

A Republican group called the Presidential Coalition LLC spent $3.7 million, about half for polling, but rent and salary expenses were sent to another group called Citizens United, which recently produced a movie critical of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. A separate political arm of Citizens United recently paid $100,000 for television advertisements against Arizona Sen. John McCain.


Collectivists now dominate U.S. politics

As the dust settles from Super Tuesday, you have to ask: Are the presidential candidates, Republicans and Democrats alike, the best we can do in a nation of 300 million, give or take 20 million who should not even be here?

Barack Obama? A Chicago ward-heeler who voted “present” every time he could, amassing an impressive non-record. Hillary Clinton? You already know all about Hillary Clinton. None of it good. John McCain? A total wackjob (yes, yes, I know, he’s a war hero) who calls himself a Republican, but is closer to being a socialist than even Hillary Clinton. Mitt Romney? Flip-flopper with really nice hair and good line of patter. Mike Huckabee? A Bible thumper who never saw a tax he did not like as Arkansas governor and who concurred with the state’s parole board decision to free a convicted rapist. The rapist, by the way, then trotted over to Missouri and killed a pregnant woman. Ron Paul? Pass out the foil hats.

And we won’t even go into the campaign has-beens such as John (the Breck Girl) Edwards or Rudy Giuliani, a constitutional scholar who opined the Second Amendment only applies out in the hinterlands. Good riddance.

What is most amazing to me is that this nation actually accepts that this sorry lot is the best it can do. In my humble view, none of these people, not one, is qualified to lead a kazoo band on a one-block march, much less the world’s most powerful constitutional republic in perhaps the most perilous era in human history.

So what is the problem? Is the system flawed? Not that you could prove. It has produced presidents who were political geniuses and true leaders. Men who changed the world. George Washington. John Adams. Thomas Jefferson. James Madison. And on and on. Abraham Lincoln. Theodore Roosevelt. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harry Truman. John Kennedy. Ronald Reagan. Strong wills. Strong intellect. Strong character. Strong senses of who they were and what this nation was about. They put the United States first, albeit sometimes bruising the Constitution in the process, and they were people, I’d guess, who never would deign to waste air by voting “present.” But, mind you, they were not all geniuses. There has been more than one bounder in the White House.

Are our politicans of weaker stock and intellect than those throughout the nation’s history? Maybe. Maybe not. The difference is that campaigns, and politics in general, nowadays are fueled by television and aimed at the lowest common denominator.

This nation. let’s face it, has been reduced to haves and have-nots — those who work to make money to support those who don’t. There are two basic political messages. “Vote for me, I will give you this, this and this,” or, “Vote for me, I’ll make sure ‘they’ do not take what is yours through higher taxes or confiscation.”

There is not much real talk about preserving the Constitution or protecting individual rights in the face of a growing socialist collectivism.
There is no real effort to reduce spending or get out of debt or redirect the national focus to a frugality that would benefit our great-grandchildren. Too many of us, it seems, are busily encouraging even more spending, more lunacy.

In the end, it is not the system that is the problem; it is us and what we are willing to tolerate. Let’s face it, the best and brightest in America do not always run for office; the best and brightest in politics do not always run for the presidency. We are left now with candidates who can appeal mostly to those most adamant about getting handouts or ending them.

It is almost enough to make you sick. A great nation finally reduced to picking between the lesser of two evils, not the best possible person for the job. That is our fault. We could do better picking our presidents by lottery.

It’s enough to make you want to stay home on election day.


How the West Was Won: McEntee, McElroy

California has long been "Clinton country," but Hillary Rodham Clinton seized Super Tuesday's biggest prize by winning big among women, Latinos, Asian-Americans, gays and lesbians, older voters and working class Californians - which blunted Barack Obama's strong support from African Americans, white men and independents, according to exit polls.

While Obama was able to carry some of the state's progressive centers - including San Francisco, Alameda, Marin and Santa Cruz counties - Clinton dominated in voter-rich Los Angeles County as well as Santa Clara County, Orange County and San Diego County. The New York senator also vacuumed up support in inland areas like Fresno, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Clinton's nearly 10-point margin in the state (with 96 percent of precincts reporting) will add to her national lead in the battle for delegates - although proportional rules mean the two candidates will divide California's 370 delegates.

Although no official count was available early Wednesday, state Democratic party officials predict that Clinton will get 20 to 30 more delegates when all results are in. Because of the relatively close finish, they are likely to split delegates in most of the congressional districts with an even number of delegates, while Clinton will pick up an extra delegate in districts that offer an odd number.

Clinton's intense vote-by-mail campaign appeared to pay dividends, giving her a lead in early returns that held up despite polls showing Obama with a late surge heading into Tuesday's vote. She had a narrow edge, 49 percent to 46 percent, with those who made up their minds in the last three days, but held a 17-point advantage among voters who had decided earlier.

As in her other primary victories, Clinton benefited from an enormous gender gap. While they ran just about even among men - with Obama holding an 18-point edge among white men - exit polls showed Clinton with a huge 59 percent to 34 percent advantage with women.

"Women are always an important voting block, but even more so in the Democratic primary," said Ramona Oliver, a spokeswoman for Emily's List, a group that supports pro-choice women candidates that endorsed Clinton early. "Everywhere she has had victories so far, they have been built on significant support from women."

Obama proved once again his popularity among African-Americans, taking almost 4 out of 5 black votes in California. But Clinton more than compensated by winning among Latinos by a 2-to-1 margin and among Asian-Americans by a 3-to-1 margin.

"Asians were a surprise," said Bruce Cain, director of the University of California's Washington Center. "It's the first (presidential) election we have seen where Asian voters were a big factor. They are about 8 percent of the Democratic electorate.... The two major immigrant groups voted for Clinton as opposed to the candidate who has the immigrant background."

Clinton won with all age groups in California, but racked up her biggest margins among voters age 60 or older, winning 53 percent to 30 percent. She even won narrowly with voters ages 18-24 - 52 to 46 percent - a setback for the Obama campaign, which had counted on turning out young voters in droves.

Clinton also won among union voters, 54 to 37 percent, despite a last minute effort by some of former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' labor supporters to swing the vote to Obama. But Clinton had her own endorsements from important unions such as American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the American Federation of Teachers, and she was popular with the rank-and-file.

Obama benefited from a wave of independents who turned out for him, but it was not the tsunami he needed. He held a 23-point advantage with "decline to state" voters, but it could not overcome her 21-point edge with Democrats, according to exit polls.

The vote in California also split along class lines. Voters from families making less than $100,000 tilted heavily toward Clinton - 54 percent to 37 percent - while Obama held a narrow edge with those making more than $100,000, 49 percent to 47 percent.

Clinton won overwhelmingly with voters who did not complete high school (82 percent to 15 percent) and had a 2-to-1 edge among those who had graduated from high school. She also won among college graduates, although Obama narrowly outpolled her among those who had pursued post-graduate work, 48 percent to 46 percent.

Gays and lesbians also broke sharply for Clinton, backing her 60 percent to 25 percent.

Clinton - who established a reputation in California during her husband's 1992 campaign and eight years of his presidency - showed strength throughout the state. She dominated in Southern California and racked up big totals in the Central Valley and Inland Empire. The more liberal Bay Area was expected to be friendlier terrain for Obama, but she won in Napa, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Solano counties.

Obama, however, also had strong pockets of support in some coastal and rural areas: He won in Sacramento, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Humboldt, Mendocino, Mono, Siskiyou, Plumas, Sierra, Yolo, Nevada and Alpine counties.


Calif. gov't workers threatened by cuts

After four decades of promising Sonoma County public employees generous health benefits upon retirement, the county now is warning thousands of current employees and retirees they face precedent-setting reductions. A proposal by county administrators that would effectively force many retirees to pay more for their health plans will be presented today to county supervisors.

While it doesn't impose immediate costs on retirees, it does ask supervisors to sign off on a new direction that could shift care to less expensive plans, such as Kaiser Permanente, and that could raise the costs of insuring spouses and other dependents.

The decision could have implications for government employees across the county, from cities to school districts, as they confront mounting health insurance bills for retirees.

"I am a little shocked about this because it could double what I pay now," said early retiree Diane Pizza, 60. "I would have worked another 10 to 15 years if I had known this was coming."

In addition, the administration proposes to dramatically alter health benefits for new hires by, in the future, not funding anything upon retirement. It suggests creation of employer-paid deferred compensation programs, such as a Health Retirement Accounts, that fund with pre-tax money like a 401(k). That would end the government's health care responsibilities upon an employee's retirement.

For years, Sonoma County government workers have been insulated from health premium increases and benefit cuts because of their ability to bargain for lower rates as a large group and to spread rising medical costs over several thousand people.

However, new accounting guidelines are forcing county officials to tally future costs of those benefits, which total $398 million over the next 30 years.

"It's sort of like getting that advice from the doctor on necessary lifestyle changes or suffer the consequences later," said County Administrator Bob Deis.

The proposed changes affect 2,400 retirees who were managers and supervisors or who were represented by unions when they worked for the county. But they have implications for all 5,000 people on the county payroll, who are watching closely because they too will retire someday.

Pizza is worried because she now pays about $90 a month for her PacifiCare plan, and any sizeable increase would eat into her $1,200 monthly pension, the only income she has. If the county limits its health care contribution to $400 a month, her cost would more than double to almost $200 a month.

She retired two years ago, just before the settlement of her discrimination lawsuit against the county for failing to accommodate her disabilities caused by her breast cancer and depression. She had worked 15 years as a counselor with the county Health Services' Drinking Driver Program.

Others, such as Carl Jackson, who retired in 1994 after 35 years with the county Water Agency as assistant general manager, said benefit changes would pinch his family finances.

Jackson, 75, figures the cost of insuring himself and his wife would increase from $113 to $256 a month.

"I could probably survive that, but it will be a sad situation for everyone. I hope existing employees will start thinking about putting more away so they can afford their health care when they retire," he said.

Details on how much more retirees will pay still must be negotiated with unions as contracts come up for renewal. The most notable is the Service Employees International Union, which represents 3,000 county workers and whose contract expires in June.

"We really don't know if this proposal sets the pattern for what we can expect to see at the bargaining table, but our feeling is that they will want to stuff it down our throats," said Tom Drumm, SEIU's work site organizer for county employees.

County administrators, with backing of the Board of Supervisors, indicated last April the direction things would be headed. They told about 650 nonunion employees and 2,300 retirees who hadn't been represented by unions that they'd pay higher premium costs.

Starting in July, the county will pay the equivalent of 85 percent of the lowest cost health premium, instead of 85 percent of the employee or retiree's choice of plans.

The shift in thinking about the way governments view obligations to pay future retirement benefits comes about because the private, independent Governmental Accounting Standards Board in July 2004 ruled public agencies from states to city governments to school districts needed to assess the value of their promises and explain how they plan to pay for them.

The board said it feared public entities were piling up promises of benefits that had the potential of someday overwhelming the revenues they rely on for everything from employee salaries to road repair.

When Sonoma County supervisors reviewed their bill for future health benefits, they found their retirees have been promised about $398 million worth of them over the next 30 years. And they'd cost about $37 annually, almost twice as much as the county has been setting aside.

Supervisors were informed last year that massive job cuts would be the only way to pay for soaring costs of retiree health insurance.

"The alternative is to eliminate 200 to 250 positions, reduce services and leave these positions vacant for 30 years," Deis said. "The Board of Supervisors has made it clear this would be unacceptable. The last alternative would be to go to the voters for help, but I think most people realize what that will result in."

That got everybody's attention.

Demographic trends of people living longer and staying healthier, along with personal retirement goals, have combined with generous retirement public sector retirement packages to force governments to scrutinize the full effect of their promises, according to a National Association of Counties review of the issue.

Deis said doing nothing now, or too little now, would lead to a "fiscal meltdown" and likely would result in supervisors having to eliminate all retiree health benefits.

"The sooner we act, the more we can offer employees and retirees that will meet the long-term fiscal sustainability test," Deis said.

Critics say this tallying of health benefit costs is merely a tool for administrators to force employees into granting concessions.

"They are trying to take advantage of this issue to get concessions out of employees in bargaining," said Tom Robotka, a union leader who attended most of two dozen sessions over the past year on proposed benefits changes. "This forces a bunch of people into a very difficult situation of having to choose Kaiser or using your pension to cover your added health care costs."

In Sonoma County, the issue of unfunded health costs becomes particularly prickly because union officials, former managers and even former county personnel directors say county workers have historically accepted low percentage pay raises in exchange for promises of good health care plans when they retire.

"I know those promises. I made them, and I was authorized to make them by county administrators," said Dick Gearhart, the county personnel director from 1986 to 2000 who has taken a lead role in representing retired administrators opposed to benefit changes. "It is not that retirees don't think we shouldn't pay more, but we should not be the only solution."

Deis responded: "I can find no evidence of this alleged quid pro quo."

In practice, a long line of agreements determined that the county pays 85 percent of employee and early retiree health plans and 85 percent of Medicare supplemental plans for those over 65.

In an effort to limit the costs of promising future health care, county administrators are proposing a system of funding health care premiums for retirees that moves away from paying a percentage of those premiums to one that gives retirees a set dollar amount, regardless of the number of dependents they insure.

It is a system prevalent in private industry and used by several Bay Area county governments. Critics say this often results in retirees seeking the least expensive plan and in retirees using their former employer's coverage for themselves and not dependents. But other experts say retirees often stick with the same plan they had when employed, largely because benefits and costs are better than what they'd get on their own.

To cushion retirees against inflationary medical costs, the administration proposes allowing the Board of Supervisors to grant cost of living increases on retiree medical programs, depending upon available funding.

You can reach Staff Writer Bleys W. Rose at 521-5431 or bleys.rose@pressdemocrat.com.


Here is a sampling of what some governments estimate to be their unfunded retiree health care obligations over the next

30 years:

Sonoma County: $398 million
Santa Rosa: $5 million
Rohnert Park: $27.6 million
Santa Rosa Schools:$22 million-$29 million
Cotati-Rohnert Park schools: $13 million
Sebastopol: $760,000

How many jobs would have to be cut to save this money:

Sonoma County: 200
Santa Rosa: 5
Rohnert Park: N/A
Santa Rosa Schools: N/A
Cotati-Rohnert Park schools: 13 teachers
Sebastopol: none


SEIU urges security guards to walk off the job

Security officers represented by Service Employees International Union Local 26 will be joined by community supporters as they vote Saturday whether to walk off the job at commercial office buildings in the Twin Cities. The vote, scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Minneapolis Labor Center, would authorize the security officers' bargaining committee to call a strike to protest bad-faith bargaining, if necessary.

After months of negotiations, security officers and their employers have yet to agree on improvements for workers and their families such as affordable health insurance and better training standards to improve public safety, Local 26 said. Recently, the employers have decided to leave the bargaining table rather than resolve these key issues.

The five largest office properties in the metro area – Normandale Lake Office Park, 225 South Sixth, IDS Center, Wells Fargo Center, and US Bank Plaza – together paid more than $15 million less in property taxes in 2007 than in 2001 as a result of property tax reforms. Despite building owners' savings, security officers who protect these office buildings do not have access to affordable health insurance, the union said.

The Workers Interfaith Network, an organization of faith, labor and community leaders, is organizing people to show support at Saturday's vote.

The strike vote "is a bold step toward ending poverty, sharing prosperity, and providing health care for all," WIN Director Matt Gladue said.

"This is a crucial turning point in this campaign. A strike vote by janitors last year set off an intensive series of actions to win justice for workers. We have the same chance to make a difference in this campaign. Come support workers on Saturday, and come learn more about what you can do."

The contract covering security officers and window cleaners at commercial buildings expired Dec. 31.


Big Ent unions in Big Split

After coming within a whisker five years ago of merging, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild are all but severing their ties, a move that could escalate competition between the unions and possibly force some 44,000 dual cardholders to choose between the two.

It is a nasty separation seemingly headed for a divorce and comes at an already fractious and tumultuous time — in the midst of a three-month strike by the Writers Guild of America, which has put thousands of actors out of work, and on the cusp of negotiations on the unions' most lucrative contracts: those covering television, film, and commercials. SAG and AFTRA have traditionally negotiated most of those deals jointly, under an agreement known as Phase One, but they likely will bargain all of their deals with producers and advertisers separately for the first time in nearly three decades.

"I think it's unfortunate," Stephen Diamond, a labor attorney and associate professor of law at Santa Clara University in California, said of the potential split. "They have, obviously, common members in the industry and potentially significant leverage over the large conglomerates. This has to be a national battle, not a Hollywood battle." (Diamond was once a candidate to be SAG's national executive director.)

Each union has distanced itself from the other over the past seven months, but the steps have become more demonstrative recently. On Jan. 12, SAG's national board approved a measure to ask rank-and-file members to terminate Phase One and allow the guild to negotiate a new joint-bargaining agreement with AFTRA. The referendum, which will be voted on between Feb. 22 and March 14, is supported by a vast majority of the Hollywood board and opposed by the New York board, whose negotiating and organizing philosophy is in line with that of its sister union.

AFTRA's most recent actions, however, might render the measure moot. On Feb. 2, National President Roberta Reardon announced at AFTRA's national board meeting that the union had been granted a direct charter with the AFL-CIO. Previously, AFTRA had been affiliated with the national labor group through the Associated Actors and Artistes of America, a consortium of performers' unions that includes SAG and Actors' Equity Association, among others. That same day, AFTRA's national board passed a resolution that, in effect, gave the union the power to begin negotiating a new prime-time network television contract without SAG.

"AFTRA has a responsibility to move forward," Reardon said in a news release. "We cannot abdicate our fiduciary obligations to AFTRA members by allowing another institution to dictate the terms of our long-standing contracts or control our negotiating timeline."

Alan Rosenberg, national president of SAG, responded in a news release by saying, "If SAG members vote to end Phase I, we will, once again, attempt to engage AFTRA in substantive negotiations aimed at producing a fairer, stronger bargaining relationship. It is up to the leadership of AFTRA whether they choose to participate in that effort."

Consequences For Rank and File

The consequences for rank-and-file actors of a SAG-AFTRA split are difficult to discern, but if the two unions negotiate individually with their employers, it could decrease salaries and benefits across the board.

"It's going to put two organizations that represent the same people at odds with each other," said Sam Freed, president of SAG's New York board and a proponent of maintaining Phase One as it was originally written, with each union getting an equal number of votes. "Employers could play one off the other."

Freed also said that Rosenberg and National Executive Director Doug Allen warned board members at the January meeting that if the two unions go their own ways, SAG might be forced to enforce a regulation that could prohibit members from working AFTRA jobs. According to Rule 5 in SAG's constitution, the board can require a member to "divest himself or herself" of membership in another union that covers similar work. Rosenberg and Allen told Back Stage they would not speculate on a hypothetical situation but would not discount invoking Rule 5.

"If [AFTRA officials] refuse to negotiate with us on a fair deal, then we're in a position where we're in fierce competition with them," Rosenberg said. "And we'll use every weapon at our disposal."

Said Allen, "The union will not stand idly by and watch actors harmed by any part of this process.... As for disciplining members, that will be up to the board."

In an interview with Back Stage, AFTRA national executive director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth questioned "whether SAG has the right to say to their members they cannot take part in employment."

Conflicted Relationship

Antipathy between the unions is not new. Before Phase One was created in 1981, leaders in each camp did not get along, according to an actor and longtime SAG insider who is intimately familiar with union politics. At the end of the television and film strike by actors in 1980, SAG overwhelmingly approved a contract from producers that AFTRA only narrowly passed. This created a fear that one group might one day cross the picket line of another, a situation that both wanted to avoid. According to the source, who requested anonymity, leaders of each union put aside their differences and created Phase One, which literally means the first phase of a merger.

However, attempts by the two unions to fully integrate have been defeated several times, most recently in 2003, when a merger fell about 1,200 votes short of passage. It was defeated largely through the efforts of a group of Los Angeles-based actors who would form the party known as Membership First, which now occupies almost all the seats on the Hollywood board, has a controlling majority on the national board, and twice endorsed Rosenberg's presidency.

Membership First has also served as the catalyst for policies that have distanced SAG from AFTRA. In July the Hollywood board pushed for and won bloc voting, which changed the essence of the Phase One agreement. Previously, AFTRA and SAG each received an equal number of votes during contract negotiations, even though SAG covers a much larger percentage of the scripted work on prime-time network television and all of the work in movies. With bloc voting, all SAG votes will now be cast for the majority SAG opinion. The change came despite strong objections from guild board members in New York and the regional branches.

Membership First partisans want bloc voting because they feel the interests of Los Angeles-based actors were sabotaged by AFTRA and the New York and regional boards of SAG during the last round of television and film negotiations, in 2005. According to Rosenberg and three anonymous sources, there was a vote on whether to push for a raise in DVD residuals. AFTRA voted 12-1 against, and SAG voted 8-5 in favor. All but one of the five dissenting votes came from the New York and regional branch contingent.

"I believe that if we had been able to push for an increase in DVD residuals, there might not be a writers strike right now," Rosenberg said. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the bargaining arm for the studios and networks, generally gives actors, writers, and directors residuals of comparable value. Also, producers have wanted to base residuals for new-media work on the DVD rate. If the rate had been higher by the time the writers and producers began negotiating last summer, Rosenberg's theory goes, the WGA might have been satisfied with the AMPTP's new-media offer.

A Basic Dispute

Other disputes between the unions include the fight over scripted programming on basic cable. SAG's Hollywood board contends that AFTRA contracts with some producers undercut SAG standards. AFTRA contends it needs to offer flexible contracts to establish union jurisdiction and to keep production from moving to Canada.

According to an actor and Membership First partisan, however, AFTRA's approach cheapens the price of labor and fails to recognize the unique talents of actors. "Does AFTRA really think scripted programming on basic cable is going to go nonunion unless they drop the bottom out of their contracts?" asked the actor, who requested anonymity. "I made more money from the two SAG shows I did last year than the five AFTRA shows I did combined."

Erik-Anders Nilsson is a New York-based actor and dual cardholder who ran against Freed for the New York presidency. He also belongs to Membership First and favors a stronger stand against AFTRA. "We don't want to be undercut by a sister union," he said. "I'm a very proud AFTRA member. I'm glad there's a strong AFTRA union. But producers are going to go with the union that is going to offer contracts at a lesser cost." Though people on both sides of the SAG-AFTRA divide have said a fracturing of the unions is a boon for management, a source familiar with the producers' thinking said the division is not necessarily a benefit. "Specifically, it makes bargaining more difficult" because there is another round of negotiations the AMPTP would have to go through, the source said. "In general, it makes for instability, which is never good."


Union official accused of embezzlement

The president of a Cleveland (OH) labor union lodge faces accusations that he embezzled $17,000 over a 29-month span. Federal prosecutors on Wednesday filed criminal information against Francis Pagan, president of the Boilermakers Local Lodge M3 in East Cleveland.

Pagan, according to information papers, kept the lodge's check book, which required dual signatures. He forged the signature of the local's treasurer and issued 165 checks to himself from September 2003 to February 2006, prosecutors said. He used the money for personal expenses. Pagan also submitted false annual reports to the U.S. Department of Labor in which he concealed the theft, prosecutors said.


Disaster Capitalism sickens labor-state socialist

Is it human destiny to become destitute and malnourished on the rotten grain we have sown for ourselves? Will we be able to rectify our currently doomed direction and choose a new path? I wonder this at times as I look over the land to see vast economic devastation and environmental destruction.

The incredible contradiction of the deepening immiseration of the world’s poor alongside the monopolization of the greatest amount of wealth to ever exist never fails to sicken me. The ongoing saturation of our world with toxic compounds threatens many, especially in the developing world.

Corporations with interests directly opposed to both mine and yours inundate the halls of government with the rancid stench of corruption, while black voters are disenfranchised here, and Iraq has no democracy at all under unjust and unwanted occupation.

This same class of crooks then proceed to profit from every possible circumstance, including the privatization of the infrastructure in periods of crisis. Whether in regard to the schools of New Orleans or the water and natural gas of Bolivia, or the oil fields of Iraq, neoliberal economic policy continues to eviscerate the public interest. In my personal political development surrounding the question of why this was happening and how it could be reversed, I came to discover a school of thought known as sustainable development.

It is the simple idea that our development on the earth be logically coincident with a long-term objective of our mutual survival with other living things. It sounds crazy, right?

I studied this subject for two years, and when I was finalizing my thoughts, I realized that the economic system of capitalism makes this realization impossible. As long as we accept the idea that a minority of the population has an inherent right to control all of global production for their own profit, we cannot have an economy that is run on the basis of human need.

As long as we do not have equality and economic democracy, we will not have political democracy, and our institutions will be corrupt regardless of who is in the White House. As long as it is more profitable to dump chemicals into the systems we all depend on to survive, it will continue until we no longer have a place to support life. As long as we see our power as dependent on the proportionately small amount of cash in our bank accounts and what we do with it, we will never overcome the power of multibillionaires who are crashing our economy and destroying our planet.

We need a movement that can.

The question of how we can adjust our course is an essential one. It begins with people taking their destiny into their own hands and recognizing the power they have. When the city council of New Orleans met to decide to destroy undamaged public housing and give the land away to private developers, hundreds of people almost succeeded in entering the meeting after breaking through the armed guards and iron bars designed to deny them their voice. What if this happened every time our government did not do what we wanted?

When the Iraqi oil workers union went on strike in 2007 against the oil privatization law forced on Iraq by the U.S. Congress, they were taking matters into their own hands. What if the Iraqis can keep the oil out of the hands of foreign corporations and use it to help their own impoverished people? When the hundreds of thousands of Bolivians rose up and called massive strikes against the neoliberal U.S. puppet government and tossed it out, they were moving closer to control of their own destiny. What if people tried to do this in other countries where people want real change?

We need to build and expand these sorts of movements today and strengthen them with the knowledge of the past so we can fight for, and win, a better future for us all.

Join us for a presentation and discussion on “Disaster Capitalism” and the movement for a better world on Wednesday Feb. 13 at 7:30p.m., TITU.


Unions spent wildly on failed seniority-scam

California voters' refusal to alter state legislators' term limits will force three of the Legislature's top leaders to give up their posts. It also will free candidates running for 34 legislative seats from having to face an incumbent this year.

Proposition 93 aimed to trim two years off the maximum amount of time most legislators could serve, but it also would have given dozens of lawmakers a chance to extend their stays in Sacramento. It failed by about 7 percentage points, despite support from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a who's who of labor unions, corporations and professional groups that poured nearly $16 million into the Yes-on-93 campaign.

Opponents raised more than $7 million, fueled primarily by $2.5 million from state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and $2 million from the prison guards' union.

Defeat of the initiative means that Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Tustin, and 31 other incumbents will be barred from running for re-election this year.

Schwarzenegger blamed the defeat on lawmakers' failure to accomplish much last year.

"I think it's very clear that the people felt the legislators have not performed well enough (to) deserve a change there," he said.

Poizner said voters didn't like the fact that the measure helped some incumbents remain in office longer.

"Do not send us initiatives that are full of complex and convoluted language that is intended to deceive voters," he said. "Do not send us propositions that contain these special loopholes just for incumbent politicians."

California's current term limits, among the toughest in the nation, allow someone to serve up to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate in most instances—a total of 14.

Proposition 93 would have cut the maximum time to 12 years but given legislators the option of serving all 12 in one house instead of trying to split time between the two.

Pre-election polls showed voters supporting those changes but balking at a transition phase provision that would have allowed nearly a third of current lawmakers to serve longer than 14 years.

The proposal made that possible because it would have only counted the time a lawmaker had spent in his or her current house against the new 12-year limit.

Supporters said the measure would keep reasonable term limits in place while easing the exodus of experienced lawmakers and the musical-chairs atmosphere that exists every two years as termed-out lawmakers maneuver to run for other offices.

Opponents attacked the proposition as an attempt by incumbents to extend their terms. They argued that most legislators would serve longer under the measure because it would eliminate the need to run for a seat in the other house to serve more than six or eight years.

Nunez and Perata have the option of running for seats in the other house, although Nunez would have to wait until 2010 for a Senate seat to open up. But Ackerman's legislative career is coming to an end.

He blamed the proposition's defeat on the failure of lawmakers to put a measure on the same ballot taking away their ability to draw their districts, a power critics labeled a conflict of interest.

"If you want to try to solve the gridlock issue in Sacramento you need (redistricting) and term limit modification, not just one," said Ackerman, who opposed Proposition 93. "We thought if we had the total package ... we could get it through."

Ackerman said Sens. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Temecula, and George Runner, R-Lancaster, are potential candidates to succeed him as minority leader.

Sens. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, are considered likely candidates for Perata's job, the most powerful in the Senate.

Several lawmakers are reportedly interested in succeeding Nunez, including Assemblywomen Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, and Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco.

If one of them wins the post, she would be only the second woman elected speaker.

Ackerman said he had no timeline in mind for Senate Republicans to elect his successor. Spokeswoman Alicia Trost said Perata hoped to remain the Senate's top leader until August, when Democrats would select a new president pro tempore before adjourning the 2008 session.

A spokesman for Nunez, Steve Maviglio, said the speaker planned to meet with his caucus Thursday and that a transition could be one of the topics.


Leftist front-groups double unions' ballot space

One of the more hopeful bills in the current Oregon Supplemental Emergency Legislative Session is SB 1102, introduced by Senator Brad Avakian, and supported by all of the Democratic candidates for Secretary of State as well as a broad bipartisan cross-section of both Houses. The bill has been heard by the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee and passed out with a "do pass" recommendation. It is now on the Senate President' desk awaiting further action.

The only opposition to SB 1102 has come from the County Clerks Association, who have raised the specter of vast voter confusion, ballot clutter, and rampant minor party anarchy. The Clerks don't think Oregon voters will understand fusion voting without a massively expensive ($750,000!) education campaign.

Fusion voting is a simple electoral reform which gives minor parties the option to cross-nominate a candidate from a major party if that candidate supports their issues. The votes on each party line are tallied separately and then added together for that candidate's total. It has not been my experience that Oregonians find that so hard to understand.

Fusion voting was legal throughout the country in the 19th century. Today fusion voting is legal in seven states, and used actively in four states: New York, Connecticut, South Carolina and Delaware. The latter three states have fairly recently begun using fusion voting. It has been the experience of elections officials and voters alike in those states that fusion is a fairly simple, straightforward voting method that is easily understood by voters, and not terribly burdensome to elections officials. Statements from those election officials and much more can be found at a Study on Cost and Technical Considerations of Fusion Voting.

When fusion was legal in Oregon in the 19th century, it provided a way for rural and urban voters to come together on issues which they shared in common -- populist issues which affected family farmers, ranchers, loggers, and urban wage earners alike. This is an era when we could very much use that common voice, when rural and urban Oregonians need to come together to find solutions to the issues that plague the state, from land use planning to health care reform.

Fusion voting is not the solution to all that ails the state, but it is a part of the solution. With fusion ballots, voters can focus on the issues which unite them, not the issues which divide. Voters can vote with the Party which best represents their views on issues, while making a coalition with other voters in other parties to support a particular candidate. That way the voters can make their views known and the candidates, and legislators, can have a more accurate view of what their constituents want and expect.

The people of this state do not all fit neatly into one of the two major parties. Over 25% of them are not affiliated with either major party. And only 67% of the voting age population is registered to vote at all. Oregon voters can be very thoughtful, and certainly have many opinions, and yet under the current system, they can only participate in the electoral process in a consequential way if they vote Republican or Democrat. Many Oregonians clearly want more choices, but don't want to throw their vote away or act as spoilers. Fusion gives them this opportunity, while focusing their attention and that of the legislators whom they elect on the issues which matter most to them.

Not all minor parties will exercise the option to fuse with a major party's candidate. Some will continue to run stand-alone candidates. But the fusion option means that the possibility of compromise and coalition is available, and that option makes it more likely that compromise will be reached in the legislature.

Many proposals have been considered here in Oregon and around the nation to address the questions of voter alienation, partisan divisions, and legislative logjams. Here in Oregon, proposals for top-two primaries and even a nonpartisan state legislature have been promoted by some as a solution to partisan stand-offs. The problem with nonpartisan elections is that the voters have very little to go by when deciding whom to vote for, and this leads to voter apathy. Party affiliations give information to the voter about the stances a candidate will take on certain issues. Fusion voting allows the voter to express their opinion on issues through their choice of party, but also to form coalitions with other parties on the dominant issues of the day.

Voters want more options, they want to participate constructively in the political process, and they want their views and opinions to be acknowledged and taken into account. They do not want their votes to be wasted, and they do not want to act as "spoilers." Fusion voting provides a responsible and constructive solution to this need.

Help pass SB 1102 ... call your Legislators today.

- By Barb Dudley of Portland, Oregon. Barb is the co-chair of the Oregon Working Families Party.

Women gather to defend worker-choice in Iowa

Scott County (IA) Republican Women will hold a meeting at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 11 at Thunder Bay Grille, 6511 N. Brady St., Davenport. Alina Severs, representative of the Iowa Right to Work organization, will speak about Iowa's current Right to Work laws and proposed changes.

The group encourages anyone wanting to learn more about public affairs or participate in political campaigns. For more information, call Penny Vacek at (563) 343-4946.


AFSCME union hall is Clinton campaign HQ

AFSCMEWith the presidential race shifting to Maryland, Democratic rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama are moving quickly to open offices, schedule rallies and air advertisements - even as Clinton aides have sought to play down her chances here.

Obama appears to be relying on a network of volunteers - and a growing number of elected officials - that the campaign said has been a year in the making. Clinton has many of the state's top elected leaders in her camp as well as the support of a number of powerful unions.

"There's already the energy," said Elizabeth Wilkins, director of Obama's Baltimore field office, which officially opened Tuesday on East Baltimore Street. "There's already the community activity. People were organizing on the grass-roots level, through e-mail and on Facebook."

Jason Waskey, state director of Maryland for Obama, was among the early faithful.

"We have a machine, it's a grass-roots machine," said Waskey, whose group began organizing in July. "Until a week ago, Maryland didn't factor into the political calculus for Obama, and yet, with no money, we have had thousands of supporters and are raising a ton of money."

Today, the Maryland network has organized small, scattered efforts into a structured campaign with 4,000 volunteers and seven field offices around the state, including two in Prince George's County. The national campaign has taken Maryland seriously, with ads that have been running for nearly a month in the Baltimore, Eastern Shore and Washington markets, including one aimed at young voters and another featuring Caroline Kennedy comparing the Illinois senator to her father.

Clinton, meanwhile, has considerable institutional support in the state, with the backing of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and several key unions. Campaign officials said the New York senator has opened two offices in Maryland - in Baltimore and Bethesda - and that a third, in Prince George's County, is on the way.

"Maryland has become very important," said Loretta Johnson, co-president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, which made calls throughout the state in Clinton's behalf. "They will be in here."

The political arm of the union's parent, the American Federation of Teachers, has been campaigning hard for Clinton across the country and began running radio advertisements in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs this week that focus on health care, home foreclosures and education.

But most analysts give Clinton long odds in Maryland. Obama has yet to lose a state with a significant African-American population, and a Sun poll last month found support among Maryland's influential bloc of black voters coalescing behind the Illinois senator.

National Clinton campaign officials said that while they will actively campaign here, much of their focus will be on the delegate-rich primaries scheduled next month in Ohio and Texas. In one statement, the campaign wrote that "the remaining February map will favor Obama."

"We are not writing off any state. I think we have a strong base of support in Maryland," said Clinton strategist Guy Cecil. "While we expect the next few days to be leaning toward Obama, we expect to be getting a good share of these delegates from each of these states."

With chants of the Obama mantra, "Yes, we can" and the Spanish equivalent, "Si, se puede," Maryland Democratic politicians held a rally for Obama yesterday at the Banneker-Douglass Museum in Annapolis, emphasizing the state's role in the tight primary race.

"This is the time for Maryland to stand up," bellowed Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who was flanked by two dozen jubilant, sign-waving supporters. "This is a critical moment in the life of Maryland. This is a critical moment in the life of America. This is a critical moment in the life of the world. Barack Obama is here to lead us to a better life."

Obama called Cummings in January 2007, asking for help in the campaign. Cummings, a longtime Obama admirer, immediately went to work galvanizing his Maryland colleagues. But it wasn't easy.

"They thought there was absolutely no way that he could even compete," the Baltimore Democrat said. "They laughed at me like it was a joke."

Clinton's campaign was relatively quiet yesterday - volunteers at several unions were calling members to drum up support - but campaign officials vowed that the schedule here will heat up quickly, with a visit by the senator expected in the coming days.

Neither campaign has released details of any Maryland stops. But officials said Obama and Clinton will spend time in Maryland by Tuesday.

Clinton's volunteers plan to campaign at Metro stops, and officials said coming events will target many of Clinton's core demographic groups, such as women and Hispanics. Clinton is expected to campaign in Northern Virginia today.

O'Malley and the Clintons have long been allies, with former President Bill Clinton and O'Malley forging a relationship when he was mayor of Baltimore.

O'Malley said yesterday that he will be marshaling his political network to make sure Clinton wins.

"I'm going to do everything in my power to help her," said O'Malley, wearing a red, white and blue Hillary 2008 pin on his suit lapel. "The Clinton campaign will go from zero to 60 this week, and you will see a whole flurry of activity."

On Tuesday night, a lone Clinton yard sign was posted outside Clinton's Baltimore offices - in the union hall of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees on Bush Street. Inside, about a dozen volunteers worked phones for Clinton.

Glenard S. Middleton Sr., a statewide leader of the union, said AFSCME will continue making calls in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County, and will start knocking on doors this weekend.

"We want to take back the White House. We want a Democrat in the seat," Middleton said. "And we have two outstanding candidates."


No stopping Colorado's Organizing War

Another Republican attempt to dismantle Gov. Bill Ritter's executive order creating union partnerships for state workers was stomped out at the Capitol Wednesday. A bill that would have reversed the governor's November order died on a 3-2 party-line vote in the Senate's state affairs committee.

Democrats already dispatched a GOP-backed bill that would have prohibited striking by public employees — including teachers and transportation workers. Both measures were fallout from the governor's order allowing state workers' unions to bargain with management.

Sen. Shawn Mitchell, a Broomfield Republican who sponsored the bill tearing down the executive order, said the battle isn't over.

He plans to introduce resolutions urging the governor to ban mandatory union dues and what he said was harassment of state workers by unions seeking to boost membership rolls.

Mitchell said the executive order created a "tense and hostile environment" where state workers feel pressure to join a union. He cited examples of union representatives "harassing" employees at work and on their doorsteps.

But state workers testified Wednesday that Ritter's executive order will make them less afraid at work because they can speak up without fear of retaliation.

"That to me is an excitement I can't even contain sometimes," said Barbara Bond, a Department of Corrections employee.

Two business organizations — the Mountain States Employers Council and the National Federation of Independent Business — testified in favor of the measure, saying Ritter's order has harmed the business climate in Colorado.

But Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, questioned why Mitchell would bother with a bill the governor was likely to veto if it ever made it to his desk.

Mitchell said he wanted lawmakers to vet the labor issue because Ritter bypassed the legislature, letting lawmakers avoid "political accountability."

Ritter's order gave workers the right to collectively negotiate on matters of workplace safety, training and efficiency. Employees can bargain on any "issues of mutual concern," including wages, health care and staffing.

The legislature, however, gave up none of its authority to set the state budget, which means lawmakers could toss out any agreement that costs money.


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