Spotlight: The Newspaper Guild

Union members write most news stories.

The nation's print news sector is aging but remains politically-influential. It is also highly unionized - a tradition held-over from the Progressive Era a century ago.

Even on the internet, most "news stories" are penned by dues-paying member-scribes of The Newspaper Guild. Here are some recent stories about The Newspaper Guild from The Union News blog:
Editor: Journalists dump neutrality for ideology
News Guild reporters OK leftist power-grabs
News Guild influence shines glory on unions
News Union honcho opposes Mrs. Inevitable
Federal court ruling favors News Union
News Guild agonizes over Writers Guild strike
Pro-union journalism fails democracy
Newspaper Guild backs Writers Guild strike
Writers Guild mistreats its News Guild workers

Unions kept OLMS very busy in late-January

On January 30, 2008, in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia, Timothy A. Wilson, former employee of the Stage and Picture Operators Local 271, was sentenced to two years probation for forgery. On November 16, 2007, Wilson pled guilty to a one count felony charge of forgery in the amount of $168. Prior to the investigation, Wilson paid restitution in the amount of $16,750. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Pittsburgh District Office

On January 30, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, William Sargent, former Treasurer of AFGE Local 704, was indicted on one count of mail fraud involving a scheme to defraud the union of approximately $31,015. The indictment follows an investigation by the OLMS Chicago District Office.

On January 29, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Brad Harper, former Treasurer of AFGE Local 1629, was sentenced to 14 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release, ordered to pay a special assessment of $100, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $75,069.49. On August 9, 2007, Harper pled guilty to one count of making materially false statements on the local’s annual financial report. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS Detroit District Office.

On January 29, 2008, an embezzlement of union funds investigation conducted by the OLMS Seattle District Office resulted in the subject entering into a Pre-Trial Diversion Agreement with the United States District Court for the District of Idaho. Under the terms of the Pre-Trial Diversion Agreement, the subject must complete 40 hours of unpaid community service work, and not hold any union office. Due to the confidential nature of the Pre-Trial Diversion program, details that could identify the subject are not public information. The Pre-Trial Diversion follows an investigation by the OLMS Seattle District Office.

On January 29, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, an information was filed against Kristen Swint, former Vice President and Secretary-Treasurer of Machinists Local 2339-C, charging her with one count of falsifying union records. The charge follows an investigation by the OLMS Cleveland District Office.

On January 23, 2008, in the United States District Court for Connecticut, Timothy C. Ferrucci, former President of Northeast Emergency Services Union, was sentenced to one year probation, which includes six months of home confinement, and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine and make restitution of $27,347. On November 2, 2007, Ferrucci pled guilty to four counts of filing a false report. Ferrucci admitted making false statements on the local's annual Form LM-3 for the years 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. In each of the annual reports, Ferrucci understated the amount of compensation he directly or indirectly received. The sentencing follows an investigation by the OLMS New Haven Resident Investigative Office.

On January 19, 2008, in the County Court of Fremont County, Colorado, Jamie Solis, former President of Steelworkers Local 594, was charged with one count of theft of union funds in the amount of $500 or more, but less than $15,000, by threat or deception. The charges follow an investigation by the OLMS Denver District Office

On January 18, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, Michael Rutowski, former Treasurer of AFGE Local 2913, pled guilty to one count of making a false and fraudulent representation to a federal agency. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Seattle District Office.

On January 18, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Salvatore Battaglia, former President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181, the primary union that represents drivers and escorts for school bus companies in New York City, pled guilty to participating in the conduct of the affairs of a racketeering enterprise in violation of 18 USC 1962 (c). Battaglia’s act included the extortion of bus company owners. The plea follows a joint investigation by the OLMS New York District Office, the FBI, and the Department of Labor's Office of the Inspector General.

On January 16, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Clarence Morgan, President of Steelworkers Local 2948, was indicted on one count of embezzling union funds in the approximate amount of $20,499. The indictment follows an investigation by the OLMS Atlanta District Office.

On January 16, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, James Eric Kay, former President of Boilermakers Local Lodge 523, was indicted on 43 counts of embezzling union funds in the approximate amount of $16,979. The indictment follows an investigation by the OLMS Atlanta District Office.

On January 16, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, an information was filed against Fredrick W. Jones, former Vice President of Glass, Molders, and Plastic Union Local 285, charging him with one count of embezzling union funds in an amount over $10,000. Subsequently, Jones pled guilty to the offense. The plea follows an investigation by the OLMS Chicago District Office.

On January 15, 2008, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Kim M. Van Handel, former President and acting Treasurer of Steelworkers Local 1980, was indicted on one count of embezzling union funds in the amount of $11,500. The indictment follows an investigation by the OLMS Milwaukee District Office.

SEIU tries to flush AFL-CIO Dem incumbent

The power of incumbency in the U.S. House of Representatives can be summed up by this: Since 1998, only 3 percent of all incumbents who have run for reelection have been defeated at the ballot box. So how to explain the fierce political battle in Tuesday's Democratic primary now facing U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), who has represented voters in Montgomery and Prince George's counties for the past 15 years?

In a race that has attracted extraordinary national attention, Fort Washington nonprofit executive Donna F. Edwards, who has never held elected office, is mounting a well-funded challenge to a congressman who has been a powerful fixture on the local political scene since he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1982.

In recent years, Wynn gained a reputation for straying from Democratic orthodoxy on key votes and angered some in his district who believed he aimed to be a kingmaker in local politics. In a 2006 matchup between the two, Edwards fought Wynn to within 2,731 votes of the Democratic nomination, beating him in Montgomery but falling short in Prince George's.

For national progressives hoping to set an example for party leaders they perceive as too timid in confronting Republicans and too slow to end the war in Iraq, that race proved that Wynn could be beaten.

"They see him as vulnerable, and they're coming to play in Maryland," said Paul Herrnson, a politics professor at the University of Maryland.

Now, with little fear that Democrats could lose the seat in a district dominated by the party, national groups such as the antiwar MoveOn.org, the League of Conservation Voters and the Service Employees International Union have pumped more than $1.5 million in independent efforts to convince voters that Wynn is the wrong kind of Democrat. The Nation, a liberal magazine, declared the race "a bellwether contest in the fight for the soul of the Democratic Party."

Wynn has been telling voters he heard their disappointment in 2006 but rejects the notion that he's out of step with his party. He is a member of the House's Out of Iraq Caucus and has proposed impeachment for Vice President Cheney.

He said constituents would be unwise to throw away seniority that has brought the 4th District federal dollars and a seat at the table of national decision-making in the Democratic-majority House for what he believes is a brand of ideologically driven politics.

"I've gotten things done. I'm in a position to get things done. And that's what this race is all about," he said in a Friday radio interview.

Wynn retains a considerable power base to help work polls and make calls on his behalf. He has been endorsed by AFL-CIO-affiliated unions, as well as teachers, police and firefighters associations. Yesterday afternoon, he rallied supporters with Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and former Montgomery executive Douglas M. Duncan.

"I believe in solving problems; that's what people want," Wynn told an enthusiastic crowd of union workers and other volunteers in Lanham.

He also has new robo-calls out to voters' homes, alerting them to three liens that were at one time filed against Edwards's Prince George's home for failure to pay all of her taxes. Edwards denounced the calls as "desperate" personal attacks, saying she has spoken frequently about facing financial struggles as a single mother who went years without child support. She said she worked hard to repay her debts over the course of several years. Two of the liens, for delinquent payments totaling $9,786 and $11,693, were released in 2006. The third, filed over $645, was released last year. Wynn said he believes the issue is relevant, saying many voters struggle with debt but still pay their taxes on time.

Edwards has made her personal struggles a centerpiece of her campaign, arguing that they help her better understand the needs of working families. A well-known community activist in Prince George's, she is also a known quantity to national operatives through her work -- first as executive director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, then with the nonprofit Arca Foundation, which makes grants to progressive causes.

At a late-afternoon rally in Landover, Edwards was joined by supporters, including actress Mimi Kennedy, National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy and the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., head of the Hip Hop Caucus and a graduate of Prince George's schools. The nonprofit group encourages youth involvement in politics.

Edwards said that she is proud of the support she has received from national organizations but that her campaign also includes district residents who believe she'll bring change.

"I live here, too," she said. "I've lived here for 25 years. I raised my son here."

The oddly shaped district stretches from northern Montgomery, including Clarksburg, Olney and parts of Silver Spring, through much of central and southern Prince George's. Two-thirds of voters live in Prince George's, but the district gained more Montgomery voters when congressional boundaries were redrawn in 2001, part of a Democratic bid, ultimately successful, to unseat U.S. Rep. Constance A. Morella (R).

That shift "changed the political dynamic," said Ron Walters, political science professor at the University of Maryland, in ways Wynn may not have immediately grasped. "It's a fairly significantly progressive area, and it was very dangerous to not tend to it very well," he said. "That's where she has caught on."

The Service Employees International Union has backed Edwards with particular vigor, with its leaders saying they want to send a message to Democrats across the country about their priorities.

"Donna Edwards is, for us, the prototype of what a new Democrat in the new Democratic majority in Congress ought to look and sound like," said Patrick Gaspard, executive vice president of SEIU 1199, which includes most of the Eastern Seaboard.

For Wynn supporters, that attitude has been frustrating, displaying a willingness to sacrifice the interests of the district for a national agenda.

"They want to be relevant; they want to be recognized as a force," said Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who supports Wynn.

The big unknown in the final days of the race is the impact of a potentially large turnout, which is expected in the majority-black district to favor Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in the presidential race. Both candidates have endorsed Obama, Wynn almost a month ago and Edwards late last week. Edwards says she and Obama are both agents of change; Wynn counters that voters will believe that both he and Obama are solution-driven politicians.

Experts suggested that a large turnout of voters inspired by Obama's promises to break with the past might naturally support Edwards.

"It looks like a lot more people coming out to vote for Obama will play into Donna Edwards's strong suit," said Michael Cain, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Both candidates have campaign events scheduled until polls close Tuesday. The four other Democrats in the race are economist Michael Babula, utility consultant Jason Jennings, retired activist George E. McDermott and real estate agent George E. Mitchell.

"Whoa," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), when asked about the race in a radio interview Friday. "That is going to be a race to the finish."


Gov't unions worry that the party's over

The city of Bloomington (IL) is bleeding -- and that’s caused some people to see red. A tough economy has forced the city to plug a $3 million hole in its $75 million budget by spring. Officials have pinned the problems on funding police and firefighters’ pensions, finding money to prop up the debt-ridden U.S. Cellular Coliseum and lackluster local sales tax income.

But while the city wrestles with multimillion dollar issues, it spent $13,000 for its annual holiday party and $10,000 for service awards. It allows dozens of city employees to get rides to and from work at taxpayer expense and gives some department heads better raises than the employees they supervise. And it has found money to hire about 75 new employees in the past two years. This is the first time in years the city has wrestled a large budget deficit.

Bloomington resident L.A. Embry thinks the perks should be cut.

“Everyone’s income is tight, and everything is going up,” Embry said. “I don’t think they need it right now. They have good benefits without the rides to work or the parties.”

But Mayor Steve Stockton bristled at the notion that a $13,000 party is a “perk.”

“A perk is something that keeps your employees happy, and in this environment we need to offer good benefits or we will lose some good employees,” Stockton said of the annual buffet dinner at the Interstate Center. “Where do the necessary perks end and the unnecessary perks begin?”

Big projects, big costs

Debating city spending, from parties to the new employees, has led to six months of angst for staff and aldermen as they struggle with the budget and each other.

The council already has approved $1.5 million in cuts, and another $1 million are expected to come before the council in March. To date, spending has been reduced in travel and training budgets, a staff awards dinner, supplies and insurance premium costs.

And while many of the smaller expenses will be studied, some aldermen maintain parties and gifts don’t send the wrong message to the public because they are a small fraction of the overall budget.

“The parties, the gifts all need to be managed, monitored and evaluated, but if you add all that up, it is a small fraction of the city’s budget,” Ward 3 Alderman Kevin Huette said. “The big ones are where the money went.”

Included in Huette’s list of “big ones” are a trio of new facilities: an emergency dispatch center, the Coliseum and the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts.

But Ward 4 Alderman Judy Stearns disagreed. She thinks not enough has been done yet to examine the lesser costs, including travel expenses, use of city vehicles and cheaper ways of delivering city services.

“We could look much harder,” Stearns said. “It sends a mixed message when we are making some cuts but not looking at others.”

Growing payroll

Together, the large and small expenses have ballooned the bottom line of the city’s general fund — $75 million that pays the lion’s share of daily operating expenses. Its primary revenue sources include $22 million in property taxes, $25 million in sales and local taxes, and about $7 million in state income and replacement taxes. The rest is raised through myriad fees and lesser taxes.

In the past, that revenue has grown with the economy and the city’s population and kept coffers flush.

But in the last few years, sales tax revenue waned and the property tax rate was static. In tandem with that, dozens of new employees were hired, federal grant funding was lost, and state-mandated pension costs increased.

The 2006 opening of the dispatch center added 18 employees and $1.3 million in payroll costs. That same year, the equivalent of 42 full-time positions were added to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts at a cost of $325,000.

In addition, six employees with combined salaries of about $82,000 were added to staff the Pepsi Ice Center.

“It all comes back to the new enterprises,” City Manager Tom Hamilton said.

If that wasn’t enough, the city also took on a $500,000 salary cost for 11 employees in the Planning and Code Enforcement Department when federal funding was cut.

A hiring freeze has been implemented as a result of the budget discussions, reducing the city’s payroll of about 840 by nine employees. Hamilton said the city is saving $60,000 a month with the freeze.

In addition, Hamilton said, the city is paying $1 million more for fuel and another $1 million in new garbage dumping fees.

All of those bills have shrunk the city’s reserve account — used for emergencies and to cover bills until other funds arrive — from roughly $19 million in 2006 to about $4.6 million today.

City Finance Director Brian Barnes warned the council during a recent budget work session that reserves are so low, Bloomington would have to borrow money if it had to respond to a natural disaster.

Squeeze on employees

In addition to the next $1 million in budget cuts, Huette and Ward 9 Alderman Jim Fruin want to see costs for the city’s biggest expense — people — shaved. In the past four years, the city’s payroll has grown by about $2 million annually, said Fruin.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean pink slips for employees, Huette said. Costs can be trimmed other ways, including attrition and having employees pay a greater share of their benefits costs.

“This should be an easy place to start when we are talking about an employee base that has an annual 6 percent turnover,” Huette added. “Seventy percent of our budget is personnel. There is no way we can’t address that and still expect to reduce our budget.”

One local resident, Steve Pruett of Bloomington, has watched the council wrestle with its budget. He’s skeptical the costs can be trimmed.

“With so many city employees represented by unions, and those salaries and benefits tied to contracts, the question is: How can you make those cuts?” Pruett asked.

Union frustration

And while no one is suggesting layoffs, city employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 699 are worried about their jobs, said Michael Jefferson, the union’s regional representative. Local 699 represents more than 150 public service, parks, library and maintenance workers.

“Our biggest concern is that our members face all these budgetary restraints because of a building,” Jefferson said, referring to the Coliseum. In its first year, the Coliseum’s unexpected deficit cost the city $2.5 million; it’s projected to drop to about $1.6 million this year.

Adding to rank-and-file frustrations during recent contract negotiations is the fact some bosses have received more than the 3 percent raise most union members were awarded this past year. Union members also receive another 2 percent increase for anniversaries based on increments of five years.

City Engineer Doug Grovesteen, for example, received a 4.9 percent increase and now earns $103,393 in salary. And Public Service Director Rick Clem received a 5.4 percent increase last year to raise his salary to $91,431. Police Chief Roger Aikin took home a 3.8 percent pay raise, and earns $125,925.

Hamilton said administrative staff raises should be different than union raises. They are based on merit, so some employees may not get a raise, he said, adding they are also evaluated against pay for similar jobs in other cities.

Jefferson said the wage difference between the two groups has never sat well with his members, but they’ve also never been unhappy enough to strike.

“A 3 percent raise on our salaries is a lot different than a 4 percent raise on their salaries,” Jefferson said. “Why is there a double standard?”

How and why

The city of Bloomington is facing a $3 million shortfall in its $75 million general fund for the coming year that begins May 1.

The money

The fund pays daily operating expenses and receives revenue from four primary sources: $25 million in sales taxes; $22 million in property taxes; $7 million in state income and property taxes; and $21 million from other small taxes and fees.

The growth

In recent years, revenue growth allowed the city to add new facilities, including the emergency dispatch center, U.S. Cellular Coliseum and the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. Those projects also added 66 employees to the city payroll.

The problem

In the last year, the economy has slowed. Sales tax revenues dropped $1 million in the past 18 months. At the same time, mandated police pension costs increased nearly 27 percent, and fire pension costs spiked nearly 41 percent. The Coliseum faces a shortfall of $1.6 million, down from $2.5 million in 2006-07.

The other costs

A range of other expenses, from the cost of garbage pickup to the annual holiday party, are also under scrutiny.

The task at hand

City officials are now examining a combination of budget cuts and tax and fee hikes to solve the problem. The city council must vote on a budget before May 1.

SOURCES: City of Bloomington, Pantagraph archives

Making money

Raises for city workers vary greatly; union members receive a standardized annual salary increase while city administrators earn merit raises that can be a larger percentage than the union increases. The disparity has been questioned as the city examines a $3 million shortfall in its upcoming budget.

Union contracts

Union...Department...Contract length...Base salary...Annual raises*

Local 362 ...Support staff ...two years ...$9.63-$14.96...3 percent

Local 362...Parking...two years...$12.48...3 percent

Local 699...Library...four years...$5.92-$13.16...3 percent first year, 2 1/2 percent second, third and fourth years

Local 699...Public service, Parks, Maintenance...two years...$21.95-$26.52...3 percent

Local 362...Building inspectors...three years...$14.63-$28.18...3 percent

Local 1000...Water...four years...$20.34-$32.48...3 percent

Administrative Salaries

Supervisor...Title...2005...Percent change...2006...Percent change...2007

Roger Aikin...Police chief...$115,979...4.2...$121,082...3.8...$125,925

Dan Augstin...Director of fleet management... N/A...N/A...$82,776...5.6...$87,742

Brian Barnes...Finance director...$98,362...3.7...$102,100...4.2...$106,592

Emily Bell...Human resources director...$106,146...4.2...$110,817...3.6...$114,917

Rick Clem...Public service director...N/A...N/A...$86,500...5.4...$91,431

Craig Cummings...Water director...$97,344...0...$97,344...8.1...$105,896***

Todd Greenburg...Corporation counsel...$96,130...4.1...$100,263...4.1...$104,574

Doug Grovesteen ...Engineering director...$93,960...4.4...$98,282...4.9...$103,393

Tom Hamilton...City manager...$118,520...3.9...$123,380...0...$123,379***

Mark Huber...Planning and code enforcement director...$81,000...4.7...$85,050...5.7...$90,153

Dean Kohn...Parks and recreation director...$88,000...0...$88,000...10.7...$98,587***

Bruce Marquis...Cultural district executive director...$89,987...4.1...$93,857...4.8...$98,550

Keith Ranney...Fire chief...$101,963...10.8...$114,354**...4.2...$119,386

Scott Sprouls...Information services director...$85,000...0...$85,000...10.7...$95,236***

Tracey Sullivan-Covert...City clerk...$62,029...2.8...$63,828...0...$63,827***

*Salary rates do not include a 2 percent increase workers receive every five years.

** Market adjustment...

*** No evaluation processed previous year.


Strike-Free Education Act: D.O.A.

Though Pennsbury (PA) school directors voted unanimously to support a bill against teacher strikes Thursday, the state school boards association doesn't think a legislative change will happen anytime soon. If passed, the Strike-Free Education Act, House Bill 1369, would make teacher strikes and lockouts illegal, as well as create a more detailed timeline and rules for contract negotiation. It was unveiled in early June 2007.

“I think it'll take a couple of years to really change things. It may become more of an issue over the next five to seven years,” said Tim Allwein, assistant executive director of the state school boards association.

However, Allwein has been hearing louder rumblings lately against teacher strikes.

“I think it's brought on by Act 1, which limits the taxation authority of school districts,” he said. “It's something school directors have to deal with and put in front of unions.”

The state's Act 1 sets the ceiling for tax increases at 4.4 percent. A board needs to apply for exceptions for uncontrollable costs like teacher contracts, but they can only stretch so far. Further increases can pass only with a voter referendum, but that's unlikely to pass, say school directors.

“Unfortunately what people say is that unions have pretty much disregarded Act 1 limits and said that's the board's problem,” said Allwein.

He's not aware of a school district besides Pennsbury adopting a resolution for this particular bill.

Simon Campbell, president of StopTeacherStrike Inc and resident of Lower Makefield, says the school boards association has been spinning its wheels. He has been urging individual boards to publicly take a stand against teacher strikes since 2005. That's when Pennsbury had a teacher strike for 21 days.

Currently, 13 states allow teacher strikes.

The bill, with support of local state Rep. Dave Steil, R-31, not only makes strikes illegal, but revises the process of contract negotiations. For example, contract proposals and negotiations would be more transparent to the public. If both sides have not agreed to a new contract by June 16, then the mandate would require four negotiating sessions per month. Both sides' negotiators would have to answer questions publicly every six weeks.

“Any unreasonable negotiating position would be exposed to public scrutiny,” according to a public relations document from the office of Rep. Todd Rock, R-Franklin. Rock sponsored the bill.

The bill also removes binding arbitration, which effectively obligates both sides to defer to the decision of a judge or panel, even if it means the board has to dig deeper into its coffers.

“It strips away our power to control expenses,” Pennsbury school board President Gregory Lucidi said at the meeting Thursday.

At the end of last year's contract negotiations, Pennsbury requested nonbinding arbitration so it wouldn't have to accept the recommendations.

Lucidi said Friday that the bill sets a good timeline, too.

“A timeline is very important as to how the whole thing plays out. Right now, the law doesn't give a rigorous comprehensive timeline. There's nothing to force you to go on. Districts can go years without a contract in place,” he said.

However, teachers are annoyed by the resolution.

“The anti-strike resolution was mostly symbolic, to placate vocal members of the community,” Pennsbury teachers union president George Miller said Thursday. He's also a math teacher at Pennsbury High School East. “I think it's a shame and an inflammatory vote. We're a year and a half from a contract negotiation. It was a mistake to vote now. It flies in the face of honest and open negotiations.”

Michelle Marcinaus, a school system psychologist and vice president of the Pennsbury teachers union, said this resolution will pressure teachers long before negotiations start next January.

“It seems like the board's looking to have a contentious relationship with teachers. It's not us against them. Negotiations are difficult already,” she said. “The teachers who work here love kids. This decision hurts morale.”

Campbell countered, “It's hard for a school board to control taxes when they are being threatened by strikes. ... This sends a very public message that we need to control property taxes and children need to be protected.”

In the meantime, says Allwein, the school boards association has formed a task force on labor relations. It will examine legislative platforms and make recommendations about whether they need to change.

“We want to make sure we hear from all sides that have a stake in this issue before we make our recommendations,” said Allwein.

Steil represents Lower Makefield, Yardley, Newtown, Newtown Township and District 2 of Upper Makefield.


Union members victimized by identity politics

With an eye to Saturday's Democratic caucus, the largest labor union in the state of Washington, Service Employee's International Union (SEIU), announced on Wednesday its endorsement of Barack Obama.

The SEIU had previously backed the fire-breathing John Edwards, a not-surprising selection given the former senator's aggressive positioning as the most progressive of the major Democratic candidates. But why choose Obama over Clinton? If there is one aspect of the 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination that is crystal clear in the wake of Super Tuesday, it is that working-class Democrats are voting in droves for Hillary Clinton. The less income you make, the more likely you are to vote for Clinton. Unless you're African-American.

I called Adam Glickman, spokesman for SEIU Local 775, to ask him whether the Obama endorsement might be working at cross purposes to the union membership. He responded carefully -- at times he seemed almost to be reading from a template provided by the Obama organization -- but his answers were still instructive.
* Why did the SEIU decide Obama was preferable to Clinton?

I think our members feel he is the best candidate to bring change to Washington; a fresh face who can inspire a broad-based movement of people to win fundamental change to the healthcare system.

* But progressives have been hammering Obama's healthcare plan because it doesn't include a mandate for universal coverage. Did that distinction play a role in your decision?

The details of their proposals, at this point, are less important than the sense that Obama was the candidate with the best chance of winning in November, and has a better chance of mobilizing the public to overcome the political obstacles to fundamental change.

* Exit poll data from Super Tuesday seems to indicate pretty conclusively that Clinton got the working-class vote. Do you have any thoughts on why that might be true? Is there a chance that the leadership of the SEIU might be working at cross purposes to the membership?

I think the Clinton brand obviously has a lot of positive resonance among working-class voters, and among Latino voters in particular. There's a reservoir of good will from the '90s for the Clinton name and the Clinton brand. Obama certainly has work to do to educate voters about his background and his vision for the future. But the vote among our executive board was virtually unanimous to support Obama, and as we talked to our members, and educated them about his history, his record and his background, we found that our members were attracted to that.
The Clinton brand. So, on the one hand, Hillary Clinton's popularity might be reduced to simple name recognition: Times were good in the '90s, and a Clinton was in the office. Times are bad now, let's put another Clinton in the office. But Glickman's careful toeing of the rhetoric line suggests another reason for Clinton's success. If you're looking for concrete details of exactly how Clinton plans to lend a helping hand to beleaguered working men and women, you don't have to search far. Her campaign speeches are larded with specifics -- to the point that in New Hampshire, some of the media coverage even included criticism of her speeches as boring because they contained too much detailed wonkery.

But maybe nitty-gritty details are what nervous voters crave. Obama, meanwhile, has been pushing a different product. His specialty, ever since his win in Iowa, has been magnificent, soaring, uplifting rhetoric. We end up hearing a lot more about how Obama will "bring change" than exactly what those changes will be.

This isn't because Obama doesn't have detailed policy recommendations. He does, and generally speaking, they aren't that different from Clinton's. But he's made a specific strategic choice to use his moments of greatest public exposure -- such as his Super Tuesday speech -- to emphasize the transformative nature of his campaign, rather than to reassure an anxious electorate on exactly how an Obama government is going to cheer up the working class.

Glickman and the Washington state SEIU may well be correct -- Obama might be the best candidate to deliver victory for Democrats in the general election. But he's never going to get there unless he starts giving the people who vote in Democratic primaries what they want.


Dem-Union politics of bullying, intimidation

Prominent Nevada Democrats have been shuttling from meeting to meeting recently, trying to patch up frayed friendships following last month’s at-times brutal presidential caucus. Rory Reid, the Clark County Commission chairman who was Sen. Hillary Clinton’s state chairman, has met with prominent advertising executive Billy Vassiliadis, who was on Sen. Barack Obama’s steering committee, as well as D. Taylor, head of the Culinary Union, which backed Obama.

Sen. Harry Reid, state Chairwoman Jill Derby, state Sen. Steven Horsford, state Sen. Dina Titus, Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen and many others are engaged in the fence-mending, to the extent it’s even possible. A partial account of the wreckage left in the wake of the caucus:

In the final days of the contest, former President Clinton accused the union of voter intimidation, even as the Culinary and Obama accused the Clinton campaign and its allies of vote suppression. The state teachers union sued the state party to shut down special caucus sites on the Strip that were viewed as Culinary sites. The chairman of the Clark County party called Culinary leader Taylor a bully.

Then there was a raft of back-and-forth accusations about support for gaming, opposition to Yucca Mountain, and whether the Clintons were injecting race into the campaign.

The whole imbroglio has many in the Democratic coalition still feeling raw, according to interviews with nearly a dozen prominent Democratic officeholders and strategists and labor leaders.

For the most part, they say the party will coalesce and try to win Nevada for the Democratic nominee in November, while trying to knock off Rep. Jon Porter, the Republican from the third congressional district.

Privately, however, these Democrats acknowledge long-term ramifications in the small and insular world of state Democratic politics, where everyone knows one another — but in some cases, can’t stand to be in the same room.

“The Democratic Party is like any family. Sometimes there are squabbles, but more often than not you love them,” said Rory Reid, former chairman of the Nevada Democratic Party. “I’ve beat my brothers at competitive contests, but we’re family and at the end of the day we’re together and we’ll be unified to beat the Republican nominee.”

Reid said he understood why the Culinary Union leadership would be upset. Badly mistaken conventional wisdom deemed the union kingmakers. But the Clinton campaign carved up the Culinary, which endorsed Obama 10 days before the caucus, and won a majority of delegates from the special caucus sites on the Strip.

“It developed its own dynamic that nobody controlled,” Reid said of the highly intense final days. “But like I said, I’ve been on the same side with D. Taylor many more times than on opposite sides. This was a unique circumstance that I don’t see happening again.”

Vassiliadis more or less agreed. “A lot of people were upset, and I’m not sure many have stopped being upset, over Bill Clinton’s attacks,” he said, referring to a Clinton charge that Culinary intimidated its workers into supporting Obama, in the kind of rhetoric often heard from union-busting corporate lawyers. (By the same token, Clinton supporters were angered that Taylor and other Obama supporters would use the racially charged term “vote suppression.”)

“The lawsuit left a bitter taste in a lot of folks’ mouths,” he said, referring to the teachers’ attempt to shut down the Strip caucus sites.

“But at the same time, there isn’t that disrespect for Sen. Clinton on our side or for Sen. Obama on their side, and there are folks on both sides who have worked together and been friends for many years.”

Dan Hart, a Democratic consultant and adviser to the teachers union, said what appeared to be party infighting during the caucus was nothing more than a sign of Democratic excitement: “Everybody was very active in the event, and I think it proves how involved and engaged these organizations are and how they can get their members engaged, and that’s for the better.”

There will be repercussions, however.

Most Nevada observers think the Culinary is eager to show it can still wield political muscle, lest elected officials get the wrong idea. “They need to make the conventional wisdom go away, however untrue it is,” said one Democratic strategist who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

The current conventional wisdom of Culinary weakness is no doubt as askew as the pre-caucus view of the union as hegemonic.

Still, whispers of Culinary vulnerability have been compounded by recent Sun reports that a number of Democrats — Clark County Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani, Tom Collins and Lawrence Weekly, as well as commission candidate Larry Brown — have taken political donations from companies controlled by Sheldon Adelson, the notoriously anti-union Republican owner of the Venetian.

Taking money from Adelson had long been considered taboo because of Culinary’s watchful eyes, and many observers expect Culinary to mete out punishment in a county commission Democratic primary.

Culinary Political Director Pilar Weiss declined to comment.

In a Sun interview after the caucus, Taylor mixed bitterness about accusations of voter intimidation leveled against the union with congratulations to the Clinton team for a hard-fought victory. He also cheered the state party for a big caucus turnout.

The caucus fight will bleed over into one of the most significant ballot initiatives this fall. The teachers union, which launched the lawsuit against the Strip sites that was seen as a direct attack on Culinary, hopes voters will support an increase in the gaming tax to pay for education. Culinary, whose members work in the casinos and which before might have sat on its hands, could actively work against the initiative, at least behind the scenes.

Hart, the teachers’ political consultant, said he isn’t worried. “I think they’re as concerned and their members are as concerned about education as everyone else. And I don’t think they would resort to petty politics.”

Then there’s Ruben Kihuen.

The first-term assemblyman and first immigrant elected to the Nevada Legislature endorsed Clinton and took her on a tour of his Culinary-heavy district. He told her members were ignoring the Obama endorsement and supporting her, in front of the assembled national press corps. It was seen as an attempt to drive a stake through the heart of the union.

Kihuen was elected with much help from the Culinary political organization, though he told the Sun the union’s help has been overstated.

In any case, union officials are still fuming, according to sources familiar with their thinking.

Kihuen, who didn’t return a phone call Friday, was offered a chance to apologize and make amends at a meeting, but either declined or failed to do so adequately, according to a source familiar with the meeting but not associated with either party.

In a previous interview, Kihuen said he supports the work of the Culinary.

Kihuen should ask for no favors in the Legislature, where Culinary wields considerable clout. Nor should he be surprised if he faces a primary challenge, if not in this election, then in a future one.

“The relationship’s been severed,” the source said. “Maybe not this year, but they’ll teach Ruben the ultimate lesson in the future.”

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, one of the few prominent Democrats lucky enough to have stayed out of the fight by not endorsing either candidate, called for calm.

“I think people need to keep their eyes on the prize. The most important thing is to elect a Democrat as president of the United States.”


Empire State leftists enthusiastic, divided

It is hard to know whether it was the robocalls, the blizzards of leaflets, the sheer excitement of a historic race or the euphoria of the Super Bowl. But more than a third of the state’s enrolled Democrats voted Tuesday, the highest percentage in a New York presidential primary in 20 years and more than twice the proportion that cast ballots in 2004.

The turnout was heaviest along the West Side of Manhattan, from Harlem to Greenwich Village, where Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator Barack Obama seemed to battle to a draw.

Turnout was also very heavy in neighborhoods in central and western Brooklyn, where Mr. Obama was victorious.

But over all, Mrs. Clinton won the city with about 55 percent of the vote; she took the state, 57 percent to 40 percent.

Reflecting constituents’ passions and polarization, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama each carried 5 of the 10 Assembly districts with the highest turnouts.

The 10 districts with the smallest turnout — a number of them in southern Brooklyn — were mostly won by Mrs. Clinton. And she ran strongest, getting more than 78 percent, in Woodhaven and Richmond Hills, Queens, where only 28 percent of the eligible Democrats voted.

Mr. Obama was strongest in a district in central Brooklyn, where 40 percent of the Democrats turned out, and he won with 67 percent.

Exit polls hinted that Mrs. Clinton benefited from a home-state advantage.

Nationally, Mr. Obama did well among male voters and black voters in Tuesday’s primaries; but Mrs. Clinton cut significantly into his advantage among those groups in New York. She also did especially well with Hispanic New Yorkers, receiving about three-fourths of their votes.

But the exit polls also suggested challenges Mrs. Clinton will face as she campaigns around the country. She fared as well among women in New Jersey and Connecticut as she did in New York. But among men in general, and among black and Hispanic voters, she scored less well in New Jersey and Connecticut than in New York, the exit polls by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International showed.

“I believe six months ago she had an expectation of winning 40 to 50 percent of the black vote,” said Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, the Brooklyn Democratic chairman, who had endorsed Mrs. Clinton. “Now, a more realistic number is 20 or 25 percent, and that presents a problem in the states that have a substantial black vote.”

Mr. Lopez also estimated that in Brooklyn, which Mrs. Clinton barely carried, the results were skewed because record numbers of young, white would-be voters, whom he presumed were Obama supporters, were ineligible because they had registered as independents or were enrolled in the Working Families Party or the Green Party.

Mr. Obama took only one of the state’s 62 counties, Tompkins in the Finger Lakes, home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, where nearly 50 percent of eligible Democrats voted. Mrs. Clinton sealed her New York victory by capitalizing on solid margins elsewhere upstate.

Clinton supporters took pains to explain that while they never took New York for granted, with nearly two dozen other nominating contests on the same day, they had scarce resources to invest here.

Similarly, given that New York is Mrs. Clinton’s home state, Mr. Obama barely campaigned here, although he spent a good deal more time fund-raising here.

Statewide, the Republican turnout on Tuesday was about 20 percent.

Republican Party leaders originally loyal to Rudolph W. Giuliani demonstrated their nimbleness and effectiveness by delivering the state to Senator John McCain, if only by a bare majority, just a week after Mr. Giuliani ended his presidential candidacy and endorsed Mr. McCain.

Democratic officeholders, most of whom embraced Mrs. Clinton before Mr. Obama began gaining ground, were apparently less persuasive. In Brooklyn, Mr. Obama carried the Congressional districts represented by Edolphus Towns and Yvette D. Clark, both of whom had endorsed Mrs. Clinton.

In Manhattan, Representative Charles B. Rangel was an original Clinton supporter, while his wife, Alma, endorsed Mr. Obama last week. Mrs. Clinton won his district, though not by enough to keep Mr. Obama from getting three of its six convention delegates.

Black elected officials who embraced Mr. Obama generally fared better at delivering the votes. In central Brooklyn, he defeated Mrs. Clinton by more than two to one in a district where he was endorsed by the local assemblyman, Hakeem Jeffries.

Mr. Obama carried other predominantly black districts in Harlem, Brooklyn and southeast Queens by about 60 percent.

In the largely Hispanic South Bronx, Mrs. Clinton polled 73 percent.

She did nearly as well in mostly Jewish neighborhoods, including Forest Hills, Queens, and Borough Park and Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn.

She got more than 1 in 3 votes from black voters in New York and about 7 in 10 from Hispanic voters, also more than in any other state.

Over all in the state, Mrs. Clinton won 139 delegates on Tuesday, and Mr. Obama won 93. The state also has 49 so-called super delegates who will go to the Democratic convention unaffiliated.

Whatever the implications of the vote for November, analysts were already parsing the returns for clues to the 2009 mayoral race.

One said Mrs. Clinton’s showing bodes well for Christine C. Quinn, the City Council Speaker, if she runs against Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., who is black. (Missing from that calculation is the probable candidacy of Representative Anthony D. Weiner.)

“One way of looking at this is that Obama is getting the ‘reform’ side of the party cleavage, while Clinton is getting the more ‘regular’ side, though this is not clear-cut,” said John H. Mollenkopf, executive director of the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York Graduate Center.

“The Obama pattern looks a lot like the Dinkins vote, while the Clinton pattern looks a lot like the Bloomberg vote.”


Firefighter union's proper use of union-dues

Van Buren (AR) firefighters are looking to enhance the entrance to the downtown area while gaining a meeting place for members of the local union. About six months ago, members of the International Association of Firefighters Van Buren Professional Firefighters Local 4078 purchased the former Elmer's Cabinet Shop at 12 Fayetteville Road.

The building had become an eyesore with its roof caving in, according to Battalion Chief Tim Arnold. "We want to be community oriented," Arnold said. "And, this will help in the effort to revitalize downtown." Firefighters used their union dues to purchase the former cabinet show, but are putting their sweat into redoing the building to be used for union meetings, Christmas parties, banquets and retirement parties.

"The union currently holds its monthly meetings at fire station No. 2," Arnold said. "We have met at local restaurants and even rented the local VFW hall a couple of times. Our parties have been held at local schools."

Now, every Monday, the firefighters will lend their construction expertise to renovating a building which has a roof that is collapsing. First, firefighters are tearing down a warehouse to the north of the main building.

"It was in such bad shape that it could not be repaired," Arnold said. "It was not part of the original structure and was falling in."

The bricks will be cleaned and Fire Chief Jerry McAdoo will use them to brick the front of the remaining building.

Arnold noted that the walls of the building are the only sound part of the structure.

"Basically, it will have to be torn down and rebuilt," he said. "It will take a lot of work on our part, but hopefully in a short period of time we will have it looking nice."

The remodeled 2,000-square-foot structure will have a large meeting room with kitchen and up-to-date restrooms. A mural also is planned for the side of the building which faces the depot park.

Firefighters will hold some fundraisers for the renovation and donations may be mailed to P.O. Box 1133, Van Buren, AR 72956.


Will Hoffa account for Teamster-Mob link?

For more than a decade, federal officials and court-appointed monitors have strained to clean up two New York-area unions, representing cement truck drivers and construction laborers, that prosecutors say were long under Mafia control.

Indeed, prosecutors once described the cement truck drivers’ union, Local 282 of the Teamsters, as a “candy store” for the mob that they say funneled $1.2 million a year to John Gotti, the longtime Gambino crime family boss who died in prison in 2002.

On Thursday, federal, state and local authorities announced one of the most expansive organized crime indictments in years, involving 87 defendants, including much of the leadership of the Gambino crime family. In the 170-page indictment, which was filled with nicknames like “Jackie the Nose” and “Fat Richie” and accusations of extortion and murder, was evidence that cleanup efforts of the Teamsters and the Laborers have fallen short.

The indictments charged that a trucking company owner, Joseph Spinnato, together with unnamed others, repeatedly embezzled money from Local 282’s health and pension funds. The charges detailed an enduring practice in which construction and trucking companies contribute less money to union benefit funds than is required, usually by underreporting the hours that employees work. While the scheme often operates with the complicity of union stewards, officials with Local 282 and its benefits funds were not accused of wrongdoing.

In a separate count, Louis Mosca, the business manager of Laborers’ Local 325 in Jersey City, was charged with taking a $2,000 bribe to give someone a union card, a move often done to help someone qualify for a construction job or union benefits. Michael King, a shop steward of Laborers’ Local 731 in Queens, was also accused of selling a membership.

Mr. Spinnato, Mr. Mosca and Mr. King have pleaded not guilty. Officials from Local 282 and the Laborers’ union, which represents construction workers, brick haulers and asbestos removers, declined to comment.

Robert D. Luskin, a former federal organized crime prosecutor who is special counsel to the Laborers’ International Union of North America as part of a decade-long internal effort to root out corruption, said the labor racketeering charges were not surprising.

“The fact is the dollars involved in the construction industry are so great and the opportunities at so many levels for corruption are so broad, that this is a problem that will never, ever go away,” he said.

Prosecutors say the unions that deliver cement and other building supplies have long been a magnet for Mafia involvement because mob officials know that if they delay deliveries, construction companies can lose large amounts of money. Those union locals thus become an ideal pressure point for extortion.

The Gambino crime family made Teamsters Local 282 a longtime fief, with three of the union’s presidents going to prison in the 1980s and 1990s for their links to organized crime.

In 1995, a judge approved a federal monitorship of Local 282, based in Lake Success, in Nassau County near the Queens border, after prosecutors realized that mob influence remained endemic.

Milton Mollen, a retired judge who helped run the monitoring program, said that more than 50 of Local 282’s officials and stewards were removed because of their links to organized crime.

“I’m a bit concerned about the indictment as far as Local 282 is concerned,” Mr. Mollen said. “We think it’s been pretty much cleaned up and run democratically. The indictments concerned the benefit funds, and unfortunately we did not have jurisdiction over the funds.”

Federal investigators said that the underpayments to Local 282’s benefits funds were at least $500,000 and possibly far more.

Gordon S. Heddell, the inspector general for the United States Labor Department, said the indictments did not allege any corruption involving officials at Local 282’s funds, but he said he might pursue a further investigation of those funds. “You have these health and pension funds where it’s easy for an organized crime family to embezzle and put pressure on union officials,” he said. “Those monitorships have been very effective, but we still have to deal with organized crime. Organized crime is like a cancer. Sometimes we treat it and beat it, but sometimes new forms emerge.”

Herman Benson, founder of the Association for Union Democracy, a Brooklyn-based group that has long fought union corruption, said that in the past, union officials had often been complicit when trucking companies underpaid benefits. In general, he said, unions have safeguards to ensure that employers contribute the proper amount.

“There’s often a deal to overlook these things,” he said.

The indictment also accused trucking company officials of falsifying records by ordering Local 282 drivers to work without submitting papers showing that they were doing a union job.

The indictments were awkward for Gary La Barbera, the president of the New York City Central Labor Council as well as president of Local 282. Mr. La Barbera, who has helped lead the cleanup of that local, declined to comment, but an aide noted that the indictments did not allege wrongdoing at the local.

Mark Feldman, who was chief of the organized crime racketeering section for the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York from 1995 to 2006, said the indictments did not allege extensive corruption by union officials.

“I don’t think this marks a deep erosion of efforts to root out corruption at companies and unions in the construction industry,” Mr. Feldman said. “I don’t think this signifies anything horrible. You’re taking an antibiotic and it’s cleaned up almost all of the infection.”

On Friday, Mr. Luskin and other union monitors suspended Mr. Mosca, and Local 325’s executive board agreed to emergency supervision.

Mr. Luskin said he would investigate further, adding that he would not be surprised if the corruption was broader than what was in the indictment.

He noted that Local 325 had been temporarily placed into trusteeship in 1999 because of financial irregularities and undemocratic practices.

“For as long as we’re around, we’re going to have to fight a ground war in New York and New Jersey,” Mr. Luskin said. “It’s like World War I. We take some ground and then we have to fight to take it back again.”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has been under federal supervision since 1989, when a federal racketeering lawsuit named 27 Mafia leaders and all 18 of the union’s board members as defendants. The lawsuit asserted that the mob had controlled four Teamster presidents, including Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975 after pledging to regain the union’s presidency and end mob domination. As a result of the federal supervision, more than 250 Teamster officials and members have been removed from the union.

“These indictments make absolutely clear that you can’t assume that past prosecutions and trusteeships are enough to keep organized crime out of the labor movement,” said Edwin H. Stier, a former prosecutor who once headed the Teamsters’ internal anticorruption effort. “Unless there’s continued pressure from federal and state authorities, labor corruption is going to become very serious again.”


Labor law casualty: Patriotism

If you work at Verizon, don't hang the American flag on the outside of your cubicle wall. You can, however, unfurl Old Glory on the inside of your cubicle. The flap came to light after a Verizon Business worker returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan to find a supervisor had removed his American flag and Massachusetts state flag from the outside of his cubicle walls.

Terry Skiest, who works for a small Verizon Business office in Acton, Mass., and served three tours of duty in the Middle East as a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, hung the flags on the outside walls because there wasn't enough room to hang them inside his two-person cubicle.

When Skiest returned home in November from his third tour, he found the flags removed and placed inside his cube, a union spokesman said.

Skiest, recounting the story in a video, says that when the flags were taken down, a co-worker was told by a supervisor they "could be considered propaganda or offensive to some people."

The union contends that Verizon Business adopted a draconian policy against displaying personal items in public areas to prevent the posting of pro-union fliers. The union is attempting to organize about 2,500 non-union Verizon workers, including Skiest, who are part of the former MCI, which Basking Ridge-based Verizon bought in 2005.

The policy enforcement came about only after the National Labor Relations Board "cited the company for prohibiting distribution of union materials while permitting anti-union solicitations," the union said.

Verizon spokesman Jack Hoey said, "It's not a question of can you display [the flag]; it's where it can be displayed."

According to Hoey, the company, which does fly the American flag in common areas at its locations and supports workers who take military leave, considers Skiest's flag to be a personal item. As such, he said, it can't be displayed in the so-called common area of the company, which would include the exterior of a cubicle.

Skiest's flag "was not removed from the building; it was relocated from the common space to his personal space," Hoey said.

Hoey also blamed the labor union, which he accused of "manipulating the facts." Hoey said the Skiest matter occurred four months ago and that the labor complaints filed by the union left the company with little choice.

"The union put us between a rock and a hard place," said Hoey. "As a result of those complaints, we have no choice but to strictly enforce the policy."

Rand Wilson, a spokesman for the Communications Workers of America, countered that Verizon is "so obsessed about preventing Verizon Business workers from unionizing that they can't see the difference between union activity and a guy's pride in his service to his country."

The organizing efforts come as Verizon and its unions gear up for contract negotiations this summer (as many as 10,000 New Jersey Verizon workers are covered by union contracts). And the union isn't about to let the Skiest flag flap disappear. To that end, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Communications Workers of America have sponsored a Web site www.putuptheflag.org complete with a poignant video featuring Skiest, who describes his flags and how they were taken down.

"Obviously, the union has invested some resources to support this guy," said the CWA's Wilson, adding Skiest was "very reluctant" to take his problems to the union. "He wanted his flags put back up, but nobody would listen to him."


UAW members on strike in Virginia

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