Strike-happy SEIU served with decert election

Nurses at Pomona (CA) Valley Hospital Medical Center will vote Wednesday and Thursday to consider decertifying their union. More than 300 nurses at the hospital signed a petition submitted in December to end representation by the Service Employees International Union, Local 121RN, which has represented nurses at the hospital since 2003.

The union, which represents about 1,000 nurses at Pomona Valley, called for multiple strikes last fall during contract negotiations with the hospital. A new contract was ratified by nurses in December.

"There's a large group of nurses that did not support the actions of last fall when the (union) asked for the nurses to go on strike," said Jeannie Badertscher, a nurse who supports decertification.

Frankie Coley, a nurse at the hospital for 17 years who opposes the union, said that benefits, scheduling and patient-care issues raised by the union "are not issues at Pomona Valley Hospital."

"And (nurse/patient) ratios that the union has brought up are mandated by the state," Coley said. "I don't think we need a second or third party regulating us when the state already regulates ratios."

Sue Weinstein, executive director of the union, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Voting will take place at the hospital in three sessions each day - from 6 to 9 a.m., noon to 3 p.m., and 6 to 9 p.m., said hospital spokeswoman Kathy Roche.

At least 50 percent of voting nurses must approve decertification for it to pass, Roche said.

Ballots are expected to be tallied Thursday night, Badertscher said.


Racially-imbalanced unions get their way

Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. is disappointed, and rightfully so. For one, he was sold out by his colleagues. Two, he and his colleagues were once again snubbed by the city’s building trades unions.

The showdown began back in December, when Council, upset over the unions’ continual eff-you attitude over just how many of their members aren’t white men, threatened to open the Convention Center’s $700 million expansion to nonunion workers. It was an admirably ballsy move. No numbers, no money.

The unions (playing Lucy in this compromise) pinky-sweared to Council (Charlie Brown) that they’d finally reveal the racial makeup of their membership. They’d also adopt the city’s aggressive minority hiring goals: a workforce that’s 25 percent African-American, 10 percent Latino, 5 percent Asian and 10 percent female. Then, once Council approved the diversity plans, the unions could work exclusively on the Convention Center expansion.

Last week the unions—well, most of them—submitted their diversity plans.

Goode says the carpenters, the electricians and the operating engineers didn’t submit anything. Two of the unions didn’t submit long-term diversity goals. Some unions based their numbers on apprentices, instead of journeymen and members. And most of the unions’ diversity goals didn’t show much movement at all.

Goode calls the package of plans “ridiculous.”

Of the 11 plans submitted, he approved only two—one from Laborers Local 332, whose membership is predominantly African-American, and one from the Iron Workers Local 401.

“And I had doubts about voting for that,” he says.

Goode wanted Council to approve the diversity plans individually, based on the goals Council had previously set. But he says his colleagues, feeling the heat from Gov. Rendell and state Rep. Dwight Evans, approved them all in one fell swoop.

“People were clearly not happy with all the plans,” he says, adding that Council received them around noon, and approved them all by 5 p.m.

“Surely, I believe we could’ve taken anywhere from another day to a week to review the plans and make decisions, and approve only the plans we were actually satisfied with.

“At the end of the day, it is what it is,” he continues after a heavy sigh, “but clearly anyone who reviews the plans realizes this isn’t what was intended by the legislation when it was unanimously approved and enacted in December.”

Goode consoles himself with the good news—that Council finally got the numbers. It’s a feat that Mayor Nutter deemed historic, and the media labeled a breakthrough.

And the numbers prove what everyone has known for ages—that the city’s labor unions are virtually all white and all male, and (here’s the final insult) most of their members don’t even live in Philadelphia.

Goode says about 80 percent of union members are white, and 70 percent live outside the city.

So why do we let them bully us again?

When Rendell and Evans scared Council into thinking that unless they approved Convention Center expansion ASAP, the project would be doomed, Council gave the diversity plans something called “interim approval.”

Goode’s understanding was that the plans would be further reviewed by the mayor’s new commission, and if the plans were revised, Council would get another kick at the football.

“It’s my understanding that the building trades were convinced by certain state and Convention Center officials that City Council was going to abdicate its authority on this issue,” says Goode, “and therefore would not have to approve those plans. Of course that turned out not to be true.”

But in many ways, it kinda was.

With the $1 billion construction of the city’s sports stadiums, the unions didn’t meet the projects’ employment goal of providing at least 45 percent of workforce hours to racial minorities, who make up a majority of the city’s population. With the Convention Center expansion, Council had a chance to hold the unions to diversity standards, but ultimately punked out.

Asked what’s next, Goode says he and his colleagues await diversity plans from the holdouts, and the Convention Center expansion project will proceed as scheduled.

No one seems to know what will happen to the unions that didn’t comply at all. Goode says, according to the ordinance Council passed in December, it’s up to the Convention Center authority to make sure the holdout unions don’t sign the project labor agreement.

Time will tell.

But Goode says he’s still encouraged. The mayor’s still-to-be-appointed commission will study racial inclusion in the city’s building-trades unions, and Council authorized the committee on commerce and economic development, which Goode chairs, to investigate the issue as well.

“Now that we have the numbers, the threat of an open shop becomes a little more real,” he says. “If the unions are not going to diversify over the long term, there’s no way we can have only union members working and reach the type of diversity on projects that should be required.”

But when it comes to the Convention Center expansion project, Goode admits: “Council gave up a whole lot of leverage of this project, because essentially you will get more aggressive diversity plans if those plans are negotiated before construction starts.”


Left-wing groups assist Alabama Teamsters

The Teamsters union and New Era Cap Co. have reached a deal at the company's 118-worker Mobile distribution center, both sides confirmed, although they released no details. "We've got a contract," said Jim Gookins, business agent for Teamsters Local 991, which represents union members in the Mobile area.

This would be the first contract for the Teamsters at the Crichton warehouse, where workers voted 57-53 on July 12 for union representation. Conflicts over unionization are routine. But accusations of racial discrimination, along with the high-profile nature of New Era's products, pushed the Mobile dispute to national prominence among groups that advocate for civil rights and worker rights.

The agreement arrived at a deadline set by the union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People after which they promised to pressure Major League Baseball to take action against New Era. Making caps for baseball is the biggest business for privately-held New Era. The company, based in Buffalo, N.Y., has $340 million in annual sales.

The agreement was reached at 2:30 a.m. Monday, Gookins said. He said negotiations began making progress with a session last Thursday running from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., and continuing over the weekend.

"We have reached an agreement with the Teamsters," New Era spokeswoman Dana Marciniak wrote in an e-mail. "However, both parties agreed that details of that agreement will be discussed after a joint press release is distributed this week."

Gookins said the contract has yet to be ratified by workers. He said that vote should come by the end of next week.

The Teamsters had said they had three key issues. They were seeking higher wages for workers at the factory; they were trying to get the company to modify an attendance system that pro-union workers said was punitive and unfairly run; and they were trying to get workers rehired that the Teamsters said were fired for pro-union sympathies.

The company has claimed wages are fair, that the attendance policy is identical to one at the company's unionized plant in Derby, N.Y., and that workers were fired because of changes in work done at the plant northeast of Moffett Road and Interstate 65.

New Era was also under fire from college students who push for better working conditions at plants making college-logo apparel. The University of Wisconsin-Madison cut off its license to the company, and other schools have moved in that direction.

A contract could help ease those concerns at least partially, said Larry Root, a professor at the University of Michigan. Root is the head of a university committee that monitors labor conditions. The school is among several that have written to New Era with concerns.

"If the Teamsters felt the concerns that they had earlier were no longer a concern, that would be an important piece of information for us," Root said.

Andrew Cannon, a sophomore at the University of Southern Mississippi, was among students from different schools who met with workers last month. Cannon, a Mobilian who graduated from McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, said that students' concerns would be eased if the union was happy

"The contract the Teamsters had made out was the one we wanted," Cannon said.

New Era also has a 380-worker Jackson plant and a 410-worker Demopolis plant.


Publicly-funded labor-activism in S. Florida

The Center for Labor Research & Studies was established at Florida International University in 1971 to promote research, curriculum development, teaching and community services in labor-management relations across the state.

The Center, whose mission is to provide services to workers and their organizations, is accredited through the United Association for Labor Education. A variety of programs and projects are undertaken by the Center including credit and non-credits classes, conferences, research, and a publication series.

The Center faculty come from a variety of academic areas and have extensive experience working directly with labor organizations. The center is a key analyst of issues facing Florida's working men and women. CLR&S provides a unique resource to students, working adults, policy makers and researchers throughout Florida.


Will Hoffa comment on Mob-Teamster ties?

Everyday businesspeople have a role to play in combating organized crime, two federal agents told members of the Schaumburg (IL) Business Association Tuesday. An FBI agent and federal attorney spoke about their involvement in the investigation and prosecution of the "Family Secrets" mob trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Scully said the Chicago Crime Commission was formed in 1919 out of the frustration legitimate businesses felt from the influence of organized crime. Since then, more than 1,000 gangland murders have been committed in the Chicago area, FBI Special Agent Michael Maseth said. Despite's the commission's many successes, only 14 of those killings resulted in convictions, he said.

The "Family Secrets" case brought about some of the most significant victories in the law's long battle with the mob, he added.

The five men found guilty in September in that case were James Marcello of Chicago, Frank Calabrese Sr. of Oak Brook, Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo of Chicago, Paul Schiro of Phoenix and Anthony "Twan" Doyle of Wickenburg, Ariz.

Among prosecutors' first challenges, Scully said, was proving the Chicago Outfit actually existed.

The mob's coded language and code of silence long prevented isolated arrests from doing any significant damage to overall operations.

"To be honest, for a while (former FBI Director) J. Edgar Hoover wouldn't even acknowledge that there was a mob," Scully said.

The creation of racketeering charges -- they target illegal business operations rather than traditional criminal acts like theft and murder -- helped law enforcement widen its net.

But what helped unlock years of investigative work in the Chicago area was the 1998 offer of help from Frank Calabrese Jr.

He became an informant and spied on his father - breaking a cardinal rule of the mob, Maseth said.

The younger Calabrese's change of heart came not from any sudden insight of right and wrong, but because he says his father had shoved a gun in his mouth after learning he'd embezzled $1 million of the outfit's money.

His assistance helped show existing evidence in a new light.

"A lot of the indictments were based on work that had been done years and years before," Scully said.

One prominent piece of evidence was a strange 1976 photo showing all of the mob's prominent figures together at a restaurant - the type of photo they'd all avoided before and after. It was conclusive proof that all knew each other well.

The younger Calabrese's help netted his brother, Nick Calabrese, who turned informant himself.

"Nick told us things we never dreamed we would hear," Maseth said. "He confessed to 15 murders."

"We really had no idea that Nick Calabrese was a killer," Scully added.

The two lawmen also detailed other aspects of the probe, like the funding of Las Vegas casinos with Teamsters' pension funds and the bombing of cars belonging to resistant extortion victims.

There were some aspects of the investigation the speakers couldn't discuss as the trial of one remaining suspect, Frank Schweis, is pending. Illness prevented Schweis from being tried with the rest.


Will unions help Clintons steal the prize?

Outside players, especially labor unions looking to help Sen. Hillary Clinton, poured more money into the presidential contest in the past week.

The independent spending, laid out in reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, show that the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees spent more than $154,000 trying to deliver a surge of support for Clinton in Maryland. The union paid for phone calls aimed at getting Clinton supporters out to vote, and for mailers supporting her candidacy. The American Federation of Teachers also pushed Clinton's bid, with $79,800 worth of radio ads.

The other major purchase by an outside group came from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which spent $32,000 on radio ads airing in Virginia that attacked John McCain for his opposition to legal abortion. The ad plays a tape of McCain calling for Roe v. Wade to be overturned -- a clip that would seem to help McCain in a Republican primary where his opponent has attacked his conservative credentials.

But this ad may have been posted with the general election in mind. Here's what Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a release posted on the group's web site. "Sen. McCain believes government has the right to interfere with the most personal and often the most difficult decisions affecting a woman's health," Richards said . "Most Americans believe just the opposite and, as more voters realize Sen. McCain's ardent anti-choice position, this will be an issue for him in the general election."


Boycott by Teamsters leads members to decertify

Times Supermarkets (Honolulu, HI) management said Tuesday that 59 percent of its employees who are members of Teamsters Union Local 996 have signed petitions to decertify the union from representing them. Times officials said in a prepared statement that they have notified the union that it no longer represents the 65 employees, in keeping with federal labor laws. Teamsters officials could not be reached for comment.

Times owner John Quinn said the calling for a boycott of the supermarket chain by the Teamsters on Jan. 15 pushed the members to sign the petition. Times received the petition Monday.

"The boycott negatively affects our business and therefore restricts our ability to recall union members," Quinn said. "It hurts everyone -- union members, our 1,000 nonunion associates and the company itself. We're not surprised by this move to decertify."

The union members comprised 110 meat cutters, wrappers and fish cutters who went on strike Dec. 18 over failed negotiations for medical coverage and pension plans. When strikers began returning to work in January, the union called for the customer boycott.

Times officials said they thought the union would make more bargaining proposals, but it never did.

Quinn said the company plans to bring back employees who have been out of work as business allows. Approximately 40 workers have been recalled to work, 38 of whom have returned. Two are out on medical leave. Others have stopped working for Times and gone on to other jobs.


Clever SEIU helps GOP incumbent to defeat

Two U.S. House incumbents, eight-term Democrat Al Wynn and nine-term Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest , were defeated in primary elections Tuesday in Maryland, as voters in their districts sent mixed messages that at once reflected and contradicted two of the main themes that have set the tone for the 2008 presidential campaign.

On one hand, both Donna Edwards, a nonprofit organization executive director and community activist who defeated Wynn in the state’s 4th District, and Andy Harris, the state senator/physician who ousted Gilchrest in the 1st District, ran on themes of political change — a popular message at a time when voters are expressing dissatisfaction with the direction of the nation as a whole and the federal government in particular.

This is, in fact, the same theme sounded by the self-proclaimed “outsider” candidates, Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain , who easily won their parties’ respective presidential primaries in Maryland (as well as in neighboring Virginia and the District of Columbia) on Tuesday.

But both Edwards and Harris won in large part because they promised to more strictly follow the ideological agendas of their party’s most activist voters — conservatives in the case of Harris, liberals in Edwards’ case — than did the incumbents they defeated. This seems to run somewhat counter to the messages of greater outreach issued by the winners in the state’s presidential contests: McCain leans to the right on most issues while Obama leans to the left, but both have promised to diminish ideological confrontation and reach across party lines in efforts to address the nation’s priority issues.

With three-quarters of the 4th District precincts reporting, Edwards was trouncing Wynn by 61 percent to 35 percent. It was the culmination of her effort to erode Wynn’s support base that she began in 2006, when she entered the Democratic primary late but still almost defeated the incumbent, holding him to a 3 percentage-point margin.

Reinforced by an earlier start, a bigger campaign treasury and stronger support from liberal activist and a few organized labor groups, Edwards drove home the issues she sought to raise against Wynn two years ago.

Her attacks were largely two-pronged. Edwards continued to skewer Wynn for voting in favor of the resolution passed in 2002 that authorized President Bush to employ military force against Iraq, describing Wynn’s later determination that his vote was a mistake as too little and too late. The other front was an effort at political jujitsu, in which she went after Wynn on what the incumbent portrayed as a strength: the seniority that had earned him a seat and a subcommittee chairmanship on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee. Edwards argued that Wynn’s position had led him to be too cozy with corporate interests. She singled out his votes for legislation, crafted largely by Republicans in 2005, that overhauled the nation’s energy and bankruptcy laws.

Edwards was bolstered by outside organizations’ independent expenditures either supporting her or opposing Wynn to the tune of more than $1.6 million, including more than $868,000 this year from the Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education. She also received a lot of grass-roots help from some liberal groups such as Democracy for America, which said in a post-primary statement to supporters, “You did it. We just beat a Bush Democrat.”

Wynn and his supporters argued that his critics had grossly exaggerated his record, arguing that the congressman’s relationships with business interests were largely oriented toward promoting economic development in the 4th, a black-majority district in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., that is largely middle-class and has some residents who are quite well off, but also has a number of lower-income communities.

Wynn played heavily on his House experience, citing his ability to bring money back to the 4th District. He received the backing of most of the unions with significant memberships in the district as well as from many of the local elected leaders. He claimed to have “the ear” of Michigan Democrat John D. Dingell , the powerful chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. And following his close call against Edwards in 2006, he spent more time doing town hall meetings and interacting with constituents.

Nonetheless, Wynn varied from the Democratic party line in the House less frequently in the run-up to his 2008 rematch with Edwards than he had previously. His score in Congressional Quarterly’s “party unity” study — which measures how often members vote with most members of their own party against most members of the other party — was a career-high 99 percent in 2007, up from 91 percent in 2006 and 87 percent in 2005. In the 4th District contest between two African-American candidates, Wynn, like Edwards, endorsed Obama in his bid to become the nation’s first black president.

Republican Gilchrest, on the other hand, made no adjustment in his voting behavior to accommodate the growing restiveness among 1st District conservative Republicans over his straying from party orthodoxy on issues such as environmental regulation and abortion rights. In fact, Gilchrest took his contrarian tendencies to an even greater level. He openly broke with the Bush administration on the Iraq war, and was one of only two House Republicans who last year supported a Democratic-crafted measure that would have required the setting of a timetable to being withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq; the other was Texas Rep. Ron Paul , who this year is running for president to promote his libertarian philosophy (and who endorsed Gilchrest in his House primary).

Gilchrest’s 2007 party unity score of 58 percent was by far the lowest among House Republicans, and was down from 75 percent in 2006 and from 88 percent as recently as 2003. Gilchrest nonetheless portrayed himself as a loyal Republican who, despite policy disagreements with the president, received Bush’s endorsement for his campaign this year. He also was backed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, long a leading voice in the conservative movement.

But many conservatives rallied around Harris, who raised roughly $1.2 million. That was an unusually strong fundraising performance by the challenger, who nearly doubled the roughly $663,000 that Gilchrest raised for the election.

With 85 percent of the 1st District precincts reporting, Harris was leading Gilchrest by 42 percent to 33 percent, with state Sen. E.J. Pipkin at 21 percent.

Harris was endorsed by Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., the state’s former Republican governor. But the biggest outside help he received was in the form of independent expenditures from the conservative organization, The Club for Growth, which for years had pilloried Gilchrest, slapping him with the label the group regularly applies to GOP moderates: RINO, or Republican in Name Only. In one of its most publicized efforts, the Club backed the 2004 primary challenge to moderate Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter waged by then-Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, who lost by less than 2 percentage points and now is president of the Club for Growth.

In a statement following confirmation of Gilchrest’s defeat Tuesday, Toomey said, “It is clear from tonight’s victory that voters want their representatives to stand up and fight for limited government and economic freedom. In Andy Harris, Maryland Republicans have found such a person.”

The two primary giant-killers will both be favored to keep the seats in their respective parties’ hands, though Edwards is more of a shoo-in. Her district is an overwhelmingly Democratic stronghold where 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry took 78 percent of the vote. Edwards will face Republican Peter James, a supporter of Ron Paul ’s presidential campaign whose campaign biography identifies him as a high-tech consultant.

Harris faces a relatively tougher chore in the 1st District, which encompasses the largely rural Eastern Shore region along with two disparate and largely suburban blocks of voters on the western side of the Chesapeake Bay, one north and the other south of Baltimore. Harris faces a Democratic nominee with political experience: Frank M. Kratovil, Jr., the state’s attorney (equivalent to chief prosecutor) for Queen Anne’s County on the Eastern Shore.

Some of Gilchrest supporters suggested during the primary campaign that Harris’ staunchly conservative agenda could put the 1st District seat at risk of a serious Democratic takeover attempt, since the district’s general electorate is more used to Gilchrest’s centrist demeanor. But Harris refuted this claim, pointing to the fact that Bush took 62 percent of the district’s vote in 2004.


Embezzlement in labor-state's largest union

Memories are short. Fortunately, the court record is forever. The Massachusetts Teachers Association, the Commonwealth's largest union, has decided to get into bed with Governor Slots and the fabulously profitable gambling industry in backing three alleged "destination resort" casinos. The state's teachers, of all people, should know better. After all, they knew Richard Anzivino all too well. If the teachers union gets its way, there will soon be many more pathetic - and costly - losers just like him calling Massachusetts home.

Let me refresh your memory. Anzivino was a quiet, rumpled accountant who lived with his elderly parents in Needham; he didn't own a car and took public transportation to work. Then, 14 years after he started at the teachers union, the telephone call finally came. On Sept. 13, 2002, the union's bank called to alert officials of nine sequentially numbered checks, each for $4,000, payable to Anzivino, the union's chief financial officer, and deposited in his personal account. Two union officials, Ed Sullivan and Ann Clarke, called Anzivino into a conference room and confronted him. What is this about?

It was, in a word, about gambling. Anzivino admitted he had been embezzling the union's money for years to pay for his high-roller trips to the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in Connecticut. He first told them he had stolen maybe $200,000. Or was it $500,000? The final count: 270 checks totaling $802,000 in all. "OK," Anzivino subsequently told investigators, "I originally thought it was $500,000. But I'm not surprised it's $800,000."

Anzivino, through his lawyer, declined to comment. This from his deposition:

Q. And did you embezzle any or all of the $802,000?

A. Yes.

Q. How much of it?

A. All of it.

Q. Where did the $802,000 go?

A. Gambling.

Anzivino spent a year in the Billerica House of Correction and is back at the family home, still on probation. The teachers union spent an estimated $300,000 on auditors and lawyers cleaning up the mess, but did collect on Anzivino's gambling losses from two big insurance companies, which insured them against theft. Hartford Casualty Insurance Co. won a $534,000 judgment against Anzivino for its share of the losses. Good luck to them trying to collect. That money went to the wonder-of-it-all folks at Foxwoods, and they are not giving it back.

Now Governor Slots and the teachers want our own fun Foxwoods. Their simple rationale: We need the dough. The Patrick administration puts the current number of problem gamblers in Massachusetts as high as 310,000 - or about the populations of Cambridge, Brookline, Newton, and Somerville combined. A congressional gambling commission estimated that the number of problem gamblers roughly doubles within a 50-mile radius of a casino. And Governor Slots wants three.

Dick Anzivino is graphic testimony to how much damage a single gambling addict can do. What is the real cost when you apply one of the governor's famous economic multipliers?

Anne Wass, president of the teachers union, doesn't put a fine point on it: "We need the revenues for our schools." She calls Anzivino a personnel situation she would rather not discuss; he is inconvenient, no question about it. "If somebody has an addiction problem, they are going to find a way to do it," she told me.

Good teachers were some of the most important influences in my early life. In high school Mr. Bomar tried mightily to teach me to play the clarinet. Mrs. Door tried just as hard and nearly as unsuccessfully to teach me algebra. Like the great Sam Cooke, I still don't know much about algebra or a slide rule, for that matter, but I have hung on to the timeless values they and other good teachers provided me. I don't remember Mr. Bomar or Mrs. Door ever once telling me that the way to success and happiness is by putting a dollar in a slot machine.

Teachers, of all people, should know better.

- Steve Bailey is a Globe columnist.


Did striking writers get what they deserve?

After three months of acrimony, an armistice between Hollywood's writers and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers was finally approved late today. The final vote: 92.5% of 3,775 writers who turned out in Los Angeles and New York to cast ballots or fax in proxies voted in favor of ending the 100-day strike, according to the Writer's Guild America. "The strike is over. Our membership has voted, and writers can go back to work," Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West, said in a statement.

But while it's safe to say writers are heading back to work, things are hardly back to normal: Networks that had exercised force majeure clauses to slash deals with writers might not be so quick to re-sign nearly as much talent as before. Having larded prime time with reality shows and other stopgaps, many writers and agents simply do not expect scripted TV to return to previous levels next season -- let alone this spring.

For example, at CBS, scripted dramas such as "Shark," "Cane" and "The Unit" will remain on hiatus until at least the fall schedule, with other programming filling their slots: Reality show "Big Brother," already-completed midseason replacement "Jericho" and a sanitized-for-prime-time version of serial-killer series "Dexter" (imported from sibling cable network Showtime) will take their places.

Comedies back by March

Explained one CBS insider of the decision to keep the salty-mouthed sociopath "Dexter" on the schedule: "Promotional and programming resources have already been expended; the strike ending doesn't change that."

According to knowledgeable insiders who wouldn't speak for attribution for fear of affecting the writer's vote today, CBS's comedies -- half-hour shows such as "Two and a Half Men" and "How I Met Your Mother" -- would be able to begin airing new episodes by mid-March. Dramas such as the "CSI" franchise and "Cold Case" will start to return in early-April.

At every broadcast network, executives were clustered in conference rooms and around white boards today, seeking to undo the ataxia that the Writers Guild of America work stoppage had unleashed on their shooting schedules and broadcast days. Hard decisions were being made about which shows would shoot new episodes, which would be scuttled and which would be salted away until fall.

A piece of the web

At ABC, for example, promising freshman series such as "Dirty Sexy Money," "Private Practice" and "Pushing Daisies" likely will have to wait until next season to resume production, while Geico's TV-commercial transplant "Cavemen" has become a dual casualty of both Nielsen ratings and the strike.

The strike was, above all things, a strike about the digital future.

Determined not to miss out on a bonanza of cash akin to the DVD and home-video windfall it missed out on 20 years ago, writers did manage to successfully gain a toehold on the web: According to a 2007 PricewaterhouseCoopers' forecast, half of all entertainment industry growth will be generated through online and mobile by 2011. In the long run, many writers say, the near-term pain will have been worth it.

WGA members will next vote to ratify a tentative three-year contract with the AMPTP, according the the guild.


Striking UAW in no hurry to negotiate

Volvo Trucks North America said Tuesday it was no closer to ending a strike at a Virginia plant that started Feb. 1. John Mies, spokesman for the Greensboro-based company, said they have had no contact with the United Auto Workers Union since the strike began. "The ball is in the UAW court," he said. "When they decide they would like to resume negotiations, we're ready to do that."

Production of Volvo's VT, VN and VHD trucks at the New River Valley plant in Dublin, Va., has stopped, he said. The strike affects about 2,600 workers.

The company's contract with UAW expired at 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 31. The UAW and its affiliated #2069 have been on strike since then.

Volvo Trucks North America is part of the Swedish company, Volvo Group.


SEIU leftists show AFL-CIO who's the boss

Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) is losing overwhelmingly to non-profit executive Donna Edwards in tonight’s primary, and will be the first incumbent headed to defeat this election cycle. With 51 percent of precincts reporting, Edwards leads Wynn by a 22-point margin – 59 to 37 percent. Wynn conceded to Edwards late this evening.

The defeat of the eight-term congressman can be attributed squarely to ideology.

Edwards’ progressive profile – she has been an activist for various liberal causes – played very well among the affluent, well-educated white Democrats in Montgomery County. She is overwhelmingly carrying the county – by an even larger margin than her 25-point victory over Wynn in Montgomery County in 2006.

But even more impressively, she is defeating Wynn in his home base of Prince George’s County by a 12-point margin, suggesting that Edwards’ criticism of his ties to corporate interests and his initial support for the Iraq war resonated throughout the district.

Edwards and her campaign’s allies – including the SEIU, the League of Conservation Voters and EMILY’s List – swarmed the airwaves with anti-Wynn messages, spending over $1 million combined in their advertising blitz.

"Donna Edwards fought the odds and entrenched corporate interests to secure her victory and a better future for the people of Maryland," said EMILY's List president Ellen Malcolm in a statement. "She won because she put the people of her district at the forefront of her campaign and her agenda for Congress."

Meanwhile, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) is locked in a hotly-contested primary against conservative state senator Andrew Harris, with the race too close-to-call at this point. With 74 percent of the vote counted, Harris is leading Gilchrest 41 to 35 percent.


Embezzlement of Fed-Ed funds in labor-state

Federal prosecutors have charged a former Oregon Department of Education accountant with stealing almost $1 million in federal education funds.

The U.S. Attorney's office says in an informational document filed in federal court last week that Brent Crosson of Salem diverted $925,000 in federal grant money to a company he controls from June 2006 to June 2007. Prosecutors allege he drew on his knowledge of the state's accounting processes to have electronic payments issued to CGA Wholesale, a company he started.

Crosson, 36, was fired from the Education Department in August after an anonymous tipster told investigators that Crosson had stolen public money. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Oregon State Police agents led the investigation. They have recovered $750,000 and expect to get back most of the remainder, according to Ed Dennis, deputy superintendent of Oregon schools.

The method that federal prosecutors used to bring the charges - filing an information, rather than seeking an indictment - suggests Crosson may cooperate and accept a plea deal to resolve the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Lance Caldwell says federal officials won't say anything beyond what is laid out in the two-page document until they appear in court.

Crosson's attorney, Paul Ferder, was not immediately available for comment.


Labor-state unions promote new ways to tax

Here is how you make a profit on providing a public service: You take a public facility and sell it. Not in the sense of turning over the deed. Jim Zilli, who heads his family's catering company, says you sell the county's banquet facilities at O'Donnell Park by giving 20 to 30 tours a week, an hour or more each, to potential customers. You have not only kitchen staff and serving staff, you have training staff so diners leave happy. You have a live chat button on the Web site to answer questions.

"Privatization" is like a vulgarity to an unusual number of officials in Milwaukee (WI) County. It's the "elimination of family-supporting jobs," claimed one County Board member. Another suggested that it would be "pimping off the parks system." "Who the hell is going to pay the taxes?" demanded one county employee at the thought of seeing whether some company could do some county task more efficiently.

Here's who would pay the taxes: Some of the 160 or so people who work for Zilli's company, Ellen Zilli's Catering. The jobs may be privatized, but they are, imagine, supporting families.

And it's a family-owned company, in the Zillis' case, one that made its name with the now-closed Grandview Inn in Waukesha. The family also runs Coast restaurant at O'Donnell Park, taking the place of two previous unsuccessful tenants.

"We have to keep reinventing ourselves," Jim Zilli says.

So catering is a growing part of its operation, including at O'Donnell Park. The county gets paid for this.

The deal has worked for all sides, he says. "Sue Black gets it," he says of the county parks chief. The county didn't have the time or expertise to properly market the banquet venue. His company did, and so by privatizing the banquet operation, the county's property doesn't sit underused, Zilli turns a profit and the staff makes a living.

This balance goes to the heart of most complaints about privatization. County Executive Scott Walker has talked about seeing whether the county can provide services while saving some money. Critics say it's all about the jobs.

It is? I thought public services were about service rather than keeping as many people in clover as possible.

Critics like to cite the Milwaukee Public Museum as a sign privatization doesn't work, though that story was more about a missing-in-action board of directors. Locally, governments have successfully contracted out or simply shed all sorts of tasks. As in the case of the sewerage district, it's made it easy to change vendors when it suits the public purpose.

This can lower costs. Critics dispute this, but the effect is real, says James Peoples, an economist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who has written on privatization. Public sector labor costs go down, he says, if privatization is an option - even for jobs that aren't privatized.

Usually, where private contractors save governments money is that they have non-union work forces. In Wisconsin, that's big, since benefits in public-sector union contracts are far above average.

But even the possibility of privatization lowers costs, says Peoples, because when competition's a possibility, unions have less leverage in bargaining. Tellingly, Milwaukee County finally won concessions on the benefits it was paying courthouse employees only after it threatened to contract out security and maintenance.

This is glum news if you feel the point of the county is to offer top-notch pay. But that would be an odd position for those truly convinced that most public services are indispensable. If the county must do all that it is now doing, and if its supply of money is finite, wouldn't we want to get as much out of that finite supply of tax revenue as possible?

Why, yes, unless your interest were mainly in that sliver of the county's population that is on its payroll as well as its tax roll. Or if you thought the supply of revenue weren't finite at all. That's why unions are promoting new ways to tax still more people harder - anything to keep the taxpayers from noticing just what price they're paying for the help.

- Patrick McIlheran is a Journal Sentinel editorial columnist.


Was the Writers Guild strike worth it?

If not for the countless photos of the daily picket lines and rallies held in the streets of Hollywood over the past three months, I would suppose that the city must resemble one of the dusty ghost towns from classic westerns. I have mental images of tumbleweeds rolling through the streets and pages of scripts wafting around the city. This is all imaginative conjecture, of course, but I feel it safe to presume that today, the city is gearing up like a steam engine getting ready to pull out of the station.

With a deal struck between the WGA and the media moguls, many TV showrunners are going back to work today. The deal is still pending a vote by the Guild members, but it is nearly a sure thing that all of Hollywood will be back to work by Wednesday.

Looking back at the past three months, I wonder if the strike was worth it. With the growing popularity of watching television shows online, there's no doubt that the new deal is a winner. It may not give the writers much, but it's better than nothing and a good place to start. In three years, who knows how much money streaming video will be generating for the industry (my guess is that it will include lots and lots of zeroes). With this precedent in place, it will be easier for the writers to negotiate for more in the future.

Ah, the bright shiny future. But what about now? Writers have been out of work for three months, and many have been force-majeured. With the new deal in place, a TV writer will earn up to just under $2,000 per year per streamed episode. Over the past three months, however, many TV showrunners have lost hundreds of thousands by not being in production. While a show typically runs for 22 episodes a season, the 2007-08 season was cut down to only 12 to 15 episodes.

As for film writers, the strike disrupted option, rewrite and polish deals that may or may not be reclaimed. They also will not benefit from web streaming residuals as much as the TV writers will since television shows are streamed more often than films.

So what will the industry look like once writers get back to work? Surely changes have and will continue to be made in light of the events of the past three months. For one, the studios will probably try to avoid racking up so much overhead for television series by hiring writers on a more episode-by-episode basis instead of paying them a seasonal salary.

In addition, it will be interesting to see what the industry learns from the shorter season and a no-frills pilot season. Perhaps in the future, Hollywood will take a lesson from networks like the BBC and focus on 9 or 10 really good episodes of a drama or sitcom instead of 22 mediocre ones. Likewise, the slim pilot season will hopefully take an attitude of quality over quantity. Think of it as a trained marksman concentrating on his target rather than an unskilled man with a machine gun.

One thing the industry has learned is that no one watches awards shows if they can't see what the stars are wearing. I'm sure the producers are over the moon regarding the possibility of saving the Oscars from the fate of the Golden Globes.

Speaking of the stars, a settlement between the writers and producers lowers the chances of the Screen Actors Guild going on strike when their contract expires in June. It is unlikely that the Guild would go on strike when both the WGA and DGA have already settled. The studios are prepared, though. Film production has been hurried over the past several months in an attempt to get projects in the can before June. Likewise, fearing the possibility of the WGA and SAG striking at the same time, studios have stocked up on material.

Hopefully the next few days will see the acceptance and ratification of the new deal. Though I don't know every minute detail of the contract, it seems as though the writers can count this as a win. Hopefully, the next few days will see the acceptance and ratification of the contract. It will also be interesting to watch the industry scramble to regain the momentum of production that was stopped short in early November. Who knows, maybe they'll start answering questions on Lost!


Harsh words at labor-state Union Hall

There have been many arguments at East Providence (RI) Canvassing Authority meetings, but yesterday’s noon gathering had police presence and a member calling his chairwoman a “Nazi.” Canvasser Thomas Riley requested in advance that several matters be discussed, including setting an annual calendar for future meetings and alleged violations of the state’s election laws by the chair and board’s clerk — Dorothy O’Gara and MaryAnn Callahan, respectively.

Riley, the lone Republican and longest serving member on the present three-person board, also wanted to read letters from upset voters and talk about the “infringement of their civil rights” due to meetings that are scheduled during working hours, and the recent decision to reduce the number of polling places in East Providence to four, or one per ward, for the state’s presidential primary on March 4.

Yet the only subject on the official agenda was to approve the city’s voting lists of those eligible to cast ballots for the primary.

After a contentious debate over Riley’s missing agenda topics, O’Gara took a recess. She returned with the police.

“Who’s Thomas Riley?” one of two officers asked.

After seeing the police, 86-year-old resident Nancy Stevens, a former School Committee and City Council member, said, “Oh, c’mon. For heaven’s sake….”

The same officer said to Riley, “Please be orderly.… Please don’t argue with anyone.”

Riley explained his intentions and the police left. O’Gara continued the meeting with the single agenda item despite further protests by Riley. The voting lists were ultimately approved by Riley, O’Gara and John Botelho, the alternate for absent member Peter Barilla Sr.

O’Gara immediately adjourned the meeting after the vote.

“That’s nice,” an angry Riley said speaking mainly to O’Gara. “I hope the newspaper gets this down, Nazi. You should really be proud of yourselves. This is how a fascist government works.”

City Republican Committee co-Chair Kathy Santos added, as O’Gara, her husband and Callahan walked out, “East Providence al-Qaeda has left the room.”

A group of less then 15 stayed behind and talked, particularly about the reduced city polling places for March 4. O’Gara told the City Council last month that the change was made by Callahan after recommendations from state election officials.

The Teamsters Local 251 Hall on Brightridge Avenue was also designated the polling site for Ward 2 despite being previously taken off the list of polling places for East Providence after it was discovered the hall’s members had political signs and paraphernalia on the premises during a 2004 election.

O’Gara explained to the council that state officials suggested the Teamsters Hall and the reductions were being made statewide because of low voter turnouts in past Rhode Island presidential primaries. She also emphasized it will save the city more than $6,500 to open only four sites.

Yet former state senatorial candidate Lloyd Monroe said yesterday that it is clear that Rhode Island’s presidential primary will matter, especially in the Democratic battle between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

“Our citizens will be greatly inconvenienced,” Monroe said, while discussing long lines that won’t be good for seniors and the working public. “…The local board has the sole authority to determine the polling places.… By having a [noon] meeting, they refuse to even entertain the voters.”

Although some acknowledge that state law says polling places cannot be changed within 50 days — in this case by Jan. 14 — of an election, Riley and others said at least a half-dozen laws were broken because Callahan “grossly overstepped” her duties by making the changes without a vote from the local board. In addition, they said they will file a complaint with the state attorney general’s office and possibly higher with a federal agency immediately.

Said Riley, “…They just simply can’t ignore me.”

Resident and city Republican Committee co-Chair Robert Carlin said, “As far as we’re concerned, it was illegal and the only solution is to open all of the polling sites.”

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