Can organized labor stop the Clintons?

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed restrictions on a wide array of industries Thursday and stepped up her assault on rival Barack Obama. “For seven long years, we’ve had a government of, by, and for the special interests, and we’ve had enough,” the New York senator told an audience at a General Motors plant that she toured here. “It’s time to level the playing field against the special interests and deliver 21st-century solutions to rebuild the middle class.”

She said she would rein in oil, insurance, credit card, student loan and Wall Street investment companies and generate $55 billion a year that would be used to cut middle class taxes, create jobs and pay for an array of domestic programs. Meanwhile, Obama won the backing of the United Food and Commercial Workers and is expected to be endorsed today by the Service Employees International Union.

SEIU backing is one of the most important labor endorsements available. The organization has donated more than $25 million, mostly to Democratic candidates, since 1989. In addition, the union has a powerful get-out-the-vote structure and has been courted by all the Democratic candidates since the beginning of the race.

Clinton got some good news Thursday: A marathon hand count of 17,000 provisional ballots in New Mexico showed her to be the winner of the state’s Democratic caucus. She picked up one extra delegate.

The final statewide count gave her a 1,709-vote edge over rival Obama, 73,105 or 48.8 percent of the total vote to 71,396 or 47.6 percent.

But in a fresh sign of trouble among black superdelegates, Rep. John Lewis, one of Clinton’s most prominent supporters, said Thursday he planned to vote for Obama.

Another black congressman, Rep. David Scott of Georgia, defected earlier in the week, saying he would not go against the will of voters in his district, who overwhelmingly supported Obama.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri said he remained committed to Clinton. “There’s nothing going on right now that would cause me to” change, he said.

Cleaver offered a glimpse of private conversations.

He said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois had recently asked him, “If it comes down to the last day and you’re the only superdelegate. … Do you want to go down in history as the one to prevent a black from winning the White House?

“I told him I’d think about it,” Cleaver said.


Nicaraguan Leftist Ortega lauds Obama

President Daniel Ortega, who once was swept into power by a Soviet-backed Marxist movement in Nicaragua and later came back through popular election, said that US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a "revolutionary phenomenon" in US politics.

Speaking at one of Nicaragua's universities, President Ortega said "It's not to say that there is already a revolution under way in the U.S. ... but yes, they are laying the bases for a revolutionary change". Moreover, the Sandinista leader said after receiving an honorary doctorate, that he has "faith in God and in the North American people, and above all in the youth, that the moment of great change in the U.S. will come and it will act differently, with justice and equality toward all nations."

Ortega also expressed the hope that an Obama presidency would give voice to the aspirations of millions of citizens of Mexico and Central America who have "silently invaded" the US, even though some polls show that Latino voters currently lean towards Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's candidacy.

The Sandinista leader condemned economic policies of the US and the Group of 7 saying that they contribute to unemployment in Latin America and the flight of labor. Latin Americans are "fleeing the policies of the free market and exclusion that the empire imposes on poor countries and upon those that in its judgement would promote significant changes in the North American system".

In addition, Ortega explained away the fact that several members of Nicaragua's military are receiving training at a US military facility once known as the School of the Americas.

Now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and located at Fort Benning, Georgia, the facility has drawn the ire of critics of US foreign and military policy who regularly conduct sit-ins and protests at the Institute.

The US has admitted that some of the Latin American graduates of the Institute are alleged to have engaged in torture during the Cold War years. Ortega said that he expected that the current Nicaraguan students at the students would not become "torturers and killers."


McCain woos tiny labor-state SEIU audience

The biggest challenge facing the United States in the 21st century is the "struggle against radical Islamic extremism," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to supporters at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick, Rhode Island on Thursday. Beginning his address with jokes and humorous anecdotes, McCain spoke mostly about national security and terrorism, with brief remarks on the economy and the environment.

McCain said his experience serving in "every major national security challenge this country has faced in the last twenty years" has prepared him well for his role as the next president.

"I do not need any other job training," he said.

McCain, who spoke for about 20 minutes, emphasized the need to combat terrorism in the Middle East and catch Osama bin Laden, who might be hiding in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

"I look you in the eye, and I tell you if I have to follow him to the gates of hell, I will get Osama bin Laden," he said, prompting loud and prolonged applause from his supporters.

Referring to Iraq as the "central battleground" in the war against Islamic extremism, McCain said he would like Democrats and Republicans to "join together to defeat al-Qaida and the forces of evil."

As president, McCain said he would make the Bush tax cuts permanent, reduce taxes on American corporations and adopt green technology in a "free enterprise, capitalist fashion."

Ana Morgan, a McCain supporter at the rally, said McCain's "character" separates him from all the other candidates.

"(By coming to the state) he has shown one more time that he is committed to the people of Rhode Island," she said. "He is, in my opinion, the only person that has the capacity to take the country ahead."

"He's a public servant, not a politician," Morgan added.

"I hope the candidates will pay attention to the domestic policies as well as to foreign policy," said Steve Jennings, who was representing Divided We Fail, a non-partisan group that wants Democrats and Republicans to work together on economic security and health care reform issues.

The group, which is a partnership among organizations such as the American Association of Retired Persons, Business Roundtable and the Service Employees International Union, has had all the presidential candidates delineate their stands on various domestic issues.


State OKs no-vote teachers strike

There's talk of frustrated Cumberland Valley (PA) school teachers looking for new jobs. District parents, worried about a strike, are rethinking June vacations. And some district residents have grown so impatient with stalled contract talks that they suggest locking teachers and the school board in a room until they come up with a new labor agreement.

Things are heating up after a year of fruitless negotiating to reach terms that give the 500 teachers raises and keep property taxes in check. Now that the teachers union has given its negotiating team the power to call a strike without bringing it up for a union vote, the community is a collective bundle of nerves.

"This stalemate is unfair to the teachers, and it is not beneficial to the reputation of our school district, not to mention the impact on the students if a strike should occur," parent Michelle Marshall said in a letter to school board President John Jordan.

"Could someone please explain to me why you cannot meet in a room once a week until there is a resolution?" she asked.

Disgruntled residents are expected to flood Tuesday's 7 p.m. board meeting at Silver Spring Elementary School to demand an end to the deadlock.

Ken Shur, a board member and the chief negotiator, said he'll be ready.

"We'll have a public presentation on the board's position with additional facts," he said. Shur would not elaborate on new information that he'll furnish.

But teachers will compete for residents' attention with a 6 p.m. rally on Tuesday at the district administrative office, union spokesman Jay Foerster said.

He said teachers will attend the board meeting, too. At least a dozen teachers have gone to every meeting since last fall. Mostly, they observe, although they have given short talks on class activities.

Parents who support the teachers' contract proposal have been vocal. Equally outspoken are taxpayers who have told the board not to budge on its contract offer.

Jordan arranged to hold Tuesday's meeting in the Silver Spring gym after repeated standing-room-only turnouts at the district office. He said meetings will not return to the smaller office as long as contract talks elicit heavy community interest.

Not everyone wants to sound off about the stalled talks.

Retired state worker John Greecher of Hampden Twp. said his children are CV grads who were served well by district teachers. But he trusts the school board to make the right decision on contract offers.

"I don't see myself getting involved in it. These issues are more complicated than we can see from the outside. It really will work out," he said.


Why are my teachers doing strange things?

ASK THE TEACHER: Carol Veravanich answers readers' questions.

Q: There are teachers at my school doing strange things. I thought it was something they didn't like about our school or our principal, but I checked with my friend at one school and my sister at her school and other schools have teachers doing these things too. They are wearing color coordinated clothes and leaving school in large groups, like all at once at dismissal time. There are other things too. What is this all about? Is there a strike?

A. When you said the teachers were doing strange things, I expected to hear different descriptions. The activity you are seeing is not a strike. Teachers are negotiating with the district on the terms of their contract for the current year. The contract expired in July, but the union negotiators and the district have not reached an agreement (at the time this column was submitted.) Teachers sometimes work together to make statements of solidarity and determination to get the attention of the district. They want things settled. This is what you are seeing.


Tribal lawyers re-arm in unrelenting Casino War

When dealers at one of the world's largest casinos voted last November to form a union under federal labor laws, the news reverberated throughout Indian country. Table game dealers at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation's Foxwoods Resort Casino voted 1,289 to 852 on Nov. 24 in favor of forming a United Auto Workers union, bringing federally-regulated collective bargaining onto tribal lands in the first union election at a tribal casino overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

Throughout the months of union organizing, the tribal nation asked the UAW and employees to submit their petition to unionize under the tribe's own labor laws, maintaining that the NLRB does not have jurisdiction on sovereign Indian land. The NLRB, which heard the tribe's appeals, rejected that argument, citing a federal appeals court ruling last February that a casino owned by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in California was subject to the National Labor Relations Act.

Since the Foxwoods vote, many tribes are looking for ways to strengthen their labor laws. Many have sought information from the Mashantucket Pequots, according to Jackson King, the nation's attorney.

"A lot of tribes are looking for examples of tribal labor laws and we've been happy to provide them. Many of our employment laws have been on the books for years. The NLRB reversal of its position on how this act applies to tribes has prompted a lot of tribes to look for information on tribal labor law and employment laws in general," King said.

The Mashantucket Pequots have appealed the Foxwoods vote and promised to take its jurisdictional challenge through the courts. Although no one can predict the result of the nation's legal challenge, the UAW and other unions are taking the Foxwoods vote as a signal to expand their organizing efforts. With 670,000 employees and annual revenues of close to $26 billion, the tribal gaming industry is an irresistible target for unionization. In Massachusetts, for instance, Robert Haynes, president of the 400,000 member Massachusetts AFL-CIO, recently announced that the labor organization will be lobbying lawmakers to support Gov. Deval Patrick's proposal for three casinos in the state.

Without conceding that the National Labor Relations Act applies to sovereign tribal nations, most tribal attorneys are encouraging the nations to prepare to deal with unionizing efforts until the issue is settled in the courts - a process that will likely take years.

Jana McKeag is president of Lowry Strategies and a government affairs consultant to VCAT, LLC. McKeag, a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, views the labor movement on Indian lands as "devastating to tribal sovereignty."

Tribal casinos are tantamount to state lotteries, which are governmental activities used to provide funding for services to citizens of the state, McKeag said, pointing legislative solutions to the "increasing infringement on tribal sovereignty by labor unions," such as the Tribal Sovereignty Act of 2007.

"Similar legislation introduced in the 109th session by U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., was unfairly derided as an attempt to drive a political wedge between tribes, congressional Democrats and their union supporters," McKeag said, but "union infringement on tribal sovereignty cannot be politicized. This matter is about preserving and protecting our most valuable asset: our unique status as sovereign nations."

Attorneys at Dorsey and Whitney have been advising their tribal clients in Central and Northern Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Michigan on labor and employment matters with an eye toward union avoidance.

But the best way to defeat unionizing efforts is ''by heading them off before they begin, rather than attempting to defend against an already active campaign,'' the attorneys recently wrote in an article posted on the firm's Web site at www.dorsey.com.

"In many cases, tribal employers have the advantage of being able to provide wages and benefits as good as [and frequently better than] those available in the surrounding labor market. Becoming or remaining the 'employer of choice' is the most effective defense against union organizing. Implementation of a fair and accessible grievance process, encouraging direct communication between management and employees, and giving employees opportunities to participate in workplace consensus-building and workplace decision-making also serve as effective deterrents to union organizing and often align with traditions of tribal sovereignty and decision-making," the attorneys wrote.

Less than a month after the Foxwoods vote, workers at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Michigan voted by more than 2 to 1 against forming a Teamsters union under federal law.

Katherine Tierney, a Saginaw Chippewa attorney, told Indian Country Today that the tribe is ''doing nothing'' about the possibility of other employees union organizing.

"If our workers wish to unionize, we're going to allow the process to go forward," Tierney said.

She dismissed the idea that labor unions under federal regulation threaten tribal sovereignty.

"I think tribes differ on this issue. A lot of tribes, particularly in the gaming area, have as a matter of compacts agreed to allow unionization, so for anyone to say its an inherent violation of sovereignty are forgetting the fact that by agreement tribes have said that can occur," Tierney said.


Decertified union goes on strike

International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 is picketing Levy Co. locations at two ArcelorMittal plants in Indiana, claiming the company has engaged in several unfair labor practices. David Fagan, the local's financial secretary, said members have set up a strike line at Levy's entrances to the both ArcelorMittal's Burns Harbor and Indiana Harbor plants. Levy Co. does slag processing and metal reclaiming for steelmakers.

"We started a strike today because of the recent unfair labor practices the company has engaged in," Fagan said. "A strike line has been set up. Customers, vendors and suppliers have a legal right to honor the picket line."

The local is preparing to file additional unfair labor practices charges against Levy with the National Labor Relations Board, Fagan said

Local 150 claims Levy Co., Levy Indiana Slag Co. and Edw. C. Levy Co., which constitute a single employer, has repeatedly engaged in an unfair labor practices by threatening to hire employees at a lower rate of pay and in lower work classifications, rather than reinstating striking members, who had made written offers to return to work.

The local also has filed an unfair labor practice charge against Levy because Levy filed "a baseless lawsuit" against Local 150 that alleges the local threatened and/or coerced its members and/or Levy customers to cease handling the company's products.

"Local 150 has engaged in no such activity and is vigorously defending against Levy's claims," Fagan said. "Members who went on strike against the company in August 2005 will continue the unfair labor practice strike until the unfair labor practices are resolved by the NLRB."

The National Labor Relations Board recently accepted the decertification of Levy Burns Harbor members from Local 150. The vote to decertify came as no surprise because those voting were replacement workers for those who had been on strike since mid 2005, Fagan said.

"It means the employees at Levy Co. at Mittal Steel Burns Harbor are now at-will employees" he said. "They can be fired at any time ... The company no longer pays pension and welfare contributions, and they can cut wages at will."

He added there have been no attempts to organize the replacement workers.

Berl Falbaum, of Falbaum and Associaties, which represents the Levy Co., could not be reached for comment Thursday.


Gov't retirees bewildered by gov't-run healthcare

As many as 1,000 retired state employees from a six-county area could attend a briefing today at the Blair County (PA) Convention Center on changes the state is making to their Medicare coverage. The forced shift from traditional Medicare to privately run "Medicare advantage" plans has generated "unbelievable" confusion, said Dan Mazus, president of the Retired Public Employees of Pennsylvania.

Retirees can choose between Coventry Advantra Freedom "private fee for service" and health maintenance organization-style or preferred provider-style plans, but many aren’t capable of making a sensible choice because of the complexities, officials said.

The default Advantra plan provides the same level of coverage as traditional Medicare, Medicare Supplemental and Major Medical, according to a fact sheet issued by the Office of Administration, which is overseeing the change.

Complicating matters, the Advantra plan doesn’t provide a list of participating hospitals and doctors, so retirees must call around to find out who does, Mazus said.

Former Pennsylvania state employees living in Florida are ‘‘sweating it out’’ because many hospitals and doctors there don’t participate, he said.

The Advantra plan doesn’t provide a list because hospitals and doctors don’t sign a contract, like they would for HMOs or PPOs, said Mia DeVane, spokeswoman for the Office of Administration.

They can accept or refuse a patient at will and on a visit-by-visit basis, she said.

Providers will get the same reimbursements for procedures as from traditional Medicare, DeVane said.

The office that administers the plan will track participation and provide policy holders a list of providers who are unwilling to participate, she said.

Contrary to the belief of some retirees, the governor has the right to make the changes unilaterally, DeVane said.

“It’s an administrative decision” made to ensure that the current benefits, among the most generous in the country, continue, she said.

Mazus did not question the governor’s authority to make changes, saying retiree benefits are not a contractual matter.

But he resents that Rendell didn’t consult with his group or the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union before acting.

Retirees also are complaining that the changes violate promises made by Rendell to leave retiree health care alone.

Dorothy Herman, regional vice president for the Retired Public Employees, says she heard the governor tell a small group that pre-2001 retiree benefits ‘‘would not be affected.’’

Mazus said he saw him make a similar claim in a campaign video.

DeVane said the change is ‘‘administrative,’’ and the benefits will remain nearly the same.


Writers Union may be sued over strike damage

The writer’s strike is over! Already most writers are returning to work, suddenly finding that perhaps walking the picket line is easier than facing the reality of a blank page. As the writers return to work, the networks are beginning to announce when people’s favorite series will be returning. CBS was first out of the gate, announcing dates for its series, as well as announcing that all series returning will get between four and nine episodes.

NBC, however, looks to be the party pooper of the new reality. Noted insider blog DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com is reporting that both NBC and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association are considering suing the Writers Guild of America for actions that led to the cancellation of the Golden Globes ceremony.

Suing the WGA just when relations between the studios and writers are beginning to mend is a very bad idea. This should be a time of reconciliation, not acrimony. The WGA didn’t force NBC to cancel the ceremony. They simply announced that they would picket the event – an activity that is not only legal but was expected.

Filing a lawsuit over the mess just makes NBC seem like an immature adolescent, angry that it didn’t get its way. Every company lost money during the strike. If NBC had really wanted to, they could have cut a side deal with the WGA.

While the strike may have made each side look bad, suing just makes NBC look bad. It really should think before doing anything.


Leftists start recoloring Dem Party

Leaders of progressive organizations that poured money and manpower into Donna Edwards’ resounding victory over eight-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Al Wynn say they hope to use the Maryland model to oust more Democrats they feel aren’t getting the job done.

Analysts say labor and liberal Democrats in Congress may tend to be more “disciplined” after seeing Edwards’ drubbing of eight-term incumbent Wynn with nearly 60 percent of the vote to his 36.5 percent.

While Wynn outraised Edwards over the entire course of the campaign, collecting more than $1 million to her approximately $800,000, some labor unions, feminist groups and environmental groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on phone banks, door-to-door campaigning and mailing pieces on her behalf in the final two weeks of the campaign.

The groups such as Emily’s List, the League of Conservation Voters and the Service Employees International Union faulted Wynn for initially supporting the Iraq war, for taking money from corporations like Wal-Mart and voting for tougher bankruptcy laws.

“She could call on them not just for ads and money but phone-banking, campaign organization and grassroots tactics,” University of Maryland political science professor Ron Walters said.

Service Employees International Union Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger said union leaders sent 12,000 mailers to local members, and ran Internet, TV and radio ads about the race. According to Burger, union members made 10,000 phone calls and knocked on 5,000 doors in support of Edwards’ candidacy.

Walters said this was a “very, very significant victory” for the progressive groups, which could use the race to instill “discipline” in elected officials.

Analysts say Edwards also benefited from voters who went in with “change” on their mind. Prince George’s County residents, which make up the bulk of the district, voted overwhelmingly for Sen. Barack Obama, who uses “change” as his motto.

“I think half of the turnout in this race was driven by the presidential race,” said analyst David Wasserman with the non-partisan Cook Political Report. “It’s evident from the results that Obama supporters saw Donna Edwards as his natural ideological heir further down the ballot.”


News Union protects Hoffa on Mob links

Thomas Cacciopoli (“Tommy Sneakers”), John Pisano (“Johnny Red Rose”) and Michael Urciuoli (“Mike the Electrician”)—the names sound like characters from “The Sopranos”, the acclaimed televised Mafia drama. But the Mafia in America is no fiction, as the 169-page indictment from which these names are drawn shows. “It is alive and real, and there is nothing romantic or glamorous about it”, says John Pistole, the deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The litany of crimes in the indictment unsealed on February 7th goes back three decades and includes extortion, embezzlement, mail fraud, money laundering, illegal gambling and at least seven murders.

The crackdown is the largest against the American Mafia since the early 1990s. Local, state and federal authorities were all involved. So was the Italian government, which rounded up suspects in Sicily in an operation dubbed “Old Bridge” (Sicily has long been a recruiting ground for New York's families and the authorities may have seen an opportunity to break links between the two). But the main targets were three of the “five families” based in New York who control organised crime in America: the Genovese, Bonanno and, best known, the Gambino family.

John D'Amico (“Jackie the Nose”), the acting Gambino boss, was among the “good fellas” arrested. So were the reputed underboss, Domenico Cefalu (“Italian Dom” or “the Greaseball”) and consigliere Joseph (“Miserable”) Corozzo. With so many capos in jail, there are said to be few veterans left. Joseph King, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says the mass arrests will disrupt the chain of command—and the Mafia's earnings.

Making money, mostly illegally, is the raison d'ĂȘtre for the American branch of the Mafia, says Mark Feldman, a former federal prosecutor and now a director of BDO Consulting, a professional-services firm. The indictment outlines the families' varied revenue streams. It says that the Mafia was involved in several high-profile city projects, including the expansion of the subway and even the rebuilding of Ground Zero (one of the men arrested “worked” for a company sub-contracted to haul debris from the site). The indictment charges some of those arrested with embezzling money from the coffers of the Teamsters and other unions' health and pension funds by underreporting the hours union members worked.

The prosecution's case is based in large part on an informant, now under federal protection, who wore a wire for three years and recorded hundreds of hours of conversations. A single trial of all 62 arrested mobsters is doubtful. Mr King reckons a series of smaller trials more probable—which will take a while. Even if successful, they are unlikely to eradicate the Mafia. As Ray Kelly, New York's police commissioner, noted, “they're resilient.”


Publicly-funded labor-activism in New Jersey

The Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations at Rutgers University offers an undergraduate major program leading to the bachelor of arts degree. Students pursuing this major examine work, workers, the organizations workers create to defend their interests, and nonwork phenomena that affect and are affected by workers.

During their studies, students acquire experience working as interns in unions, universities, government, and industry. Graduates of the program are equipped to go directly into work with unions, federal and state agencies that deal with labor issues, and public administration. They also are prepared to go on to graduate school and law school.

The undergraduate major in labor studies and employment relations is staffed by faculty members from the School of Management and Labor Relations. Students seeking to major in labor studies and employment relations must first be admitted to Douglass, Livingston, Rutgers, or University College. Admission to the major involves submitting an application to the School of Management and Labor Relations. For information on the application process, contact the Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations, 50 Labor Center Way, New Brunswick, NJ 08901.

Applicants to the major must submit a personal statement. They must have a 2.0 grade-point average or better in their college work, and a C or better in Introduction to Labor Studies and Employment Relations.


Teamster hassles in Sheriff's Office

Fact-finding recommendations made to settle differences between Teamsters Local 637 and the Licking County (NJ) Sheriff's Office were rejected by deputies, sergeants and nurses. Many of the issues might be heading to binding conciliation. The report by an impartial fact finder details differences between the parties on 15 issues, including wage scales, health insurance, uniforms and allowances.

Although the civilian employees received enough votes to pass the fact-finding report, John Sheriff, a spokesman for the Teamsters, said this might be because of a combination of yes votes and individuals who did not show up. Sixty percent of each classification was needed to vote "no" to reject the recommendations.

Sheriff said more issues than usual were brought to the fact finder, but it was simply because there were more disagreements.

In a fact-finding report, a neutral party looks at each issue and makes a middle-ground suggestion based on what he or she thinks is needed. Now that the fact-finding recommendations have been rejected, the union and the sheriff still can agree on individual issues.

However, for the issues on which they cannot agree, a conciliator will consider both sides and choose one or the other.

"(He or she) makes a final and binding decision," Sheriff said. "They don't split the difference."

Sheriff said the biggest issue for the union is health care.

Instead of the county health care now offered to employees, the union wants the sheriff's office to participate in the Michigan Conference of Teamsters Welfare Fund, which they said will result in a premium decrease. The union also wants the county to pay 100 percent of the reduced premiums.

"Our employees are paying $3,000-plus for the plans," Sheriff said. "The (Teamsters plan) is much cheaper."

In the fact-finding report, management argued the sheriff lacks the authority to make such an agreement and management expect costs to increase after a guaranteed period.

Although incorrect information initially was provided to the union about the current cost of benefits, Sheriff said the Teamster plan still would be cheaper.

The union also wants a 6 percent increase in wages, while the sheriff only wants a 2 percent increase.

"(The raise is justified) because of the comparables in other counties and because they are paying out so much toward their health care," Sheriff said.

At least three hours of pay at two times the regular pay rate was requested by the union for work performed on a regular day off or pre-approved vacation day. The sheriff proposed an increase but only from two guaranteed hours to three at the regular rate or the actual hours worked at the applicable rate.

The union also wants to establish a joint committee composed of union and sheriff members to determine examination criteria, a larger uniform allowance and replacement of damaged items, more sick leave, more days applicable for sick-leave conversion, more personal days and a guarantee of acceptance when requested a week in advance and sworn deputies in the jail.

Sheriff Randy Thorp could not be reached for comment.


Arkansas AFL-CIO sees dues growth in gambling

Lt. Gov. Bill Halter’s campaign for a state lottery to fund college scholarships has picked up an endorsement from Arkansas’ largest labor organization. The executive board of the Arkansas AFL-CIO has decided by unanimous vote to support Halter’s proposed constitutional amendment to create a lottery, state AFL-CIO President Alan Hughes said Wednesday at a news conference at the state Capitol.

Union volunteers will help gather the nearly 78,000 signatures needed to place the proposal on the November ballot, Hughes said.

A lottery would give Arkansans who have been laid off an opportunity to further their education and ultimately find new jobs, the union leader said. Arkansans already are buying lottery tickets in other states, Hughes said, noting that he had a Texas lottery ticket in his wallet at the moment. He opened his wallet after a reporter asked to see the ticket.

“I’d rather see Arkansas in there,” he said.

Halter said he welcomed the endorsement.

“I just can’t tell you how pleased that I am that this, the largest representative of Arkansas working men and women, representing a diverse background of folks from all over the state of Arkansas, has taken this forward-looking step,” he said.

Answering a question, Halter said he has bought a lottery tickets in another state, but “it’s been years.”

Larry Page, director of the Arkansas Ethics and Faith Council, said Wednesday he did not believe the AFL-CIO’s endorsement would have much impact on how Arkansans vote if the proposal makes the ballot.

“I don’t mean to be dismissive of the AFL-CIO, but the rank-and-file members of the AFL-CIO will do basically what I think in general Arkansans will do, and that is listen to the factual case against the lottery and decide, like Arkansans have decided so many times in the past, that it’s just not a good economic tool,” he said.

Page said he agrees with Halter that Arkansas — which ranks at or near the bottom among states in the percentage of college-educated adults — needs to send more people to college, but he said a lottery would result in working Arkansans having less disposable income and would be a drain on the economy.

“It’s the most regressive tax in use today,” he said.

Halter has said a lottery could raise as much as $100 million a year for scholarships. Page said he believes annual revenue would be between $35 and $50 million.

John Bailey, owner of Bailey Properties in Little Rock, pledged $300,000 to Halter’s lottery campaign, Hope for Arkansas, in October. Later that month, Halter announced that the campaign had hired the political consulting firm National Voter Outreach Inc. to help gather signatures.

The campaign will continue to use paid signature-gatherers as well as union volunteers, Halter said Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of signatures have been collected so far, and the effort is on track to collect more than 78,000 signatures before the July 7 deadline, Halter said. He would not say exactly how many signatures have been collected.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel approved the wording of Halter’s measure in November. He later said he had “mixed feelings” about the proposal and feared it could open the door to slot machine-type games.

Halter has said he opposes those games and does not believe the Legislature would permit them.


Teachers union chief leads leftward

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