Google shows vulnerablity to union thuggery

More than 100 union supporters gathered next to Google's headquarters last Thursday evening to demand that the Internet giant address efforts to organize a union at the company's proposed hotel.

Late last year Google received exclusive rights to negotiate with the city for a planned 200-room hotel with a 30,000-square-foot conference center. As part of the agreement, the city would allow use of nine acres of its "Charleston East" site in Mountain View (CA) while Google would build the hotel and hire an operator.

In anticipation of the deal going through, the local chapter of UNITE HERE, a hotel service workers' union, wants Google to enter negotiations for a "labor peace agreement," and held a rally Thursday to get the company's attention. City manager Kevin Duggan says the union issue is part of ongoing discussions with Google.

At the rally, local activist group Raging Grannies sang "High ho, high ho, we workers need more dough," and union supporters held signs reading "Google + service workers rights = no matches found."

Hotel workers also talked about having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. According to UNITE HERE, non-union hotel workers in the south bay average $7 to $8 per hour, without health benefits. By contrast, union workers in Local 19 make $11 per hour, with health benefits, and wages are expected to increase this year.

The issue hit close to home for Stanford students Theresa Zhen and PaHua Cha, whose mothers were both hotel housekeepers.

"I can't help but think of my mom," Cha said. The mentality of "'Better them than us' is not going to get anyone anywhere," she said.

Sandy Perry, outreach minister for First Christian Church in San Jose, said situations of such low pay were a shame in Silicon Valley, a place with "all this wealth, and these multi-billion dollar companies."

"We've all heard the buzz about how well Google treats its employees," said Enrique Fernandez, UNITE HERE business manager, in a press release. "We want Google to treat these future dishwashers, housekeepers and banquet servers with as much fairness as computer programmers. We remain hopeful that Google will live up to its reputation."

A Google employee at the rally who wished to remain anonymous said he couldn't imagine Google standing in the way of the union's efforts to organize. He said the hotel was of particular interest to Google employees, many of whom asked Google executives to talk about the project at a recent forum. At the forum it was the second most popular topic, after Microsoft's bid to acquire Yahoo, he said.

But that interest does not seem to extend to service workers, according to UNITE HERE organizer Owen Li. The rally, Li said, "is the result of not getting anywhere with Google when we tried to meet with them."

Union supporters tried to meet with Google in November "but were denied a meeting and eventually escorted off campus by company security," Li said. Google has pushed back scheduled meetings with the union several times, he said.

The Voice sent Google an e-mail containing several questions on the issue, and received this response from Google spokesperson Andrew Pedersen: "We fully support any group's exercise of their First Amendment right to make their views known. We will discuss labor issues when and if we reach agreement with the city of Mountain View to develop any property."

"If they were to guarantee that workers would be able to choose representation without any fear of intimidation, then we would agree not to picket the opening of the hotel or take any other kind of economic action," Li said.

As to the labor agreement the union is demanding, "The primary purpose of the agreement is to allow a fair process for workers to decide whether they want representation while their employer agrees to remain neutral," Li said. "The first contract would happen through a neutral arbitrator which both parties would agree on. I think the neutral arbitrator would look at a variety of factors to determine what a fair contract looks like. They would have the power to tell Google and the union what the contract would be. It would bind the hotel and the union for several years. There would be no labor disputes."

"We're always hopeful they will meet with us," Li added. "Right now we have no idea when."


Can gov't-unions stop Obama?

As the Democratic presidential contest moves to the distressed industrial Midwest, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have ratcheted up their antitrade, anticorporate rhetoric.

The candidates have made broad attacks on corporate wealth and tax cuts they say tilt toward the rich, along with more specific attacks against health insurers and oil companies, among other industries. On Friday, Mrs. Clinton began airing a TV spot in Wisconsin in which she says, "The oil companies, the drug companies, have had seven years of a president who stands up for them.... It's time we had a president who stands up for all of you."

Both candidates increasingly sound like former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as they pursue his endorsement and the voters -- particularly union members -- who were drawn to the populist candidate before he dropped out last month. Illinois Sen. Obama got a boost toward that goal Friday with the backing of the Service Employees International Union, one of the most politically powerful labor organizations.

SEIU long was too divided to make a national endorsement, but Mr. Edwards's withdrawal and Mr. Obama's momentum made a choice easier. Now the union has organizers on the ground working for the Obama campaign in Wisconsin, which holds the next primary Tuesday. "It has now become clear the members of our union and the leaders of our union think that it is time to become part of an effort to make Barack Obama the next president of the United States," said Andy Stern, the union's president, during a phone conference with reporters.

One factor in the endorsement is the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and blamed by many unions for sending jobs to Mexico. Sen. Obama has increasingly hit Mrs. Clinton on Nafta.

"People react very strongly against Nafta," said Anna Burger, head of SEIU's political program, in an interview. "We've seen job loss in this country as a result of Nafta. She's speaking out against Nafta now, but she has ties to it. That's been a high hurdle for her to overcome."

Wisconsin offers a test for the antitrade rhetoric, as a state where the number of well-paid manufacturing jobs has steadily declined over the past decade. Two recent polls have given Mr. Obama an edge there, and he is widely expected to carry the state.

Battered Ohio, which votes March 4, offers an even bigger test. It currently stands as the No. 1 state for home foreclosures in progress, with 3.7% of homes with outstanding mortgages affected, according a recent report by National City Corp. in Cleveland. The state is a must-win contest for Mrs. Clinton, who has lost a string of contests to Mr. Obama since Feb. 5. She has a large lead in recent Ohio polls.
[Barack Obama]

Besides wooing voters, both candidates are trying to win favor from Democratic leaders in these states who serve as superdelegates. Superdelegates -- members of Congress and other prominent party figures -- aren't bound by the results of the primaries or caucuses in their states. They could help decide who wins the nomination.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), one undecided superdelegate, won election in 2006 with a populist message and said he is pleased that the presidential candidates are now following suit. "They were both a bit slow to get there, but they both have genuine beliefs about the middle class and working families and they're going exactly in the right direction," he said.

Business groups are dismissive of the Democratic attacks. "They should be talking about ways to grow the economy such as deregulation and lessening burdens on employers, rather than criticizing them with simplistic politically driven rhetoric," said Randel Johnson, a vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. Obama's growing backing from labor leaders may help him more with the working-class voters being wooed by those appeals. Beyond Wisconsin, SEIU's endorsement could help him in Texas, which also has a primary on March 4. The union organized 5,300 janitors in Houston in the past few years and is expected to call on its strong staff there to mobilize voters.

SEIU's backing came on the heels of an Obama endorsement Thursday by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has 1.3 million members. Overall, though, the labor movement remains divided between the two candidates. Mrs. Clinton has far deeper support from unions representing government workers, teachers and machinists, among others.

Substantively, the two Democrats agree on most economic issues. Even as they debate whether Mrs. Clinton supported Nafta too strongly in the past, for instance, both promise to try and renegotiate the agreement to get better terms.

Their rhetoric, too, is remarkably similar.

In Cincinnati Friday, Mrs. Clinton described herself as the "candidate of, from and for the middle class of America" to roundtable of voters in Cincinnati.

"We're going to end every single tax break that still exists in the federal tax code that gives one penny of your money to anybody who exports a job. Those days are done," she said. "It is wrong that an investment money manager in Wall Street making $50 million a year gets a lower tax rate than a teacher, a nurse, a truck driver, and autoworker making $50,000 a year."

She has taken a number of opportunities over the last week to denounce corporations. On Thursday, she responded to reports of possible airline mergers. "We will have to take a hard look at the potential effects on workers and consumers," she said in a statement. "It is also vitally important that any proposed merger preserve the jobs and worker protections on which thousands of families rely." A spokeswoman for Delta Air Lines Inc., which people close to the matter say is in merger talks, said any merger decision would be made with the long-term interests of employees and customers in mind.

On Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton jumped on news that Blue Cross of California was asking doctors to provide personal medical information about their patients that could make them ineligible for insurance (a practice the company has since reversed). "This is only the most recent example of how insurance companies spend tens of billions of dollars a year figuring out how to avoid covering people with health insurance," Mrs. Clinton said in a statement.

Mr. Obama's language has the same ring. On Tuesday night, as votes were being counted in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., Mr. Obama (who won all three of those contests) was in Madison, Wis., denouncing Nafta for shipping jobs overseas and, he said, forcing "parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart."

"That's why we need a president who will listen to Main Street, not just Wall Street, a president who will stand with workers not just when it's easy, but when it's hard," he said.

The next day, he was at a General Motors assembly plant in Janesville, Wis., to deliver an economic address in which he again denounced free-trade agreements. "Decades of trade deals like Nafta and China have been signed with plenty of protections for corporations and their profits, but none for our environment or our workers who've seen factories shut their doors and millions of jobs disappear," he said.

He has repeatedly accused Mrs. Clinton of supporting Nafta in the years after her husband signed it into law. Mr. Obama has sent a flier into Ohio homes that shows a locked gate, presumably to a factory, with a large "Closed" sign hanging. It says, "Hillary Clinton believed NAFTA was 'a boon' to our economy. See inside..."

It seems that Mrs. Clinton never used those exact words, and Mrs. Clinton has accused Mr. Obama of peddling "all sorts of false claims."


Labor-state County can't ditch SEIU

After winning the outsourcing bid to operate the 15-library system in Jackson County, OR, Library Systems & Services, LLC (LSSI) will now have to negotiate with the union it bid against, and that formerly represented a majority of its workers. In December, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 filed an unfair labor practice complaint against LSSI with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The union’s Marc Stefan explained to LJ that when a new employer takes over from a previous entity that operated with a unionized work force, as long as a majority of the workforce is made up of people who used to be represented by the union, the union can request that the new employer bargain with the union. He estimated that about 70 percent of the current staff at Jackson County Library Services were once union workers.

Stefan thought the union had a strong case and, indeed, before NLRB ruled, LSSI agreed to negotiate with the union regarding the 65 former union workers. That doesn’t mean that the workers will regain their old compensation package. "We are confined by our contract," LSSI President Frank Pezzanite told the Mail-Tribune. "We don't have a lot of wiggle room." Library assistant Pauline Black told LJ, "I hope that, with the union back in, we will have more of an opportunity to discuss what the right working conditions are, and who should get benefits, which I would say should be all regular staff." Shelvers, she noted, "are essentially treated as sort of temp employees," with no paid time off and no benefits.

Black said that the union’s action sent an important message to county officials: "If you want quality services and quality staff, you can’t just outsource." LSSI has not previously operated in a union environment. As LJ reported in 2004, at conferences, LSSI had been distributing a 2002 article from The American Enterprise (published by a conservative think tank) that lauded LSSI's work: "For vested interests like unions, however, the company's ability efficiently to meet terms set by local officials offers no solace."


Leftists take comfort in Obama campaign

Campaign workers for Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama are under fire for displaying a flag featuring communist hero Che Guevara. But Obama has his own controversial socialist connections. He is, in fact, an associate of a Chicago-based Marxist group with access to millions of labor union dollars and connections to expert political consultants, including a convicted swindler.

Obama’s socialist backing goes back at least to 1996, when he received the endorsement of the Chicago branch of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) for an Illinois state senate seat. Later, the Chicago DSA newsletter reported that Obama, as a state senator, showed up to eulogize Saul Mendelson, one of the “champions” of “Chicago’s democratic left” and a long-time socialist activist. Obama’s stint as a “community organizer” in Chicago has gotten some attention, but his relationship with the DSA socialists, who groomed and backed him, has been generally ignored.

Blogger Steve Bartin, who has been following Obama’s career and involvement with the Chicago socialists, has uncovered a fascinating video showing Obama campaigning for openly socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Interestingly, Sanders, who won his seat in 2006, called Obama “one of the great leaders of the United States Senate,” even though Obama had only been in the body for about two years. In 2007, the National Journal said that Obama had established himself as “the most liberal Senator.” More liberal than Sanders? That is quite a feat. Does this make Obama a socialist, too?

DSA describes itself as the largest socialist organization in the United States and the principal U.S. affiliate of the Socialist International. The Socialist International (SI) has what is called “consultative status” with the United Nations. In other words, it works hand-in-glove with the world body.

The international connection is important and significant because an Obama bill, “The Global Poverty Act,” has just been rushed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with the assistance of Democratic Senator Joe Biden, the chairman, and Republican Senator Richard Lugar. The legislation (S.2433) commits the U.S. to spending hundreds of billions of dollars more in foreign aid on the rest of the world, in order to comply with the “Millennium Goals” established by the United Nations. Conservative members of the committee were largely caught off-guard by the move to pass the Obama bill but are putting a “hold” on it, in order to try to prevent the legislation, which also quickly passed the House, from being quickly brought up for a full Senate vote. But observers think that Senate Democrats may try to pass it quickly anyway, in order to give Obama a precious legislative “victory” that he could run on.

Another group associated with the SI is the Party of European Socialists (PES), which heard from Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, back in 2006. Dean’s speech is posted on the official Democratic Party website, although the European socialist parties are referred to as “progressive.” Democrats, Dean said, want to be “good citizens of the world community.” He spoke at a session on “Global Challenges for Progressive Politics.”

Following up, in April 2007, PES President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen reported that European socialists held a meeting “in the Democrats HQ in Washington,” met with officials of the party and Democratic members of Congress, and agreed that “PES activist groups” in various U.S. cities would start working together. The photos of the trip show Rasmussen meeting with such figures as Senator Ben Cardin, Senator Bernie Sanders, officials of the Brookings Institution, Howard Dean, and AFL-CIO President John W. Sweeney, a member of the DSA. The Brookings Institution is headed by former Clinton State Department official Strobe Talbott, a proponent of world government who was recently identified in the book Comrade J as having been a pawn of the Russian intelligence service.

The socialist connections of Obama and the Democratic Party have certainly not been featured in the Washington Post columns of Harold Meyerson, who happens not only to be a member but a vice-chair of the DSA. Meyerson, the subject of our 2005 column, “A Socialist at the Washington Post,” has praised convicted inside-trader George Soros for manipulating campaign finance laws to benefit the far-left elements of the Democratic Party. Obama’s success in the Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses is further evidence of Soros’s success. Indeed, Soros has financially contributed to the Obama campaign.

It is not surprising that the Chicago Democrat, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, has endorsed Obama. Schakowsky, who endorsed Howard Dean for president in 2004, was honored in 2000 at a dinner sponsored by the Chicago chapter of the DSA. Her husband, Robert Creamer, emerged from federal prison in November 2006 after serving five months for financial crimes. He pleaded guilty to ripping off financial institutions while running a non-profit group. Before he was convicted but under indictment, Creamer was hired by the Soros-funded Open Society Policy Center to sabotage John Bolton’s nomination as Ambassador to the U.N.

After his release from prison, Creamer released a book, Listen to Your Mother: Stand up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, described by one blogger as the book that was “penned in the pen.” A blurb for the book declares, “Some people think that in order to win, Democrats need to move to the political center by adopting conservative values and splitting the difference between progressive and conservative positions. History shows they are wrong. To win the next election and to win in the long term, we need to redefine the political center.”

In addition to writing the book, Creamer is back in business, running his firm, Strategic Consulting Group, and advertising himself as “a consultant to the campaigns to end the war in Iraq, pass universal health care, change America’s budget priorities and enact comprehensive immigration reform.” His clients have included the AFL-CIO and MoveOn.org. In fact, his client list is a virtual who’s who of the Democratic Party, organized labor, and Democratic Party constituency groups.

Creamer’s list of testimonials comes from such figures as Democratic Senators Richard Durbin (Ill.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Harold Meyerson, MoveOn.org founder Wes Boyd, and David Axelrod, a “Democratic political consultant.”

Axelrod, of course, is much more than just a “Democratic political consultant.” He helped State Senator Barack Obama win his U.S. Senate seat in 2004 and currently serves as strategist and media advisor to Obama’s presidential campaign.



AFL-CIO advances in Right to Work state

The number of union members in Arizona has grown. There are 230,000 labor union members in the state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is up from 197,000 in 2006. Union members represent 8.8 percent of Arizona's workers. Labor accounts for 16.7 percent of the work force in California, 25.2 percent in New York and 15 percent in Nevada. The Arizona AFL-CIO said the growth shows that unions are gaining ground in Arizona, which is a "right to work" state.


How can unions spend so much on politics?

Voters tried to curb campaign contributions in 2000, but an extensive study by California's elections watchdog released Thursday shows that in the years since special-interest donors have skirted those restrictions by making indirect contributions that total more than $88 million.

The report by the state Fair Political Practices Commission specifically examined the use and impact of independent expenditure campaigns, which are allowed to receive unlimited amounts of contributions but are not coordinated with candidates. Labor unions and Indian tribes have been especially active donors.

The idea is that the money is spent on behalf of a candidate, but not under the candidate's direction, though some have questioned whether that's really the case.

The report revealed the amount of money such campaigns spent on legislative races surged from $376,000 in 2000 to $23.5 million in 2006. Over that same period, statewide candidates - such as those running for governor - saw indirect donations soar from $526,000 in 2002 to $29.5 million in 2006.

"The astounding increase in independent expenditures benefiting candidates for state office is clearly thwarting the will of the people to limit campaign spending," said FPPC Commission Chairman Ross Johnson.

Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College, said the report's findings were to be expected.

"As long as interest groups want to influence the government," Pitney said, "curbing their spending is like holding back the Pacific Ocean with a chain-link fence."

Johnson and other campaign finance watchdogs are especially concerned because not only is the spending unlimited, but it's difficult to track - and only likely to increase with another round of legislative primary elections set for June.

As part of its examination, the FPPC compiled a list of the largest independent expenditure committees and the largest donors to those efforts. Topping the list: Californians for a Better Government, which spent most, if not all, of $9.8 million to support the unsuccessful campaign of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides.

Of that nearly $10 million, Angelides' friend Angelo Tsakopoulos, who is a Sacramento developer, and his daughter, Eleni Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis, contributed more than $8.6 million - an amount that immediately cast suspicion on independent expenditure campaigns. Under voter-approved Proposition 34 in 2000, Tsakopoulos' contribution to Angelides' official campaign could not exceed $3,600.

In addition to Tsakopoulos and his daughter, other contributors who made the FPPC's top 10 list include two Indian gaming tribes, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians (the leader with $6.18 million) and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and two of the state's most powerful unions, the California Teachers Association and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

The FPPC also asserted that independent expenditure campaigns have affected the outcome of Senate and Assembly races - and many candidates have received substantially more money in these indirect donations than raised by their campaign.

One example cited by the FPPC was the 2006 34th Senate district Democratic primary in Orange County that pitted moderate Lou Correa against liberal Tom Umberg. It was widely known that the Democratic leadership favored a moderate to take on Republican Assemblywoman Lynn Daucher.

In the primary, Correa raised $304,000, while Umberg pulled in $476,592. However, Correa received an additional $1.1 million in indirect independent expenditure contributions, while Umberg received $68,926. Correa won - and then beat Daucher in a race so close the result wasn't final until weeks after election night.

Some candidates, however, have used their opponents' indirect donations against them.

In the East Bay's 10th Senate District Democratic primary in 2006, John Dutra was heavily backed by independent expenditures but nonetheless lost to Ellen Corbett.

Corbett's campaign manager, Parke Skelton, hammered Dutra, a moderate Democrat, as being in the pockets of special interest.

But Skelton has been on the other end, too, and said he finds the wild-card factor of independent expenditure campaigns "really troubling."

Tracking such independent campaign contributions as they occur, however, is difficult, the FPPC contends, despite current reporting requirements and online posting on the Secretary of State's Web site.

Campaign finance reform advocates, who support the FPPC effort, said the contributions provide powerful groups undue influence over issues.

"It has a really frightening effect on politics," said Carmen Balber of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.


Media tracks left-wing unions

The Associated Press is keeping track of major labor endorsements made in the 2008 presidential primaries:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York

* United Transportation Union. Endorsed in August 2007.
* International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Endorsed in August 2007.
* Transportation Communication Union. Endorsed in September 2007.
* National Association of Letter Carriers. Endorsed in September 2007.
* International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers. Endorsed in September 2007.
* American Federation of Teachers. Endorsed in October 2007.
* American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Endorsed in October 2007.
* International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers. Endorsed in November 2007.
* Amalgamated Transit Union. Endorsed in November 2007.
* International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Endorsed in December 2007.
* International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. Endorsed in December 2007.
* United Farm Workers. Endorsed in January 2008.

Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois

* UNITE HERE. Endorsed in January 2008.
* Transport Workers Union. Endorsed in February 2008.
* National Weather Service Employees Organization. Endorsed in February 2008.
* United Food and Commercial Workers. Endorsed in February 2008.


Comma trips up union in dues-objector fight

Vancouver teacher Susan Wiggs may donate her union dues to Shared Hope International, after all, the state Public Employment Relations Commission has ruled. The Vancouver Public Schools teachers union has appealed the decision. Wiggs, a teacher at Jason Lee Middle School, has been embroiled in a two-year dispute with the teachers union about where to direct her dues. Two years ago, Wiggs withdrew from the union as a religious objector.

“They were taking political stands that I cannot support, considering my faith,” Wiggs, a Christian, said in March. “They were coming out in favor of abortion and homosexual rights. I didn’t want to support them with my dues.”

State law requires that religious objectors continue to carve out money from their paychecks to put toward a charity. But Wiggs and the union have disagreed on which one.

Wiggs’ chosen nonprofit organization is the Vancouver-based Shared Hope International, which targets international sex trafficking. The organization isn’t religious and was founded by former U.S. Rep. Linda Smith, a Republican from Vancouver.

The union would prefer that Wiggs choose the YWCA or the Vancouver School District Foundation.

“Our position has been that we think the charity should be local and benefit children,” union President Ann Giles said.

But PERC examiner Joel Greene found that Shared Hope International runs two local programs. He wrote that the organization spent $90,000 in 2006 on job skills training for low-income women with children.

The final sticking point boils down to the lack of a comma.

State law says that the employee can contribute to “a nonreligious charity or to another charitable organization mutually agreed upon by the employee” and the union.
The union argues that means that teacher and union must agree on any charity.

Absence of a comma

In a detailed explanation resembling a sixth-grade grammar lesson, Greene ruled that the law means Wiggs could pick any nonreligious charity or an agreed-upon religious charity.

“The absence of a comma before the qualifying phrase ‘mutually agreed upon’ further supports the conclusion that the qualifying phrase modifies only ‘another charitable organization’ and does not modify ‘a nonreligious charity,’” Greene wrote.

There are 132 religious objectors in Washington, according to the Washington Education Association. Rich Wood, spokesman for the WEA, said that Wiggs’ case is the first in six years to reach a PERC hearing.

Wiggs’ dues money is being held in an escrow account.


Voters may require unions to compete

If the Colorado General Assembly is too pro-union, pro-regulation and anti-business - citizens may get several chances to keep lawmakers in check at the ballot box in November's election. The Independence Institute's Jon Caldara has submitted three ballot initiative proposals that appear to address recent developments from the Capitol. The conservative think tank's proposed initiatives include:

* Proposition 53, which Caldara calls the "ethical standards for public payroll" initiative. The measure prohibits the state government from collecting union dues from employees.

* Proposition 58, which bars the state of Colorado or any of its political subdivisions from requiring employers to offer health insurance or individuals to purchase coverage plans. It also allows employers and individuals to purchase private health insurance products outside of the state.

* Proposition 59, which prevents companies that didn't make a competitive bid for a government contract from making campaign contributions. The measure also would apply to labor unions that do collective bargaining with government agencies in Colorado.

Caldara said Proposition 58 was inspired by a recommendation from the Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform to require Colorado residents to obtain health coverage through a government mandate.

The commission hoped that by forcing all Coloradans to be covered -- either through private insurers or government programs -- there will be less cost shifting from medical providers that charge private insurers more to compensate for the unpaid medical bills of uninsured residents.


One thing union-backed pols can't control

Now that the term-limits scam has blown up in California lawmakers faces, maybe they should try reforming something that would improve the Legislature. The corrupt system lawmakers use to determine legislative district boundaries has taken the competition out of elections. Its time to fix it. Doing the right thing for once might even divert attention from lawmakers most recent attempt to manipulate the publics will on term limits.

A lot of people would cheer a good-faith effort to have an independent commission draw the lines of legislative and congressional districts. It would be easy to reform the redistricting system, but legislators, led by the Democrats, don't have it in them to get it done.

They aren't honest about their opposition to redistricting reform, so they won't even vote to kill it. They prefer the passive-aggressive route. They'll promise reform and then introduce several competing reform plans. They'll pick them apart, and the next thing you know, the legislative session has ended and nothing has changed.

Legislative leaders will hold a news conference to say they tried, but couldn't reach a final agreement to put a redistricting reform measure on the ballot. The truth is, they never intended to fix the problem. They were just playing to the crowd.

The biggest abusers are Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata. But they are doing the dirty work for the rest of the Legislature.

These guys can get very creative when they want to get something done.

Take the states term-limits law. They don't like it, so they got their special-interest pals to put an initiative on the Feb. 5 ballot that would modify term limits. Of course it included a little clause that would let them serve longer, even though they were termed out.

This was a very tricky scam, and to make it all work, they had to change the date of California's presidential primary. Sure, it was brazen opportunism, but Nunez, Perata and the rest didn't flinch at costing taxpayers $80 million for the election. They almost got away with the maneuver.

But the one thing they couldn't control was the California electorate. They misled and distorted the issue with a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign that said they were tightening up term limits. It was a lie.

They even got Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to go along with the scam, even after he said he would not support it unless the Legislature also put a redistricting reform measure on the ballot.

The outsider who got elected in 2003 to reform Sacramento had become part of the conspiracy to protect the status quo.

But voters refused to swallow Proposition 93 and all the baloney they were being fed by the Nunez/Perata/Schwarzenegger political operation. The measure to change term limits was soundly defeated.

The governor offered this election analysis to the Associated Press after the vote: I think its very clear that the people felt the legislators have not performed well enough (to) deserve a change there.

Talk about stating the obvious. Pick an issue and the Legislature has ducked it, from health care reform to fixing the states prison system. Theres a $14 billion budget deficit because the state regularly spends more money than it takes in. By any measurement, this Legislature has been awful.

Nunez belatedly admitted that Proposition 93 failed because it was not paired with a redistricting reform proposal. It wasn't as if he weren't warned. Now Nunezs once-promising political career has been shattered. But his own arrogance got him in this fix.

New Democratic leaders soon will be elected in the Assembly and the Senate. Maybe they will have learned the lessons of this election.

Now Nunez, Perata and the other lame ducks have a chance to show they can rise above their political pettiness by putting a balanced redistricting reform measure on the ballot before their terms end.

We will learn how serious lawmakers are about winning the publics trust by the seriousness they show in offering a plan that would have an independent commission draw legislative and congressional district lines.

If they start making excuses for not fixing redistricting, it will be clear that they are the same old tired politicians who have been running the Legislature for a generation.


School unions tested on privatization

As schools across the Upper Thumb and the state of Michigan are working to trim their expenses wherever possible, school leaders are faced with some very difficult decisions. The goal is to make budget reductions that will affect students’ education the least, and to that end, some districts are choosing to privatize non-instructional services.

According to survey data from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Michigan school districts have increased their use of competitive contracting with private firms for school support services in recent years. From 2005 to 2007, the percentage of districts that contracted food, busing or janitorial services rose from 35.5 percent to 40.2 percent.

In the Upper Thumb, only a few districts are privatizing a support service — Caseville, Deckerville, Harbor Beach and Port Hope, according to the Mackinac Center data.

While Mackinac Center data indicated Cass City Public Schools privatizes custodial services, Cass City Superintendent Ron Wilson told the Huron Daily Tribune this currently is not the case.

The number of non-instructional employees schools have may surprise some taxpayers. In Michigan, data from the state’s Center for Educational Performance and Information indicate that teachers, teachers’ aides and instructional coordinators comprise 53 percent of Michigan’s public education employees, while the remaining 47 percent of employees perform support work, including administration, custodial, food service, transportation, accounting, etc. According to the American School & University biennial survey of contracting and privatization, the top two reasons schools turn to privatized services is to improve operations and save money. Huron Intermediate School District Superintendent Bob Colby said school districts like to privatize when possible because it “keeps more money in the classroom.” He said when privatizing with a company, schools can encourage the company to employ local people.

In Michigan, many schools that have privatized busing, food service or transportation have realized savings. The 2007 Mackinac Center survey showed 77.9 percent of districts that contracted for bus, food or janitorial services reported saving money, while 4.1 percent said contracting didn’t save money. The rest indicated they were unsure — in some cases, the contracts were too new.

In the past, school employee unions often called for and received from school districts clauses in their labor contracts that prohibited privatization. This changed with the passage of Public Act 112 in 1994, which took school boards’ right to privatize noninstructional support services off the bargaining table. This left school boards free to contract with any private company or individual they found could do the same or a better job for less money.

The most popular support service privatization in the state is food service privatization, according to the Mackinac Center. The 2007 survey showed 29.7 percent of the state’s school districts have privatized food services. Some districts, like Deckerville, simply hire companies to manage the existing staff, while others allow the staff of the vendor to provide every aspect of the food service.

Deckerville Community Schools has contracted with Chartwells Food Service for the managing of the food service program for 14 years, said Superintendent Alan Broughton.

“We still use Deckerville School employees (in the food service program),” Broughton said. “We pay a fee for a manager (from Chartwells) to be on site (at the school).”

He said privatizing with Chartwells is beneficial in multiple ways. He said because of the size of the company, Chartwells is able to buy food in bulk at better prices than the school could, and the company is able to more effectively keep abreast of nutritional standards and trends. He said the company brings expertise that is very useful to the district.

Broughton said the district has a five-year contract with Chartwells. When the contract is up, the district will go through the bidding process, and interested food service companies will have the opportunity to submit a bid.

He said students, staff and parents are very happy with the food service program and the quality of food under Chartwells’ management.

HISD Superintendent Bob Colby said Huron County districts continue to look at privatizing food service. But he said currently all of the local districts’ food service departments are “running efficiently enough to stand on their own.” The 2007 Mackinac Center survey showed 14.5 percent of districts contracted custodial services. According to data from the Mackinac Center, for the past two years, the state has seen a 26 percent increase in the number of districts that privatize for custodial services. In Huron County, Caseville and Harbor Beach school districts privatize a portion of the custodial services.

In 2005-06, Caseville Public Schools chose to privatize a portion of its custodial services after a custodian retired.

“We wanted to get the work done, and we (talked about) what would be the most cost-effective way,” said Superintendent Dr. Dan Tighe.

The district went through the bidding process and chose Steve’s Cleaning Co., a local vendor.

“The school’s money stayed within the community,” Tighe said, noting the custodial job itself stayed local, too. “Any community school ought to spend its money locally. It’s plain good policy.”

The district continues to directly hire one custodian, who also performs other duties around the school, Tighe said.

Because the district privatized part of its custodial service, the district was able to avoid costs in the amount of $12,000 to $14,000.

“We’re able to do a better job of adjusting expenditures to revenues,” Tighe said.

He said school districts are not in the business of collecting money; they’re in the business of spending money, and districts have to be conscious of how these taxpayer dollars are spent in relation to the education of children. He said schools often are able to save money with private services because “they’re not paying union wages or union benefit packages,” which can drive up costs for school districts.

Tighe said privatizing part of the custodial services has worked well for the school.

“We haven’t found any reduction in quality,” he said.

He said the contract with Steve’s Cleaning Co. is renewable annually and can be bid out to other cleaning services in any given year.

Tighe said the school board has discussed privatizing transportation services, but he said the board discovered it would cost more to privatize than to have the school continue to operate its own transportation service.

Tighe said schools shouldn’t walk into a privatization contract blindly.

“Before any job is looked at for subcontracting, you have to know what the job is, and it’s not as easy as it sounds,” he said.

As an example, he said when it comes to transportation, there are many “value-added” items the school’s transportation service provides that a subcontracted service would charge more for. These items include field trips and other side trips that the school doesn’t have to pay extra for with its own transportation service. When the costs of the value-added services are added up, a school may need to pay more money to subcontract.

He said some school services should be off limits to privatization.

“There are jobs you just don’t subcontract — you don’t subcontract your core business, and our primary business is education,” Tighe said.

Harbor Beach Community Schools, during the 2006-07 school year, privatized the afternoon portion of its custodial services. The district hired D.M. Burr Facilities Management Inc. Superintendent Ron Kraft said the decision to privatize was purely a financial decision.

“It’s a dollars and cents deal. We saved $29,600 in privatizing two (custodial) positions, and that money was used to hire 2 1/2 aides to help with intervention programs for students,” he said.

Kraft said privatization of non-instructional services is a viable option for districts looking to save money as the cost of retirement, insurance and salaries for school employees continue to increase. He said schools need to do what they can to keep dollars going to the classrooms.

“Our responsibility is to educate students, not to be an employment agency,” he said.

Kraft said the quality of the work by D.M. Burr has been very satisfactory. He said the company employs people in the community, which is a plus.

The contract with D.M. Burr is for three years, Kraft added. There are clauses in the contract to allow each party to exit the contract if necessary.

He said the district’s maintenance supervisor and assistant maintenance supervisor remain employed by the school. He said the district is keeping these individuals because of their expertise with the facilities and the maintenance equipment.

One support service that is not privatized as often in Michigan is transportation. Only 4.3 percent of districts contracted with private firms for bus services, according to the 2007 Mackinac Center survey.

At the end of October 2007, Port Hope Community Schools started subcontracting its transportation service with Thumb Area Transit. Two TAT buses are used for daily regular runs, said Larry Johnson, Port Hope Community School administrator. With the increasing price of fuel and the declining number of enrolled students, privatizing busing is a very viable option for this district. Johnson said in 2006-07, the district spent $60,000 for busing, including contracting with Harbor Beach Community Schools for school bus maintenance. The district had two buses it used on a regular basis, and these buses will be kept — at least for the short term — for field trips and athletic games.

“This school year, we’ll be able to save $10,000 to $15,000,” Johnson estimated. As for the bus drivers, Johnson said both lost a portion of their job when the school turned to TAT. They both still work for the district — one in building maintenance part time and the other handles trips for athletic games and other trips.

Johnson said TAT only handles regular daily runs, not field trip or athletic runs.

He said the contract with TAT is for this school year only. At the end of the year, the school board will review the contract and decide how to proceed for the next year.

Johnson said there have been some changes to the bus routes students and parents were familiar with, and a few complaints came to the school because of the changes. The schedule has been worked out and overall, the district is satisfied.

“The kids love it. The buses have air conditioning and (offer) smoother riding,” Johnson said.

The Mackinac Center states smaller school districts face obstacles that can make privatization of non-instructional services more difficult. One potential problem smaller districts face is pressure from the community. If a school employee is going to lose his/her job because of privatization, the superintendent and school board could come under fire. The taxpayers may be more inclined to forego possible money savings for the sake of keeping a familiar face working with the students.

Despite any obstacles, Mackinac Center survey data shows smaller districts are very able to privatize support services. Of those districts outsourcing food, janitorial, or busing services, 67 percent have fewer than 2,500 enrolled students.

The Mackinac Center survey stated other areas of privatization that haven’t garnered much publicity include contracts for athletic coaches, administrative services (secretaries), business services (accountants), and principals. Other unique approaches included contracting for psychology services and even a school nurse.

When making a decision on whether or not to privatize a service, Colby said a school board should consider concerns of the school and community.

“Given the economy of Huron County, if privatization is going to cost local jobs, that is a legitimate concern,” Colby said. “Will there be enough cost savings while maintaining the level of service (people are) accustomed to?” He said the decision to privatize a service needs to be made like any other decision.

“You have to weigh your options in (a public setting),” he said.

He said the potential of privatizing a service needs to be discussed openly at board meetings so people in the community know privatization is under consideration.

Colby noted agreements with private companies should have a 30- to 60-day clause that allows either party to exit the contract.


UFCW in labor-state strike threat

Workers in the meat and seafood departments of six King Kullen supermarkets on Staten Island (NY) will walk off the job Sunday night unless a contract deal is reached between their union and the chain's management.

A union representative said today that negotiations between United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 342 and King Kullen Grocery Inc. are not going well and a strike is "pretty likely" at all 51 King Kullen stores on Staten Island, Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island.

The union, whose contract expired Oct. 31, is rejecting King Kullen's threat to reduce pension and medical benefits and to remove contract language that protects workers from layoffs.

All of King Kullen's 371 meat and seafood workers would be affected by the strike -- a number of Staten Island employees was not immediately available -- and would picket outside the stores if a strike is called.

"Historically, King Kullen and Local 342 have enjoyed a good relationship and have always reached a settlement in their negotiations. We have every reason to believe that the same will be true this year," Thomas Cullen, vice president of the company, said in a statement. He did not speak about details in the contract negotiations.

King Kullen, which has had one store in Arden Heights for 15 years, in November bought five Waldbaum's and Pathmark supermarkets on Staten Island from A&P. The stores, which include the former New Dorp Pathmark, two Waldbaum's stores in Eltingville, one in Graniteville and one in Castleton Corners, changed names last month.

The approximately 4,500 other people employed by King Kullen would not be affected by the strike and, with the exception of meat and seafood departments, all of the chain's stores will remain open.

King Kullen, which is the oldest supermarket chain in the country, is based in Bethpage, L.I.


Nurses stick with strike-happy SEIU

Nurses at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center have voted to keep their union. "We're all over the moon," said Sue Weinstein, executive director of the Service Employees International Union, Local 121RN, which represents about 1,000 nurses at the hospital.

Jeannie Badertscher, a nurse who opposed the union, said Friday the election results show a majority of nurses want to continue being represented by the SEIU. "It says a lot," Badertscher said. In voting conducted by the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday and Thursday, 517 votes were cast in favor of having the union representation and 274 were against.

About 800 nurses were eligible to vote, said James Small, regional director the board's Region 21 in Los Angeles.

The results are expected to be certified next week.

The vote was the latest in what has been a long and contentious relationship involving pro-union nurses, those opposed to the union and the hospital.

Last year, nurses went on strike twice, once for 24 hours and later for five days. They were about to go on a 10-day strike in late December when negotiations resumed and a contract agreement averted the strike.

Weinstein said the union supported having the election as soon as possible in order to address the matter and "put it behind us."

"I think it's a strong message to management," she said. "The nurses feel they need a voice, and they need a voice for collective bargaining."

Badertscher said that in speaking with other nurses who favored decertifying the union, it was clear a majority want to have a union handle contract negotiations.

"We're all feeling like, `OK, the nurses have spoken, and we'll go on from here,"' Badertscher said.

A contract between the hospital and the nurses is "in place and we will abide by that," said Kathy Roche, the hospital's spokeswoman. "The nurses have clearly indicated their preference, and the hospital will respect it."

Nurses turning to unions for representation is something relatively new, at least in Southern California, said Jean Ann Seago, associate professor of nursing at UC San Francisco.

Northern California has a long tradition of union activity, and the majority of hospitals there have nurses who are members of bargaining groups.

What often draws nurses into unions is the prospect of improved benefits, Seago said. Because nursing is still a field dominated by women, they lag in benefits compared with other professions, she said.

"There is this sort of skepticism (about unions) because they're afraid it's going to hurt patient care," Seago said, adding that there isn't a negative effect in regard to patients.

Some nurses, generally those in management and education, would prefer to stay away from unions because they associate them with nonprofessional fields, Seago said.


County officials entice AFSCME with cash

It sounds like a sweetheart of a deal for AFSCME Local 1095 members, an Erie County (NY) union without a contract. The basic premise would be a request to come to the bargaining table to negotiate a new contract, and in return get $250 to $500 per union member. The money would be fronted by Erie County with the goal of saving money with that new contract in the long run.

Erie County legislators are discussing few proposals. The first offer is $250 for each of the unions 1500 members. It would coat about $375,000. The second could double that cost, making $500 per member totaling $750,000.

Employees at ECC, the Erie County Public Library, and the Erie County Medical Center are all affected. The Erie County legislature could vote on a proposal at their next meeting. The control would then have to approve the measure.


Fed union official re-assigned to menial task

Work in this business long enough, and you see some strange stuff. Some of it lands on your desk in the form of a news release. The one to the left of my keyboard right now takes the cake – and the staples. Yes, staples.

“A union officer in the federal government was ordered to suspend his duties, and reassigned to checking and refilling, for the convenience of co-workers, staplers in the General Services Administration in the Federal Building in downtown Chicago, IL,” it begins. I’d laugh, but on further investigation, this really isn’t funny. You and I are paying the tab for this federal employee’s $50,000-plus salary, and for the salaries of the bureaucrats squabbling with him.

Chicago resident Charles Paidock is a regional vice president with the Great Lakes Region of the National Federation of Federal Employees, a union representing hundreds of thousands of federal employees nationwide.

Mr. Paidock’s negotiated position with the General Services Administration in the federal building is to be a full-time union official, representing other federal employees in contract negotiations, work-condition disputes, etc.

Paidock, according to a news release that he wrote and issued about his predicament, has been a union officer for decades. He says his efforts to force the General Services Administration to bargain in good faith landed him in hot water.

Things started becoming more heated in December, when supervisors challenged Paidock’s use of “official time.”

Finally on Monday of this week, upon his arrival at work, Paidock was told to report to the Physical Capital Asset Management Unit.

“I was given these instructions on how to load different types of staplers,” he said. “I’m seasoned enough that you don’t make any statements rebutting or refusing in any fashion. So I passed, I guess, the mastery [of stapler reloading technique] and was told there were various locations I had to go.”

Just in case stapler duty did not keep Paidock busy, he also was proctored on checking paper hole punchers to ensure they were not clogged with little paper circles.

“They’re trying to send a message to me that if I misbehave or am too energetic in representing my employees that I can be sent back to regular bureaucratic administrative tasks,” he said.

You mean, work? Verifiable task completion? Accountability?

OK. Having an individual – particularly one with a master’s degree and archival expertise – assigned to stapler-replenishment and hole-punch-hygiene duties is ridiculous.

But so is sticking taxpayers with the tab for the full-time salary of a guy whose job it is to increase the perks and salaries afforded other federal employees, whose salaries we also pay. Apparently union dues are not sufficient to cover the costs of Paidock’s wages or those of others like him.

I tried to reach Paidock’s supervisor, whom Paidock said was Frank Priore. He did not return my call Thursday.

Maybe that’s for the best.

I’m not sure whether I want to applaud the guy or tell him to grow up.

Surely if the issue of federal union “official time” is worthy of tackling, it’s worthy of more than a metaphorical game of whack-a-mole.


SEIU seized by low morale

Fed up with perceived management misconduct, Alameda County (CA) Water District employees are requesting district officials sign an employee "Bill of Rights." The one-page document asks managers to "put an end to favoritism" and "treat (workers) with dignity."

"Never before, in the 22 years I've been here, have I seen such widespread low morale," Leland Turner said at the district's board meeting Thursday. Michelle Strickland, a customer service worker, told board members that employees have been forced to write essays as punishment for mistakes. "We are disciplined as if we are children," she said.

Board members said they planned to meet next month to discuss the union's concerns.

"To the extent that we can address issues in an appropriate manner, we will," Trustee John Weed said.

The 55 employees attending Thursday's meeting are members of the Service Employees International Union, Local 1021, which represents about 140 district workers.

The union's action comes amid negotiations with the district on a new contract, as well as a decertification effort by some members to leave SEIU and join the Operating Engineers, Local 3.

One of the union's biggest gripes is a contract issue — the lack of "paid fatigue time" for utility workers.

The employees sometimes must work emergency shifts that can last more than 24 hours. While they get paid overtime for the work, they don't accumulate paid time off.

So if they want to take off the day after a marathon shift, they either haveto take it unpaid, or use vacation time or sick time.

Several utility workers said morale deteriorated in their department last year when one of their co-workers, Kimball Hollins, was fired.

Paul Lopez, a utility worker, said that he has faced retaliation since testifying that a supervisor had used a racial slur against Hollins, who is African American.

Lopez said he no longer is permitted to find co-workers able to cover for him when emergency work is required.

"Some people can do what they want and some people are under scrutiny no matter what they do," Lopez said.

However, water district General Manager Paul Piraino disagreed.

"We don't retaliate against people," he said. He wouldn't comment specifically on Lopez's allegations because Lopez has filed a grievance with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

As for other issues, Piraino said the district is open to addressing the union's concerns.

"If that's the way they feel, we need to find out exactly what the pressure points are and deal with them in a constructive and collaborate fashion," he said.

Piraino said the district already has ended the practice of making customer-service representatives write essays about mistakes.

"That's not something we thought was the best approach to dealing with work unit," he said.

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