Are unions going soft on the Clintons?

Tuesday's Wisconsin primary is shaping up to be a critical test of whether Hillary Clinton can hold onto her base of support among low-wage and blue-collar workers despite the growing number of labor unions endorsing Barack Obama.

The Service Employees International Union -- which represents 150,000 health care workers, janitors, security guards and municipal employees in Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island -- announced Friday it will campaign for Obama. Primaries in those states have not yet taken place.

For Clinton, who has stressed that Obama's health care plan does not require universal coverage as hers does, it's a major setback because the service employees union has been one of the most vocal advocacy groups for universal coverage.

"It speaks to the constituency that Obama needs, which is low-income immigrant, Latino workers," said Jefferson Cowie, an associate professor of labor history at Cornell University.

Both candidates are honing their messages to appeal to blue-collar workers.

Obama -- who has done well among higher income voters, blacks and young adults -- delivered what his campaign described as a major economic address Wednesday at a General Motors Corp. factory in Janesville, Wis.

Clinton, whose voter base has been people over age 50, rural whites and voters with incomes under $50,000, spent most of last week campaigning in Texas and Ohio. Her first stop in Ohio was a factory in Youngstown. On Friday, she visited a Lockheed Martin plant in Akron. Earlier in the week, she visited a factory in Maryland that makes transmissions for hybrid vehicles.

Many labor unions are finding their members split on the candidates and have decided to wait until there is a clear winner in the quest for the nomination.

The biggest unions that remain neutral include the Teamsters, the UAW and the Communications Workers of America.

On Thursday, the United Food and Commercial Workers union representing supermarket and food processing employees endorsed Obama.

Clinton continues to have the longstanding backing of nearly a dozen national labor unions representing building trades and construction workers, machinists and public employees, but her string of presidential primary losses has made it imperative that she register blowout victories in the upcoming primaries to whittle down the lead Obama has in pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

While former Sen. John Edwards remained in the race, many labor unions were deeply split among the three candidates, with Clinton and Edwards capturing most of the endorsements that were made and many unions choosing to stay on the sidelines.


Spotlight: The 28 27 26 labor-states

Many the stories in The Union News come from among the 28 27 26 labor-states - so named because they conform to the objective of Progressive Era federal labor law - to promote private sector unionism and the welfare of labor organizations.
The term 'labor-state', in its own right, is a short form of the term 'forced-labor state'. The origin of the term is from union officials operating on the floor of state legislatures who are known to boast, "This state is owned by organized labor," or more succinctly, "Labor owns this state."

Labor-states are known in the law as "union shop" or "agency shop" states. They are also considered "compulsory or forced unionism states" because, according to federal statute, you must pay the union or your employer cannot allow you to work. While the U.S. Supreme Court has ordered that non-members' fees must be reduced by the amount of a union's spending related to politics, such relief is generally ignored by labor-state unions.

State legislatures in the other 22 23 24 states have enacted laws opting out of the federally-mandated union workplace rule. The "Right to Work" states offer worker-choice about unionism.

Historical note: Voluntarism was a core, founding principle of unionism when the AFL (American Federation of Labor) incorporated in 1886. Having abandoned that tenet, unions now oppose right-to-work and favor forced-labor unionism.

Labor-states: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

Related post:
"UnionRefund.org Offers True Social Justice"

Big union-dues boost for AFSCME

About 17,000 home-based child care providers will join the Civil Service Employees Association as a result of a lopsided pro-union vote, state officials said Friday.

Officials with the State Employment Relations Board said that 3,723 child care providers had voted to unionize, while 161 had voted against. National union leaders applauded the move. “Today, 17,000 day care workers in New York added their voice to the national cry for change,” said John J. Sweeney, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “They said the best way for working families to bring change is to form unions.”

These child care providers as well as 35,000 others in New York are able to unionize because Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed an executive order last May giving home-based child care providers in the state the right to form unions and bargain collectively. Previously, these workers were generally viewed as independent contractors without the right to unionize, but Governor Spitzer, at the urging of organized labor, signed the executive order, and now the state will bargain with unions representing these workers.

In October, 28,000 child care providers joined the United Federation of Teachers, the teachers’ union in New York City, as part of another overwhelming pro-union vote. And last year 7,500 other child care providers joined the Civil Service Employees Association, which is the largest New York State affiliate of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The Civil Service Employees Association said the biggest problems for child care providers were efficient delivery of county child care funds, receiving higher pay and ensuring that providers are paid on time.

“This should definitely benefit child care providers,” said Diane Madej, who cares for five children at her home in Amsterdam, N.Y. She says she receives about $30,000 a year in child care fees, but after paying for food, educational supplies and utilities, she makes less than $20,000 a year — and that is for working from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. five days a week.

“Hopefully, this will help us get better pay and benefits,” said Ms. Madej, who said she does not receive the vacation, sick days or other benefits that many workers do.


Absenteeism plagues UAW

Given the impact Volvo's plant has on the NRV region, I think it's important for the community to know certain facts.

First, our employees would still be working if the UAW had not left the table. The negotiations were progressing, and we were surprised the UAW decided to walk away and strike. Second, we are committed to providing our employees with a healthy, safe work environment. We stand ready to work with the UAW to resolve any safety concerns.

Volvo has made major investments at NRV, and we want it to be a globally competitive facility. We provide our employees with competitive wages, and benefits better than those available to most people in the United States. But our business is global, and we must work with our employees to ensure that we can compete.

We need the UAW's help to control our health care costs, improve manpower stability and flexibility, and reduce excessive absenteeism -- and I'm confident that we can resolve these issues in a way that is fair to our employees and to the company.

All of us at Volvo hope that this unnecessary strike is short, and that the UAW will return to the table soon.

- PER CARLSSON, President & CEO, Volvo Trucks North America, GREENSBORO, NC


Stern cracks down on SEIU rank-and-file

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to the issue of organized labor and a major battle brewing within one of the country’s largest unions, the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, which has about 1.9 million members. Last week, the president of SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, Sal Rosselli, resigned from SEIU’s executive committee in a blistering letter to union President Andy Stern, accusing him of expanding his powers at members’ expense.

Rosselli wrote, “Over the past two years, a stark difference has evolved between SEIU’s projected image and its real world practices. An overly zealous focus on growth—growth at any cost—apparently has eclipsed SEIU’s commitment to its members.” Rosselli went on to write, “It is said democracy dies in darkness. It is with deep disappointment and great concern that I have watched dark shadows fall upon SEIU, diminishing our hopes for revitalizing the labor movement.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sal Rosselli joins us now from San Francisco. We’re also joined on the telephone by Dave Regan, the president of SEIU District 1199, representing healthcare workers in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. He is a member of the executive committee and the executive board of the SEIU.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Sal Rosselli, why did you resign?

SAL ROSSELLI: I resigned because a series of events that happened the last several weeks, culminating two-and-a-half years of struggle with inside SEIU, fundamental difference in ideology and direction. And the easiest way I can describe it is bottom-up versus top-down, empowering workers to be in control of their lives, in control of their relationship with their employer versus centralizing control and power among a few in Washington, D.C. to control the resources and decision-making authority relationship with these employers.

The last couple of weeks, a couple of events made us decide to—our 100-person elected rank-and-file executive board decide to resign from this political committee appointed by Andy Stern to help lead the union, because there’s a code of conduct on this committee which prohibits anyone from speaking outside of the committee. You know, we believe in collective action and collective decision-making, but when a majority violates our fundamental principles around rank-and-file democracy worker voice, we decided that we could no longer be a part of that process, that we needed to shed light on the direction that SEIU is going around centralizing power and decision-making among a few in Washington, D.C.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Dave Regan, you issued a letter, along with several other leaders of the international executive board, criticizing Sal Rosselli’s move. What’s your perspective on what’s wrong about what he’s done?

DAVE REGAN: I think what Sal has done and what he is doing, it’s shameful, it’s unprincipled, it’s dishonest. And Sal knows it. And what he just went through, you know, in terms of this explanation, you know, it’s ironic to me. You know, SEIU absolutely makes decisions in a legitimate, a principled and a democratic way. Sal has been a key leader and involved in every major leadership discussion in the union for twelve years. He has participated in all of the important decision-making conversations in SEIU.

And I think honestly that what’s going on in Sal’s decision to publicly attack the integrity of our union hasn’t a thing to do with democracy and rank-and-file participation. It really is about an agenda, where, truth be told, Sal’s agenda, that because he has not gotten his way in California and in other places, he’s now willing to really just illegitimately attack the rest of us. And Sal knows that. In his own resignation letter, he admits that he will no longer abide by democratic majority decisions that are made in SEIU. Well, to most of us, that’s democracy. But apparently, in Sal’s view of democracy, when you lose a debate and you lose a democratic vote, you can then turn your back on your sisters and your brothers in the union, you can attack people’s integrity.

And his actions right now, unfortunately, are going to have the result of weakening the strength of members in SEIU all across the country to make progress in their lives. And that, to me, is the irony of this. Sal wants to dress up his personal agenda in all of this highfalutin rhetoric. And the truth be told, at the end of the day, the bottom line is, his actions, unfortunately, are going to result in members having less strength and ability to confront the employers that we deal with every single day.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Some of the substantive issues that were raised in his letter, in Rosselli’s letter, one of the things that he claims is that union president, International President Andy Stern, had secret meetings with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to—above over the heads of the California members of the union, to fashion a proposed healthcare plan that went down actually to defeat a few weeks ago in California. Could you respond to that charge?

DAVE REGAN: Yeah. It’s just categorically untrue. It didn’t happen. You know, Andy Stern is the elected president of SEIU. Andy Stern meets with lots of elected officials and governors on behalf of the union all of the time. And Andy did not conduct a series of secret meetings with Governor Schwarzenegger, and, once again, Sal knows that.

What Sal is really upset about is that there was a difference of opinion in California. You know, Sal’s view didn’t always carry the day, and then when other people act legitimately as a result of a collective decision-making process, but sometimes not the way Sal would like to see, you know, we get this kind of conduct. So I think it’s just categorically untrue. It’s unfortunate. And Andy deserves better, and our union deserves better from someone like Sal, who is himself an insider at the highest levels of SEIU.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Sal Rosselli, your response?

SAL ROSSELLI: Well, first of all, Dave’s comments are disingenuous at best. And full detail of his letter to me, a rank-and-file’s response to him can be viewed on seiuvoice.org, our website that contains all of these documents.

Let me give you a specific example of what triggered this. About a year and a half ago, we were in bargaining with our nursing home workers, and UHW, our local union, is the second-largest union of nursing home workers in the country. We discovered some top down deals made between SEIU D.C. leaders and staff with our nursing home employers that exchanged the right to organize un-union homes with template agreements that severely limit the collective bargaining rights of workers, limit their voice to speak up for them and their patients. We constructively, internally, blew a whistle on this and criticized these agreements.

In response to that, Andy Stern ended bargaining with these employers and had the constitutional authority to appoint the bargaining committee to talk to these workers’ bosses. Dave, you were a member of that committee. I recall a meeting at a Los Angeles airport hotel, where you flew in, met with fifteen leaders of our thousands of nursing home workers that were in bargaining with these employers, accepted petitions from them, thousands of their coworkers signed petitions demanding a seat at that bargaining table with those employers. You took the petitions, dismissed their request and went into bargaining with those employers without any voice from the workers that should have the relationship with this boss. That’s the example—that’s just one of many examples of limiting voice of workers.

This is not about me. This is not about Rosselli or Stern at all.

AMY GOODMAN: Sal Rosselli, let’s get Dave Regan’s response to that, president of SEIU District 1199, representing the workers in Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia.

DAVE REGAN: Sure, no, listen. Sal knows that the reason that myself and an executive vice president of the union, you know, participated in a meeting with California employers was, we did not go and bargain with California employers. Sal knows that. Sal knows that I reported to him every one of those conversations. The problem was, we had a leadership problem in California in terms of our nursing home work, because Sal’s local union would not abide by decisions that were made collectively. And when Sal’s representatives engaged in bargaining, we had a breakdown in bargaining, because we were having an internal fight in front of the employers. We failed to do our jobs, and Sal’s local union was absolutely critical to that taking place. And Andy Stern rightfully exercised his legitimate responsibilities to try to, you know, corral the bargaining and get it back on track. But nobody bargained for Sal, and Sal knows that. Did we meet with his members? Did I meet with his members? We absolutely did.

You know, here’s the thing. We can lose the forest for the trees here. We’re having an internal political fight in SEIU. There’s no question about that. Sal is leading that fight. But the fact remains, SEIU is organizing more workers in America than any other union. We are improving the lives of more workers through collective bargaining than any other union in America. We’re not perfect. We don’t claim to be. We struggle every day to get better. And the tragedy of this is Sal Rosselli, because of his personal agenda, is willing to diminish and attack and ultimately, apparently, try to destroy lots of good work that’s done by hundreds of thousands and millions of people. I’m a trade unionist. I thought Sal Rosselli was a trade unionist. This is the absolute most despicable kind of behavior that Sal is willing, through his actions, on this program, in California and other places, to weaken the strength of members of my local union in Ohio and West Virginia and Kentucky. It is contemptible, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the principles Sal wants to claim.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Dave Regan, I’d like to ask you, because you said to look at the big picture on this issue, and I have a question, which I have asked many SEIU leaders over the years, some of whom were very good friends of mine, about the strategy of growth that SEIU has, which often involves making deals with political—with government officials, whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, that allow the union to grow with government support in exchange for the unions providing political support, whether it’s to Governor Pataki in New York or the Republican leader of the Senate, Joe Bruno, in New York that 1199 has done, or whether the allegations that the union was attempting to do a deal with Schwarzenegger in California to allow it to unionize 100,000 daycare workers in exchange for its political support for the governor. That kind of growth, some people say, is more in the union’s membership growth interest, but not the interest of the overall labor movement or working people in general. How do you respond to that?

DAVE REGAN: When I look at the—let’s talk about the big picture. When I look at the big picture, I see an American labor movement that has been in steady decline for fifty years. One in twelve American workers in the private sector now have a union. Only 12 percent of all workers in America have unions. And SEIU—and I think this is a fair characterization—more so than any other union in the country, is focused on how do we give workers the chance to join together and form a union. And, you know—and we are all the time trying to figure that out in the best way. So the fact that in the last ten years, literally one million American workers have had the opportunity to join our union and improve their lives, you know, and engage in collective bargaining, the results of which always must be ratified by a vote of rank-and-file members—you know, no contracts get approved until rank-and-file members vote on them—is something I am extraordinarily proud of.

Now, are we politically active? Yes, we are.

JUAN GONZALEZ: If we can, we have about a minute.

DAVE REGAN: But that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Dave Regan, we have about a minute. Sal Roselli, your response?

SAL ROSSELLI: The problem is, is that these top-down agreements don’t get bargained by workers. There’s a—we’re going in a direction of growth at all cost. We’ve lost the needed balance to raise standards of workers with the growth. There are—it’s true that this growth has been tremendous, and I’m proud—we are SEIU and proud that SEIU is the fastest-growing union in this country.

DAVE REGAN: Then why are you attacking us, Sal?

SAL ROSSELLI: But tens of thousands of long-term care workers are living in poverty.

DAVE REGAN: Why are you attacking us publicly? You can’t be proud and attack the union—


DAVE REGAN: —that you want to claim you love.

SAL ROSSELLI: seiuvoice.org, look at the voice of the workers that are—

DAVE REGAN: That is dishonest, Sal. It is dishonest.

AMY GOODMAN: Mr. Regan, let Sal Rosselli finish.

SAL ROSSELLI: Yeah, if I could ask folks to visit our website, seiuvoice.org, and you’ll see these documents, the voice of workers, right? That’s who our union is, bottom-up, not top-down. They need to—workers need to be empowered to be in control of the relationship with their employers. This June, we have a convention, and our goal there is to limit the constitutional authority of the SEIU president with worker voice, to limit that authority through a very democratic way. One member, one vote, bottom-up. Social union versus business union.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you both for being with us. We will certainly continue to follow the developments within the Service Employees International Union, as well as labor unions around this country. Sal Rosselli, president of SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, just resigned from the executive board of the executive committee. Dave Regan, president of SEIU District 1199, representing healthcare workers in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia.


SEIU plays race card to boost union dues

It is very disturbing to learn that the co-chairman of Speak Out Against Prejudice is Arnoldo Fabela, who is a paid union organizer for SEIU Local 1, which is a (private industrial workers) union in Elgin (IL).

He had led the march in Elgin when illegal aliens protested for their "rights." He was also highly involved when the marchers came from Chicago to Dennis Hastert's office, and received compliments from the La Raza ("The Race") of Chicago.

I thought the purpose of unions was to support legal American workers and their wages. However, he marches for the illegals in this country. Could it be the unions want more money, to keep the wages down, and so continue to support the illegals and get them into the unions?

- Jane Knutter, Elgin, IL


What SEIU means to me

Midwest Progs call for hard-left turn

For the first time in a generation, American labor unions increased their share of membership among workers. Last month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were 311,000 more union members in 2007, the largest increase since 1983. This reversal is a critical development since a strong labor movement is essential for making a more just society and an important component of a winning progressive coalition. By offering workers a voice inside and outside of the workplace, labor unions benefits members and non-members alike.

Despite American labor’s long post-World War II decline, the direct economic benefits of unionization are still considerable. According to the Economic Policy Institute unionized workers are paid 20 percent more than non-union workers. When non-cash benefits like health insurance are included union workers enjoy a 28 percent advantage in total compensation over their non-union members. Union workers are more likely than employees who are not in unions to have paid leave and pension plans. Labor unions also raise standards across the board: The average non-union worker in an industry with 25 percent union density was paid 7.5 percent more because of a strong union presence. At a time when corporate profits are reaching record highs while the share of the national income going to wages and salaries has reached record lows, labor unions are an essential corrective to an increasingly unequal economy.

In addition to the job unions do in the workplace, organized labor has been a major advocate of progressive change in the political arena. Unions have been behind important legislative and regulatory reforms from the minimum wage to the Family and Medical Leave Act which guarantees workers job-protected unpaid leave to care for a new child, a sick family member or their own illness. Today, America’s largest labor federation, the

AFL-CIO, continues to push for universal health insurance, comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented workers and improved public education. More locally, the Ohio AFL-CIO, along with many religious and community groups, is campaigning on behalf of a ballot item for the 2008 election to guarantee sick days to all of Ohio’s workers.

Aside from lobbying on behalf of progressive causes, organized labor provides an important base of popular support for progressives. Exit polls from the 2004 election indicate that union members supported John Kerry over George W. Bush by a margin of 61 percent to 38 percent. Members of union households were also more likely to show up to the polls with 24 percent of the electorate reporting that they were in a union home even though unionized workers comprise about 12 percent of the workforce. After elections where the presidency and control of Congress have hinged on a few thousands votes in key states, the importance of such an involved constituency cannot be overstated.

For these reasons it is vital that the next Democratic administration do all that it can to strengthen a key progressive ally and sustain the recent increase in unionization. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have pledged to support the Employee Free Choice Act which would let employees vote to unionize their worksites simply by signing a card and increase penalties for employers that interfere with their employees’ right to organize. Congress’ own nonpartisan think tank, the Congressional Research Service, reports the EFCA would improve the success rate of union organizing campaigns and make unions more likely to try to organize new workers. Given the role that unions play in our economy and our politics, reforming our labor laws should be a top priority for progressives of all stripes.


The teacher-strike capital of the nation

The Downingtown (PA) Area School District teachers and school board are planning separate votes on a tentative contract agreement that ended a seven-day strike on Feb. 4. Neither the union nor the school district has released details of the tentative pact, pending ratification, but the district has put in place a plan to make up for the lost days.

High school seniors are worried about the proposed calendar changes, since graduation dates were pushed back a week in the makeup plan.

While this Chester County district works its way through a strike aftermath, a Bucks County school board has become the first to adopt a resolution calling for an end to teacher strikes in Pennsylvania.

The resolution adopted by the Pennsbury School Board is being circulated by a Bucks County group, StopTeacherStrikes Inc.

The Bucks County Courier Times recently endorsed the action of the Pennsbury board, writing, “Just as teacher unions represent the interests of educators, school boards represent the interests of school children and taxpayers — or should.

“It’s why a vote by the Pennsbury school board supporting the proposed Strike-Free Education Act should come as no surprise. Indeed, other school boards should follow Pennsbury’s lead.”

The strike-free measure calls for the passage of House Bill 1369, which would make both teacher strikes and school district lockouts illegal. It also would revamp teacher contract negotiations and require nonbinding arbitration.

The bill would stipulate that teachers lose two days of pay for every day of an illegal strike, and tentative agreements and contract proposals would have to be made public before being ratified.

The newspaper points out that Pennsylvania is the teacher strike capital of the nation, with more than 60 percent of all teacher strikes since 2000 occurring here. Meanwhile, 37 other states have banned teacher strikes.

Downingtown students, parents and taxpayers grappling with the costs in time and money for the recent teachers’ strike are likely sympathizers with the stop-teacher-strike movement.

Other districts should be as well. The argument is not whether teachers are paid too much or too little; the argument is whether labor actions should be allowed to disrupt public education.

We believe they should not, and we urge area school boards to follow Pennsbury’s lead and urge passage of a bill that would prevent teacher strikes.


Teachers-union pay raise draws ULP charge

The Budget Committee is requesting injunctive relief barring the Farmington (NH) School District from holding a vote on a proposed article that would appropriate $683,896 in raises for teachers, arguing that the article was not discussed, per state regulations, at the committee's final public hearing.

Both District officials and the Budget Committee have been to Strafford Superior Court to discuss the matter. According to Budget Committee Member Joe Pitre, the school district submitted the petition article asking for the raises to the committee the day after the deadline for discussion.

Pitre said RSA 32:5, II, mandates all articles dealing with appropriations be discussed at a public hearing before the deliberative session to give voters the chance to discuss the articles and hear the committee's opinions and whether its members would recommend such articles. Because the Budget Committee's hearing was held on Jan. 9 and the district did not get the petition article to the committee until Jan. 10, the committee was unable to have discussion on the matter.

Ben King, an attorney representing the Budget Committee, said the school district has violated RSA 32:5, II.

King said committee members feel voters should have been able to hear their opinion on the article and discuss it at the public hearing.

On Thursday, Feb. 7, the Budget Committee and the school district had their first court hearing on the issue. The Budget Committee, King said, had hoped to obtain a temporary restraining order to prevent the school district from discussing the article at the Feb. 9 deliberative session.

Judge Peter Fauver denied the petition for the temporary restraining order because he felt there would not be any lasting effects if the public could discuss the article at the deliberative session, King said.

Superintendent Michelle Langa said the School Board has done nothing wrong.

"The courts are very concerned with voters' rights," she said. "There really has to be a preponderance of evidence for them to make the ruling for an injunction."

Langa said she agreed that the petition article was not submitted to the Budget Committee in time for their meeting.

"The School Board did not get the article until the 10th. It was submitted to the (school) clerk on the 8th, but she had to verify that all the signatures were from registered voters. She didn't submit it to the board until the 10th."

According to Langa, the district will be making the argument of an unfair labor practice because district officials believe that although the petition was submitted to committee past the deadline, it was only because the school clerk had to verify signatures, which is required under state law.

"We will be bringing up the fact that this is an unfair labor practice after looking into the issue with the National Labor Relations Board," Langa said.

Both parties are to appear in court on Tuesday, Feb. 26 for a one-hour evidentiary hearing and can submit further pleadings until Feb. 20.


Dems intricate dance with unions

After Super Tuesday and the Chesapeake Primary, the Democrats are sitting back with their heads spinning, staring bemusedly at a remarkably complicated picture. It's not chaos exactly, but it is puzzling. Everyone wonders: who is going to end up with the nomination? And the answer is: too many variables, impossible to tell.

Senator Obama collected the support of the largest labor union, the SEIU. He also was probably encouraged by the fact that a handful of Democrat Superdelegates backed away from their endorsements of Senator Clinton, placing their butts "on the fence" until future primaries will clear up the question - is Obama truly on a roll or is Clinton poised to halt his momentum in Ohio and Texas?

Other news supported the notion that nobody likes a front runner. Bill Clinton returned to his surrogate role in attacking Obama. He criticized Obama's health care plan. He complained that Obama is ignoring Bill's presidential legacy. Bill stated that Obama has found that it is "actually an advantage to not have any experience because you've not made anybody mad." Well, true enough Bill. But did you not benefit by being a somewhat obscure Arkansas Governor before you became President? In other anti-Obama news, Senator McCain accused him of failing to live up to his own ideals on campaign financing. That is an accusation that would apply to almost every presidential contender over the past 30 years of course, and it's easy for McCain to make it since he is behind in the $ race. McCain was perhaps encouraged by the fact that the Democrats had to spend their money fighting each other while he can spend it fighting them. That, plus collecting an endorsement from George H.W. Bush in his continuing attempt to regain the support of so called "true conservatives".

While ducking this "incoming", the Obama camp fired off a few "outgoing" rounds. Obama supporter former Senator Bill Bradley spoke with two other political "surrogates" accusing the Clintons of a lack of candor and disclosure concerning their money dealings during the Bill Clinton administration. Obama himself accused Senator Clinton of collecting lobbyist money in her campaign- easy accusation to make since Obama has a lead with individual contributions.

The Superdelegate situation muddies the picture considerably, especially since the dismissal of the Florida and Michigan primary delegations reduces the overall count of Dem delegates to the point that it is going to be hard for either candidate to reach the magic number. Dang those Florida and Michigan dummies who tried to bluff their way into getting their primaries ahead of the others! Why could they not glimpse the eventual complications of that risky dare if, as happened, the national Democrats called the bluff? True, the Democratic Party is not in the Constitution. But neither is the primary system itself, let's admit that too.

As we approach March 4, the date of the Texas and Ohio contests, the tension is going to mount again. It is nice get a breathing space. Blood pressure meds? Yes, Super Tuesday was a bit of drama. But March 4 could be bigger still.


AFT organizers invest in Montana

It looked like a class on Union Organizing 101. Yet it wasn’t students but professors who clambered last week into the seats of a Reid Hall lecture classroom. The weekly Faculty Senate meeting had attracted about 75 people, twice the usual crowd, eager to hear arguments for and against forming an MSU faculty union.

It’s almost 20 years since the last attempt at unionization failed by a 2-to-1 vote. Similar efforts failed in the late 1970s and 1950s. Today, MSU is the last Montana state campus without a faculty union. The MEA-MFT, the state’s largest union, representing 17,000 teachers and state employees, is spending thousands of dollars to try to bring the Bozeman campus into its fold.

Union leaders are hoping that MSU’s faculty, long known for a conservative bent, has finally reached a tipping point.

“Frankly, the bottom line for us in the room is we’re almost at the bottom of the barrel nationally in how much we’re paid,” history professor Billy Smith, who was active in the last union effort, told the Faculty Senate.

MEA-MFT leaders made their pitch and talked about the benefits of a union at the cross-state rival University of Montana. An MSU economist presented a counter-argument.

Eric Burke, MEA-MFT executive director, said the union negotiates employee pay raises with the governor before each legislative session, and this spring will negotiate with the Board of Regents, so that “your pay is a first thought, not an afterthought.”

The union, he said, has fought bills threatening academic freedom, last session won passage of a 1 percent increase in the state contribution to faculty retirement, and generally gives members a more powerful voice.

UM professor Mike Kupilik, head of the University Faculty Association union in Missoula, said the contract has widely distributed pay raises, spelled out promotion and tenure rules, won one-time raises for gender equity, given the Faculty Senate “more teeth” and even set aside $604,000 a year for regular upgrading of faculty computers.

MSU economics professor Doug Young presented evidence on the other side. National economic studies have concluded that unions achieved “at best” only a small percentage gain in salary, he said.

On an overhead projector, Young put up figures showing the average salary for a full professor is actually $2,300 higher at the Bozeman campus than at the Missoula campus ($76,200 vs. $73,900 in 2007, according to figures from the American Association of University Professors).

If a union is being sold based on the notion that it would increase the total money available for salaries, Young said, “It hasn’t happened so far.

“There doesn’t appear to be any advantage to being unionized.”

Winners and losers

Union supporters were quick to argue that using averages doesn’t show how the money is distributed. A union contact makes a big difference in how the two campuses hand out raises.

At UM, every faculty member evaluated by their bosses as having done a good job (“met expectations”) gets what the union contract calls a “normal pay raise.” This academic year, that meant a 3 percent raise.

In addition, UM’s contract allows faculty members to apply for one of 80 merit raises ($2,250 a year added to base pay). Promotions bring pay raises of $2,500 for associate professor and $5,000 for full professors.

At MSU, there’s no such thing as an automatic cost-of-living raise. Every MSU faculty member is evaluated according to individual job performance, the job market in that field, equity, promotion and the minimum salary “floor” for the job.

As a result, many Bozeman faculty members get more than the average raise, but a larger number get less. This year, MSU’s raises ranged from less than 1 percent to 20.5 percent, according to a list of faculty salaries from the Montana commissioner of higher education’s office.

Only about 26 MSU faculty members received a 3 percent raise, the same as UM’s normal raise. About 200 MSU profs got more than 3 percent. Another 363 got less.

Another 446 MSU adjunct instructors, who teach on short-term contracts, and research faculty were listed as getting zero raises.

“We on this campus do try to reward professors who perform the best,” said Shannon Taylor, a business professor and chair of MSU’s Faculty Senate. “When we do that, some get relatively high (raises). It means somebody does not get as much.”

Franke Wilmer, MSU political science professor, said at MSU professors who are doing their jobs cannot expect a cost-of-living raise.

“They have to compete with the rock stars,” she said. A union would bring, Wilmer said, “more transparency, more fairness and improve morale.”

One-third signed up

“This is why we’re having a lot of success on campus,” said Melissa Case, MEA-MFT organizing director. MSU faculty feel “they don’t have a voice, they don’t know what happened” to their raises.

Case has been working with union representative Annie Glover since September to organize an MSU faculty union and persuade MSU faculty members to sign cards saying they want to be represented by the MEA-MFT. Once 30 percent have signed, the union can file for an election.

“We have over one-third of the faculty,” Case said. “We’re putting more boots on the ground” to increase the organizing effort. “Our goal is 60 percent. ... We won’t file unless we have a real clear indication it will be successful.”

Burke said he wants an election by the end of spring semester.

One key to the outcome could be who gets to vote n specifically, whether adjuncts can vote.

Adjuncts include everyone from the local attorney who moonlights teaching an occasional sociology class to instructors who have taught full-time for decades and fill vital roles at MSU, yet have no chance at tenure and little job security.

MSU’s 229 adjuncts make up 35.5 percent of the teaching faculty, according to the university planning and analysis office.

The UM faculty union’s Kupilik said Missoula’s contract covers adjunct instructors who teach at least half-time for two semesters. They received this year’s 3 percent raise.

Marvin Lansverk, MSU professor, said the last time the Bozeman campus held a union vote, adjuncts weren’t allowed to vote. This time, they can, he said, “which changes everything.”

Provost Dave Dooley, MSU’s No. 2 administrator after President Geoff Gamble, attended the Faculty Senate meeting.

“The actual composition of the bargaining unit is subject to challenge,” Dooley said. “MSU reserves the right (to challenge) if it thinks it is not in the best interests of the university or faculty.”

Whether the administration would fight efforts to include adjuncts, Dooley said, is not certain.

Gamble, asked before the meeting if he would recommend against a union, said, “It’s a matter for the faculty to decide.”

Gamble has always stressed “shared governance,” including faculty, other employees and students in decision-making. Every year, he said, there’s a “rich discussion” between the provost and faculty leaders about the best approach to distributing raises.

“I hear some grumbling n not very much, actually,” Gamble said.

The Faculty Senate meeting was civil, although Dooley did seem irked when union leader Burke stated that the MEA-MFT was the only group that stood up before legislators to fight for the retirement increase. Dooley protested that administrators were constrained (by the University System agreement with the governor not to raise student tuition) from seeking more funds.

“We did a lot behind the scenes,” Dooley said.

Are things bad enough?

Emotions, philosophy and the high cost of housing could play a big role in the success or failure of the union effort.

Young said most of the research on faculty unions has found that the main cause of unionization is low morale.

“People are pissed,” Young said, typically at the administration.

A classic example is Missoula. Kupilik said in 1977, in the midst of a severe financial crisis, administrators went to the faculty, said “We’re in trouble,” and asked for ideas. The faculty came back with a proposal. It was ignored, and 61 newer faculty members were laid off, he said. The next year they formed a union.

MSU doesn’t seem to have that level of anger.

“Are things bad enough it’s going to change?” Lansverk asked. “In a lot of ways, shared governance has improved.”

“People are more satisfied now than in ’89,” Smith agreed.

But, he added, many faculty members still see the union as a change to increase the quality of education, faculty empowerment and possibly salaries.

Some professors dislike unions. In answer to several skeptical questions at the Faculty Senate, union representatives said that union dues are typically 1 percent of salary. If people don’t want to join the union, they may have to pay a “representation fee” if it’s bargained into the contract, and that fee typically costs 90 percent of regular dues.

It’s illegal for the union to spend dues money on candidates or political action, Burke said. But it does ask members for contributions to a separate fund for political work.

Maureen Weiland, an ASMSU student senator, asked what impact a faculty union would have on students. Kupilik said the contract gives students power and guarantees they serve on committees, even including the administration’s contract bargaining team.

In answer to a question from one scientist, Kupilik said the contract had “absolutely” no effect on faculty pay from grants. It doesn’t keep faculty from using a job offer from another university to negotiate higher pay at MSU, and does allow market pay adjustments, he said.

No one would predict whether this union effort would succeed or fail.

“I think there is frustration among a lot of faculty,” Taylor said. “It’s difficult getting into real estate in the valley” especially for younger faculty. “(But) I’m not so sure a union would solve it.”

“This is the most positive (reaction) we’ve ever seen,” Burke said.


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