Congress weighs unionization vote-ban

Amid the chatter about the worsening economy and what to do about it, a key factor has been omitted, even by progressives who ought to know better: an underlying structural cause of the current economic mess is the dismal failure of the United States to protect the fundamental human right of its workers to form unions and bargain collectively.

Amid the chatter about the worsening economy and what to do about it, a key factor has been omitted, even by progressives who ought to know better: an underlying structural cause of the current economic mess is the dismal failure of the United States to protect the fundamental human right of its workers to form unions and bargain collectively. A durable cure for the ailing economy therefore requires going beyond short-term stimulus, no matter how well crafted. The cure must include getting serious, as a nation, about protecting the most basic of workplace rights—starting with passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

[Ed. note: This proposal would deny workers a secret-ballot vote in unionization elections.]

What’s the connection, you may ask? After all, the aggressive corporate offensive against workers’ rights, often helped and encouraged by government policy, is by now well into its fourth decade, as are its predictable economic consequences. Those consequences include a widening gap between wages and productivity, skyrocketing profits and CEO pay, an increase in economic inequality to levels not seen since the 1920s, rising economic insecurity and stagnant or declining real wages for the vast majority of workers. Economic growth since the 1970s may have bypassed the bulk of the nation’s workers, but apart from a few significant and, in some cases, severe recessions, growth did for the most part continue. Why didn’t suppression of workers’ rights become a key structural cause of a stalled-out economy until now?


Newspaper union slapped with ULPs

A day after union officials filed another unfair labor charge against the Santa Barbara News-Press, newspaper lawyers fired back yesterday with three new charges, including harassment.

Among the charges, News-Press attorney Barry Capello claimed that in or around September 2007, former newsroom employees Dawn Hobbs and Tom Schultz approached and harassed News-Press workers tasked with filling tucks and distributing newspapers. In one case, he alleged that they attempted to stop the workers from delivering the papers around 2 a.m. in a Santa Barbara public parking lot.

“[The News-Press employees] were verbally harassed, and in one case, [Hobbs and Schultz] actually attempted to prevent them from leaving the lot and distributing the papers,” Capello said.

The charges, filed with the National Labor Relations Board, contend that the alleged actions violate three NLBR laws.

Ira Gottlieb, an attorney for the newsroom’s union, the Graphics Communication Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said the charges were baseless and that he expects the NLRB to dismiss them.

“We’re confident that there’s no factual or legal basis for this charge,” Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb, who said he is speaking for Hobbs - who would not comment because she was not yet familiar with the charges - as well as Schultz, questioned the details and legitimacy of the paper’s charge.

“This is a city parking lot, not the News-Press parking lot,” Gottlieb said. “There was no attempt by anyone to prevent the News-Press from doing whatever it was they were doing in that parking lot.”

This most recent filing follows a year-and-a-half-long contentious battle between former newsroom employees and the News-Press. Since July 2006 when top editors left the paper, at least 40 employees have quit or been fired, many contending that Wendy McCaw, the newspaper’s owner, had allegedly attempted to manipulate the news. Hobbs and Schultz were fired for alleged bias in their reporting last February, a termination the union claimed was illegal.

A Dec. 26, 2007 ruling sided with the fired employees and the union, mandating that the News-Press rehire Hobbs, Schultz and others. The paper is expected to appeal the ruling in the coming week.

Gottlieb said that yesterday’s charges amounted to little more than an attempt to distract readers.

“It’s just a diversion for their own bad public image,” he said.


Leftists urge total recall of Governator

In the spring of 2003, right-wing activists seized upon California’s massive budget deficit to launch a recall campaign against Governor Gray Davis. Although Davis had faced voters and won re-election the preceding November, he was charged with making such a financial mess that a recall was essential. Arnold Schwarzenegger soon led the charge against Davis. The successful actor argued that he had what it takes to restore the state’s fiscal health, and to end the gridlock in Sacramento.

But after five years in office, the Governor has broken all his promises to voters, and the state is in a much worse financial predicament than when he took office. So why are there not efforts to recall Schwarzengger?

This may sound drastic, but with his “no new taxes” vow ensuring the state’s continued insolvency, we should either get rid of him or allow the destruction of the state’s schools, health care system, and California’s longtime image as the Golden State.

One of the biggest differences between conservatives and progressives in California is the willingness of the former to try to achieve goals through the ballot box that they could never gain through the legislature or through the regular election process. Proposition 13 in 1978, term limits in 1990, Prop 209 in 1996 and the recall of Governor Davis in 2003 are all examples of conservatives pursuing objectives that were originally described as crazy, but which ended up prevailing at the polls.

When an ill-conceived conservative measure loses at the polls – like the phony eminent domain initiative in 2006 – they do not give up. They come back with an even more odious Prop 98 for the June 2008 ballot, which adds the elimination of rent control and environmental depredations to the bad ideas rejected by voters in Prop 90.

Progressives, on the other hand, have never given voters the chance to meaningfully reform Prop 13. Our pollsters tell us that such a measure cannot win, so we do not even try. When we lose a ballot initiative for single-payer health care, we don’t try again – unlike conservatives, who keep throwing junk on the ballot year after year until they get lucky and prevail.

In the pre-Internet age, the right’s greater resources could explain this distinction. But Howard Dean and Barack Obama have certainly shown how progressives can win the money battle through small contributions donated on-line.

So what is holding progressives back from moving to recall a Governor who has no political support in Sacramento, and whose 2006 re-election was largely made possible by a subprime-loan generated housing bubble that has since burst?

I think there are three factors holding this off.

First, the focus on 2008 is getting a Democrat in the White House, and a November 2008 recall election of California’s Governor would be seen as a distraction. This factor, along with the state legislative races in November, makes deferring a recall move understandable.

Second, progressives support reform, but a surprising number believe strongly in working through the established rules. While the right to recall is enshrined in the California Constitution, many progressives see such a move as unfair – or in bad faith – even though conservatives have no such reservations.

Third, many progressives do not pay much attention to state budget issues, and likely see a Democratic President and Democratic-controlled Congress in 2009 as greatly helping California’s financial woes. The feeling is that Arnold will be out of office at the end of 2010 anyway, so why bother recalling him a year early.

Here’s why it still makes sense. Replacing Schwarzenegger in a spring 2009 special election would allow the 2009-10 budget to protect schools, health clinics, public transit, and other vital services. It would also allow the 2010-11 budget to include the income tax hikes and vehicular license fee increases that are necessary to keep the state operating.

California has a $16 billion deficit and a Governor that refuses to raise taxes. Allowing him to stay in power means three more years of draconian budget cuts, and/or even more mortgaging of the state’s future by funding operations through high-interest loans.

This makes no sense. Progressives are likely to be riding high in the spring of 2009, and will flock to the polls to recall the Governor. In contrast, the California Republican Party is in financial disarray, and neither its legislative members – nor many of its constituents – support Schwarzenegger.

Organized labor proved the Governor’s vulnerability in the 2005 special election, when they led the fight to defeat all of his ballot initiatives. A similar campaign could be waged in the spring of 2009 – if grassroots activists push the state’s progressive leadership hard enough.

Progressive activists have used MoveOn.org, Daily Kos and other Internet resources to greatly increase their influence in national politics. Now this resource can be used to rescue California from a Governor who is increasingly out of touch with reality.


Discouraging non-union labor in Los Angeles

The L.A. Community Redevelopment Agency on Thursday endorsed a proposal to require developers and contractors on all major redevelopment projects to hire workers through local union hiring halls.

The agency’s board approved a so-called “project labor agreement,” requiring that contractors and developers on all projects receiving at least $1 million in public funds or employing at least 30 construction workers hire those workers through hiring halls run by the building trade unions. Non-union contractors would have to pay into a benefit fund primarily administered by the building trade unions, in addition to whatever benefits they provide their core employees.

Agency general manager Cecilia Estolano previously told the Business Journal that a PLA would ensure that subsidies given to redevelopment projects would flow down to locally hired workers.

The board’s action, which must be approved by the Los Angeles City Council, was sharply criticized by non-union contractors. “We are disappointed that the agency saw it necessary to have a union-only agreement, and that they ignored our offer to help them draft language that wouldn’t discriminate against open-shop contractors,” said Kevin Korenthal, director of government affairs for the L.A./Ventura chapter of Associated Builders of California.

Union leaders, though, welcomed the board’s move. “The CRA commissioners have shown they recognize that this industry – a vital engine for the future of our regional economy – must be a source of both good, middle class careers and growth for the communities that the CRA is charged to serve,” said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary and treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.


Union organizer denies Casino War setback

The leader of the drive to organize security guards and surveillance workers at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort said his union fully expects another representation election in about six months. "Our strategy all along was not to go forward with an election at this time,"said Steve Maritas, organizing director for the International Union Security Police & Fire Professionals of America, "but rather to hold it six months from now.”

Maritas, in an e-mail to the Morning Sun, said the union filed for an election even though it had signed representation cards from only 35 percent of the members of the proposed bargaining unit. Typically, most unions won't file for a representation election until they have signed requests from about 70 percent of the people they want to represent. Maritas said his union's normal requirement is 80 percent.

But with the Soaring Eagle, the security union followed a different strategy.

Under federal labor law, an employer must turn over the names and addresses of all the members of a proposed bargaining unit to a union before an election. That allows the union to ensure that people who are supposed to vote in the representation election can vote, and people who aren't supposed to vote don't vote.

The Tribe strongly disputes the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board over Tribal employees, and the Tribal Council has passed a Tribal labor law that all but outlaws unions on the reservation. But the Tribe has been following federal labor law in an admitted effort to stave off potential legal challenges.

Maritas said by requesting the election, the union got what it wanted - the full mailing list - a valuable organizing tool. He said the union had just sent copies of union contracts at Detroit casinos to Soaring Eagle security employees.

"This strategy will now put Soaring Eagle on the defensive,"Maritas said, "since our wage rates are at $16 per hour, vs. the $10 and $11 wage rates.”

Maritas said the scheduled election put casino management into what he termed "panic mode, hiring a union-busting firm"to conduct what he called "a fear campaign"he estimates cost several hundred thousand dollars.

"The strategy here was to allow the security officers to see what to expect from management and allow Soaring Eagle to shoot all their bullets in anticipation of an election,"Maritas said. "Once the security officers are educated on union-busting tactics, management's fear campaign becomes ineffective.”

Maritas said the security union organizing drive now will move into full force.

He plans to set up a local union with an interim executive board, assign a union representative to monitor grievances, provide legal assistance if necessary, and he wouldn't rule out picketing.

The Teamsters have been attempting to organize casino employees for more than a year, after a federal appeals court ruling said workers at Native-owned casinos owned by Tribes that pay per-capita payments could be organized.

The security union joined the organizing effort because security officials might have to deal with other employees. It would be a conflict of interest to have security and surveillance workers belong to the same union as other casino workers.

Late last year, the housekeeping staff at the Soaring Eagle soundly rejected membership in the Teamsters union after a strong anti-union campaign by casino management. The vote in that election was about 2 to 1 against joining the union.

Maritas said he expects a security union election - a real one - to take place some time in August. Teamsters leaders haven't said if they plan representation elections in other bargaining units, but have brought in organizers from additional locals for the organizing effort.

"Both the SPFPA and the Teamsters are here to stay," Maritas said.


Publicly-funded labor-activism in Wisconsin

The School for Workers of the University of Wisconsin-Extension is the oldest, continuously-operating, university-based labor education program in the United States. One of the first operational components of the Wisconsin Idea, the School, its faculty and staff have long brought these three components - teaching, research, and outreach - to thousands of workers, unions and employers throughout Wisconsin, the nation and the world.

The School for Workers works closely with the labor movement at the local, state and national levels. Programming is designed for the rank and file, local leadership, and international union staff. While much of our programming activity occurs in Wisconsin and the Midwest, our faculty frequently travel to states outside the region and to foreign countries to provide customized programming.

In addition to courses offered in conjunction with specific unions and labor-management committees, the School offers a large number of open enrollment programs designed for union members as well as individual workers and other worker oriented groups.

We run approximately 150 programs each year which involve over 4,000 union representatives, officers, members and employer representatives. We offer a wide range of programs ranging from one hour presentations to evening community classes, two or three day conferences, week-long residential institutes in Madison, to multi-day labor-management facilitations involving a wide range of subjects. Our faculty also provide a wide range of applied research and technical assistance services.


Picket-line violence in P.R.

Teachers here walked off the job Thursday, paralyzing most of the island's public schools and staging protests that led to clashes between demonstrators and police. In a showdown the local media dubbed "Black Thursday," teachers, parents and students picketed in front of many of the commonwealth's public schools. At least two teachers were injured in the confrontations. Fourteen protesters were arrested and several were forcefully removed by authorities as they attempted to block access to some schools.

The Puerto Rico Teachers Federation, the island's largest union, called the strike after 30 months of failed contract negotiations. Orange County school officials, who had scheduled a recruiting trip to Puerto Rico for next month, said they are keeping an eye on the situation.

"We're not going there right now to recruit because it could look like we are preying on the situation," said Javier Mel�ndez, the district's head recruiter. "But we're monitoring this closely to see in what way we can assist teachers that are fully bilingual and who are qualified to teach the subject matters we need."

Mel�ndez said he and others from his team will likely make the recruiting trip in mid-March as planned. The union, which represents 42,000 teachers, called the strike Wednesday after a three-day summit with government leaders -- a last effort to stop the strike -- failed to yield results.

Although there was progress, the two sides could not agree on two of the teachers' major demands: a cap on class size and the creation of teachers' committees in each school that would grant them the authority to control class schedules, among other benefits.

The Puerto Rican public-education system is completely centralized, with the island's government exercising almost full control over individual districts.

The strike is illegal under Puerto Rican law forbidding disruption of the public-education system, but union President Rafael Feliciano said it was the only option left.

"There's no doubt that Puerto Rico's schools are in crisis," Feliciano said at an afternoon rally attended by about 300 people at the Miguel Such vocational school in R�o Piedras, a San Juan suburb.

"We're doing this for the good of the schools and for the future of our children. This is the only way we can get the government's attention," he said.

At the rally, the teachers were joined by a group of University of Puerto Rico students, who announced they would stop going to class at the island's main college campus in solidarity with the teachers if their demands are not met soon.

Feliciano deemed the first day of the strike a success because it had stopped classes in 90 percent of the island's 1,500 schools. But government officials said the strike only shut down 20 schools because of gates being padlocked or otherwise obstructed.

Puerto Rico Secretary of Education Rafael Aragunde said the teachers had little support in the island's west and southern coasts, where up to 85 percent of their peers showed up to work.

In the San Juan metropolitan area, where two-thirds of the commonwealth's 4 million residents live, 64 percent of the teachers went to their schools. But even government officials admitted that fewer than half of the students showed up to attend classes throughout the island. In San Juan, attendance was only 16 percent of registered students. Throughout the day, Gov. An�bal Acevedo Vil� reiterated that the strike was illegal and called it "a failure." He insisted that parents send their kids to school.

"We will make sure that the children get an education," Acevedo Vil� said.

Some parents were skeptical of the governor's message and said they feared for their children's safety.

"Why would I send my daughters to school?" said N�lida L�pez, whose daughters attend Gabriela Mistral High School, also in R�o Piedras. "Right now it's little more than a day care, and not a very good one. How can they possibly learn anything with protesters outside, police in riot gear to greet them and so many of their teachers absent?"

Teachers began showing up at 4 a.m. Thursday to protest. They were met by police, who in some instances outnumbered the protesters.

Lucy Magaly Mill�n, who works at Jos� Gautier Ben�tez High School in the central city of Caguas, was among a group of protesters arrested for sitting on the ground in front of the school entrance and blocking entry. She and two other colleagues were taken to a cell in a nearby police station, where they chanted protest slogans for hours.

Mill�n and her two colleagues were released after a judge threw out the obstruction-of-justice charges against them.

"We wanted everyone there to know that they had thrown teachers in jail for peacefully protesting," Mill�n said hours later while marching in the R�o Piedras rally.

Feliciano accused police of being heavy-handed with protesters and vowed that teachers who continue to strike will not "tolerate abuse."

Said Feliciano: "If they assault us, we will defend ourselves."


Tortured teachers released from hospital

THE nine members of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) who were tortured, allegedly at the Zanu PF Harare Provincial Office in Harare’s Central Business District have been released from Avenues Clinic.

The Zimbabwe Guardian visited the hospital an hour before the tortured teachers were released. They narrated their ordeals at the hands of suspected Zanu PF militias who are said to have assaulted them in front of armed police force.

Linda Fumphande, a teacher at Kubatana Primary School, one of the PTUZ members who were assaulted, said her experience was horrific as she at one time thought that she was not going to survive.

“They took turns to assault me. They were heavily drugged and accused me of campaigning against President Mugabe. They said they were going to teach me a lesson which I will never forget,” she said, adding that one of the men, nicknamed ‘Gunman’ even had the audacity to request a ZRP police officer who was guarding the entrance, not to continue watching the beating as it was now going to turn nasty.

PTUZ general secretary, Raymond Majongwe, who was also tortured, said the teachers were only demanding a salary raise and that they wanted the public to understand their plight.

“The campaign was well received in other parts of the country, but here in Harare, where Zanu PF militias are currently being trained on committing acts of violence in the build-up to the March 29 poll, decided to put into practice what they had been taught so far,” he said.

Police, who have been guarding the hospitalized teachers for the past two days, where nowhere to be found as they retreated after they decided not to lay any charges against the teachers.

The police have arrested two men for brutalizing the PTUZ members at the Zanu PF Provincial headquarters.

Meanwhile, the PTUZ has revealed that more than 8 000 Zimbabwean teachers quit their jobs since the beginning of the year, with many believed to have left the country to look for better paying jobs abroad.

The Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), which regularly monitors the number of teachers leaving the country last year said 25 000 teachers had quit the profession, said more teachers were expected to leave this year because of poor pay and working conditions.

The public education sector - once among the best in Africa and a shining example of the achievements of President Robert Mugabe’s government - has suffered the most.

School infrastructure is crumbling due to lack of maintenance as the government struggles for resources, while disruptive strikes by teachers for more pay have become routine.

The PTUZ, which is one of two unions representing teachers in the country, is currently leading a strike by its members since the beginning of the new term last month to press the government to hike salaries to Z$1.7 billion per month, which is a paltry US$85 per month at the widely used parallel market exchange rate of about Z$20 million to the greenback.

Zimbabwe employs about 120 000 teachers including student and untrained temporary teachers but the PTUZ says the country requires double that number of fully qualified teachers to ensure effective learning in schools.


Dem pol uses UAW-Volvo strike for photo-op

Hours before members of United Auto Workers Local 2069 began the fourth week of their strike outside the Volvo Trucks North America plant, U.S. Sen. Jim Webb arrived in Dublin to offer them his support and encouragement. Dressed in a brown leather jacket and rubbing his hands to keep warm, Webb walked from one Volvo plant entrance to another, greeting pickets, shaking hands and leaving a trail of reporters in his wake.

"We want very much for this to be resolved," Webb said during an impromptu news conference along Cougar Trail Road. "We want it to be resolved in a way where Volvo will be happy to continue working here ... but we also want it to be resolved in a way that can protect the work force here."

Behind Webb, about a half-dozen pickets clutched blue and white signs reading "UAW On Strike Unfair Labor Practice" and solicited honks from passing motorists.

The signs and the union members holding them have been a 24-hour presence around the Volvo plant since UAW Local 2069 began its strike midnight Jan. 31 over what it said were unreasonable proposals and a refusal to provide important health and safety information.

Later Thursday afternoon, Webb told a crowd at another stop at Roanoke College in Salem that America is breaking apart along class lines "in ways we haven't seen in 100 years," adding that much of the problem can be attributed to the plight of the U.S. worker.

"We need companies like Volvo in Virginia," he said. "We also need to make sure workers are taken care of."

In the weeks following the Volvo strike, the union and the company's management have traded barbs regarding exactly what was discussed in contract negotiations, who ended those negotiations and who is willing to resume them.

Both the union and Volvo have said repeatedly that they would be willing to negotiate if and when they were contacted by the other side.

UAW Local 2069 President Lester Hancock said the union contacted the company in the past week offering to return to negotiations after it had received a variety of requested information, but that the company declined the offer.

"It was a disappointment -- we were ready to go back to the table," Hancock said. "Volvo has made several accusations that they're waiting on us, but this is proving we have always been waiting on them."

Volvo spokesman John Mies, however, said UAW negotiator Tim Bressler "has not yet made himself available" to bargain, but that when he did, the company would be happy to cooperate.

Hancock said that simply is not true.

"Tim Bressler has contacted this company and opened the opportunity for this company to go back to work," he said.

Calls for confirmation to the UAW International office in Detroit were not returned.

As both sides continued to point fingers, Webb said it was his hope the strike would end soon.

"The union has said they are willing to come in and go back to the table and to negotiate a fair agreement," he said. "I would hope that Volvo America will come to the table and that we can reach the right kind of resolution, that's good for them and will protect our workers."

While Webb's tone was subdued and conciliatory, the mood outside the union hall Thursday was at times raucous.

Standing at the corner of Alexander Road and Cougar Trail Road about noon, union member Debbie Bolen led about 30 pickets in chants.

"What do we want?" she shouted.

"Contracts!" came the reply.

"When do we want it?" Bolen screamed.


"It gets everybody into it," Newbern resident Ricky Jones said of the boisterous chants. "It gets everybody's spirits up."

Also good for the spirit, union members said, was the senator's visit.

"It just shows that the higher-ups in the state of Virginia are supporting us, you know, not letting these big companies walk all over us," striker Derrick McCraw said.

Raymond and Lena Secrist, a married couple who have worked at Volvo since 2004, said they hoped Webb's public show of support would encourage Volvo to return to contract negotiations.

"Maybe the company will come off some of the things it's holding so strongly to and come back to the table," Raymond Secrist said shortly after shaking Webb's hand.


UC tries to silence AFSCME

The University of California has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Public Employee Relations Board against the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union, citing concerns over patient care and safety and alleging the union is not bargaining in good faith.

The charge comes in response to the temporary restraining order the union filed against the UC after union members were allegedly threatened with arrest while leafletting outside of the UC San Francisco Medical Center.

They said members were also harassed outside the UCLA Medical Center.

Nicole Savickas, coordinator for Human Resources and Labor Relations at the UC Office of the President, said the union violated an agreement between them regarding union access to university medical centers when they went directly to court to invalidate the contract between the UC and AFSCME.

She said the union should have brought the issue to the Public Employee Relations Board before pursuing legal action.

“They’re not following the rules of good faith bargaining.

“Years ago, we signed an agreement in the contract that outlined union access to the UC medical centers,” Savickas said.

According to Article One of the contract, the union “will abide by the reasonable access rules and regulations promulgated at each campus/medical center/laboratory.”

Savickas said the union and the campuses already have a written agreement outlining procedures when it comes to leafletting outside medical centers.

The union stated that Article One of the contract referred to union meeting places, not unions dealing with the general public.

Savickas said the article concerns access in general.

“It’s not who they’re dealing with, but it’s where they meet,” Savickas said.

But Ann Swinburn, a researcher for AFSCME Local 3299, said contacting the public on public property is a free speech right guaranteed by the California Constitution.

“Our right to handbill the public is not governed by the contract. It’s just another attempt on UC’s part to prevent us from exercising our free speech rights,” Swinburn said.

Swinburn said the content of the leaflets could be part of what the UC is objecting to.

“I believe that (the UC) does not want us to communicate with our patients and their family members because they don’t want the public to have the information,” Swinburn said.

But the UC maintains that its reasons for attempting to prevent the union from distributing the material is more about patient care and access than the content specifically in the leaflets.

“All of the five University of California medical centers are consistently recognized for producing excellent patient care,” Savickas said.

“We are continually concerned about providing that same high standard of care.”


Teachers union-official embezzler faces trial

A teacher accused of stealing union funds will stand trial in May on a charge of felony theft. Tracy S. Stelter, 45, New London, entered a not guilty plea to the charge Tuesday in front of Outagamie County Circuit Judge Michael Gage, who scheduled a trial for May 20. Stelter, a special education teacher for the Shiocton (WI) School District, is accused of taking $9,000 from the funds of the Shiocton Education Association. She was the education association's treasurer from 2002 to 2007.


Teamsters dispute gov't cost-cutting move

Jennifer Flagg, former chief of staff for the ex-Springfield police commissioner, has been hired at the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to execute its cost-cutting plan. Flagg began work on Feb. 4 as chief of administration, a position that pays $115,000.

Flagg reports directly to Alan L. LeBovidge, a former member of the Springfield Finance Control Board and currently executive director at the authority. LeBovidge plans to cut jobs, including some of the toll workers, and make other changes to save money. Mac Daniel, director of communications at the authority, said Flagg is charged with carrying out LeBovidge's cost-cutting plan for the authority.

Robert F. Cullinane, secretary and treasurer for Teamsters Local 127 in Quincy, which represents toll collectors at the authority, said Flagg's hiring smacks of political favoritism.

Cullinane said it is inconsistent for LeBovidge to plan cuts while creating a position.

Daniel said LeBovidge previously cut three positions, including a director of legislative affairs and a director of architecture. He said those positions would equal three times Flagg's salary. LeBovidge also is considering eliminating annual $750,000 tourism grants to communities that abut the turnpike.

The state's secretary of transportation, Bernard E. Cohen, told The Republican last year that the authority is close to bankruptcy and is buried under billions of dollars in debt.

LeBovidge plans to convert at least four toll booths from manual collections to Fast Lane, according to The Boston Globe. The authority has been discounting tolls and reducing the price of transponders to draw more users to the Fast Lane program.

Cullinane said there are 300 full-time toll collectors and about 170 part-time collectors. He said they earn about $25 an hour.

Cullinane said he is worried that turnpike leaders will remove one of two toll collectors from certain areas in order to create traffic backups to build public support for the Fast Lane.

"That's the game," he said.

He said about half the motorists on the turnpike don't have Fast Lane transponders and don't want them. The Fast Lane program was started a decade ago.

Flagg will have direct oversight over several operations including tolls, real estate, human resources and information technology, according to Daniel. "She will more than earn her keep," he said.

LeBovidge was commissioner of the state Department of Revenue in the administration of former Republican Gov. W. Mitt Romney. Flagg's old boss, Edward A. Flynn, was the public safety secretary for Romney, and in March 2006 became Springfield police commissioner. Flynn left Springfield in January to become police chief in Milwaukee.

LeBovidge also sat on the Finance Control Board in Springfield when the board hired Flynn as police commissioner.

Daniel said Flagg's job was advertised and other people were considered, but he couldn't say how many applied.

Flagg, 40, declined comment yesterday.

She was a legislative director and communications director at the state Executive Office of Public Safety in Boston before going to Springfield. She also was a national sales manager for six years for a manufacturer in Leominster.

She has a bachelor's degree from Suffolk University in Boston and a master's degree from the University of Massachusetts at Boston.


University labor expert raps Diocese

Bishop Joseph Martino’s comments in a recent letter to the Diocese of Scranton faithful echoed anti-union tactics used by some highly paid consulting firms, a Penn State labor studies professor said, and those comments arguably bolster union efforts.

“It seems to me that the actions of the bishop make the case in the most powerful terms as to why these workers need a union,” said Paul F. Clark, head of the university’s department of labor studies and employment relations.

Conceding he has a strong pro-union background that includes doing research for unions, Clark said Martino’s comments included in the full-page newspaper ad were in line with advice consulting firms give to employers trying to fight unions. Stressing he doesn’t know if Martino is receiving any such advice, Clark noted “there is no question there are firms that specialize in union avoidance. It’s a cottage industry that has seen significant growth in recent years.”

Law firms that deal in labor issues range from those sticking to neutral based on each situation to consultants whose “sole reason for existence is not to advise on ongoing negotiations, but to defeat unions and try to get rid of them,” Clark said.

More aggressive tactics of such consultants include “attacking the intentions of the union or the reasons for trying to organize, painting them as being self-interested, that all they want is union dues so the union leaders can be well paid,” Clark said. Martino’s letter claimed union “leaders have reasons based on self-interest for wanting to retain their role in some of our schools.”

Clark said “other tactics would involve implicit or actual threats to individuals or about closing of a facility.”

In his letter, Martino did not explicitly say the unions threatened the survival of Catholic schools, but wrote “labor unions seek to obtain increased benefits for their members. They should also seek, however, to act in a way that does not hinder the apostolic endeavor that provides their livelihood.”

The Scranton Diocese Association of Catholic Teachers has sought recognition as the teacher representative ever since Martino’s 2006 announcement of school restructuring. Martino eliminated the small school boards the union had negotiated contracts with, replacing them with four regional boards.

Last month, three of those four boards rejected the union’s request to represent teachers, opting instead to implement an employee relations program that creates councils for each school with representatives elected by teachers through secret ballot, a move Clark also criticized.

“It’s my sense that that what the bishop is doing would be clearly illegal under the National Labor Relations Act,” Clark said. “There are longstanding court rulings that employers can’t set up de facto unions or things that take the place of unions but are ultimately controlled by the employer.”

Because of a split decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1979, Catholic school teachers do not fall under the National Labor Relations Act. Under the federal law, the teachers would ordinarily be able to petition the National Labor Relations Board to force the diocese to hold a secret-ballot election on unionization. If the majority voted for unionizing, the law would require the diocese to accept it.

Martino’s letter cited the Supreme Court case, as well as Church Canon Law, when he wrote: “A union, then, is not required, essential or mandated.”

The law may not apply to the diocese, but Clark noted – as local union President Michael Milz has -- that “the Church has long held that workers should have the right to unionize if they choose. Basically the bishop is saying ‘We support that right except when it is inconvenient for us, when it creates hardship for us.’ ”

“I took special notice to the bishop’s comments about the mine workers union in the northeast part of the state,” Clark said, adding that he worked with the mine workers union years ago. In public speeches, Milz cited staunch support for United Mine Workers from previous Scranton bishops. In his letter, Martino countered: “Are (union leaders) seriously asking you to equate the situation of our Catholic school teachers today with the deplorable conditions endured by the coal miners, steel mill workers and factory laborers of a century ago?”

Clark said “There is a lot of evidence that unions have played very significant roles for all types of workers, including white-collar employees.”

Diocese officials have steadfastly insisted the new employee relations program will provide ample and fair representation for all employees in the school system, a promise repeated by Martino in his letter.

Clark said that’s just another anti-union tactic. “For over 100 years the anti-union movement has used that same rationale, saying our employees don’t need a union. I’m not sure the church wants to be associated with that type of anti-unionism.”

The bottom line, Clark said, is that if the teachers don’t want to unionize, the bishop’s actions are probably justified. But if many of them seek union representation, they should be given the chance to vote on it.


Why I joined SEIU

Related Posts with Thumbnails