Unions fight over state workers

Two different unions are courting the University of New Hampshire System staff employees. The United Auto Workers (UAW) and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) are conducting drives and have made contact with a number of employees over the past few weeks. The university system includes, UNH, Keene State College and Plymouth State College.

President Mark Huddleston sent out a letter to staff members on Feb. 12, and included a brochure, which is intended help staff members "make an informed choice," about unionization. "While I believe that there are places and circumstances where unions are essential in the fight for decent wages and safe working conditions, I also firmly believe that this is not one of them," Huddleston wrote in the letter.

He said UNH community, administrators and staff historically, have worked together harmoniously to ensure the staff is paid fairly and has safe working conditions.

"My choice would always be to work directly with each of you and your colleagues and not through a negotiating team," Huddleston wrote.

Both unions have been in Durham for more than six months meeting with staff workers and sending out mailings and setting up headquarters.

Lonn Sattler, who works in the registrar's office at UNH said he equates unionizing to a real estate agency helping someone purchase a home. Sattler said he's a AUW supporter.

"When you buy a house you get people around who know the ins and outs and make sure nothing is left out. Experience on your side," he said.

AFSCME labor organizer, Rudy Renaud, said the union has always had an interest in New Hampshire's university system. However, with the new regulations regarding state labor statutes, organizers from both labor unions felt the time was right to organize.

"We've had contacts out here for a long time. Things started to move more quickly with recent state statutes set in place, last year, said Renaud. Once written majority authorization passed things really started to pick up. It makes it much easier to organize."

The new statute that was passed in October indicates that if the union can demonstrate a majority of employees who could be in the union signed cards, the union can be deemed the authorized representative by the state Public Employee Labor Relations Board without an election.

Renaud said the time between determining a majority of employees are interested in organizing and the date of a staff election often gave employers time to bust up the union's effort.

"It's nice to not have to go to elections anymore," she said.

Renaud said the staff's interest in unionizing is based on concerns about health care benefits and wage increases.

Sattler said there are several reasons why he and others want to organize the staff employees.

"You hear horror stories, there are the haves and the have-nots. The faculty has better benefits than we do. It's basically about everybody working together and finding the weak spots. When you're done (negotiations) the administration and staff all know that all the information is out there and this is the best (agreement) everybody can get," Sattler said.

Renaud said most of the employees she's talked to are seeking better benefits, a way to get compensation for additional work and more opportunities for career advancement. "There's no career-ladder," she said.

We opened up an office on corner of Madbury and Main Street across from the post office. We are continuing to hold meetings but Nothing can replace the one on one conversation," she said.

The AUW's headquarters are at the Holiday Inn Express in Durham.


SEIU has plans for Empire State GOP

No group has been more loyal or financially helpful to state Republicans than the powerful hospital workers’ union, 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East. In recent years, the union, which was once a favorite of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has struck an unlikely but fruitful alliance with the Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, pouring millions of dollars into the Senate Republican war chest to help the party retain its control.

In turn, Mr. Bruno has defended 1199 against cuts sought by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat. But recent campaign finance filings raise an intriguing question: Is the politically astute union now quietly hedging its bets?

In recent weeks, 1199 has been shoveling money into the Working Families Party, a labor-backed organization that has been mobilizing support for the Democratic candidate in a crucial State Senate special election in upstate New York on Tuesday. At the same time, the union has not contributed to the central campaign account maintained by Mr. Bruno’s Senate Republican operation in about six months.

Any signs of cracks in the alliance between 1199 and Mr. Bruno would set off tremors in Albany, where the governor and Mr. Bruno are waging a fierce battle for control of the Senate; Republicans currently have a two-seat majority, but all legislative seats are up for election in November. Republicans have their work cut out for them in a state that is continuing to lean Democratic.

The battleground is the 48th Senate District, which stretches across three counties along Lake Ontario. In December, State Senator James W. Wright, a Republican, said he was resigning. While 1199 endorsed the Republican candidate, Assemblyman William A. Barclay, at the urging of Mr. Bruno, the union has kept an uncharacteristically low profile in the race and has not contributed to Mr. Barclay’s campaign.

At the same time, 1199 has poured $257,000 into the Working Families Party this year, nearly three times what they gave to the party in all of last year and more than in any year since 2003, according to state campaign finance records. In 2006 and 2007 combined, 1199 gave about $150,000 to the party, records show.

The Working Families Party has taken a leading role on the ground for the Democratic candidate in the race, Assemblyman Darrel J. Aubertine, and in providing money for his campaign.

“This isn’t a token, tentative contribution,” said Russ Haven, the legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “It could represent the margin of victory in a short-track winter contest in the north country that will turn on which side will get their voters to the polls.”

Some state Democratic officials, speaking privately because they did not want to ruffle improving relations with the union, said they were aware of the money provided by 1199 and attributed it to a deliberate shift in strategy by 1199; others said they had no knowledge of it.

Christine Anderson, a spokeswoman for the governor, declined to comment.

People on both sides of the aisle say there is a real possibility that Democrats will take back the Senate this fall for the first time in more than four decades. Senator Serphin R. Maltese, a Queens Republican, is facing what many observers see as his most formidable challenge in years in a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic. Beyond that, Democrats are mounting credible challenges in as many as half a dozen other races and the governor has assembled a formidable fund-raising organization to rival that of the Senate Republicans.

Patrick Gaspard, the recently named executive vice president for politics and legislation at 1199, denied that there was any effort to channel support to Mr. Aubertine, which would essentially be two-timing Mr. Bruno’s political operation.

“Joe Bruno has been a forceful and thoughtful ally on health care issues when hospitals and nursing homes and home care workers have been threatened,” he said, adding, “our support for him is as strong as it has ever been.”

He said the contributions reflected a recent change of leadership at 1199 and an effort to help the Working Families Party expand its operations in other states and to support their efforts in holding Democratic Congressional seats.

Dan Cantor, the executive director of the Working Families Party, echoed that assessment.

“I think it reflects the new leadership’s excitement about our grass-roots work across the state,” he said. He adamantly denied any notion that 1199 was working through them to help Mr. Aubertine.

But, despite the denials, another trend is clear: 1199 has taken a noticeably softer tone with the governor. Last year, it led a multimillion-dollar campaign against Mr. Spitzer’s budget cuts and exchanged hard-hitting television commercials with the administration, reinforcing its alliance with Mr. Bruno.

This year officials at 1199 have taken a much less aggressive tone — perhaps due in part to a change in leadership after Dennis Rivera, the longtime head of 1199, moved up to another job within the union.

John McArdle, a spokesman for Mr. Bruno, said, “The only thing we’re going to say is they’ve endorsed Will, they’re working to help get him elected, which we will on Tuesday, and they remain our strongest supporters going forward.”


Barack's affection for labor unions questioned

Karl Rove, who certainly knows a thing or two about getting a candidate elected … and reelected, watched Barack Obama’s televised speech in Houston, and in today’s Wall Street Journal he coldly points out the large, radical leftwing albatross hanging around the neck of candidate Obama.
Until now, Mr. Obama has been making appeals to the center, saying, for example, that we are not red or blue states, but the United States. But in his Houston speech, he used the opportunity of 45 (long) minutes on national TV to advocate a distinctly non-centrist, even proudly left-wing, agenda. By doing so, he opened himself to new and damaging contrasts and lines of criticism.

Mr. McCain can now question Mr. Obama’s promise to change Washington by working across party lines. Mr. Obama hasn’t worked across party lines since coming to town. Was he a member of the “Gang of 14” that tried to find common ground between the parties on judicial nominations? Was Mr. Obama part of the bipartisan leadership that tackled other thorny issues like energy, immigration or terrorist surveillance legislation? No. Mr. Obama has been one of the most dependably partisan votes in the Senate.

Mrs. Clinton can do much more to draw attention to Mr. Obama’s lack of achievements. She can agree with Mr. Obama’s statement Tuesday night that change is difficult to achieve on health care, energy, poverty, schools and immigration—and then question his failure to provide any leadership on these or other major issues since his arrival in the Senate. His failure to act, advocate or lead on what he now claims are his priorities may be her last chance to make a winning argument.

Mr. McCain gets a chance to question Mr. Obama’s declaration he won’t be beholden to lobbyists and special interests. After Mr. Obama’s laundry list of agenda items on Tuesday night, Mr. McCain can ask why, if Mr. Obama rejects the influence of lobbyists, has he not broken with any lobbyists from the left fringe of the Democratic Party? Why is he doing their bidding on a range of issues? Perhaps because he occupies the same liberal territory as they do.

The truth is that Mr. Obama is unwilling to challenge special interests if they represent the financial and political muscle of the Democratic left. He says yes to the lobbyists of the AFL-CIO when they demand card-check legislation to take away the right of workers to have a secret ballot in unionization efforts, or when they oppose trade deals. He won’t break with trial lawyers, even when they demand the ability to sue telecom companies that make it possible for intelligence agencies to intercept communications between terrorists abroad. And he is now going out of his way to proclaim fidelity to the educational unions. This is a disappointment since he’d earlier indicated an openness to education reform. Mr. Obama backs their agenda down the line, even calling for an end to testing, which is the only way parents can know with confidence whether their children are learning and their schools working.

These stands represent not just policy vulnerabilities, but also a real danger to Mr. Obama’s credibility and authenticity. He cannot proclaim his goal is the end of influence for lobbies if the only influences he seeks to end are lobbies of the center and the right.
The Democrats are on the verge of anointing their most committed radical leftist candidate to represent them to the voters in November. It is a choice that will haunt them for a long, long time to come


SEIU union official has time for politics

First it was Edwards, then Clinton. Now it's Obama. Sarah Swisher has backed all of the top Democratic candidates at one point, but now she says she is firmly behind Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., as her party's nominee for president. Although everyone's voice matters, right now Swisher's is magnified. The Iowa City woman is one of Iowa's 12 superdelegates.

"I don't feel any real burden other than not really liking the attention and making up my mind," said the 51-year-old who wears many hats -- first vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, a nurse, a leader of the SEIU union and the former chairwoman of the Johnson County (IA) Democrats.

Swisher says she switched to Obama about 12 days ago. Her union and Gov. Chet Culver have been the strongest influences in deciding who to support, she said.

If Democrats remain divided between Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., when the Democratic National Convention rolls around Aug. 25-28, the 795 superdelegates across the country will play a big factor in whom the nominee is.

Superdelegates make up a little less than 20 percent of the 4,048 total delegates. All the delegates will meet at the convention and cast a vote, formalizing the party's presidential nominee.

The votes of delegates and superdelegates count equally. The difference is delegates are elected to pledge support for a particular candidate. They are expected, but not obligated, to vote this way at the convention.

Superdelegates are "free agents." These are a mix of elected officials and party leaders who get a vote because of their role in the party. They don't necessarily have an allegiance to a particular candidate. Since the superdelegate process was established in 1982, the convention vote, including the superdelegates, basically has been a process of affirming a presumptive nominee.

It appears that may not be the case this year.

"It is a big deal since it is the first time since the process was created the nomination hasn't been locked up once more than half the states have voted," said David Redlawsk, University of Iowa associate professor of political science.

Redlawsk said the superdelegate process has good points and bad points. Redlawsk said he likes that it allows party leaders to play a roll at the convention, but said it might be worth looking at how big of a role they play.

"There may be just too many of these superdelegates," he said.

Although many people are looking to the superdelegates for what they plan to do, superdelegates such as Swisher are trying to downplay their effect on the outcome and even holding out hope that there will be a presumptive nominee by the time the convention rolls around.

"We may have a presumptive nominee by the time we reach the convention," Swisher said. "I am not ruling that out. Superdelegates do not want to be in a deciding role in the nomination process. They do not. I do not. If that is the case, we need to relook at our process."

Swisher became a superdelegate via her election as vice chairwoman of the state party, which automatically made her a member of the Democratic National Committee.

There are many questions about the courting of superdelegates, but Swisher dismisses any talk of smoke and mirrors and back-room deals.

Swisher said she has received no calls directly from Clinton or Obama, but she has been called about six times each from their camps and all were strictly about the issues.

"Ordinary voters feel it is some inside process, but that is not the case. We will have 18-year-olds going to the convention," she said. "It will be a very diverse and open process. ... The process from Iowa to the end is very democratic and diverse."

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, is the other superdelegate with close ties to Johnson County. Loebsack is supporting Obama, but he says the party needs to change its nominating rules.

"The Democratic Party's next presidential nominee should be selected according to party voters who participate in caucuses and primaries throughout the country, not by superdelegates. It will be a tremendous mistake if party leaders attempt to supersede the people's wishes; the bottom line is that it is time to change our nominating rules because the Democratic Party must be democratic," Loebsack said in a statement to the Press-Citizen.

Rod Sullivan is a member of the Johnson County Democrats and chairman of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors. He also sees good and bad in the process but was glad to see a local woman playing a part.

"It is a pretty unique opportunity (Swisher) has, and I am glad she has it," he said. "As far as the system itself, on one hand ... it allows lesser known people to go to the national convention. On the other hand, it has the potential to dilute the popular vote."


Absenteeism becomes Barack campaign issue

The Philadelphia Building and Construction Trades Council postponed its presidential-endorsement meeting yesterday due to poor attendance because of the snow. The labor group was expected to give its support to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama. That will have to wait until the rescheduled meeting on March 5.

The council's business manager, Pat Gillespie, said he believed that Obama would win the endorsement.

"There's a sense of magic about the guy," Gillespie said, "and what this country needs now more than anything is hope."

John Kane of the plumbers union is another Obama supporter.

Obama scored a coup earlier this week when the Teamsters endorsed his candidacy.


Strike threat at Boeing floated well in advance

The executive director of Boeing's engineering union has advised members to start saving for a possible strike. Ray Goforth of the SPEEA (the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace) told a union meeting yesterday in Shoreline that a strike is possible when the contract expires on Dec. 1.

A report in Friday's The Seattle Times says that the union is upset over several matters: Boeing's efforts to oust units of the union in other states, management's refusal to honor what the union sees as commitments in a past contract, and comments made recently by commercial-airplanes chief Scott Carson that they considered anti-union.

A Boeing spokesman says the company is committed to a continuing dialogue with the union.

Official negotiations start in the fall. According to the Seattle Times, SPEEA President Cynthia Cole said has advised members to set aside part of their 2007 incentive bonuses in preparation of the strike.


Publicly-funded labor-activism in Arkansas

The Labor Education Program (LEP) of the Institute for Economic Advancement at the University of Arkansas provides educational services and training programs for labor organizations and workers.

Programs are conducted for local unions, central labor councils, and international unions at the regional or district level. Several seminars are held each year which draw participants from Arkansas and surrounding states. LEP provides training in traditional areas such as steward training, collective bargaining, arbitration, effective leadership, and workplace safety. In addition, LEP develops specific programs in response to needs expressed by client unions.

The LEP also houses the Workplace Skills Enhancement Program (WSEP). The purpose of WSEP is to provide information, resources, and services that will assist in providing the training necessary to equip workers to participate in today's global economy. The program is structured to help working men and women to acquire the foundation skills and knowledge essential to perform effectively on the job and to achieve their occupational goals.


UAW in rapid-fire strikes at American Axle

The UAW and American Axle are preparing for a strike as early as Tuesday morning, after the contract for most of the company's U.S. workers is set to expire. Negotiations continued Friday in talks that could determine if wages will be cut for more than 3,000 workers at four American Axle plants in Michigan and New York. The current contract covers 3,600 UAW members, but some of them are already paid a significantly lower wage.

A strike against Detroit-based American Axle could disrupt production at General Motors Corp., particularly the automaker's profitable but struggling large truck and SUV lineup. A UAW strike at American Axle would be its third against an automotive company in six months, its second against American Axle in four years, and could emerge as the latest fight against falling wages in the U.S. auto industry.

On Friday, the UAW released a statement from UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles: "Our bargaining committee is working hard at the bargaining table. We are continuing to negotiate for an agreement that will help our members, our community and the company."

But the company is stockpiling parts for GM, which made up nearly 80% of the supplier's sales last year, said a person familiar with activity inside the plants.

American Axle spokeswoman Renee Rogers declined to comment on the talks, but said the company is "producing to meet the needs of our customers."

Meanwhile, union locals have ordered signs and scheduled workers to picket-line shifts in case a deal can't be reached by an 11:59 p.m. deadline Monday. The contract could be extended.

In December, American Axle Chief Financial Officer Michael Simonte told analysts that the company wants to cut hourly costs per worker, including wages and benefits, from $65 an hour to $27 for production workers.

Such a cutback would be impossible for Tom O'Sullivan to accept.

O'Sullivan, 48, is among a few dozen American Axle workers who transferred to Detroit before the company idled its plant in Buffalo, N.Y., last year.

"If it's $18" an hour "or less, I'm moving back to Buffalo," said O'Sullivan, who makes a $27 hourly wage and has worked for American Axle and GM for 24 years.

American Axle's executives have said that the company needs lower wages to compete. It faces competition from Dana Corp., which lowered wages in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as well as the automakers themselves.

GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC negotiated lower wages and benefits for workers hired into what are considered noncore jobs, such as jobs at in-house parts operations.

American Axle's current wages stem from GM. The supplier's CEO, Dick Dauch, formed the company in 1994 after buying five of GM's axle plants.

Workers say it's tough to agree to concessions when the company posted a profit of $37 million last year.

Wage cuts would force Ken Hubert, 46, of Romulus, to leave the state.

"If they cut me down to $14 an hour, I can't afford to stay."


SEIU strikers get nursing home's attention

It was "union territory" outside Emmanuel Convalescent Hospital in Millbrae, CA on Friday. In a 24-hour strike, caregivers waved their signs and acted in solidarity demanding that the owners — Amparo and Carlos Ragudo of A&C Health Care Services — reinstate 100 percent of their health care and benefits.

Approximately 87 employees at the hospital are represented by SEIU (Service Employees International Union) United Healthcare Workers-West. Caregivers at the Mateo Avenue facility have been without benefits since the Ragudos took over the nursing home.

During that time, the union said, eight union activists were fired without just cause. Garrett Palines of San Francisco said he is one of them. The 36-year-old said he was fired in October and still doesn't know why.

"They said there were complaints," said Palines, who had been on the picket line since 6 a.m. "But when I asked for those complaints, they didn't give me anything. I didn't sign my termination papers."

Palines is a certified nursing assistant. He worked at Emmanuel for three years. A diabetic, he said he can't afford his medications. He is also homeless.

"My house foreclosed, and I live in my van," he said. "I'm looking for any kind of job, but I need to come back to this job. I loved taking care of my patients."

The Ragudos have denied the allegations and claim the workers were fired with just cause.

During the strike, the Ragudos were inside helping caregivers from other nursing homes take care of 120 residents.

Amparo Ragudo said Friday that they agreed to meet with the union Wednesday.

"We are open for communication," she said. "There are things we need to talk about, (such as) the allegations. We have to finish that first."

In August, the Ragudos bought the 140-bed nursing home, including four other convalescent homes and assisted-living facilities, from the now-bankrupt Pleasant Care Corporation.

Ragudo said this week that the employees who were fired were let go because of poor performance.

One was found sleeping on the job; another was let go after the resident and family members leveled multiple allegations of elder abuse; and a third had a history of violating a resident's rights, Ragudo said.

Charges of unfair labor practices have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board, which will decide if the accusations have merit.

The union is upset that the Ragudos reduced caregivers' health, retirement and paid-time-off benefits. Now, employees must pay 50 percent of monthly health insurance premiums.

Also, Ragudo said that the Pleasant Care Corporation never signed the workers' contract, making any policies under the old ownership void, since the facility was bought in bankruptcy court.

San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill attended the union's rally. He said he wants the Ragudos to do the right thing.

"The workers are professional and know how to care for patients in this home," Hill said. "These residents are a vulnerable population in our community. To terminate eight employees is outrageous. The union needs to be recognized."

Burlingame resident Pat Giorni came in support as well. Her mother has been at Emmanuel for three years.

"I think that the care given by the workers is extraordinarily good," Giorni said. "They work long hours."

The union is prepared to strike again, said John Vellardita, director of Emmanuel's nursing home division.

"We will fight for what is ours," he said. "Not just the contract, but for the changes we need to make."


AFSCME fights for dignity in Santa Cruz

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