SEIU chief collectivizes entire Business lobby

What does it say about us as a nation when so many honest, hard-working families live in fear that they are one illness away from financial ruin? What does it say when small-business owners are forced to choose between hiring a new employee or facing yet another double-digit premium increase for health insurance?

It says that it's high time politicians put aside their differences and find a way to work out common-sense, bipartisan solutions to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable, quality health care and a secure financial future.

This is the message we at the National Federation of Independent Businesses heard from Divided We Fail, a national initiative launched by three strange bedfellows: AARP, the 39-million member organization for people 50 years old and older; Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs from the largest companies in the nation; and the Service Employees International Union, the largest union in North America. We liked what we heard, and we signed on as the fourth member of the coalition.

As the largest group representing America's job-creating, small-business engine, NFIB could not be content with the political stalemate over health-care reform. Eighty percent of our members have 10 or fewer employees, a population particularly hard-hit by rising health-care costs.

Divided We Fail speaks to us. The premise is simple and compelling: Everyone ought to have access to quality, affordable health care and a lifetime of financial security; everyone from every generation. It sounds easy enough, but these two basic goals have proved elusive so far.

Healthy, growing small businesses are vital to our economy. They generate half of America's GDP and create two-thirds of the net new jobs. So the business of small business is good. Yet, of the estimated 46 million Americans without health care, more than 27 million are small-business owners, employees or dependents of small businesses.

Health-care costs have been the No. 1 issue facing small-business owners since 1986, and those concerns are growing. While almost half -- 47 percent -- of small businesses are able to offer health insurance to their employees, they do so at a disproportionate cost. The nation's smallest firms pay on average 18 percent more in health insurance premiums than the largest firms do for the same benefits.

The time has come to address this problem in a real and lasting way. No discussion of health care should take place without small business at the table. We believe this coalition will spur our nation's political leaders to start working together to take on the threats to America's health care and our overall economic competitiveness.

As a member of the Divided We Fail coalition, we plan to raise the national debate to a new level to address what has become a national crisis for America's job creators. We want to bring these issues to center stage. In the greatest nation on Earth, we can do better. We can find solutions, even to two such stubborn problems.

We have tried working apart just about every way we possibly can, but we have gotten nowhere. It's time to try working together. Together, we are stronger, louder and much harder to ignore. Together, we can do anything.

- Tony Gagliardi is the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business/Colorado.


Unions to skip DNC convention protest

Plans are already underway for protest demonstrations this summer when the two major capitalist parties have their nominating conventions. Two recent conferences in different cities showed the broad range of issues various groups intend to raise when both the Republicans and Democrats meet.

Notable is the fact that unions and organizations of the poor met together with anti-war and anti-imperialist groups, indicating the connections being drawn between the growing economic woes of the working class and the immense outlay of funds by the capitalist government for imperialist aggression abroad.

Republican National Convention

The Republican National Convention (RNC) will be held on Sept. 1-4 in St. Paul, Minn. On Feb. 9-10, in St. Paul’s twin city of Minneapolis, the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War met with more than 60 other organizations to plan events protesting the Republican agenda.

The coalition consists of local anti-war and solidarity organizations, unions and social justice groups. Three national anti-war coalitions were also represented at the conference: Troops Out Now Coalition (TONC), the ANSWER Coalition and United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ).

Other organizations present included the International Action Center; Freedom Road Socialist Organization; Latinos Against the War; Fight Imperialism-Stand Together; Students for a Democratic Society; New Jersey Solidarity-Activists for the Liberation of Palestine; the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera; Teamsters Local 743 and AFSCME Local 3800.

A press conference for local and national media included speakers from the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War, TONC, UFPJ, ANSWER and the Arab American Action Network.

Phyllis Walker, Marie Braun and Jess Sundin opened the conference with an inspiring welcome from the local coalition. Two panels laid out the many reasons for marching on the RNC.

In the first panel Muath Asamarai, a local Iraqi American; Leslie Cagan of UFPJ; Sara Flounders of TONC and the IAC; John Beacham for the ANSWER Coalition; Carlos Montes of Latinos Against the War; and Angel Buechner from the Welfare Rights Committee spoke on why their organizations and coalitions are mobilizing for the march.

The second panel consisted of representatives from other endorsing organizations, including Richard Berg, president of Teamsters Local 743; Kosta Harlan, a member of Students for a Democratic Society; Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network; Tyneisha Bowens, a leader of Fight Imperialism-Stand Together; George Martin of Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice; and Barry Reisch of Veterans for Peace.

These organizations emphasized the importance of opposing the imperialist agendas of both the Republicans and the Democrats.

The diversity of the issues addressed by the Coalition to March on the RNC and Stop the War was reflected in the diversity of the attending organizations and activists. Immigrant rights, Palestine solidarity, Latin American solidarity, welfare rights, labor and low-income struggles were some of the issues included on the agenda and in the planning of the march and other events to counter the RNC.

This respect for diversity was also reflected in the local coalition’s open position on various tactics and safe spaces for those not participating in militant actions.

On the second day of the conference, the participants met in plenaries to discuss the program for a major demonstration on Sept. 1 and coordination and communication leading up to the event. Tours were held of the area around the Xcel Center where the RNC will take place in September.

For more information, visit marchonrnc.org or protestrnc2008.org.

Conference on RNC and DNC in Olympia

On the same weekend as the Minneapolis conference, youth and students met in Olympia, Wash., to discuss preparations to counter both the Republican and Democratic national conventions. About 100 people attended, mostly students from Seattle and surrounding areas, with others from Minneapolis and the states of Colorado, Oregon and California. The National Lawyers Guild and a few educators were there to listen, observe and offer advice when asked.

Protest organizers from Minneapolis and from Denver, where the DNC will be held on Aug. 24-28, gave presentations on the preparations that had been made, problems encountered and the significance of the respective conventions.

For the DNC, two activists who are part of the Recreate 68 Alliance spoke. Glenn Spagnuolo of the All Nations Alliance and Larry Hales of the youth group Fight Imperialism-Stand Together (FIST) presented to the audience in the late evening for an hour and a half. Spagnuolo explained that R68 was formed in January last year by local Denver activists from the Latin@, African-American, Native and white communities, representing such different issues as racism, imperialism, anti-war, anti-globalization, for immigrant rights and Indigenous rights. They agreed to work together to create a week of political solidarity in resistance and protest.

The idea of Recreate 68 is being used to move communities forward by looking back at a time of great resistance to war and racism.

Spagnuolo made reference to the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and its Ten-Point Program, where the party provided security, free breakfasts for children programs and education in many communities.

He also spoke of the government’s brutal attacks in response to the party’s activism, the anti-war positions of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, the mass movements against oppression headed by organizations such as the American Indian Movement, the Young Lords, the Gay Liberation Front and many other groups.

Racism, imperialist war, poverty—all the things that come with capitalism—are still with us, Spagnuolo explained, and though Cointelpro is not around in name, the government has other forms of surveillance and of targeting activists, such as the massive Homeland Security apparatus.

Larry Hales of FIST spoke about the numerous cases of police brutality in the Denver area, such as the case of Loree McCormick-Rice and her then-12-year-old daughter Cassidy McCormick, who were both beaten by an Aurora, Colo., cop. He spoke of the occupation of the oppressed communities by police and the role of police in capitalist society.

Hales asked the students to be mindful of the communities and the people whom they are claiming to represent. The residents of communities of color are faced with police terror all the time, not just during marches and rallies. Police brutality is a daily reality for many working and oppressed people.

He told them that they must be sensitive to the needs of the people and be aware of history that is being made today. For instance, Hales said, a white woman and a Black man are running for president. Though they both represent the interests of the imperialist U.S. ruling class and their agenda would be to appease the ruling elite, there are many oppressed people who see the fact that they are running and that one or the other may likely win the general election as a milestone.

People will be out in the streets for many reasons, and activists have to keep focused on the issues while at the same time being aware that some people are looking at these candidates as a victory for women and Black people. It will take time for them to see what the development really means, as the next president goes about her or his business running the U.S. imperialist colossus.

A whole week of activities, rallies and marches is planned for the DNC by Recreate 68. To find out about them, visit recreate68.org.


UAW strike captains prep union members

A strike at American Axle could idle thousands of workers at four plants in Michigan and New York. The company's major customer is General Motors Corp., which takes about 80 percent of its production, The Detroit Free Press reported. A strike could disrupt GM's operations as well, especially its production of large trucks and sport utility vehicles.

While the United Automobile Workers and the company continued to negotiate Friday, both sides were clearly preparing for a walkout, the Free Press said. A strike could begin as soon as Tuesday, when the current contract expires.

American Axle wants about 3,000 employees to work for lower wages.

The company was stockpiling GM parts, a source told the newspaper. The union was already setting up schedules for picket duty.

"Our bargaining committee is working hard at the bargaining table," said Jimmy Settles, a UAW vice president. "We are continuing to negotiate for an agreement that will help our members, our community and the company."


Union-only goals met by Project Labor Agreement

With Washington's new ballpark a little more than a month from its scheduled completion, the project has failed to meet the majority of hiring goals meant to provide construction jobs to city residents, and the District has not sanctioned any contractor for falling short.

An agreement between the District, the main contractors and the region's major unions calls for half of the journeyman construction hours at the ballpark -- the most lucrative jobs -- to be performed by city residents. The actual hours have amounted to 27 percent.

The project also has missed targets that all new apprentices be city residents and that apprentices work at least one-fourth of the hours devoted to construction. About 87 percent of the new apprentices came from the city, and apprentices account for 19 percent of hours, according to construction records.

"At the end of the day, all of those goals should have been met," said Robert C. Bobb, who drafted the agreement two years ago on behalf of then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D). "I can't see that there should be a lot of celebration."

The hiring agreement was critical to winning union and political support for the new ballpark and easing concerns of some D.C. Council members who were wary of the city providing the financing for such an expensive project. Supporters touted the ballpark as a source of jobs in a city where pockets of unemployment remain high, and they enlisted organized labor to put its clout behind the stadium.

By the end of December, 2,719 workers had put in 1.7 million hours on the ballpark along South Capitol Street SE. Ironworkers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, masons and other tradesmen -- with pay ranging from $10 to $34 an hour -- have swarmed the 21-acre construction site, many working six days a week to have the stadium ready for a March 29 exhibition game between the Nationals and the Orioles.

Their work has been governed by a 21-page agreement spelling out not only their pay and working conditions but how many of them are expected to be D.C. residents. It sets the terms for journeymen, or experienced, workers, and for apprentices, who are learning their crafts.

Many major public works projects, including the Washington Convention Center, have had these sorts of agreements, but the ballpark called for the most aggressive hiring goals ever set by the District. Besides calling for D.C. residents to get a certain share of hours worked at the ballpark, it required contractors to give the city's residents priority if the businesses needed to make new hires to get the job done.

But the number of construction projects in the region -- including enormous developments such as National Harbor in Prince George's County -- has made it difficult to find enough skilled city residents for the ballpark, contractors and union leaders say.

"The hiring halls are tapped out," said Gerard M. Waites, a Washington lawyer who helped negotiate the agreement for the unions. He noted that 750 of the new journeymen and apprentices hired by various contractors for the ballpark have been D.C. residents and pointed to that as a sign that the project has helped many in the city.

And the ballpark has met or exceeded two goals in the agreement: Fifty-one percent of new hires are D.C. residents, and 72 percent of apprenticeship hours have been performed by city residents, well above the goal of 50 percent.

Bobb, who was city administrator under Williams, agrees with representatives of nonunion contractors who say that all of the agreement's goals could have been met with more diligence.

"They weren't high or unexpected," said Bobb, who is now D.C. State Board of Education president. "It's how much do you want something?"

* * *

What many of the city's movers and shakers wanted was professional baseball. Williams worked hard to bring a team to Washington, which had been without one since the Senators left in 1971. But that required a new ballpark and figuring out how to pay for it.

The D.C. Council debated for months about how far the city should go in financing the project, initially estimated to cost $535 million and now about $100 million more than that. For a while, despite the efforts of the Williams administration, the deal's future was shaky.

Union leaders provided political support, but they also pushed hard for a project labor agreement. Such contracts, known as PLAs, outline wages, working conditions and labor grievance procedures. In return, they typically contain clauses barring strikes -- an important factor in this case, since the construction schedule was one of the tightest ever proposed for a major league stadium.

Throughout 2005 and early 2006, city officials and the trade unions had extensive, closed-door discussions about the terms of the labor agreement. The D.C. Council approved the baseball financing package in February 2006, and the labor agreement was signed the next month. Construction began several weeks after that.

The agreement does not require union workers. But it does demand that all workers be paid union rates and that they pay union dues while on the project -- a major plus for organized labor. For the city, the pact held out the prize of good jobs for District residents.

"The building trades are highly important as a political entity," Williams said in an interview last week. And in dealing with them, the former mayor said, he wanted to set "aspirational" hiring goals for residents.

Although the unions and city came away with potential benefits, the agreement drew the ire of nonunion contractors, who unsuccessfully tried to get Congress to intervene and block it.

"It excludes us from the workplace," said John Magnolia, who owns Joseph J. Magnolia Inc., a nonunion plumbing contractor with 400 employees that has been based in the District since the 1950s.

Supporters of the agreement, including union leaders, said there is nothing to prevent nonunion contractors from working on the ballpark. Many smaller subcontractors do not have union employees.

But Magnolia said that he opposes forcing his employees to pay union dues in order for them to work on the ballpark. If those requirements were not there, he said it would have been much easier to reach the hiring goals for employing more city residents.

The outcome of this debate is important because PLAs are proposed for virtually all city-financed construction projects. Washington's labor leaders call the ballpark agreement a model for the future. Joslyn N. Williams, who heads the Metropolitan AFL-CIO, said he will push to have a similar agreement if a District-backed hotel is built near the convention center.

* * *

Since inheriting the agreement when he took office, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who opposed the ballpark while on the council, has had little to say about the performance in meeting hiring goals. In a statement, he said, "We will always push to make sure as many District residents are hired for city projects as possible whether a project labor agreement is in place or not."

Thus far, no one has been penalized for failing to meet the targets for the ballpark. A task force made up primarily of construction executives and union officials reviews hiring monthly. And the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which owns the ballpark, is overseeing the progress of hiring as well. Businesses that fail to meet goals face financial penalties, but the agreement caps the amount at 5 percent of the value of the contract.

Dozens of contractors have received letters asking them to explain why they have fallen short on hiring District residents. Courtland Cox, a sports commission official working on labor issues at the ballpark, said that the overseers are examining whether the contractors made a "good faith effort," as called for in the agreement, before considering taking them to arbitration.

One of the central goals was to win high-paying journeyman jobs for residents. But, Cox said, journeymen "tend to live in Maryland and Virginia."

Labor leaders said the agreement has helped D.C. residents in two key ways. They go to the head of the line in hiring priority when contractors call union halls. And, union officials said, the agreement's focus on apprentices will help with job training and provide a foundation for a city workforce and building a stronger middle class in the District.

Williams acknowledged those successes and rejected the complaints of nonunion contractors, saying that there was enough construction work in the region for everyone. The former mayor, who left office in January 2007, attributed the failure to meet the majority of hiring goals to a combination of factors: Many journeymen were tied up on other projects, the city's workforce was unprepared to qualify for apprenticeship programs, and the agreement wasn't adequately enforced.

But he offered no apologies for the high goals.

"You want to be honest with people," Williams said. "Shoot for high goals and take the consequences."


First statewide teachers strike remembered

This month marks the 40th anniversary of a pivotal event in Florida history. In February 1968, Florida teachers and other education workers belonging to the Florida Education Association staged the nation's first statewide teachers' strike and focused the state's attention on public education.

The cause of the strike was the chronic under-funding of the state's educational system at a time when attendance was rising sharply. The strike lasted from a few days in some school districts to several weeks in others.

Although a special session of the Legislature approved more school funding, the budget increases didn't solve the problem.

Forty years later, Florida still under-funds education, and our state resides near the bottom when compared with all the other states on funding.

Teacher salaries still lag nearly $6,000 below the national average, and the situation is equally dire for all the other vital positions in our public schools, like bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and other Floridians who help our public schools run smoothly for our children.

The cost of living in Florida, which once made most of the state affordable, has risen rapidly over the past few years, making it difficult for those who teach and care for our children to raise their own families.

Forty years ago, public school employees took a courageous stand to point out the problem.

They got some attention and short-term relief, but Florida's political leaders continue to ignore the needs of our public schools.

We hear constantly about Florida becoming competitive in the 21st-century global economy, yet our political leaders continue to refuse to make significant investments in our future, represented by the children of Florida and those who teach them, and ensure their safety and well-being in our public schools.

- C. HIGGINBOTTHAM, educator, Orange Park, FL


Transit privatization would harm unions

The current privatization mania sweeping the nation has shown us that taking taxpayer-funded assets and turning them over to corporations is as close to vulture capitalism as one can get. Unfortunately, all too often these corporations' definitions of public service are pretty much confined to earning big bonuses for their executives and windfall profits for their stockholders.

The last thing that such privatization enthusiasts are interested in is improving service and being polite. Newly privatized employees who take pay and benefit cuts in the name of efficiency cannot be expected to be pleasant about their plight, either to their new bosses or to their customers.

Calls to privatize urban mass transit systems must be seen as just part of an overall agenda that won't be satisfied until it gobbles up every public asset created with taxpayers' funds. That includes electric and water utilities, community hospitals, public schools, highways and bridges, and other assets that make up the public commons.

A prime example of what happens when urban mass transit is turned over to private corporations is Santiago, the sprawling capital of Chile, with a metro-area population of more than 6 million.

A few years ago, the Chilean government unwisely decided to turn over the revamping of Transantiago, the capital's once-efficient bus system, to a private corporation.

The private company quickly cut back bus service to poorer neighborhoods in Santiago because profits were not as lucrative. The corporate planners also reduced the number of buses in service and decreased the number of stops. Rides that took 40 minutes soon took two hours. Many commuters were forced to walk; some others, constantly late for work, lost their jobs. The result was chaos.

Santiago's smoothly functioning state-run Metro subway system found itself deluged by former bus riders, stretching its capacity.

In a further display of capitalist hubris, some investors began negatively speculating on the financial prospects of Transantiago, creating huge losses for the firm. As a result, the cash-flush Metro was forced to make $300 million in loans to the privatized bus service -- beggaring Peter to pay Paul.

In other words, Chilean taxpayers were forced to bail out a poorly run private enterprise that was formed from proceeds stolen from the taxpayers' own pockets.

And how did Transantiago react to its poor service and resulting disruption of the lives of its customers? It ignored the complaints and threatened to raise fares if it did not get a new infusion of public funds. Commuters reacted by banding together and suing Transantiago for tens of thousands of dollars each.

The same dismal picture is repeated in virtually every other city that has succumbed to the privatization craze.

Buenos Aires' privatized Metro system is overcrowded and poorly serviced. Plans by the European Union to privatize rail service in France, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Belgium have resulted in strikes by workers who see what is coming: loss of benefits and cuts in service.

British Rail privatized in 1997, and the results have been poorer service and horrendous safety problems. Outsourcing safety and maintenance work resulted in a 1999 two-train crash outside London's Paddington Station that killed 31 passengers.

As more and more cities try to switch commuters from greenhouse-causing cars and SUVs to greener mass transit systems, now is scarcely the time for further deregulation and privatization. If anything, U.S. commuters need more centralized planning and tighter government oversight.

It is hoped that the lessons of Santiago, Buenos Aires and London will convince U.S. transit policy planners that "the public commons" and "privatization" are mutually exclusive terms.

Americans are best served by transit systems where employees are treated fairly and receive living wages. If anything, it's time to devote more public funds to urban mass transit systems as a first, significant step in the battle to fight global warming.


Anti-noise ordinances target union protests

When the D.C. Council tabled the Noise Control Protection Amendment Act of 2008 on Tuesday, it dealt a heavy blow to fairness for residents across the District.

I introduced the bill as a way to strike a balance between the right to enjoy peace and quiet at home and the right to make noise in public. The bill would close a loophole that makes the District the only major U.S. city with no limits on noncommercial amplified noise. I also reached out to my colleague, council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), a constitutional law scholar, to carefully craft the bill to ensure that it in no way, shape or form would limit the right to free speech or the ability to organize.

As Cheh and I worked to fix the loophole, we listened to complaints about noise from residents across the city. Overwhelmingly, residents told us they did not want to limit free speech, but they couldn't compete with amplifiers outside their living room windows. They just asked for a little fairness and protection of their rights, too.

The bill that came before the council has the support of civic associations across the city that represent the many neighborhoods that suffer as a result of this loophole -- as well as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), representing many of our city's working men and women.

Under our proposal, amplified noncommercial speech could reach levels of 70 decibels, or 10 decibels above the ambient-noise level, whichever is greater. The ambient-noise provision reflected a critical compromise with the SEIU to ensure that protest is meaningful and never drowned out. In practical terms, 10 decibels typically represents a doubling of the noise level, guaranteeing that protest can always be twice as loud as the noise around it.

This approach strikes the balance that protects one's ability to make noise, but it also grants D.C. residents some assurance of quiet within their homes. It uses tested and constitutionally proven tools that would still leave Washington with the nation's most liberal and permissive rules on amplified noise.

In fact, New York, Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles -- cities that embrace organized labor and protests -- already have such controls on amplified speech; the rules protect First Amendment rights to free speech and allow residents to enjoy quiet within their own homes. I hope that with time, the bill's opponents on the council will recognize the need to provide the same reasonable protections enjoyed in most every other major American city.

- Tommy Wells, Washington, a member of the D.C. Council (D-Ward 6).


Steelworkers issue strike notice

Union workers at Elliott Co. in Jeannette will vote today on a three-year contract offer with the understanding they will walk off the job if it is rejected. "They all understand we will go on strike" if the contract proposal isn't approved, Mark Zyvith, president of the production and maintenance unit of the United Steelworkers Local 1145, said Saturday after a membership meeting to explain details of the contract. If approved, the contract would take effect Monday, Zyvith said.

The union membership, consisting of about 275 production and maintenance workers and more than 20 office and clerical employees, had previously given the USW Local 1145 authorization to call a strike, Zyvith said. The strike would be called after the union gives the company a 48-hour notice that workers will walk off their jobs, Zyvith said.

Union officials had recommended acceptance of the deal to about 200 employees who attended yesterday's meeting, Zyvith said. He declined to predict the outcome of today's vote.

"It's going to affect a lot of people differently," Zyvith said.

The company makes industrial turbines and compressors that are used in the petrochemical industry.

"In lieu of withholding services (a strike), it was the best offer that was there," said Joseph Mochar, president of USW Local 1145, after yesterday's membership meeting at the Jeannette American Legion Post.

"We've put it in the membership's hands," Mochar said.

Negotiators for the union and the company reached a tentative contract agreement Friday, just hours before the company intended to unilaterally implement the terms of its last contract offer, beginning yesterday morning. Union officials had initially called for a meeting yesterday to decide whether to report to work under terms of the company's offer, but Elliott withdrew that plan when the tentative agreement was reached, Mochar said.

Brian Lapp, director of human resources for Elliott Co., could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The contract proposal will boost wages 4 percent the first year, followed by annual increases of 3 percent each of the following two years. The workers have not had a wage hike since their contract expired in June 2004.

The proposal would give workers a $1,100 signing bonus if they approve the deal.

The cost of the health care coverage had been a stumbling block in the negotiations. Workers in January essentially rejected the company's proposal by deciding not to put it to a vote.

Under the proposal, employees would pay a percentage of the monthly health insurance premium. Lapp had said the previous coverage did not require employees to pay part of the premiums. Employees would have to pay $20 a week for family health care coverage under the tentative agreement.

The company agreed to give some employees retiring in the first two years of the agreement health care coverage until they are eligible for Medicare at age 65, Mochar said. Workers retiring at age 58 would pay half the cost of the insurance premium, while those leaving at age 60 would have free coverage, Mochar said.

"Without going on strike, this proposal is the best we can do," said Jim Cochran, 51, of Sewickley Township, who has worked at the plant for 34 years.

Both Cochran and his buddy, Tim Wilkinson, 52, of Hempfield said they did not know whether it will be approved. They pointed out that while their wages have been frozen since 2004, the cost of living has risen.

"We like working for this company. We've been unbelievably busy. We have millions of dollars of orders," Wilkinson said.

Production and maintenance workers are scheduled to vote from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the union hall on Lowry Avenue. Office and clerical workers will vote from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the union hall.


Unions keep pace with political donations

As Massachusetts state Sen. Richard T. Moore sat on a special commission last year, convened to review the impact of outpatient surgical centers on the state's health care industry, several of those centers poured thousands of dollars into Moore's campaign account.

Donations from the centers totaled nearly $22,000, according to a review of the account. Almost all arrived shortly before the commission issued its final report, which suggested lawmakers consider new regulations for physician-owned centers that have been exempt from the state public health department's review.

Moore, D-Uxbridge, said last week the industry's donations did not affect his work on the panel. He noted part of a broader health care bill he is filing in the coming weeks is aimed at increasing the state's oversight of physician-owned clinics.

"In fact, they don't like that idea," Moore said. "They don't want to be regulated, but they're going to be."

Several legislators representing MetroWest communities received thousands of dollars last year from political action committees - which various unions and industries use to make donations - and from lobbyists, the lawmakers' accounts show.

Moore's top position on the Senate Health Care Financing Committee has led to a particularly large cluster of donations from lobbyists, doctors and top health care executives. Eighty lobbyists gave him $12,500 last year, while $23,550 came from 87 medical doctors. Among other top donors, CVS and Kindred Healthcare Inc., a Louisville-based operator of hospitals and nursing homes, used their political action committees to give Moore the $500 state maximum.

Moore said there is no correlation between those donations - which, at about $144,000 last year, totaled more than any other area lawmakers in 2007 - and the bills he proposes. In fact, he used some of the money for donations to Blackstone Valley fundraisers.

"People will be hard-pressed to find a connection between legislation I file and their support. It does not sway what I do," he said. "I think the record bears that out."

"They don't agree with everything I do," Moore added of his health care donors. "They agree with my leadership in health care and reform."

Several area lawmakers approached 2007, their election cycle's off-year, differently, they said. Whereas Moore said he raised lots of money last year because he expects the presidential race will occupy people's attention this fall, Rep. David P. Linsky, D-Natick, said he purposefully did not seek many donations in 2007.

"I generally don't do much off-year fundraising," Linsky said. "I'm not one who raises lots of money and banks it from year to year. I raise what I need and I spend what I need and I tend to do it in election years."

Linsky received about $7,200 in 2007, and his biggest donor was himself, according to his campaign account. He loaned the campaign about $3,100, which he said was needed to cover debts from an expensive 2006 re-election contest. Gov. Deval Patrick attended a fundraiser for Linsky earlier this month, which he said is part of "raising money now to balance the books."

Rep. Jennifer M. Callahan, D-Sutton, had a more vigorous fundraising year. She said, however, she is only seeking re-election this fall, denying rumors she is interested in the state Senate seat Edward M. Augustus Jr., D-Worcester, is leaving at the end of the term.

Callahan raised about $30,000 last year, leaving her campaign account with substantially more than it had in 2005. More than $8,000 came from political action committees, or PACs, including the Beer Distributors' PAC, the IBEW Local 2325 and the correction officers' union.

"No single donation sways me to do what I do on a daily basis," Callahan said. "My foremost concern is my constituents.

"I take raising money for campaign accounts seriously," she added. "I will always run a very strong campaign."

Other lawmakers who received hefty donations from PACs were state Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, and Rep. James Vallee, D-Franklin. Both sit on the Ways and Means Committee, which controls the state budget, though Spilka was only appointed earlier this year.

Political action committees gave about $7,400 each to Vallee and Spilka last year. That figure is about a quarter of the total Spilka received last year, and about one-seventh of what Vallee raised, according to their campaign figures. Neither returned messages left with their aides last week.

One area lawmaker who says he purposefully avoided PAC donations was Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford, who is in his first term. He raised about $21,000, largely from smaller donations.

After what he described as an exhilarating but financially exhausting 2006 campaign, Fernandes said he did not want to turn to PACs for help.

"Part of fundraising isn't just about fundraising - it's about getting people together and reviving the energy of a campaign," he said. "I look at donations as commitment of support that hopefully results in a vote or a number of votes from that person reaching out to others."

Fernandes added he has no problem with other lawmakers receiving donations from PACs, but has no plans to do it himself.

"I made a decision this election cycle that I wasn't interested in taking money from political action committees or lobbyists," he said. "I don't see that changing in the near future or the foreseeable future."


Union negotiators dizzy willing school board

School officials at Carlisle (PA) are still unsure what prompted the teachers’ union to table action Thursday on the proposed “early bird” contract. “I don’t know what took place on the association side,” board President Fred Baldwin said Friday night. “The board simply felt if for whatever reason that they needed more time, we certainly should respect that and not act without knowing.”

A district release sent out Tuesday stated the tentative agreement, which would start in August 2009 and run through August 2012, was ready for final adoption from the board.

The three-year deal, if accepted, would include teacher salary increases of 4.25 percent, 4 percent and 4 percent, and health care premium sharing of 15 percent, 16 percent and 16.66 percent. Carlisle’s current starting salary for teachers is $38,140 per year.

“We have a responsibility to the public to inform them of an important decision before it happens,” Baldwin said. “We held off doing that until the union leadership could brief the membership.”

Board and union negotiators wouldn’t be at this point, he added, if they didn’t feel the early bird option offered advantages.

“It enables all of us to spend the next three to four years focusing solely on education, without any distractions,” Baldwin said. “I think we just have to wait and see.”

Carlisle Area Education Association President Laurie Smith refused to comment on the delay.

The proposal resembles the existing contract which gave teachers salary increases of 3.75, 4, 4 and 4.25 percent and had them pay 6, 8, 10 and 14 percent of health care costs.

That contract was settled about two years ago after 18 months of negotiations and a five-day strike.

Bargaining units had been talking for about a month and a half before this tentative agreement was presented. A new deal would go into effect in August 2009.

“It’s unlikely we would ratify or turn down anything in advance of knowing whether it’s acceptable to the union,” Baldwin said, in light of the special board meeting scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. “Its costs could be justified by the stability it gives the district for the next four years.”


Anarchist city official has collectivist roots

If anarchists were organized, Cara Jennings would be president of the club. Instead, she's a Lake Worth (FL) city commissioner. Except when she's out protesting free trade, the Scripps Research Institute location, low farmworker wages and lack of women's rights, for starters. Add gas-burning power plants to the list.

When 27 environmentalists were arrested Monday for blocking the entrance to the site of a Florida Power & Light plant being built in western Palm Beach County, Jennings negotiated terms with deputies and acted as spokeswoman for the group. She was not arrested.

Tuesday she was busy trying to make sure the 27 got bail. Tuesday night she was attending a commission meeting, voting on whether to make urinating in public illegal.

Jennings, 31, still calls herself an anarchist, just not shut-the-government-down type of anarchist.

"I don't think it's inconsistent to serve in a community government and simultaneously be an anarchist," she said.

She believes in decision-making by equals, not from "top-down authoritative government," she said.

"She proudly claims the title 'anarchist,'" said longtime friend Dan Liftman, an aide to U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar. "I cringe because there are a lot of crusty old retired folks in Lake Worth, and that could hurt her."

Liftman was nearby at the FPL blockade on Southern Boulevard while Jennings was seeking reassurance from Palm Beach County sheriff's Lt. William Bruckner that protesters would be given a warning before being arrested and that little force would be used.

"We want to make sure this is as peaceful as possible," Bruckner told her as they stood at the barricades. "We don't want anybody hurt. We will not use anything against you. ... We don't want to do that."

"We don't want it either," Jennings said.

"But what we want to do is make sure that there's a free flow of traffic here, that nobody gets hurt and that business returns to as normal as possible while you still can get your point across," Bruckner said.

But hours after the arrests, Jennings was critical of deputies for neck-pinching and arm-twisting protesters during the arrests and claimed they were not treated well at the jail. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw rejected the criticisms.

"I was a little bit concerned about some comments she made about the sheriff's office," Liftman said, fearing it would hurt her credibility with voters. "She can do so much good. I don't want to her endanger her relationship with the voters."

Jennings said she's received only positive feedback. "I was a little nervous that people would be upset about the actions taken. I've gotten compliments for standing up for my beliefs despite the impact it might have on my political career."

It's likely voters are already polarized.

Tom Ramiccio, chief executive of the Greater Lake Worth Chamber of Commerce, blames Jennings and her housemate, Panagioti Tsolkas, for earning the city a spot on the FBI's watch list for eco-terrorism in 2004 for showing a video in solidarity with jailed environmentalist and arsonist Jeff Luers.

"She's an obstructionist to progress, and you can quote me," the former mayor said. "She's just too negative."

Others are unbothered by her activities. Lynn Anderson, a member of two political action committees in the city, admires her determination, "and I'm old enough to be her grandmother."

Jennings grew up with four sisters in Cutler Ridge. Her family moved to Lantana, where she graduated from Santaluces High School. She attended Florida State University before leaving to embark upon her activist career.

For a while in the early years of this decade, she and other radical women lived in a house on North B Street. Now she owns a home on North C Street and supports herself with her $14,000 salary as a commissioner.

Jennings' activist reputation is well-earned. Some highlights of her résumé:

1994: Took 22 pounds of soap on a trip to Cuba with a Florida peace group to deliver toiletries, medical supplies and toys to a rural hospital and a school. She was 17 and raised the $1,000 for the trip herself.

Late 1990s: Created the Radical Cheerleader tactic with her older sister, Aimee, replacing typical protest chants with choreographed - sometimes profane - cheers to get their point across. "PIGS" begins with "Gimme a P." The concept spread globally.

2001: Dressed as a giant red tomato outside a Taco Bell on Okeechobee Boulevard to protest low farmworker wages. Her companions were a 92-year-old woman, an American Indian and a guy on stilts wearing an Uncle Sam suit.

2005: Organized a sit-in against The Scripps Research Institute locating at the Mecca Farms site. Rotten fruit was dumped in offices, and protesters chained themselves to stairway railings.

2006: Won an improbable race for the Lake Worth City Commission. "I never saw so many hippies running around Lake Worth in my life," one resident said.

She finished second in a four-way race in the general election by 374 votes, but revelations that her opponent, businessman Jorge Goyanes, once owned an escort service helped turn the runoff around. Jennings won by more than 600 votes.

"I begged her for years to run," said Sarah "echo" Steiner, an environmentalist who lives in the city. "She has put in years of sweat equity and is very loved by the people. I feel like finally there's somebody out there in touch with what the citizens want."

Even her opponents credit her for doing her homework and being prepared at commission meetings.

"She's one of our better commissioners. She actually goes and researches the material and doesn't rubber stamp anything," said Anderson, a supporter.

"I shouldn't be given credit for that," Jennings said. "I'm a paid employee of the residents. That's my job."

She rejected the idea that she has mellowed.

"I'm more willing to experiment in different ways to reach my goals, but I'm as passionate about social change as I was in the beginning," said Jennings, who persuaded the commission to take a symbolic vote opposing President Bush's surge in Iraq last year.

Although she's criticized the beach redevelopment plan with Greater Bay Group, she and Mayor Jeff Clemens - often at odds - joined in approving a day labor center.

"To elect an anarchist, someone who's anti-government to be in government ... it's a fluke," said Ramiccio, the chamber of commerce leader. "She'll never get reelected."


One union, one standard, one voice

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