Unions ply Barack with campaign cash

Barack Obama is significantly out-spending Hillary Clinton on television advertising in Texas and Ohio, and his advertising edge has been compounded by a raft of commercials being aired by two large labor unions that are supporting him.

Since the two candidates began advertising in the two states about Feb. 12, Obama has spent a bit more than $7 million, while Clinton has spent about $4 million, according to Evan Tracey, the chief operating officer of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks network advertising. Obama was running far more adds over the past two weeks, but in recent days, the two candidates have been on a similar schedule.

"The difference here is, it appears that these two union efforts are becoming significant," Tracey said. The Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers now have spots in major Texas markets airing in English and Spanish, and are blanketing most of the major Ohio markets -- even going so far as buying time in the Charleston, West Virginia market to capture a small portion of Eastern Ohio. "I wouldn't go so far as calling that a luxury, but it's not the kind of thing you do on a limited budget," Tracey said.

Federal Election Commission reports filed today show that the UFCW made $190,000 in media buys in the last 48 hours.

The advertising imbalance has been all but acknowledged by the Clinton campaign. In an e-mail sent today that is signed by Bill Clinton, the campaign urged supporters to send donations online to help Sen. Clinton keep pace. "In just 24 hours, you closed the $1.3 million advertising gap with Obama this week," the former president writes. "In response, [Obama's] campaign has bought another $1.9 million worth of airtime. For Hillary to win on March 4, we must close this gap -- and we have to do it quickly. We cannot let this race be decided by Obama's spending advantage on the air."

Tracey said the damage may already be done. "Obama's had a very big and significant running head start in these states," he said. "The fact that he had a longer run up gave him the advantage of being able to mix in more spots, and touch a wider variety of issues."


Black Caucus furious with leftist SEIU

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are "seething" with anger over Rep. Al Wynn's Democratic primary defeat at the hands of Donna Edwards, in Maryland earlier this month. The Service Employees International Union did what unions are supposed to do: financially support a progressive challenger over a corporate-bought incumbent. But enraged CBC members see the handwriting on the wall: they too can be ousted by progressive campaigns energized by labor dollars.

Given the CBC's continuing drift to the Right, members feel threatened. In typical fashion, they insinuate that the heavily Black SEIU is meddling in intra-Black political affairs - when the truth is, Caucus members increasingly rely on corporate funding for job security, and vote accordingly. The CBC's panicked reaction to Donna Edwards' victory speaks volumes about their growing capitulation to Big Business.


Pro-union Dems livid over worker-choice

A Senate panel backed legislation Wednesday banning state workers from striking, but not before one lawmaker went on a table-slapping tirade about the "silliness" of the business-versus-labor debate. "This state is burning down!" shouted Sen. Chris Romer, a Denver Democrat.

He challenged business and labor leaders to push a November ballot measure to bail out education or health care instead of fighting over a "modest" order from Gov. Bill Ritter allowing state workers to negotiate with managers. And he asked business leaders to stomp out a potential right-to-work initiative that would prohibit workers from being forced to become union members or pay union dues.

"Where is the leadership in this state?" Romer asked, later comparing union and business leaders to kindergartners. "That's just what makes me mad as hell."

The legislation up for debate in the Senate state affairs committee has its genesis in the governor's executive order giving state workers the right to negotiate collectively about workplace safety, efficiency and salaries.

The November order included a no-strike clause, but the attorney general's office later ruled the order does not trump a state law that gives workers the right to strike.

House Bill 1189, which Ritter supports, is an attempt to smooth over relations with the business community. The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the state chamber supported the bill, while four union leaders opposed it.

Striking is "among the most fundamental of human rights" and workers' "most powerful and effective weapon," said Dennis Creese with the Colorado Building and Construction Trades Council.

The bill, which passed 4-1, needs approval from the full Senate before heading to the governor's desk.


IBEW goes to extremes for union-only thuggery

The following timeline documents an extended dispute between the local electrical worker’s union and an out-of-town, non-union electrical contractor from 2003 to 2005 during the construction of Lakeview High School in Battle Creek, MI. The source documents were obtained by the Enquirer in a Freedom of Information Act request.

The dispute, which culminated with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 445 filing a prevailing wage complaint against Buist Electric Inc., was settled when Buist was found to have underpaid one employee by $10.56 during its audit period.

The documents provide a rare glimpse of the inner workings of school construction projects and show how much unions are willing to press the issue in order to obtain a piece of an increasingly lucrative business (state voters approved almost $710 million in school construction and renovation bonds in 2007).

Check out Sunday’s Enquirer for the full report, including a story on the prevailing wage and project labor agreement policies that have languished at the Calhoun County Board of Commissioners.

Buist Electric and IBEW Local 445 on the construction site of the new Lakeview High School, June 2003 to June 2005


Buist Electric Inc., based in Byron Center, Mich., is the one of the biggest non-union electrical contractor in the state of Michigan. They are a self-proclaimed Christian company employing about 260.

The IBEW Local 445 is a 300-member electrical workers union based in Battle Creek. It has been vocal in its call for contractors to employ local workers in their projects, especially during these lean economic times that have left many electricians unemployed. Steve Claywell handled the union's interactions with Lakeview.

Lakeview School District is a 3,700-student district in Battle Creek. Voters in 2002 approved $53.9 million in funding for building improvements, including a brand new high school. Construction started in late 2003. Granger Construction Co. was its construction manager on the project. Cindy Ruble was hired as superintendent in the summer of 2003.


June 13, 2003: Steve Franklin of Local 445 writes to Buist Electric congratulating them on being the low bidder for Lakeview High School’s electrical work and asking if local Battle Creek union workers could apply for jobs on site. He also sends a letter to Granger Construction Co. (which oversaw all contractors on site) to ask for assistance in seeking jobs for B.C. workers.

June 18 and 23, 2003: Steve Claywell writes that he and other electricians went to Buist headquarters to imply about jobs. He said they were turned away.

June 20, 2003: The board awards the electrical site contract to Buist, the low-bidder, for $236,900. A bid from Battle Creek’s Union Electric for $345,522, the next-lowest bid, was seen as too high. Superintendent Bob Spencer cites the school district’s responsibility to be as cost-conscious as possible because they must be “good financial stewards” for taxpayers.

July 28, 2003: Steve Franklin, Bill Kazlauskas and Steve Claywell.appear at the board meeting to tell them about being spurned from Buist, asking that the school district support local labor. Superintendent Cindy Ruble says she will look into it. Jeff Andert, board president, reiterates the idea of the board being responsible to “the members of the entire Lakeview community for the bottom line costs of the project.”

August 2003: The Department of Labor and Economic Growth begins allowing third parties (i.e. not the companies and laborers in question) to file prevailing wage complaints. This starts an increasing amount of claims being filed each year, according to the Wage and Hour Division of the DLEG.

August 5, 2003: Cindy Ruble and other district officials meet with
Tim Hall (Granger), DeWayne Gregg (Granger), Steve Longstreet (VP of Buist) and Larry Buist (President of Buist). Lakeview states its desire for Buist to use local laborers and unionized laborers where possible on the high school. Buist says it will comply fully with prevailing wage legislation. It also says its is not currently hiring.

August 18, 2003: Ruble briefs the board on her meeting with Buist.

September 26, 2003: Members of the IBEW picketed the worksite of the new high school on Helmer Road, according to a memo from John Borgert to Cindy Ruble. Six picketers were placed at the gate to the site on Hupp Road while 60 were reported to be walking near Columbia Avenue at the old high school. Hoffman Brothers, being a union contractor, decided not to cross the picket, and Borgert said a day of work was lost on-site.

Borgert reports a phone call with Claywell that afternoon to discern the cause of the picket. Claywell said the picket was informational only, and that the community needed to know that local people were not being used on the project. Claywell indicates that Buist is being investigated for a prevailing wage violation at Western Michigan University (dated as received by the Internal Audit Department of the DLEG on April 2, 2002).

Oct. 16, 2003: Lakeview receives a FOIA request from Claywell seeking certified payroll for Buist Electric on its work at LHS. Ruble responds that Lakeview does not keep certified payroll.

October 30, 2003: DeWayne Gregg (Granger) speaks before the board to explain the bidding process. If there is a big difference in the bid amounts (as there was in the electric bids), they talk with the top two or three bidders to make sure they know what the project entails. The building electrical bid is awarded to Buist for $3.69 million (the second-lowest bid, from Superior, came in at $3.986 million). Board member Mark Kreter applauds the board’s taking the low bid, as the savings were funneled into football field renovations.

November 13, 2003: Claywell writes a FOIA request to Granger seeking payroll for Buist Electric on its work at LHS. Granger replies that it is not a public company, and therefore not subject to FOIA statutes.

December 1, 2003: Ruble writes to Buist to reaffirm the fact that the district would encourage them to “consider any opportunities to utilize local laborers in the project.”

December 15, 2003: Chris Courter, a resident of Battle Creek and unemployed electrician, tells the board that it should be supporting local workers by awarding bids to local companies. Ruble mentions the letter she sent to Buist on Dec. 1.

Jan. 14, 2003: Ruble describes multiple instances of picketing at the high school that month.

April 22, 2004: Buist Electric receives word that Claim #106513 (WMU project) had been completed. Buist was not in compliance with the Prevailing Wage Act. Out of a total of $1.5 million paid out to employees, one was underpaid by $242 over an 18-month period.

May 11, 2004: Claywell has a conversation with Ruble alerting her to the fact that Buist was found in violation of prevailing wage.

May 13, 2004: Ruble writes to DeWayne Gregg (Granger) to express her concern, and tells him to ensure that Buist is complying with prevailing wage laws by monitoring its payroll.

May 19, 2004: Jeff Andert, in an e-mail to Ruble, relays that Steve Franklin had questioned Lakeview’s administration during the comment phase of the city commission meeting on May 18. Franklin apparently said payroll information was not being relayed to the board, but only to Granger, which allowed Buist to skirt FOIA laws. “It is unfortunate that no matter how ‘open and honest’ one tries to be, comments such as this in a public forum (where they cannot be refuted) can drive public opinion,” said Andert.

May 25, 2004: Ruble, in an e-mail to Tim Hall (Granger), said that this is when she and Claywell met to discuss the WMU project. Ruble says Claywell asks if Lakeview would reconsider allowing a third party to go over Buist payroll to ensure compliance. She also notes that the district is ramping up security measures at the construction site to ensure there is no vandalism.

May 26, 2004: Tim Hall (Granger) writes an e-mail to Ruble to let her know that he had talked to Steve at Buist to consider allowing Local 445 to review its payroll on a mutually agreeable date. “This may be beneficial in mitigating the picketing and bad mouthing potential. If they start filing 3rd party claims, which is now allowed, a tremendous amount of time and effort will be wasted just going through the process,” Hall writes.

May 28, 2004: Ruble, in a memo to board members, said she was frustrated by Franklin’s comments at the City Commission meeting. She said the district had worked very hard to keep board members informed, as well as Granger, Buist and the union. She says Granger has found no irregularities with Buist payroll.

June 7, 2004: Ruble receives word that Claywell has filed an allegation of a prevailing wage violation against Buist on the LHS project (Claim #111758). The district is asked to provide relevant information. Ruble complies with information and documentation by June 16.

June 11, 2004: Ruble writes in a board memo that they had received and responded to the complaint. “This is not at that unusual I have been told. It is frustrating in the amount of time it takes to put together this response,” she writes.

Dec. 13, 2004: Tim Hall (Granger) writes to Claywell to tell him that Granger agrees in writing “to pursue additional exchange of prevailing wage information in a form which is mutually acceptable to ensure compliance with project specification and prevailing wage law.”

Jan. 3, 2005: Tim Hall writes a letter to Hugh Coward of the Southwest Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, noting in a previous meeting Coward’s urging for an independent review. In meetings with Ruble, Hall suggests the district select from several CPA firms to fulfill the independent review. The Building Trades would reimburse the fees and the company would remain anonymous to the union.

Jan. 7, 2005: Ruble tells board members in a memo that the district will offer the union a compromise. She says that the union’s insistence on having the Michigan Fair Contractors Center do the review is not impartial, because the non-profit’s board of directors has links to labor unions.

Jan. 13, 2005: Ruble receives three separate FOIA requests from Claywell asking for all construction change orders executed by Lakeview in the new high school project.

Jan. 27, 2005: After granted an extension, Kay Ferguson (Lakeview’s finance director) replies to Claywell. She states there have been no change order initiated by the contractors, and that the process is a mutual one in which joint meetings of district staff, architects and construction manager staff are convened to discuss.

Feb. 10, 2005: Ruble receives two FOIA requests relating to a change order involving Buist Electric and certificates for payment from Beta Design, the school’s architect. The change order dated 12/16/03 added $50,826 to the original $213,100 contact. Ruble maintains this change was due to a mistake by Beta Design in its initial design layout.

Feb. 18, 2005: Ruble, in a memo to board members, said that “John Borgert and Tim Hall have calmed me down a little around the IBEW.” Granger, she said, was working to allow Claywell to come to its offices in Lansing for a couple hours to personally review wage information.

Feb. 21, 2005: DeWayne Gregg (Granger) e-mails Ruble telling her that the high school site is being tampered with. In addition to “BC Central” being spraypainted on the wall, he said, electronic control modules were removed from variable frequency drives and thrown outside in the snow and stuck inside of transformer cabinets.

Feb. 22, 2005: Gregg confirms to Ruble in another e-mail that he believes “that the electrical vandalism was done by someone with some electrical knowledge and that it was union related.”

Feb. 24, 2005: Ruble fires off a letter to Claywell, telling him that Buist had agreed to allow him to come alone to Granger’s Lansing offices to review payroll. He would not be able to make copies or take notes. “Steve, if you agree to the plan outlined, I would hope that, unless you have evidence of a legitimate claim against one of our non-union contractors, this issue is resolved….I have worked hard to cooperate with you throughout this project and believe that following this visit our relationship will be a positive one, and I will be able to get back to my ‘real job’ teaching and learning.”

Feb. 25: Ruble alerts board members in a memo about the vandalism. “I believe that based on what was done that the vandal(s) had strong electrical knowledge and that leads me further to believe that this may have been union related…and that makes me MAD!!!”

March 18, 2005: Brent Brinks, VP of Buist Electric, writes to Ruble to tell her that the company has officially agreed to let Claywell review its payroll documents. Information will be limited to three one-week periods, fringe benefits will be limited to three sheets and it is a one-time-only deal.

April 8, 2005: Claywell writes Ruble to indicate that the change order he earlier FOIA’d did not have any documentation with regard to material and labor. “Cindy, with our open and honest relationship I would hope that you could provide me with any documentation or an explanation for these concerns. With the lack of information this $50,826 is still not accounted for. Without any more information than I have been provided it COULD appear to be some kind of a payback scheme or pre-arranged deal. I would hope this not to be the case but with so many unanswered questions one could wonder.”

April 12, 2005: Ruble responds to Claywell: “Steve I want to assure you that Granger Construction and the Lakeview School District administration is monitoring the project with a very close eye to detail to ensure that NO contractor is involved in a payback scheme. I can also state WITH CONVICTION that there are NO pre-arranged deals and I must honestly state that I was offended that you would even consider that let alone put it in writing.”

April 15, 2005: Tim Hall (Granger) e-mails Ruble to tell her that their meeting with Claywell to review payroll went well. “In general Steve indicated he was satisfied that we were very detailed and taking appropriate steps to ensure compliance…and I felt he left satisfied that there were no prevailing wage issues regarding Buist as a result.”

April 22, 2005: The DLEG writes to Buist to tell them they have been found in violation of prevailing wage on the LHS job. The report states Buist underpaid one employee by $10.56 during the audit period.

April 27, 2005: Brent Brinks (Buist) writes to Ruble to tell her that Buist has been found in violation. He states that by an internal audit, they actually overpaid a total of $371.22.

April 29, 2005: Ruble tells the board in a memo the results of the DLEG investigation. “I get a bit wound up when I think about the amount of time we spent, Granger staff spent, Buist spent and the Department of Labor spent putting together information and investigating the allegations. Buist continues to be one of the finest contractors on-site in terms of work ethic and ability to problem solve and resolve issues.”

May 5, 2005: Peter Westerhof, controller of Buist, sends a letter to the DLEG (CC’d to Ruble), claiming that its accounting was erroneous and that the company actually overpaid their employee. “We believe the Wage & Hour has significantly lowered the bar with respect to claim acceptance, evidentiary materials and audit procedures…Mr. Claywell’s IBEW expanded its attempts at economic terrorism by threatening to picket the Lakeview job site unless they were granted access to Buist Electric payroll records. Buist Electric relented due to our concern for all of the Lakeview site employees and their families. We are truly saddened that the IBEW would sacrifice the earnings of their brother union employees working on the job site simply for their own aggrandizement.”

May 16, 2005: After Claywell addresses the board, Dave Parker, member of IBEW Local 131 in Galesburg, addresses the board. He accuses Ruble of failing to live up to promises made by former Superintendent Bob Spencer. He says Spencer promised to include local labor on the high school project. “Everyone that is truly educated in the construction process understands that on prevailing wage work, when the labor rates are set by the State and there is a large difference in the final bids after bid opening, one of two things happened or will happen. The first and most often, is the low bidder missed something in their bid package. The second and almost as frequent is the low bidder cheats their workers on wages and benefits….We have already begun to use what is happening here in Lakeview School District as a model on “how not to do things” as we educate other Districts in the area about School construction. Cindi (sic), your actions are tainted in these matters to say the least.”

May 19, 2005: Tim Hall (Granger) writes to Ruble to express disappointment at Parker’s comments at the board meeting.

May 24, 2005: Ruble writes Claywell, Parker and Hugh Coward (Building Trades) to express her disappointment at Parker’s comments at the board meeting. She lists a timeline she has compiled to show how open and honest she has been with Claywell and Local 445. She estimates she had spent 30 hours addressing concerns from Local 445 and the Building Trades. She says Spencer made no commitments, either verbally or written, to area unions. “Mr. Parker, I want to assure you that the Lakeview School District Board of Education and I did not realize, until reading your letter, that from your perspective the relationship between this school district and the IBEW and the Building Trades had deteriorated and that the relationship needs to be reconciled. I believe if that were the case, we would not have awarded the new football stadium electrical contract to Union Electric.”

May 24, 2005: The DLEG Wage and Hour Division writes Peter Westerhof (Buist) to tell him that his self audit does not hold water. Buist is required to submit payment of $10.56 for one employee.

June 21, 2005: Westerhof writes the DLEG back stating that they will pay the fee under protest, acknowledging there is no recourse for appeal. During another self audit, they calculated the employee as being owed a total of $45.23, and found another employee who they had underpaid. They said they corrected that by submitting a retro payment of $260.


Volvo undeterred by UAW strike

Officials at Volvo Trucks North America said Wednesday it is resuming limited production of big-rig trucks at its Dublin (VA) factory. A spokesman for striking Volvo workers dismissed the company's claim as far-fetched.

Not only is the plant producing a limited supply of new trucks, but it is also exploring all options to resume full production without its unionized work force, which is on strike, Volvo President and Chief Executive Officer Per Carlsson said in an employee memo released to the media. But Lester Hancock, president of Local 2069 of United Auto Workers, said he believes the available work force inside the factory includes only 17 production workers, while 2,600 are on strike.

Hancock said Volvo will find it difficult to produce more than a few trucks a week with a crew that size, even if supplemented by salaried personnel as the company said it is doing.

And if the crew manages to produce a truck and sell it, Hancock said he "wouldn't want to be that customer."

The company said it is training nonassembly personnel in assembly methods to bolster the production capability. In addition, experienced quality control personnel are checking vehicles as they completed before shipment to dealers. About 300 people are working in the plant daily, it said.

Hancock expressed disbelief. He said the plant's normal daily output is 145 trucks through the combined efforts of 2,600 to 2,700 people.

"If you do the math, 17 people are probably not going to get one truck a week or three trucks a week at most," Hancock said.

Building a big rig involves "thousands of tasks," he emphasized. "With 17 people in there, it ain't going to happen."

Company spokesman John Mies said the production rate when the UAW went on strike Feb. 1 was slightly more than 100 trucks a day.

During roughly the first two weeks of the strike, the available labor force completed 180 already assembled trucks, and they were delivered to dealers.

Last week, the available labor force finished 46 additional trucks that were on the assembly line when the strike began, Mies said.

This week, the production line will resume operation on an intermittent basis "with an ambitious goal of ramping up to about 24 units per day over the next few weeks," the Carlsson letter said.

Hancock disagreed further. He said there weren't 180 assembled trucks awaiting completion when the strike began. Nor were there 46 trucks on the assembly line needing further attention.

Not only that, Hancock contends that the company's claim that it has shipped completed trucks is false because, he said, not a single completed truck has left the plant during the strike.

That said, negotiators for the union and company were looking Wednesday for a spot to resume talks for the first time since the strike began, Hancock said.

He said a suitable spot would probably be a hotel with sufficient room for multiple tables and accommodations for the negotiators.

The last time the two sides talked, it was at a Hilton in Charlotte, N.C., Hancock said. Asked to describe the setting, he said, "We had four different tables going at one time."


No reprieve for corrupt Hawai'i unionists

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal of the criminal conviction of former Hawai'i labor leader Gary Rodrigues. Rodrigues, the one-time head of the United Public Workers union and a powerful force in Isle labor and politics, was convicted in 2002 of more than 100 counts of criminal conduct including fraud, embezzlement, conspiracy, money laundering and acceptance of kickbacks.

In 2003, U.S. District Judge David Ezra sentenced Rodrigues to 60 months in prison and ordered him to pay fines and restitution totaling $450,000. Imposition of the sentence was delayed by a series of appeals.

Rodrigues began serving his prison sentence in January.

The defendant's last avenue of appeal, a "writ of certiorari" request to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case, was rejected by the high court last week.

Rodrigues' daughter, Robin Rodrigues Sabatini, was a co-defendant with him in the criminal case and was sentenced to 46 months behind bars.

Last October, Ezra rejected a request by Rodrigues to reduce his prison term to 33 months.

The judge ruled that evidence in the case "was overwhelming and sufficient to find beyond a reasonable doubt that (Rodrigues) engaged in abusing a position of trust, obstructed justice and laundered ... money,"

Federal prosecutors said that when Rodrigues took control of the UPW in 1981, he had "the best interests of the union and its members as his priority," building the union into "a large, politically significant" organization.

But that changed over the years, prosecutors said. Rodrigues "became greedy, autocratic, vindictive and tyrannical" and "clearly abused a position of trust," according to the government.


Workers in socialist state reject union

Workers employed by Stanley Associates voted Wednesday against joining a union at the federal immigration center in St. Albans (VT), the company said. Eric Wolking, a senior vice president of the Virginia-based company, said 140 employees voted 80-60 against joining the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America. The election was conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, which could not be reached to verify the results. A union representative did not return a telephone call.

Employees of Stanley and its subcontractors process immigration documents for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Wednesday's results left Stanley with a two-for-four record in union elections in St. Albans.

Workers employed by two subcontractors, Northrop Grumman Corp. and Choctaw Archiving Enterprise, voted to unionize earlier this year. Employees at a third subcontactor, Federal Working Group, rejected the union.

Wednesday's election involved employees who work directly for Stanley.

The company began its document-processing contract in December. Some employees were angered by Stanley's reclassification of about 100 positions, an action that led to an 11.7 percent cut in base pay.

"While we are satisfied with the results, we are ready to put this period behind us," Wolking said. "We appreciate the faith and confidence our employees demonstrated in Stanley by making a very difficult choice."


Community organizer takes over Assembly

Besting eight colleagues, Los Angeles Democrat Karen Bass secured enough votes Wednesday to become the next California Assembly speaker, making her the first African American woman to do so. Bass, 54, is expected to be formally elected today by both the 48-member Democratic caucus and the full Assembly. She will be considered "speaker designee" until she and current Speaker Fabian Nuñez, a fellow Los Angeles Democrat, agree on a transition date, said Nuñez spokesman Steve Maviglio.

Bass would become the second woman to serve as Assembly speaker. Doris Allen, a Republican, led the chamber from June to September 1995.

Nuñez's term in the Assembly expires in December; if Bass is reelected this year, she may serve through 2010.

Bass won pledges of support from a critical mass of Democrats in the lower house Wednesday, beating a pack of contenders for the speakership. Jousting for the leadership post began after voters defeated Proposition 93 on the Feb. 5 ballot. That measure would have allowed Nuñez and other legislators to seek reelection rather than be forced to leave their positions at the end of this year.

A community activist and physician's assistant whose Assembly seat is her first elected office, Bass is well regarded by her colleagues and has served as Nuñez's majority leader. She has focused on foster care issues since her 2004 election to represent the 47th Assembly District, which includes Baldwin Hills, Culver City and parts of Koreatown, South Los Angeles and the Westside.

"I just spoke to Karen a few minutes ago and congratulated her and wished her well," said Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), who had sought the speakership himself.

"It's a historic occasion, and I look forward to continuing to work with her to benefit the state of California," he said. "I know she's going to do a great job."

Though Nuñez had set a March 11 date for the Assembly's majority Democratic caucus to elect its new leader, Bass secured majority support Wednesday evening after Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) and Assemblyman Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) -- both speaker candidates -- gave her their backing. Nuñez then called members into his office one by one, and momentum behind Bass grew, Ma said.

"Karen and I have the same base of supporters," Ma said, "and it was very evident that she was committed to staying and being speaker."

Bass was not available for comment Wednesday night.

The post of speaker involves negotiating the budget and major public policy legislation with the governor, the Senate leader and the minority party leaders in both houses.

Besides Portantino, Ma and De Leon, other Democrats seeking the job had included Charles Calderon of Montebello, Hector De La Torre of South Gate, Mike Feuer of Los Angeles, Ed Hernandez of Baldwin Park and Alberto Torrico of Newark.

Earlier this month, senators chose Democrat Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento to replace Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata of Oakland later this year.

In throwing their support to Bass, members had to weigh her potential longevity in the job. Not only is she termed out in just two years, she may have the option next year of running for either a Los Angeles City Council or state Senate seat. Bass assured her colleagues that she would not depart early, according to Ma.

"She said she was committed to staying in the Assembly if she was elected speaker, and she really wanted to do this job," said Ma, who praised Bass' integrity and intelligence. "She is in public service for the right reasons. It was kind of her time."

Nuñez was elected speaker in his second year in the Assembly and has led the 80-member house since February 2004, the longest stint of any speaker since voters imposed term limits in 1990.

Raised in the Venice/Fairfax area, Bass taught in USC's physician's assistant program until the crack epidemic -- which she witnessed firsthand at the USC trauma center -- spurred her to create the Community Coalition, a nonprofit group that worked to close or convert liquor stores in South Los Angeles, attract more funding to local schools and organize residents.

Bass' only daughter, Emilia, was a 23-year-old newlywed just months shy of graduating from Loyola Marymount University when she and her husband, Michael Wright, also 23, were killed in a car crash near Los Angeles International Airport in 2006.


Special-ed teacher strike, day 2

Area public school officials say things are running well as the special education teachers' strike enters its second day today. “We're prepared to do whatever we have to do,” noted Saratoga Dist. 60C Superintendent Kathy Perry, saying school personnel are capably handling the classrooms. Saratoga's three self-contained special education classes are moving forward with resource personnel in charge, as are the early childhood classes, Perry said. She had no indication how long the strike - the first of its kind in Grundy County (IL) and the second in the state - will continue.

The 133 teachers walking the picket lines, all members of the Grundy County Education Association, were joined today in their protest by special education classroom aides from the affected schools. The teacher's aides are affiliated with a separate union, which is trying to negotiate an initial contract with the Grundy County Special Education Cooperative.

The GCEA is seeking a four-year contract, a first for the cooperative.

There are about 1,800 special education students under the Grundy County co-op.

Dr. Kent Bugg, superintendent of the Coal City Unit School District, noted the co-op, with whom the unions are bargaining for the contracts, is hopeful of working out agreements to get the special education professionals back in the classrooms with their students.

“Where we'd like them to be,” he said. “Other than that, we're trying to make the best of a bad situation.”

Bugg said the first day of the strike Tuesday was pretty quiet. He said the school district tried contacting parents of the students beforehand, letting them know what was happening.

“We sent letters to all our parents, and I personally called the parents whose children would be impacted in terms of not being able to go to school today or anything like that,” he said. “Which is a small percentage of our kids.”

Bugg believes the parents understand the Coal City school board does not have control of the situation, as the district is just one of the 12 member schools in the GCSEC.

“Basically, the school board has given me the charge to make sure the needs of our kids are met, and that's supposed to be my No. 1 priority,” he said.

“We've worked hard to try and do that. Once again, given the unfortunate circumstances, we would much rather have the teachers in the classrooms. That's what we hope happens very soon.”

The Coal City School District prepared earlier for the aides' walkout today.

“We'd rather have them in the classrooms also, but we've prepared for that,” Bugg said Tuesday. “We have a contingency plan in place, and we believe we have just about everything covered. I'm going to go over that again with my principals, but I think we'll be ready.”

Bugg noted school officials can never be totally prepared for this type of situation.

“But given the circumstances, our people have done a very good job, our community's been very supportive, and we're going to try to continue to meet the needs of our kids the best way we can,” he said.

“And, to keep holding out hope the teachers and aides are both back in the classroom soon.”

Morris Community High School continues to serve special education students who are housed at the schooldespite the tandem strikes.

However, about 15 MCHS students who attend classes in other locations were not served during the first day of the teacher's strike on Tuesday.

“For our in-house students, the majority of our special education students, there has been little impact,” Superintendent Pat Halloran said. He added that many of the special education students at the high school are main-streamed, or spend part or most of the school day in regular classrooms.

Halloran said the trainable mentally handicapped (TMH) students, who attended classes in other locations, and the students who attended the Alternative School in Morris were not served on Tuesday.

He estimated there were 15 students at MCHS who were not served Tuesday, unless their parents were able to make other arrangements.

Halloran added some of the students who attend the Alternative School also attend the Grundy Area Vocation Center, where classes met as usual.

Those students, he said, could have had a half-day of classes at the GAVC.

Minooka Consolidated School District 201 is continuing to serve 99 percent of its population, Superintendent Al Gegenheimer reported.

“We can't allow the strike to stop our children from receiving an education,” Gegen-heimer said.

“We will be working on staffing our buildings and getting all of the students services as soon as possible,” Gegenheimer said.

The superintendent reported he contacted approximately 40 parents to tell them their children would have to stay home for the time being.

He said the neediest children, including those with autism, behavior disorders, and educationally mentally handicapped, are within the group the district is still working to service.

“We have substitutes for the cross-category and learning disabled students,” said Gegenheimer. “We are coordinating with the co-op to find ways to staff the more-severe students. We are just trying to get from point A to point B.”

Minooka Community High School reported Monday it is currently asking around 30 children to stay home.

The high school refused further comment on any other strike matters, however, and referred the Morris Daily Herald to the co-op.

At Gardner Grade School, Superintendent Linda Dvorak reported, it was business as normal, with all but three students being serviced within the school.

“Our current staff stepped up and volunteered to help,” said Dvorak. “That, along with a few subs, made it possible for most of our students to receive service at the grade school.”

She said the families of the three students they couldn't service were called and asked to keep their children home until other arrangements could be made.

Superintendent Ann Chand-ler of Nettle Creek Elementary School noted classes are running well today, and the special education students are being serviced.

“We're providing servicing for those children,” she said. “We have people coming in and filling in.”

Chandler did not give the number of special education students enrolled at Nettle Creek, but said it was “a small handful.”

A prepared statement from Mazon-Verona-Kinsman Consolidated Grade School did not arrive prior to presstime today.

However, one staff member noted no picket lines were manned outside the school earlier today.

GCEA President Laura Cuchra said today the organization is meeting with parents of special education students at its strike headquarters, 212 W. Washington St., at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28.

She did not know if the meeting will be opened to the public.

Cuchra said the purpose is to make sure the parents are informed of the situation from the association's perspective, and that they are given information on what they may need to know regarding their special education students and the services they are or should be receiving.

She said letters sent to parents noted some of the students may be asked to stay home while the strike is in progress.

“Some parents are questioning that,” Cuchra said. “Our position is, no, they are violating the students' due process rights. But I'm not a lawyer, so I don't positively know that.

“These students do have rights, and we want to make sure their parents know what they can do regarding that provision.”

The GCEC is seeking a four-year contract. Major sticking points are insurance, sick leave, and salary.


UAW strike at American Axle idles GM workers

The strike at American Axle & Manufacturing is expected to force General Motors Corp. to idle its Pontiac Truck & Bus plant this afternoon. The plant is the first of potentially several GM factories that face a parts shortage if the UAW's strike against American Axle -- slated to stretch into its third day -- continues.

As the American Axle strike starts to ripple through operations of the supplier's largest customer, analysts say that pressure will mount against GM if the strike lasts for more than one or two weeks. But, for now, the Detroit automaker also seems to be prepared.

Ahead of the strike, GM had stockpiled parts, and dealer lots are still well-stocked with large trucks and SUVs for which American Axle supplies parts.

"In the short term there's not really an availability problem," said Tom Libby, senior director of industry analysis at J.D. Power & Associates. "I think for a few weeks, they're OK."

Between Dec. 1 and the middle of February, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra -- both made in Pontiac -- sat on lots for more than 85 days on average before being sold.

GM spokesman Tom Wickham confirmed the Pontiac shutdown Wednesday evening.

GM provided 80% of American Axle's sales last year. The automaker's full-size pickups and SUVs are the cornerstone of American Axle's business.

"The labor dispute effectively puts all full-frame production at General Motors at risk, including midsize and full-size pickups and SUVs, unless both sides can come to an agreement," according to a report from CSM Worldwide.
Strikers hopeful

The news that GM would have to idle its Pontiac plant briefly energized striking American Axle workers who braved 20-degree temperatures to continue their picketing Wednesday.

"It's good to see that there's already a supply disruption," said James Pavlik, 33, of Warren, an 11-year production worker.

But others were impatient about the strike's impact on customers' factories.

"Not enough plants are shutting down," said Mark Dietert, a 47-year-old press operator from Westland.

But he remains committed to fighting to preserve his good living: He said he has saved to withstand a 1-year strike.

"We don't have anything to lose," he said.

The UAW put most of its American Axle workers -- 3,600 people -- on strike Tuesday morning, protesting the company's proposed reductions for wages and benefits.

The company says it needs those concessions to compete with its rivals, which include in-house axle operations at automakers.

No talks were slated for Wednesday night, nor expected today.

GM spokeswoman Deborah Silverman declined to comment on whether GM has gotten involved in the talks.
GM's dual role

"GM is on both sides of this thing," said Richard Block, professor of labor and industrial relations at Michigan State University.

Block points out that it's in GM's interest that American Axle lower its costs. But, he said, to maintain its relationship with the UAW, GM wouldn't want to appear aggressive.

Meanwhile, the UAW filed a complaint against American Axle with the National Labor Relations Board on Tuesday, accusing the company of failing to offer enough information during negotiations.

American Axle contends that it has not violated any labor laws.

American Axle's demands, the UAW said, include lower wages for workers by about half, eliminating vision benefits and replacing future pension benefits with a 401(k) plan.

Financially American Axle is prepared to withstand a month-long strike, said Lehman Brothers auto analyst Brian Johnson in a note to investors.

The company is still collecting on parts it shipped in the last month, Johnson wrote.

"American Axle's very solid financial position makes us comfortable that the company is able to withstand a prolonged work stoppage," Johnson wrote.

So far, the strike hasn't affected the credit ratings at American Axle and GM, according to Standard & Poor's.

"We already expect GM's first-quarter production to be below year-earlier levels, which should provide some room for a short work stoppage," S&P said.

Even less vulnerable would appear to be Axle's No. 2 customer, Chrysler LLC. The Auburn Hills automaker, which uses American Axle parts in its Dodge Ram pickups, should not be affected for "a couple weeks," said spokeswoman Michelle Tinson.


Striking teachers shout leftist slogans

Empty classrooms, educators clashing with police, anxious students — a weeklong teachers strike in Puerto Rico is dealing a blow to a public school system already struggling to reach U.S. benchmarks and reduce the highest dropout rate in America.

The union that represents the island's 42,000 public school teachers declared the strike on Feb. 20 after 30 months of negotiations to increase salaries and address shortages of books, computers and other materials reached a deadlock. The government of this U.S. island territory is refusing to return to the table until the walkout ends.

On Wednesday, there was little sign that the strike is fizzling.

Protesters jeered teachers who insisted on going to their classrooms, even as many students stayed home. Riot police from the special Tactical Operations Unit were guarding several schools, said Benjamin Rodriguez, the unit's director.

In the western city of Mayaguez, students protested outside a school to demand that teachers return to the classroom. In San Juan, about 300 people demonstrated outside the Department of Labor in support of the strike.

The walkout may force students to catch up during the scorching Caribbean summer — if the semester isn't lost completely.

Elizabeth Herrera, an 18-year-old senior at the Gabriela Mistral school in San Juan, worried the strike will keep her from graduating on time.

"They say this will help things, but it's not helping anything," Herrera said. "It's hurting us."

The strike comes as the U.S. Education Department, which funds Puerto Rico's education system, is demanding better results from public schools attended by more than half a million students — most of whom live below the poverty line.

U.S. Deputy Education Secretary Raymond Simon has warned that many are not learning "basic and essential skills," noting that island students are behind low-income students on the U.S. mainland in standardized math tests.

Puerto Rican public school students did not take national English-language reading tests for fourth- and eighth-graders because classes here are in Spanish.

The high school graduation in Puerto Rico rate is 60 percent, although some experts say it is higher because some students transfer to school on the U.S. mainland. The U.S. national average is 80 percent.

Some parents accused strikers of being selfish, even though many support their demand to raise teachers' starting yearly base salary of $19,200 — about a third less than the mainland average.

Omayra Sebastian, whose two children attend a public school in the western coastal town of Boqueron, said they have been unsettled by news footage of clashes between police and picketers.

"There is a lot of uncertainty," Sebastian said. "They are always asking what is going to happen with their school."

The strike has not affected private schools, which are attended by 27 percent of Puerto Rican students.


AFSCME slaps city with $125K legal bill

An agreement has been reached regarding attorney compensation in a lawsuit filed by Local 2957 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees against the city of Benton (AR), members of the 2003 City Council and Mayor Rick Holland.

The city lost the suit and subsequent appeals, but will not be responsible for the lawyers’ fees, City Attorney Brent Houston said. “This payment is not coming from city coffers,” Houston said. The money is coming from the Central Arkansas Risk Management Association, which essentially is the city’s liability carrier.

According to an e-mail from CARMA attorney David Fuqua, the AFSCME attorneys, James E. Nickels and Pamela Walker, have agreed to a payment of $125,000 plus out-of-pocket costs.

An e-mail from Walker stated that she and Nickels are agreeing to “waive the interest ordered on the judgment for costs.”

The suit stemmed from the City Council’s decision to discontinue paying retiree insurance which had been agreed to in a union contract and which had been the city’s ongoing practice for many years.

The 2003 council, during a budgetary crisis, decided to cut the number of vacation days and to eliminate the retiree insurance benefit.

“The only money the city has been out on this lawsuit occurred early on when the city was represented by the Arkansas Municipal League,” Houston said. “The city paid the Municipal League $3,000 for our defense. After that CARMA took over representation and once that occurred, the city wasn’t out any more attorney fees.”

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis recently rejected the city’s latest appeal of the suit, which was filed by 29 members of the AFSCME local and three retired employees. The recent decision marked the third time a court has ruled against the city.

A settlement was made with the three retired employees toward the end of 2006, Houston said.

“No payment will have to be made now with the plaintiffs, because no one has retired,” Houston said. “Wheb they retire, the city will have topay the benefits.”

The three plaintiffs who have retired were paid the present value of what the benefit was believed to have cost,” Houston said.

Houston and Fuqua have contacted Little Rock attorney Robert Newcomb in regard to a second suit filed by retired police detective Dan Garner and others to attempt to settle that suit.

The issue was discussed briefly in a City Council meeting Monday night, but no decisions were made regarding payment to these plaintiffs.


Progs attack Dem over school-choice

Unionized teachers in Portland (OR) have questions for Jeff Merkley, a candidate in the May Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, after WWire reported on Monday the powerful state lawmaker considered sending his son to a charter school in 2004.

While such an event in a candidate’s role as a parent from four years ago may not seem significant, it deals with one of the most contentious issues facing the statewide teachers union, the Oregon Education Association. Backers of charter schools—independently run, but publicly funded schools that are required to have only 50 percent of their teachers licensed by the state—say the schools don’t traditionally have huge support from the OEA or Oregon Democrats.

What’s more, the news comes just before the 48,000-member union meets March 7 to decide whom it’s endorsing in the May 20 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. So far Merkley, the House Speaker, has thoroughly trounced activist Steve Novick in winning union endorsements, key assets in a Democratic primary.

And the OEA nod is big because the union represents 2.5 percent of registered voters and can bring large donations to any race.

OEA lobbyist Laurie Wimmer Whelan minimized news about Merkley’s charter school interest, saying teachers can separate Merkley’s public record from his private actions.

But here’s why Merkley’s union dues could become union blues: Some voters, including teachers, consider charter schools to be union-busting endeavors, because charter schools aren’t required to participate in collective bargaining. In 1999, Merkley opposed Senate Bill 100, the state’s charter school law, which included that provision.

Yet in 2004, Merkley and his wife, Mary Sorteberg, submitted paperwork to the Arthur Academy charter school in Southeast Portland on behalf of their then-8-year-old son, according to leading charter-school advocate Rob Kremer who saw the form.

“I was pleasantly surprised…[he] was interested in enrolling his kid in a charter school, given that he had voted against charter schools at every opportunity,” says Kremer.

The Arthur Academy is not unionized.

“It’s not a point in favor in my eyes,” says Doug Winn, an English teacher at Grant High School in Northeast Portland, about Merkley’s interest. “It’s not great.”

Teacher Deborah Krum at Roosevelt High School in North Portland agreed. “It sounds like enough to raise a question,” Krum says.

Merkley campaign spokesman Matt Canter did not deny Merkley and his wife inquired into the charter school for their son. But he said questions about a candidate’s child represent “the worst kind of politics.”

“At some point, Jeff’s wife had heard about the school and, like any parent, they decided to just check it out,” Canter says. “But they never seriously considered sending their son there.”

The OEA says it doesn’t oppose the concept of charter schools. But its actions suggest a different story.

In 1999, the union fought against SB 100, and wanted stricter rules in place to govern charter schools.

The OEA has continued to express reservations about Oregon’s public charter schools. As recently as 2007, the OEA tried with Senate Bill 621 to force charter schools to employ only licensed teachers, a move charter-school advocates watered down, then killed.

Canter defends Merkley and points to his candidate’s education record in Salem.

“Jeff has received a 100 percent rating for the last session from the OEA,” Canter says. “He has met face to face with many members across the state to talk about what he has done to raise funding for public schools, to expand Head Start and what his plans will be to completely overhaul No Child Left Behind and put control in the hands of teachers.”

“And from what we’ve heard from teachers—and we speak to them every single day on this campaign,” Canter says, “those issues will matter a great deal more.”

Teacher Sandra Childs from Franklin High School in Southeast Portland agreed. She says a private decision on behalf of one’s child should be looked at differently than a public record. She didn’t, however, discount Merkley’s decision entirely.

“I might want to ask him why he made that decision,” Childs says. “I might want to first ask him about other things.”

Wimmer Whelan, the OEA lobbyist, says she’s not sure how the OEA’s entire membership will view Merkley’s action in 2004. But she adds, “I think they would look at his entire record, and he’s been a passionate advocate for public education.”

On Feb. 25, School Board members with Portland Public Schools renewed the charter for another Arthur Academy in Portland. But board member Ruth Adkins acknowledged the controversy still swirling in Oregon around charter schools, which have the advantage of paying their non-unionized teachers less money.

“I do continue to question the charter school system, which I consider to be in direct competition with neighborhood schools,” Adkins told the other board members.


Decertified News Union still wants to negotiate

Packaging workers at The San Diego Union-Tribune who have been trying to negotiate a union contract for the past 2½ years protested yesterday outside the newspaper's Mission Valley offices and demanded that management return to the bargaining table. Pat Marrinan, the paper's manager of labor relations, said contract issues are moot because the company withdrew its recognition of the union Monday after receiving a decertification petition signed by a majority of workers in the department.

Union officials said they plan to challenge the petition by filing an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Officials with the Graphic Communications Conference of the Teamsters Union also said they were unhappy with an ultimatum made several weeks ago by managers to accept pay cuts and benefits reductions.

The company's 154 packaging workers insert printed advertisements into newspapers. A majority of the workers voted in June 2005 to be represented by the union.


Mandatory union dues used for attack politics

As Albertans get ready to go to the polls on March 3, 2008 another political battle is heating up, one that pits the National Citizens Coalition and Merit Contractors Association of Alberta against the Alberta Building Trades Council (ABTC) and the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).

In the run up to the provincial election, the Alberta Building Trades Council (ABTC) and the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) sponsored a campaign called ‘Albertans for Change.’ The campaign questioned the leadership abilities of Conservative party leader Ed Stelmach. Organizers didn’t disclose the cost of the attack ads; however, critics of the campaign estimate it cost about $1 million for prime-time TV spots and full-page newspaper ads.

In response to this campaign, the National Citizens Coalition and Merit Contractors Association of Alberta launched a counterstrike. The message of this counter campaign is that the unions have a secret plan, forcing workers to contribute to political ad campaigns and using their dues to finance non-workplace activities.

The AFL launched a second campaign on Feb 14, called “Show Us the Plan,” which sent 130,000 homes direct mail with the message that the Conservatives lack direction on oil-patch development and the environment.

Show Us the Plan is a separate but complementary campaign to the Albertans for Change campaign.

The AFL is sponsoring this second campaign along with the ABTC and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

On Feb. 27, Merit Contractors Association of Alberta launched a second counter-offensive, which challenges union leaders behind the Albertans for Change coalition to come clean about their secret agenda for Alberta.

“For the first time in Alberta’s history, union leaders are aggressively spending mandatory union dues to try to unseat a provincial government with expensive American-style attack ads,” said Stephen Kushner, president of Merit Contractors Association.

“These ads have nothing to do with Alberta’s labour laws or workplaces. Merit believes union leaders have a secret hidden agenda that if implemented will not be good for Albertans.”

The largest union organization in Alberta is encouraging its members to end the long rule of the Conservatives in the province.

“For the first time in more than 30 years, a Conservative victory is not a foregone conclusion,” said Gil McGowan, AFL president. “It’s at times like these that citizens can really flex their democratic muscles and demand more from politicians. That’s exactly what we’re encouraging our members to do.”

The Show Us The Plan campaign and the leaflets sent to homes make the case that the Stelmach Conservatives have failed to articulate a clear vision for Alberta’s oilsands-driven economy.

The campaign argues that the Tories have not adequately addressed the rising cost of living, infrastructure development and over-burdened public services.

It also says there is the potential for thousands of Alberta jobs to be “shipped down the pipeline” to upgraders and refineries in the U.S.

“This election is pivotal for the future of our province,” McGowan said.

“We want our members to understand the importance of the issues and the important roll they have as voters in setting the future direction for our province.”

In response to the labour unions campaign, the ads produced by Merit argue that the “Albertans for Change” is nothing more than an Albertan version of the “Working Families” special interest organization set up by Ontario union leaders to help Ontario Liberals gain power in 2003 and get re-elected in 2007.

“The payback costs in Ontario were high – especially in the construction industry,” said Kushner.

After being elected, Dalton McGuinty’s government rewrote Ontario’s labour laws that, among other things, took away the right of construction workers to have a secret ballot vote on unionization.

Even though the Albertans for Change ads say nothing about changing Alberta’s labour laws, the Merit spokesman said they believe that the legislative proposals of the organizations financing the ads call for similar changes to be made in Alberta.

“This election is similar in tone to recent Ontario elections when labour laws were not debated. Yet, after reading the platforms of both opposition parties, it’s clear they have bought into the union leaders’ demands,” said Kushner.

“Albertans should know this information when they cast their ballots on March 3 and not let union leaders tell them how to vote.”

The AFL said they just want to encourage their members to seize this moment and help lead the way toward a new and better Alberta.

“It’s important to note that in all of our campaign efforts, we’re not trying to tell people who to vote for.” McGowan said.

“What we’re trying to do instead is provide our members with the tools they need to cast informed ballots. We are convinced that, together, Albertans can turn up the heat on our politicians and get better government and a better future in return.”

The leaders of the main political parties include Ed Stelmach of the Conservatives, Kevin Taft of the Liberals, Brian Mason of the NDP and Paul Hinman of the Wildrose Alliance.

All of these parties are promising to bring change to Alberta.


Non-union auto makers excel

Ford and General Motors vehicles garnered more than a third of the Lemon Law complaints lodged by Hawaii consumers in 2007 -- double their local market share. Toyota, which commands 30 percent of the Hawaii market, and Honda, second with 14.5 percent, both saw considerably fewer complaints than their market share.

The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, which released the data yesterday, said Hawaii's Lemon Law program helped consumers obtain replacement vehicles and refunds totaling more than $490,000 last year stemming from 66 complaints.

The year before, the agency handled 71 complaints, recovering more than $1 million; in 2005 there were 80 complaints and $919,000 recovered.

Market share figures are for new retail cars and light trucks registered in Hawaii in 2007 as reported in the Hawaii Auto Outlook, a trade publication of the Hawaii Auto Dealers Association.

The two American manufacturers each received 12 complaints, or 18.2 percent of the total 66 complaints received. The figures were more than double Ford's market share of 8.9 percent and GM's market share of 8.8 percent.

Toyota, with 17,944 newly registered vehicles, and Honda, with 8,644 vehicles, each had only five complaints, or 7.6 percent of the complaints received. Four of the five Toyota complaints were later withdrawn.

Other manufacturers that received a double-digit percentage of complaints compared to the 66 received were Nissan, with 13.6 percent of the complaints and 12.8 percent of the market, and Chrysler, with 12.1 percent of the complaints with 6.1 percent of the market.

Lemon law statistics are compiled annually by the State Certified Arbitration Program staff to assist consumers and manufacturers. More information can be found at www.hawaii.gov/ dcaa/rico.


Strike-happy nurses union at it again

Registered nurses at 11 Sutter Health hospitals in the Bay Area are scheduled to vote this week and next on whether to authorize a third strike in recent months against Sutter, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee said Wednesday.

The Oakland-based nurses' union cited a "hostile" bargaining attitude by Sacramento-based Sutter, which has long tangled with CNA and the Service Employees International Union over union representation and other issues. The union said 300 nurses at the Sutter Solano Medical Center in Vallejo voted first, and "overwhelmingly" approved authorizing the bargaining team to call a strike of up to 10 days.

Previous strikes in October and December lasted two days each, although some Sutter hospitals locked out striking nurses for an additional three days and hired temporary replacements.

"The voting ends March 7 and we would need to give a 10-day notice" to strike, said union spokesman Shum Preston. He said most of the hospitals' two-year contracts with CNA expired last June.

Sutter spokeswoman Karen Garner went on the offensive, saying the union "has misleadingly claimed" its strikes are over staffing, patient care or retirement benefits. Sutter hospitals' contract proposals "meet and, in most cases, exceed what CNA has agreed to with other hospitals in these areas," she said, adding that the most significant difference between Sutter hospitals' proposals and contracts with other hospitals "is the lack of systemwide union organizing language at Sutter." In addition, Garner argued that CNA's leaders are attempting to increase union membership at Sutter to "collect a $4 million windfall" in new dues money, resulting in a total of $11 million in annual dues from Sutter nurses.

Further, she said, "in new Sutter-affiliated facilities that are opened within 30 to 50 miles of any other Sutter Health facility, the union wants to take away the right of nurses to vote for themselves whether or not to be represented by CNA."

Kevin McCormack, a spokesman for California Pacific Medical Center and St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco, said, "It's disappointing that CNA is going this route again -- thinking of strikes rather than talks," or instead of giving nurses a chance to vote on the hospitals' existing offers.

Hospitals potentially affected by a strike vote include St. Luke's and California Pacific Medical Center, San Leandro Hospital, Alta Bates-Summit Medical Center in Berkeley and Oakland, Burlingame's Peninsula Medical Center, Castro Valley's Eden Medical Center, Antioch's Sutter Delta Medical Center, Sutter Solano, Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa, Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae, and Novato Community Hospital.

CNA said the possible walkouts focus on "serious issues of patient safety and patient care," along with health benefits for nurses. The union represents 5,000 RNs at Sutter's Bay Area hospitals, and about 80,000 nationwide.

Sutter has come under fire recently for problems involving staffing when RNs are on what the union calls "legally mandated meal, rest or bathroom breaks." CNA is also concerned about Sutter's plans to close acute-care facilities at St. Luke's and Sutter Santa Rosa Medical Center, as well as reported plans to do the same at San Leandro Hospital, which is affiliated with Sutter's Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley. In addition, the union says, Sutter has declined to "agree to fair settlements" on issues such as health benefits, retiree health benefits and pensions.

CNA said it's proposed that Sutter agree to include specific RN-to-patient staffing ratios in the new contracts, to cap the number of hours that charge nurses are used for break relief, and to assign all patients to an RN.

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