Pro-union mandates make a financial nightmare

I had to read the article, "Bill would unionize baby-sitting grannies," (Feb. 28) twice before I could actually believe that California pays for inter-family day care. I have a daughter who works very hard. And I have the privilege of watching my granddaughter a couple of days each week. Why any reasonable parent would require their child to pay them in order to help that child through a rough period of their life just flabbergasts me.

Now the morons in Sacramento want to make a bad situation worse by making taxpayers pay union dues. These dues that will go directly to the SEIU coffers and allow the union to bribe more government officials. Government officials who will then pass more inane laws. The insanity of this program and policymakers trying to worsen it demonstrates why California is in a financial nightmare.



Packs of union organizers patrol Ohio streets

The stretch run in what is surely the most intense, most thrilling and, by far, most expensive Ohio presidential primary in history began today, with one of the most tried-and-true of campaign tactics – a good, old-fashioned ground war. From Cincinnati to Ashtabula, in every big city neighborhood and rural route in the state, thousands of volunteers for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fanned out in search of every single vote they could find. In campaign shorthand, it’s called GOTV – Get Out The Vote.

The need to find every voter possible is particularly acute for Clinton – trailing in the delegate count and desperately needing wins in Ohio and Texas, the other big state up for grabs Tuesday – to keep her candidacy afloat.

Three weeks ago, the polling in Ohio’s Democratic primary showed Clinton with a lead in the neighborhood of 20 percentage points, a lead that has eroded to the point where one poll – a Reuters/Cspan/Zogby poll – shows the Ohio race a dead heat.

The action has been almost entirely on the Democratic side; with Republican front-runner John McCain leading Mike Huckabee by an average of 30 percentage points in the polls, neither GOP contender has put much effort into the primary.

With the hours before polls open in Ohio dwindling to a precious few, the race is not so much about rallies and speeches and 30-second TV ads as it is about reaching voters on-by-one, where they live, and convincing them to vote.

That is why, this morning, armies of volunteers for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, armed with detailed block-by-block lists of Democratic voters, fanned out in neighborhoods and subdivisions all over Southwest Ohio to knock on doors and make their pitch.

The Obama campaign launched a campaign it calls “One Million for Change” – a plan to knock on 1 million doors across Ohio in the final four days.

“It’s all about getting to voters and getting them out,” said Kwaise Mfume, the former Maryland congressman and former NAACP president who came to Cincinnati today to campaign for Obama, making the rounds of barber shops and beauty parlors in some of Cincinnati’s African-American neighborhoods. “As someone who won his first election by three votes, I know every vote counts.”

Clinton’s campaign is countering with its “88 Counties, 88 Hours to Victory” effort, an ambitious plan to hold events in all 88 Ohio counties, starting with a rally in Mansfield Friday featuring former President Bill Clinton.

“Hillary is going to be a president for all Americans and that is why we are taking this campaign to every corner of the Buckeye State,” said Robby Mook, the Clinton campaign’s Ohio director.

While volunteers by the thousands worked for both candidates today, the candidates themselves were in Texas, although both plan to return to Ohio today. Sunday.

Instead of campaigning here themselves today, Obama and Clinton sent a host of well-known surrogates to stump for them and help with the grassroots efforts.

Obama had a Cincinnati native, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, traveling northern Ohio. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was in Youngstown while actor Kal Penn did college rallies at Ohio State University, Denison University and Ohio Wesleyan University.

Clinton, of course, had her husband and daughter stumping the state. The former president held rallies in Lake County, while Chelsea Clinton went to Case Western University in Cleveland. The former president’s secretary of state, Madeline Albright, was to meet with University of Cincinnati students tonight and headline a Clinton brunch Sunday in Walnut Hills.

As important as the final push is to both campaigns, an unprecedented number of Ohioans will have already cast their votes by the time polls open at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, under Ohio’s absentee ballot system. Ohio elections officials expect that, by the end of business Monday, about 800,000 Ohioans will have voted by mail or at their county boards of elections. And much of that is accounted for by the fact that both the Obama and Clinton campaigns have pushed hard for “early voting.”

By 10 a.m. today, a few hundred voters had streamed in and out of the Hamilton County Board of Elections downtown. By the time voting shut down at noon, 583 voters had cast their ballots there, along with about 200 provisional ballots.

“It’s been incredible; there’s never been anything like this,” said Diane Goldsmith, a Hamilton County elections administrator.

The canvassing and phone-banking began in earnest early today.

By 8:30 a.m., dozens of Obama volunteers were gathering in an empty storefront at Jordan’s Crossing in Bond Hill, carefully preparing stacks of door-hangers for those who would walk the streets of Cincinnati’s central city neighborhoods all morning long.

The Clinton campaign was operating phone banks today at the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers offices, the homes of area supporters and at the Painters Union Hall in Lockland, where the Clinton campaign has its Cincinnati headquarters.

At the noon hour, about two dozen women sat around tables in the union hall, marking voters off voter lists – some using landlines, others using their own cell phones.

Lauren Woudenberg, a 64-year-old Clinton supporter from Montgomery, was on the phone with an elderly woman voter: “Yes, you’re right, Hillary can hold her own with the big boys. Yes. Good. Please vote. I can’t emphasize how important it is that you get out and vote. She needs every vote.”

Woudenberg said she has worked a number of five-hour shifts at Clinton headquarters.

“I’ll do everything I can to get her elected, because I believe she is simply the best candidate, the best prepared to be president,” Woudenberg said.

The Obama campaign had supporters gathering at eight locations in Hamilton, Butler and Warren counties today for door-to-door canvassing.

At Jordan’s Crossing, at least two dozen Obama volunteers were members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), who had come in from all over the country to help the Obama effort. They came from as far away as Seattle and as close by as Louisville.

“I’m going back home tonight, but I’ll be back Monday to help some more,” said Jesse Harris, a UFCW member from Louisville. “I believe in this candidate and I’ll do whatever I can to help him.”


Teachers strike leaders disregard decertification

Public school teachers will continue striking for higher pay and better working conditions despite a court decision validating the government's decertification of their union, a labor leader said Sunday. Striking teachers will disregard a Friday court ruling that backed a decision by the government labor relations to decertify their union because a core group of its members authorized a walkout, Teachers Federation President Rafael Feliciano said.

The union declared a strike on Feb. 20 after 30 months of negotiations to boost salaries and address book, computer and other shortages reached a deadlock. It plans to appeal the court's 37-page ruling affirming the board's decision to support decertification, Feliciano said.

Nothing in the law would meanwhile prevent Puerto Rican Education Secretary Rafael Aragunde from meeting with union leaders, as they have requested, Feliciano said. Aragunde has refused to negotiate until the walkout ends.

In a statement issued Sunday, Aragunde urged parents to send their children to school on Monday, which will be the eighth day of work stoppage. The ongoing strike is causing students to fall behind, he said, warning that college-bound seniors would be especially hampered by any extension of the academic calendar to make up for missed classes during summer months.

About 83 percent of teachers went to class on Friday, along with 53 percent of the public school system's 500,000 students, Aragunde said. Feliciano estimated teacher attendance was in fact about 50 percent. Public school teachers, who have been without a contract for more than two years, earn a starting yearly salary of US$19,200 (¤12,659) _ lower than in any U.S. state. Some have accused the union of ordering the walkout prematurely, while others expressed fear they could be fired under a local law that bans any disruption of public education.

The walkout has not affected private schools, which 27 percent of Puerto Rican students attend.


Teacher unions oppose parents on merit pay

Many teachers hate the idea of tying their pay to student scores on standardized tests. But a St. Petersburg Times education survey finds many parents do not share their disdain. When asked what they thought should be the most important factor in determining teacher pay, 30 percent of respondents with children in Florida schools picked standardized test scores, while 32 percent chose years of experience and level of college degree. Two other choices got much lower responses.

"That teacher has to somehow be rewarded or not rewarded for their actions," said Betty Lininter, 61, a retired nurse who cares for a niece attending Lecanto Middle School in Citrus County. "It shouldn't automatically be, 'You're here five years, you get this.' If your kids aren't passing, there's something wrong."

The results come just as the issue of performance pay - one of the most talked about education initiatives in the country - is again heating up in Florida.

Key lawmakers are frustrated that only seven of the state's 67 county school districts signed up for the state's performance-pay bonus plan, called the Merit Award Program. Apparently so is Gov. Charlie Crist, who unveiled a proposal last week that seeks to prod districts into participating by sweetening the financial pot.

Meanwhile, questions about MAP continue to mount. The Times reported Feb. 24 that the vast majority of bonuses awarded to Hillsborough teachers went to more affluent schools. The story raised questions about both the formula for MAP - which is based on test scores and principal evaluations - and the distribution of top teachers.

Lee-Roy Marks, whose daughter attends Pleasant Grove Elementary in Inverness, said paying teachers based on their experience makes sense. Veteran teachers "know what works and what doesn't," he said.

He and other parents also said awarding bonuses on scores from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test - which is the case for many teachers participating in MAP - gives even more weight to a test they think is already overemphasized.

"It's not the kid anymore," Marks said. "It's the test."

In Florida and beyond, teacher pay hinges almost entirely on years on the job and level of academic degree. Backers of performance pay think if pay is instead tied to student performance, teachers will work harder and smarter, with better teachers earning bigger paychecks and more students getting up to snuff academically.

Opponents worry that performance pay will introduce a corrosive competition into what is often a team effort. And even some supporters concede that rating teachers by student test scores can be dicey.

The Times survey found the vast majority of Florida parents gave their children's teachers high marks 46 percent rated them as excellent and 34 percent said good. They also agreed by large margins that the average Florida teacher salary of about $46,000 over 10 months was not enough. (Sixty-five percent said it was too low, while 31 percent said it was appropriate.)

On performance pay, the survey found parents with children in school were more supportive of tying test scores to pay than the public at large.

Both parents and respondents overall ranked student test scores as their No. 1 choice when asked which of five options they thought was the best measure of teacher quality. But when asked what should be the biggest factor in determining teacher pay, 18 percent of the public chose test scores, compared with 30 percent of parents.

Supporters found the numbers encouraging, but not surprising.

"Most parents work for a living in an environment where their pay is directly related to performance," said Rep. Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, chairman of the House Education Council.

Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the state teachers' union, wasn't surprised either.

"Maybe parents want to have their children taught by someone who is both experienced and can get results by the only gauge that you gave them an option on, which is standardized tests," he said. "That doesn't strike me as odd."

A battery of surveys shows teachers have mixed feelings about performance pay, with some showing negative feelings toward systems that factor in test scores. Last year, for example, a teacher survey in Washington state found only 17 percent approved of such a system.

In Hillsborough, a survey of teachers released last fall found 49 percent agreed or strongly agreed that performance pay for individual teachers was a positive change, compared with 28 percent who disagreed or strongly disagreed.

But the same survey, by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University, also found that nearly two-thirds of Hillsborough teachers believed performance pay would "destroy the collaborative culture of teaching," while 85 percent said state and local officials should be more concerned about raising base pay. The MAP bonuses in Hillsborough were $2,100.

In a twist, the Times survey also asked how involved parents should be in evaluating teachers. Few, if any, performance pay systems factor parent evaluations into the mix.

But 91 percent of the public at large, and 95 percent of parents, thought parents should have a say.

The Times survey was administered to 702 registered voters Feb. 6 through Feb. 10 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.


UAW-American Axle strikers misled

Striking workers at American Axle & Manufacturing face a tough fight as the auto parts maker seeks deep cuts in their wages and benefits. Slumping U.S. auto sales, wage-reduction deals at other companies and American Axle’s growing global presence all affect the bargaining climate for the workers who walked out in the Buffalo area and Michigan last Tuesday.

A quick resolution is not expected. About 3,650 United Auto Workers members are on strike against the parts supplier, including more than 500 from two active plants in the Buffalo area. No new talks are scheduled, and each side said it was waiting for the other to act first.

On the surface, it would seem General Motors Corp. would create pressure for a settlement, since GM accounts for about 80 percent of American Axle’s business.

American Axle had stockpiled parts for its customers ahead of the strike. But by Friday, GM had been forced to idle four of its assembly plants, raising questions about whether its stockpile of parts already was running short.

Even so, the weak auto market could reduce any sense of urgency for GM. U.S. vehicle sales have been in a rut, leaving a plentiful supply of the GM trucks and SUVs that use American Axle parts.

GM has an average of 115 days’ supply at plants supplied by American Axle, according to data collected by Automotive News. That’s almost double the industry practice of keeping a 60-day supply available.

“If [vehicles] were selling, the strike would be settled,” said Arthur Wheaton, director of Buffalo labor studies for Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Striking workers are also feeling pressure on their wages, which the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, Richard Dauch, argues are far higher than workers at competitors like Delphi and Dana receive.

According to the UAW, the company wants to cut workers’ wages from $28 per hour to $14 per hour. Dauch says the UAW agreed to wage-cutting moves at Dana and Delphi and should do the same at American Axle.

Wheaton said there is a difference in those examples. Both Delphi and Dana filed for bankruptcy, while American Axle turned a profit last year, albeit a relatively slight one of $37 million on $3.2 billion in sales.

And while the UAW agreed to wage-reduction deals with GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC, the lower wages were designated only for new hires in certain jobs, not for existing workers.

American Axle and the UAW are at odds over more than wage and benefit offers, which could prolong the strike. The union claims the company hasn’t shared the financial documents it needs to see to evaluate American Axle’s situation. The company says it has given the union all the documents it is entitled to. The union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the issue.

The strike has also raised questions about American Axle’s plans for its Buffalo-area plants.

American Axle reportedly proposed closing its forge in the Town of Tonawanda and its machining plant in Cheektowaga, along with officially shutting its idled Buffalo plant and closing one facility in Michigan.

Under those circumstances, Wheaton said, it is not surprising the Buffalo- area workers would strike. “If one of the options is closing you down, what do you have to lose?” he asked.

American Axle isn’t strictly a U.S. company anymore, compared to when it was founded in 1994. It now has 10,000 employees at 30 facilities worldwide.

And while the company’s overall work force is 33 percent larger than at its formation, American Axle has trimmed its U.S. hourly work force by almost half since 2004, after two buyout programs and worker attrition.

Its local work force was cut in half last year after 558 workers at the now-idled East Delavan plant accepted buyouts. American Axle’s current area employment is only about a quarter of what it was a decade ago, when 2,400 local workers had jobs at its plants here.

In a conference call with auto analysts a few weeks ago, Dauch praised the company’s ever-growing manufacturing plant in Mexico, which he called the center of the company’s North American expansion efforts.

Within the next three to five years, Dauch said the company expects its Guanajuato, Mexico, site to become the company’s “largest and most diverse manufacturing facility.” He also lauded its forging operation in Mexico as “world class,” adding: “There is not a better forging operation in the world than our location.”

By 2012, the company expects its non-U.S. manufacturing activity to grow to more than 50 percent, as it adds or expands plants in places like Poland, Brazil, China, Thailand and India.

Where does all of this global expansion leave the operations in Tonawanda and Cheektowaga? Wheaton said it is not just the company’s growth in places like Mexico that puts the future of the Buffalo-area plants at risk. The company has about six times as many workers at its Michigan plants as it does here. If it decided to consolidate its U.S. operations to reduce costs, Michigan would clearly have the upper hand, he said.

Dauch told a Detroit News columnist last week that American Axle’s five core plants, including the three in the Buffalo area, have had “drastic red-ink performance.” He cited declining production volumes and the company’s inability to hire workers at lower, “second-tier” wages as the reasons.

At the start of the strike, the company stated it would continue to invest in its original U.S.locations if a “market-competitive labor cost structure” was agreed to. Without that, the company warned, its ability to compete for future business or retain business at those locations “is in immediate jeopardy.”

Wheaton said the striking workers’ best option for pressing their case probably lies in trying to win over public opinion based on how they support the local economy, in everything from tax rolls to car purchases to restaurants.

“It has to be a community response,” Wheaton said. “They have to get the entire community involved.”


UAW strikers blame politicians for walkout

Up and down the snowy picket lines, UAW members on strike against American Axle & Manufacturing Inc. say their fight to maintain good, working-class jobs is, in part, a struggle against the relentless tide of global free trade -- especially the North American Free Trade Agreement. As workers at the Detroit-based supplier express their frustration about demands for steep cuts to wages and benefits, many blame trade policies that have made it easier for companies to invest in places like Mexico and China.

"We can't make the same amount of money they make and actually live here," said Bill Feldbush, 39, of Clawson, who has worked for American Axle for 13 years.

American Axle says the current negotiations are about domestic competition -- not foreign factories -- but the issue strikes a chord with many American workers and voters.

NAFTA -- which encourages trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico -- has come to symbolize lost jobs and the ratcheting down of wages and benefits for all U.S. workers, who increasingly feel they must compete with lower-paid laborers in other countries.

Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama blasted NAFTA in a debate in Cleveland last week, as they try to win over voters in Ohio, who, like those in Michigan, have watched their state lose manufacturing jobs.

Obama said NAFTA destroyed 1 million jobs, including 50,000 in Ohio. Clinton, whose husband signed NAFTA into law as president in 1993, said she never supported the deal. "You know, I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning," she said, while acknowledging NAFTA has helped cities in Texas.
Bleeding jobs

In Ohio, jobs at automakers and suppliers have dropped 29% since 1999 from 153,500 to 108,500 jobs at the end of 2007, according to the Center for Automotive Research.

In Michigan, the fall has been even steeper -- 45% -- from 316,300 jobs at car and parts makers in 1999 to 173,600 last year, the group said.

American Axle itself has shed more than 2,000 salaried and hourly positions through early retirement and attrition plans in the last two years.

The company says it needs concessions to be competitive in the United States, as its competitors, including other suppliers and automakers' in-house parts units, have lowered their labor costs.

But workers say it's hard to accept those cuts in Michigan, where the cost of living is higher than in the South and in Mexico.

Free-trade policy speaks "directly to something that is one of the most important concerns of any worker, which is job security," said Roland Zullo, a research scientist specializing in labor and employment policy at the University of Michigan's Institute of Labor & Industrial Relations.

Job security -- particularly a commitment to make parts in American Axle's U.S. plants -- will prove to be critical in these negotiations, auto analysts say.

Those types of commitments were crucial in deals the UAW negotiated with General Motors Corp., Chrysler LLC, Ford Motor Co. and Delphi Corp.

The Detroit automakers all sought a second tier of wages, while Delphi negotiated lower wages for veteran workers, who had been earning about $27 an hour. Similarly, American Axle is seeking to cut pay by about $14 an hour to a wage of $14.50 an hour at four of its plants.

Without such reductions, the company says its "ability to compete for future business or retain existing businesses at these locations is immediately in jeopardy."

The 15-year-old NAFTA is on the minds of striking UAW members because it seems to be part of American Axle's strategy.
Investing elsewhere

Since 2000, the company has invested millions of dollars into its 1.5-million square-foot plant in Silao, Mexico, which has been expanded six times.

That plant is slated to be the hub for American Axle's growing business supplying parts for passenger cars and crossover utility vehicles.

But some question whether it really makes sense to blame NAFTA for Michigan's problems.

"It probably is not accurate that the real competition is Mexico," said David Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. "The real competition is anybody anywhere in the world. It's a globalized industry today. You have to be competitive with whatever you're building, wherever you're building it."

These talks, American Axle says, are really about competition in the United States.

American Axle "cannot accept terms and conditions that put the company at a significant competitive disadvantage in the U.S. automotive supply industry," American Axle Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dick Dauch said in a statement Friday.

A few years ago, it seemed that American Axle could beat out competition, even in countries with low labor costs, by improving efficiency and quality.

That's the sentiment that Dauch offered in a 2003 Wall Street Journal report that ran in the Free Press, copies of which workers carry with them on the picket line. Many have highlighted key passages, and a copy of the article also is posted outside a union hall across the street from the plant.

But 2003 was a different time in the industry, Cole said.

American Axle was at the top of the supply game, making axles primarily for GM's profitable and popular large pickup and SUV lineup.

Since then, gas prices have skyrocketed and sales for large fuel-thirsty vehicles continue to fall.

"In the heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s of SUV and pickup trucks, volume covered up a great many sins in the industry," Cole said.

But now?

"Volume is gone."


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CAW strikers v. TRW fear replacements

The midnight shift and day shift Monday were cancelled at Chrysler's Windsor Assembly Plant, as the strike at Windsor parts supplier TRW Automotive continued to have a dramatic effect on the city's largest employer. Chrysler's 5,000 workers have been off the job since shortly after the strike began at TRW, a just-in-time supplier. The strike has also resulted in cancelled shifts at many other suppliers to the minivan plant.

Stuart Schorr, a Chrysler Canada spokesman, said Sunday that during these cancelled shifts, the minivan plant is under "surveillance status," which means that not only are production workers not working. Skilled trades, who often use these down times to catch up on maintenance, are also off, Schorr said.

Rumours were swirling over the weekend that TRW would bring in replacement workers, but that hasn't happened yet, said CAW Local 444 president Ken Lewenza.

"It's all rumours at this particular time, but if one reads between the lines, it seems to me that TRW is showing some reasons to be concerned, so we're prepared," he said.

"I'm hopeful that doesn't happen. I'm hopeful they will come to their senses and call us ... and we'll get back to the bargaining table."

TRW spokesman John Wilkerson said Sunday night he'd "rather not speculate" on the possibility of replacement workers picking up production. "I really don't have any comment to that right now. I'm not quite sure what the latest is," he said.

Wilkerson also said he wasn't aware of any scheduled contract negotiations this week between the company and the union.

Lewenza said the union is concerned about the lack of talks with TRW since 175 workers walked off the job Thursday over what they call low wages - $11.25 an hour, according to their union, CAW Local 195.

"There haven't been any negotiations whatsoever. There haven't been any counter-proposals either way," Lewenza said.

"We are on the telephones trying to shake the tree, as they say in bargaining, but the tree isn't moving."

At TRW, about 40 workers on the picket line were in good spirits Sunday, despite their predicament.

"We're here for another day. At least it's a little warmer," said Jay MacEachern, bundled in his ear-flap hat.

"Everybody is still in a good mood, everybody is upbeat. We are hopeful TRW and Chrysler can come to agreement or at least come to the table and talk to us."

Support from other CAW locals and union workers from across the city on the TRW picket line has been a big help, he said.

"This is not only our fight. It's a fight for other feeder (parts) plants in the city because whatever happens here is probably going to fall in line for them."

Gary Parent, president of the Windsor and District Labour Council, called the strike a "terrible situation," given how the two sides are not that far apart at the bargaining table.

"It's within their (ability) to do it, get this deal done and get people back to work -- and the community back to work."

Parent agreed the TRW contract dispute and any resolution will mark a milestone for at least three other parts plants locally, which also soon require new agreements to be negotiated.

"This is very significant for them."

City councillor Ken Lewenza Jr. also stopped by on the picket line Sunday to offer his support, saying at just over $11 per hour, the TRW workers need an increase comparable to other local parts workers in the region.

"It's very important to the auto industry to get them back to work as quick as possible," he said.

"The city hasn't really seen too many labour disputes in last 10 years, but it's part of the process.

"At $11 per hour they decided to take it to the streets and I support that."


Labor-state transit workers reject union

Livingston (MI) Essential Transportation Services employees voted 15-14 Friday against unionizing, according to county officials. A total of 31 employees including drivers, dispatchers and utility workers were mailed ballots by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission in early February. The employees were voting about whether to join the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 547, AFL-CIO.

The employees must wait a year before filing for another election, said Jennifer Palmbos, Livingston County labor relations manager. At the time ballots were mailed, union field representative Brian McNally predicted a majority of the employees would vote to unionize. He was not available for comment Friday.

McNally previously said the employees said they wanted a voice in the way things were handled at LETS.

LETS provides public transportation for all Livingston County residents. It is funded through state, federal and local dollars.

McNally said he was contacted by LETS employees in early January about scheduling an election.

David V.J. Linksz, LETS director, and Katrina Maxwell, LETS operations manager, accompanied Palmbos to Detroit on Friday morning. The ballots were counted at 10:30 a.m. at the Michigan Employment Relations Commission office in Detroit.


Right To Work boosts Florida business climate

Florida finished 14th in the first economic ranking by the American Legislative Exchange Council. The state earned good marks for its lack of estate and income taxes, low business taxes and right-to-work status. The report said Florida could have done better if it had lower property and sales taxes, a lower minimum wage and lower workers' compensation costs.

The top five states were Oregon, Idaho, Delaware, North Carolina and Nevada. The bottom five were North Dakota, Michigan, New Jersey, Indiana and New York.

The economic rankings were compiled by economist Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore of The Wall Street Journal.

The council is made up of 2,400 state legislators.

- John Hielscher


Publicly-funded labor-activism in Illinois

The Labor Education Program (LEP) at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recognizes the role that education can play in strengthening the labor movement’s ability to renew America’s promise of real economic opportunity for every worker.

For more than half a century LEP has been committed to the cause of unionism and the collective bargaining process. This has been accomplished by designing courses for union leaders, new members, activists, union staff, people who want to meet people from other unions and working people who want to learn about the labor movement.

The Labor Education Program is the only state wide labor education program, serving over 2,000 union members annually. This year’s schedule of programs and special events continues the tradition of high quality education that trade union members and working people from around the state have come to expect from our faculty. Working within the Institute for Labor and Industrial Relations at the University of Illinois, LEP is celebrating its 61st year of service to the state’s labor movement; with offices, faculty, clerical and technical staff, and teaching facilities in Chicago and Urbana-Champaign. We have made a strategic move to upgrade our capacity to conduct labor education programming outside of the Chicago-Metro area. The expansion of our program is undertaken out of the strong belief that a one million member strong state labor movement requires a state wide program capable of meeting diverse needs in diverse ways. Along with continuing programs such as the women leadership conferences, union summer schools, certificate programs, Hazardous Materials health, and safety training and our partnership with the National Labor College, we are enthusiastic about the new programs we are developing. Please think of a way that LEP can be used as a resource to your union/organization/personal needs.


Special-ed teachers still out on strike

Julie and Mike Malcolm are very offended by the Grundy (IL) Special Education Cooperative's handling of the special education teachers strike, now in its third day. The Morris couple is outraged about the cooperative's use of the word “pawn” in letters the GCSEC sent home to parents of special education students in all public school districts in the county.

Mike says the co-op is not putting the best interests of the kids forward, and also is taking the walkout personally.

“We take very strong offense to anyone using us and our child as pawns,” said Mike, whose daughter attends special education classes at Minooka Community High School.

“We have our minds, and we know what we think. This is very, very unethical on the part of the co-op, and it's heart-breaking. These superintendents are discriminating. These children deserve the same services as all other students in the GCSEC district.”

Thirteen schools make up the cooperative, whose governing and executive boards are comprised of the superintendents in each school district.

The countywide strike by the Grundy County Education Association began Tuesday, involving 133 teachers and 1,800 special education students. The teacher's aides, represented by the Special Education Employees of Grundy County, walked out Wednesday.

Both the GCEA and the SEEGC are seeking first contracts with the co-op after being part of the Morris Dist. 54 bargaining unit for years. Sticking points in the negotiations have been insurance, salaries, and numbers of sick days. The teachers and aides have worked 100 days without a contract.

A tentative agreement was reached mid-afternoon Wednesday by the SEEGC and cooperative on a three-year contract for the special education classroom aides, who returned to work today. The GCEA members remained on strike today despite reaching a substantive agreement with the co-op Wednesday on most key points in the dispute.

Malcolm contends the cooperative is discriminating by advising parents to keep their more-profoundly special education students at home until the strike ends. The others are still attending their classes, which are being run by substitutes.

“I am deathly ill,” said Mike. “I am so heartbroken because some students are getting preferential treatment. The (co-op) knew about this last August, before school opened. They should have made arrangements then for these children.”

Although his daughter does not realize the strike is preventing her from attending class, Malcolm said the cooperative is not letting her attain what she has a right to achieve.

“Her civil rights are being violated,” he said of her being barred from class while other special education children still attend. “There is going to be sh-- hit the fan because of this.”

Malcolm says many other parents of special education students have vented similar feelings. Also, because after the strike is settled, the days the students have missed due to the walkout cannot be restored to them.

“What happened, happened,” he said. “They cannot get these days back for my daughter. She is entitled to every minute of a public education her Individualized Educational Program says is hers.”

The IEP is a legal document setting out the services to be provided for special education students.

“Right now, the school is in violation of the legal document. If the strike ends and the teachers go back, they are still in violation,” Malcolm said.

Malcolm never believed the negotiations would break off, and the strike occur.

“Who's right?” he said. “Nobody's right. People are being arrogant and greedy on both sides, and no one is right. The lives of the handicapped are being discriminated against, and it's not fair.”

Amber Walker's son, Jakobe Walker, 3, attends special education classes at White Oak Elementary School in Morris for youngsters with developmental delays, such as speech and gait. Most of he students are 3 and 4 years old, and not potty trained.

Jakobe's mom and dad, Bob Walker, have kept their son home since the strike began.

“My husband is a steelworker,” said Amber. “He belongs to a union. Until this gets settled, he won't allow our son to go to school. He doesn't want Jake subjected to the ethics of substitute teachers. Jake wouldn't have any teachers he knows.”

The couple is continuing their son's classroom work at home. She says, however, the strike is a huge disturbance to a little boy who loves his school and teachers, and doesn't understand what's happening.

“School for him and most the other kids, I've been told, is like a second family to him,” Amber noted.

She wasn't surprised at the co-op's letter asking parents to keep their severely and profoundly handicapped students at home during the strike.

“They're a lot for the teachers to deal with. They handle so many different types of children and so many problems. When Jake started school, he was barely potty trained. Now he's almost potty trained, and a lot of it is from going to school,” she said.

“He's learned many wonderful habits and things his teachers have taught him. For teachers who don't know the kids and what to expect, it's probably very hard (to take on a class), especially of kids more delayed than Jake is.”

Amber isn't aware if the substitutes filling in for the striking teachers are trained to handle the handicapped.

“I imagine they would have to get the substitutes from the same union, and the subs won't come in if the union is on strike,” she said. “I wouldn't think they can take any certified teachers and put them in a special education class. I don't know if those teachers are qualified to teach kids with learning disabilities.”

Amber believes there could be liability if the subs do not know how to handle the special education students.

“It's frustrating to the kids with speech delays, too,' she noted, “to try and communicate their needs to someone who doesn't know what they're saying.”


AFTRA takes aim at SAG

AFTRA is telling the Screen Actors Guild to stop dragging its feet -- and warning that it's willing to start negotiations as early as this month without SAG. The move by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is the latest indication of the town's increasing frustration over SAG's refusal to schedule formal negotiations with the AMPTP as soon as possible, given the recently completed 100-day Writers Guild strike and the looming June 30 expiration of the SAG-AFTRA film-primetime contract.

SAG president Alan Rosenberg and national exec director Doug Allen announced last week that they won't start contract talks until April at the earliest.

The newest wrinkle in the ongoing battle between the performers unions emerged over the weekend following Friday's conclusion of jointly hosted "wages and working conditions" member meetings in Los Angeles. The "W&W" confabs are designed to serve as the basis for hammering out proposals for the upcoming contract negotiations.

After the Friday meeting, the SAG-AFTRA reps on the W&W committee issued a statement that backed Rosenberg and Allen's stance that they would "diligently and patiently" adhere to the wages and working conditions process. But on Saturday, AFTRA committee chief Matt Kimbrough repudiated the statement and said it had "no authority to represent AFTRA's elected leadership or the opinion of the majority of its actor members."

Kimbrough said he had allowed the resolution to be passed in an effort to complete the W&W process and added that he regretted not objecting to it at the time.

"The fact is that the overwhelming majority of AFTRA leadership believes that we have a responsibility to proceed with negotiations as soon as possible," he said. "I share that belief. I apologize to my leadership if Friday's resolution has caused anyone to question this position."

Rosenberg said in response on Sunday, "It is perplexing that an AFTRA national officer would repudiate a statement of unity, support for the process of working together and confidence in the leadership of both unions."

AFTRA had no further comment. But Kimbrough's move signals that AFTRA's still willing to go solo in talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over its primetime TV deal (Daily Variety, Feb. 4) -- a move that would diminish SAG's leverage at the bargaining table since it's presumed that AFTRA would offer producers deals at more favorable terms.

More than one option

SAG's leaders agreed on Feb. 9 that they would be willing to negotiate jointly -- but only if AFTRA promised it would not offer contracts at lesser terms. AFTRA has indicated that it's not willing to agree to any conditions until after the negotiations are completed, contending that SAG violated the terms of the 27-year-old bargaining agreement by instituting block voting among negotiating committee members.

Even though SAG has backed off on the block voting rule, the unions have not been able to work out the details of how they'll bargain together. Recent efforts to have the AFL-CIO mediate the long-running jurisdictional dispute went nowhere.

SAG's beef with AFTRA stems from the latter's refusal to reduce its 50-50 participation on the negotiating committees for film-TV and on commercials -- despite accounting for less than 10% of the earnings. SAGhas complained that AFTRA has been offering producers cheaper contracts in basic cable, while AFTRA has accused SAG leaders of being radical and inflexible, asserting that its "one size fits all" approach to contracts results in fewer union jobs.

SAG has about 120,000 members, while AFTRA has 70,000; about 40,000 thesps are dual cardholders.

In another development on the labor front, the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees will hold early negotiations with the AMPTP on its West Coast contract starting April 7.

IATSE, which covers about 25,000 below-the-line employees in 18 locals in the contract, is about halfway through its current contract. That pact, finalized in early 2006, expires in August 2009.

The AMPTP and IATSE had no comment about the session, which is scheduled to last for three days.

IATSE -- which was harshly critical of the WGA strike because of the impact on its members -- is likely aiming to incorporate gains from the Directors Guild of America and WGA contracts plus last year's West Coast Teamster deal, in addition to reaching a deal before a possible SAG strike.

IATSE has usually negotiated its contracts far before expiration, operating on the theory that it can obtain the best possible deal in exchange for labor stability.


Dems revive ugly leftist Progressive Era

In 1976, a young political consultant named Patrick Caddell sent a memo to Jimmy Carter telling the president-elect to wage "a continuing political campaign" that fuses public policy and political goals. This doctrine became known as the permanent campaign, and it is now changing from a White House tactic into a national grass-roots organizing strategy.

Today's permanent campaign aims to ensure that the recent surge in Democratic voter turnout becomes the foundation of a lasting political infrastructure for progressives, rather than a momentary boomlet of presidential election euphoria. That means "creating mechanisms for people to remain engaged in politics between elections," as Thomas Bates says.

He cofounded Democrats Work, a nonprofit group whose mission was on display when 12 volunteers of varying ages gathered last week to prepare dinner for residents at a Denver homeless shelter. The participants were not just giving back to their city — they were becoming Democratic Party activists.

"Lots of folks want to do community service but are not political," says Erin Egan, who runs the 500-member Colorado branch of Democrats Work. "But when they volunteer with us they see the Democratic Party's values and often become committed political volunteers."

For many activists already involved in Democratic politics, the permanent campaign is an extension of their enthusiasm for Howard Dean's reformist candidacy in 2004. But the emergence of another organization named Blue Tiger Democrats shows that the new efforts actually hearken back to Tammany Hall.

That 19th-century New York political machine may be known for corruption, but it drew its true strength from being a service organization.

Tammany Hall built Democratic loyalty by running everything from soup kitchens to job banks. Blue Tiger, which takes its name from Tammany's feline symbol, supports the same kind of "civic engagement," as founder Bill Samuels calls it. And unlike Democrats Work, which is an outside group, Blue Tiger emulates Tammany Hall by working directly inside the Democratic Party.

"People only see the Democratic Party at election time, and that has to change," says Mark Brewer, the Michigan Democratic chairman who, along with New York party officials, is employing Blue Tiger's methods. In the forgotten corners of both states, Blue Tiger sponsors food drives, roadside cleanups and computer training seminars — all under the banner of the Democratic Party.

Democrats Work and Blue Tiger Democrats are merely two examples of Democrats' renewed focus on turnout and base participation — a more logical priority than the party's old "swing" strategies that concentrate exclusively on winning independents. After all, such Republican strongholds as Colorado, Nevada and Ohio contain overwhelmingly Democratic population centers. A sustained turnout boost in those cities could easily tip statewide results — and thus, alter the national political map.

But changing red states to blue states is only one objective of the permanent campaign. Deepening the hue of existing blues is another.

Just weeks ago progressive activist Donna Edwards crushed Maryland Rep. Al Wynn in a Democratic primary. She attacked the more conservative incumbent for supporting lobbyist-written legislation that helps banks gouge consumers. Edwards won her underdog race thanks, in part, to two other wings of the permanent campaign: Liberal blogs helped her raise money, and groups like the Service Employees International Union aided her get-out-the-vote operations.

The support, along with the presidential-primary hype, doubled the district's turnout over the last election. Edwards, who lost the contest two years before, won the same race by a wide margin and is now the presumptive general-election winner. In other words, the rise in Democratic turnout helped the more progressive candidate win. Such a dynamic could be replicated in other down-ballot races if the permanent campaign succeeds in raising voter turnout for good. And over time, that would move the Democratic Party in a more populist direction.

"We had a message saying we have to divorce ourselves from corporate special interests," Edwards says. "And Democratic leaders are going to have to get comfortable with that message."

When Caddell originally wrote to Carter, Democrats needed a permanent campaign to combat an ascendant Republican Party and a conservative movement learning to exploit the country's economic concerns. Now, with America in a similarly anxious mood, today's permanent campaign could bring about a Democratic era and a powerful progressive movement. Throughout history, those two factors have been the key prerequisites for positive change.

- David Sirota is the author of "Hostile Takeover" (Crown, 2006). He is a fellow at the Campaign for America's Future and a board member of the Progressive States Network. His blog is at www.credoaction.com/sirota


Dems disdain non-union voters

The side streets of this Cleveland suburb of modest Cape Cods were barely plowed last week and the street signs obscured by snow as Gina Knapp and Teri Harris, 48-year-old school bus drivers from a nearby town, crept along in Knapp's minivan looking for the homes of union members whose leadership has endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Their targets were the mainstays of Ohio organized labor -- teachers, state employees, machinists, mostly the descendants of Italian and Eastern European immigrants -- and their pitch was straightforward: Clinton will get things done for working America.

"She's more experienced and has a definite plan," said Knapp, who is on leave from her job to canvass for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which has 120,000 members in the state. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), she said, "is a speechmaker."

Not far away, in northeast Cleveland, two representatives of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which has 30,000 members in Ohio, made their way across a mostly African American neighborhood of worn Victorians in a mud-streaked Buick Regal to drum up support for Obama among a new vanguard of organized labor -- hospital workers, grocery store clerks, home-care aides. Their pitch: Obama would make things happen because he is building a movement.

"He's been able to bring together different people, black and white, different parts of the country, and that's what it's going to take to get health care and jobs," said Gabe Kramer, 32, an SEIU organizer.

It was thankless work on both sides, with many residents not at home and others not deigning to open the door. But it represented the most visible manifestation of a clash that will help decide the outcome of Tuesday's Ohio Democratic primary and with it, perhaps, the outcome of the party's extended presidential nomination battle.

In a state where organized labor still holds sway -- 14 percent of workers are unionized -- Clinton and Obama each have several major unions on their side, with hundreds of labor troops brought in from outside the state for the showdown. Which of these unions delivers more votes will help determine not only who will be the nominee but also which unions will be able to claim an edge in an ongoing nationwide confrontation about how best to revive organized labor after years of steady decline.

The battle lines are clear. On Clinton's side are some of the biggest unions in the AFL-CIO, such as AFSCME, the American Federation of Teachers and the machinists' union. Working for Obama, who until recently had little organized-labor backing, are some of the unions that broke off from the AFL-CIO in 2005 to form the Change to Win coalition: the SEIU, the Teamsters, Unite Here (hotel workers) and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

There are exceptions: The United Farm Workers are part of Change to Win but back Clinton; the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union is part of the AFL-CIO but backs Obama. Remaining neutral are several big industrial unions, such as the United Steelworkers, which endorsed former senator John Edwards (D-N.C.), and the United Auto Workers.

But with most Change to Win unions behind Obama, the Ohio battle is looming as a chance for the coalition to assert itself against its former partners. When they quit, the unions argued that the AFL-CIO was spending too much time and money on campaigns and lobbying, and not enough on organizing workers at a time of declining union membership. The breakaway unions argued that labor had to undergo internal reform, while the AFL-CIO unions argued that the main challenge remained external political forces.

The breakaway unions, led by the service employees, have shown no sign of giving up on politics but see themselves as practicing a new brand of it, infusing campaigns with the grass-roots energy of organizing drives. Now that they are backing Obama, they hail his movement-driven campaign as a perfect match. The AFL-CIO unions, meanwhile, want to show that they still have the upper hand.

"It gets bitter at the national level," said Gary Chaison, a labor specialist at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. "For the two federations, it's for bragging rights for who's still a potent political force."

Union leaders said they will come together behind the eventual nominee, but there is still an advantage to be gained in backing a winning team from the outset, in the form of access in the White House. Unions' wish lists include legislation that would make it easier to organize workers, major revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement and a higher minimum wage.

It was partly with such influence in mind that unions such as those of teachers and public employees decided to get on board early in endorsing Clinton, who was then the overwhelming favorite. In 2004, AFSCME endorsed former Vermont governor Howard Dean (D) at the peak of his popularity. This time around, AFSCME President Gerald W. McEntee said last fall, the union would take more care in deciding.

But with Obama ahead in delegates, it is possible that the union might again have failed to pick a winner. And it has had to deal with internal divisions that became public when seven members of its national board wrote McEntee in December objecting to the aggressive tactics being used against Obama, including radio ads in New Hampshire attacking his health-care plan. Some misgivings linger, said Sal Luciano of Connecticut, one of the signers.

"It's a matter of resources," Luciano said. "We want to use the resources in the best way possible. It's nice to pick an early horse, but you also want to marshal your resources for the real fight."

The service employees, who also endorsed Dean in 2004, took a different approach this time, deciding after much debate not to endorse while allowing state chapters to make their own picks. But after Edwards's exit in January, the union threw its full weight behind Obama, who by then was emerging as the front-runner. It is now running TV ads in Ohio, adding to Obama's edge on the airwaves.

"A number of unions believe that a movement is building that can actually bring about a significant change in our country, and Barack Obama is leading the movement," said Anna Burger, the SEIU's secretary-treasurer.

The surge of labor backing has helped Obama fight the perception that he is the candidate of the effete wing of the Democratic Party, or, as machinists' union chief Tom Buffenbarger put it in a pro-Clinton tirade last month, the candidate of "latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust-fund babies."

Most valuable in this regard was the backing of the Teamsters, who have sent mailings and automated phone calls from the heads of their Ohio locals to the 60,000 members in the state.

Last week, Tom Curtin, a national union official, visited Teamster workplaces including the Cleveland Zoo, where 63 employees belong to the union. In the rain forest and later at the elephant house, he told animal keepers that Obama is best on issues such as NAFTA, which Clinton supported in the 1990s. "He's always been with us on labor issues," Curtin said.

Obama is not always an easy sell. In northeastern Cleveland, Kramer and David Hawthorne, 42, a nursing-home worker and father of six, stood outside a house with badly peeling paint and drafty windows trying to win over Jose Hilbret, a corrections officer.

Obama "sounds good, but can he get it done?" Hilbret asked. "You're going to be in there with all those good ol' boys and Republicans, you need someone who can wheel and deal."

Kramer, an Indiana native with a scruffy beard, told Hilbret about Obama's time in the Illinois legislature. Hilbret said he remained fond of the Clintons and was upset about the waste of money in Iraq. Kramer reminded him that Obama had opposed the war and suggested that it is time to move beyond the Clintons.

"I don't want to repeat the same struggles again and again," he said.

"I agree, somebody got to be new. We need some fresh air," Hilbret said.

"Then what's holding you back?" Hawthorne chimed in. "You see now, you can make a change."

It wasn't much easier in Parma for the AFSCME members. Knapp had little luck at houses where people were at home. At one, a woman who was called to the door by her children said that she was trying to sleep and slammed the door.

Knapp was unfazed. "You get that," she said. "People are working two or three jobs to make ends meet."

She was confident that Clinton will prevail in Ohio, thanks to the efforts of people such as her and the votes of other union members such as her husband and son, industrial roofers, and her daughter, a teacher.

"There is a perception that he is ahead in the game," Knapp said, referring to Obama and the nomination race. "But we know different. That's not really the way it is. If she stays strong with what she's going to do for the people, it'll come through for her."


Sing for Barack

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