New leftism resembles ugly Progressive Era

Yesterday's primaries in Ohio and elsewhere were the first in which America's weakening economy and what can be done to improve it were the focus. Sadly, both Democratic presidential candidates, senators Clinton of New York and Obama of Illinois, could think of little more than to bash free trade. These neo-protectionists call for "renegotiating" the North American Free Trade Agreement, ignoring the sensibilities of hundreds of millions of Americans whose lives have improved because of free trade.

The pollsters explain the situation as follows: The Democratic candidates seek to appeal to voters particularly in Ohio, many of whom blame NAFTA for their economic woes. Uncertain economic times naturally breed anxiety, even though government officials offer words of compassion and encouragement. Yet rabblerousers seek to ascribe blame to any convenient scapegoat in sight. Today, that scapegoat is free trade and NAFTA. Ohio's economy grew at a healthy rate for many years following NAFTA's 1993 ratification, even though for the past few years it lagged the remainder of the American economy. In presidential elections, Ohio has voted for candidates who favored NAFTA and free trade. Ross Perot, an anti-NAFTA candidate in 1996, received less than 11% of the Ohio vote.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama acknowledge that excessive environmental and labor regulation has repelled businesses from Ohio. Rather than solve Ohio's problems by removing these regulations, the senators want to export our bad regulations to Canada and Mexico — and the dozens of other countries with which we have free trade agreements. The arrogance of this beggar-thy-neighbor policy is not lost on other countries.

Surely our allies around the world will be persuaded by the diplomats of our next administration who will plead: "We Americans want you to adopt the same regulations that helped destroy Ohio's economy. Otherwise, we will abrogate our free trade agreements." The ugly American never had a more compelling message. Neither Mrs. Clinton nor Mr. Obama plan to roll back excess federal regulation that is harming our economy. To the contrary, each has posted platforms calling for expansion of environmental regulations, labor regulations, and other regulations that would discourage business. Our allies would not adopt the regulations we already have in place, much less the imperial regulatory dreams of a new Democratic administration.

For example, both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama support the Employee Free Choice Act, which would be particularly harmful for Ohio. The bill is an example of false advertising, because it would take away workers' rights to secret ballot elections when unions want to organize their workplaces. Rather, it would allow unions to sign workers up for membership without secret ballots, encouraging union intimidation of those who demur.

An examination of the data shows that the states that give workers the flexibility not to join unions have grown more rapidly than states that compel union membership. But don't expect Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama to point this out to voters.

They also won't notify Americans that this year's Democratic nominee will be the first major party candidates for president to openly run against free trade since World War II. Free trade has been an optimistic policy galvanized with expectations of a prosperous America today and an even more prosperous one tomorrow. Free trade has been the triumph of the hope of American competitive advantages overpowering the fear of foreign competition. For more than 60 years, hope has defeated fear.

No more. Many of our political leaders today see America as defeated, unable to compete, in need of the artifice of law to protect it from foreigners. They see American prosperity not as the consequence of ingenuity and hard work but as an entitlement that can be written into law. Rather than enable America to compete better with lower taxes and less regulation, they anesthetize citizens with such slogans as "renegotiation" of treaties. These are the same protectionist policies that stunted American economic progress in the 1930s.

Economic progress depends in large part on an unflinching confidence in markets, reliance on property rights, and faith that human decency will triumph. Those views lead to free trade, not protectionism. America can still compete and triumph, but this fall we may choose a president who thinks otherwise.

- A former FCC commissioner, Mr. Furchtgott-Roth is president of Furchtgott-Roth Economic Enterprises.


UAW's 'terrible' strike forces more layoffs

"Terrible" is the word some UAW retirees used to describe the news of 190 temporary layoffs at Delphi Thermal Corp. in Lockport. A few retirees and members of the United Auto Workers, Local 686 spent some time Tuesday at the union hall on Walnut Street in Lockport talking about the layoffs. Some think there are more layoffs on the way, and that they are just a sign of the weakening economy in the area. But even though the Delphi layoffs are a result of the American Axle & Manufacturing strike, UAW members are pledging their support to the striking union members.

Most of the Delphi UAW members we talked to believe the wage cut American Axle wants workers to take isn’t enough for the workers to live on. “They’re standing up for their rights,” said Gail Zack of Newfane, a Delphi retiree. “We don’t blame them at all. You can’t raise a family on that (proposed wage cut at American Axle). It is tough; everything is going up in price.”

The Delphi layoffs are temporary and begin this week, said Delphi spokesman Lindsey Williams on Monday. Most UAW members don’t see an end to layoffs either; instead they said they expect to see more.

“I don’t think there is a person around who doesn’t see more coming,” said Sam Turco, another Delphi retiree. “Nobody cares about the American worker.”

Current workers aren’t happy, according to Zack. One union member, who did not give her name before she had to leave, said she wasn’t happy. She had to take a cut in pay to keep her job, she said. Other members voiced their contempt for the layoffs, but stressed their support for the Axle workers.

“The union feels terrible, and we back them with full support,” said Delphi retiree Dave Swan. “Just like they’d do for us.”

Swan is one of those who believe more layoffs are on the way at Delphi. He retired last year after 36 years at Delphi, taking a buyout of $35,000. He thought that would be as high as he could get and he had better take it.

“You know its going up,” he said of the layoffs. “I realized that was the best as it going to get.”

Williams said Monday that the Delphi layoffs are “temporary in nature,” and that when the American Axle strike issues are settled, Delphi workers would be called back. The strike was called on Feb. 26 after talks between union and management at American Axle broke off. The walkout affects about 500 workers at plants in Tonawanda and Cheektowaga.

American Axle and Delphi supply auto parts to General Motors plants, the biggest customer for each plant. Delphi and American Axle spun off from GM.


AFSCME: Privatization equals corruption

"Pouring billions of dollars of public money into private hands, without standards and without accountability, is an invitation to cut corners." — Sal Luciano, executive director Council 4, Association of Federal, State and Municipal Employees, March 17, 2006. Mr. Luciano's pronouncement, coinciding with Council 4's posting of Connecticut highway billboards proclaiming "Privatization Equals Corruption," was typical of Big Labor propaganda that contends work performed by unionized workers is far superior in just about every way to that done by non-union people.

On Feb. 27, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal announced he has sued 13 contractors who worked on the $50 million expansion of the York Correctional Institution in Niantic, the state's only prison for women.

"This work was seriously substandard — ceilings and walls leaking water and cracked facades losing stone," he said in his news release. "Slipshod design and construction doomed these buildings to deteriorate. These contractors shortchanged taxpayers and squandered scarce criminal-justice resources. I will fight vigorously to hold these companies accountable, forcing them to pay for repairs and related costs, probably in the range of more than $18 million." He also is asking for civil penalties and for the defendants to reimburse the state for its litigation costs.

On Feb. 15, Mr. Blumenthal sued the 15 firms that worked on the $23 million UConn Law School Library. "Instead of a landmark law library, contractors left a structural mess and legal morass," he said. "These companies did shoddy and substandard work, sticking the law school with a building riddled with leaks, cracks and defects. Far from lasting 100 years, this structure required massive repairs after barely a decade. The flaws were so fundamental and far-reaching that the building's exterior must be rebuilt and its moisture protection system replaced. Contractors at every stage — design, construction, installation, inspection — incorporated or ignored obvious flaws, dooming the building to swift deterioration." He is seeking more than $15 million, plus damages and other costs.

The courts still must decide the merits of Mr. Blumenthal's claims. But it should be noted with the exception of work done at York by Naek Construction Co., these projects were the fruits of corner-cutting union labor.


Union front-group pulls Dems leftward

With the economy weakening and tax collections slowing, members of the State Assembly are discussing a plan that would raise income taxes on the wealthiest 3 to 4 percent of New Yorkers. The proposal, which is being promoted heavily in the Legislature by the politically influential Working Families Party, calls for a “relatively modest” income tax increase coupled with property tax rebates as a way to increase revenue and stimulate the state’s economy.

Discussion of the plan is still in the early stages, but its basic elements already have the backing of Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker, and of Assembly Democrats who represent some of the wealthiest parts of the state.

“Not only do I think it’s a good idea, I think it’s really the only alternative at this point,” said Assemblyman Micah Z. Kellner, who represents part of the Upper East Side. “I believe people at higher income levels are prepared to take a slightly bigger hit on taxes if they know that money is going to be spent wisely.”

The plan is sure to meet opposition in the Republican-controlled State Senate. On Tuesday, the Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, reiterated his opposition to any new taxes. The emergence of the tax increase measure may also reinforce claims by Republicans that Democrats will raise taxes if they gain control of the Senate in the November elections.

And Gov. Eliot Spitzer has come out strongly against a tax increase as part of next year’s budget. But as the economic outlook clouds, the governor and the Legislature face limited options. On Tuesday, Mr. Spitzer’s budget director, Laura L. Anglin, repeated the administration’s objections to a tax rise, but she did not rule one out entirely.

“At this point, we would say that we put forward a budget that closes the gap and funds vital services and core priorities without having to raise taxes,” Ms. Anglin said. “Our concern is that we don’t want a lot of additional spending, which you tend to see often when the Legislature adds to the budget.”

But momentum for the proposal has been building among Assembly Democrats, who plan to include it in their version of the state budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on April 1. “There’s growing support for it,” said Dan Cantor, the executive director of the Working Families Party. “Can we get it all done? We’ll see. Part of it will depend on how we can persuade the governor, and that’s going to take some work.”

The Working Families Party, a left-leaning, labor-backed group that has gained prominence by providing critical grass-roots support in special legislative elections, officially notified Mr. Spitzer of its proposal on Tuesday. “If we are willing to be bold, we can take this opportunity to balance the budget fairly, and to start reducing taxes on working New Yorkers,” the letter said.

The party strongly backed Mr. Spitzer when he ran for governor, and has been instrumental in supporting the Democratic effort to recapture the State Senate.

The plan has two major elements. The first would raise income taxes on households with income above $250,000. While the proposal offers options for the size of the increase, under one option, the household would be taxed an extra percentage point on income it earns above $250,000. Currently that income is taxed at a rate of 6.85 percent.

The additional tax rate would gradually increase, to two percentage points on income over $500,000 and three points on income over $1 million.

Roughly half of the revenues would be used to pay for a property tax rebate for most homeowners in the state, and the rest would be used to pay for the state’s operations.

According to the Working Families Party projections, the state could raise $3 billion to $6.4 billion from the tax increases.

Budget experts have long debated the wisdom of raising taxes on the rich as a finance tool.

“You either have to cut spending or raise taxes,” said James Parrott, chief economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute, a left-leaning research group. “Neither of those is good. But the question is which is less bad for the economy.”

Mr. Parrott, who supports the income tax increase, noted that when the state last raised taxes on wealthier residents in 2003, in a temporary measure affecting those earning $150,000 or more, predictions that New York’s economy would suffer as wealthy people moved away proved wrong. “Hopefully, rational people in Albany will revisit what happened in 2003 and conclude that was not such a bad outcome.”

But E. J. McMahon, the director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a division of the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute, said it was misleading to compare the 2003 tax increase with this proposal, because that measure came at the same time that federal income taxes were reduced on upper-income people.

“There’s nothing like raising taxes when you’re entering a recession,” he said. “The timing couldn’t be worse.”


City of Brotherly Union Thugs

The night before delivering his first city budget speech, Mayor Nutter made a point of inviting Philadelphia's four municipal union leaders into his office for a private preview. When those same leaders call his office, they say uniformly there is a prompt response. And when Nutter showed up for a recent police awards ceremony, he stayed for nearly two hours, shaking hand after hand and standing for photos with each officer and their family.

"That means a lot to a guy pushing a patrol car in the 25th District," remarked John J. McNesby, president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police.

With simple gestures and sincere talk, Nutter appears to have earned the benefit of the doubt from the city's municipal labor leaders as his administration prepares for potentially difficult contract negotiations that could restore order to the city's fiscal house - or, alternatively, plunge the budget into chaos.

It is a striking departure from the rancorous tone that characterized the early months of recent administrations. But with serious bargaining hardly under way, it's also too soon to tell whether the more cooperative environment will matter down the road.

"Generally, with a brand-new mayor in the first term, when the labor contracts come up you see a lot of saber-rattling and positioning," said Mark Aronchick, a city solicitor under former Mayor Bill Green.

Campaigning for mayor in 1991, Ed Rendell, for instance, talked about forcing city departments to compete with private bidders. Once in office, he argued that city workers received too much sick time and too many holidays.

"This is a different atmosphere altogether," Aronchick said, "and perhaps a testament to the Nutter administration in that they cooled down the rhetoric."

In interviews, labor leaders and observers of past contract talks said Nutter's emphasis on running a more open and inclusive government accounts for some of the cordiality.

"Everything he has done so far, he's been consistent. He's been more than willing to talk about things," said Herman "Pete" Matthews, president of AFSCME District Council 33, the largest city union. "Who knows where things will wind up? But there is an open, continuous dialogue here."

Matthews and others also pointed to the relationships the unions developed with Nutter during his 15 years as a councilman.

"He was a go-to guy for a lot of issues," said Brian McBride of Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.

As mayor, Nutter continues to be accessible, McBride said. "There may be topics we disagree upon, but every time I reach out, I get phone calls back," he said.

McNesby of the FOP had a similar view of Nutter.

"The guy is full of energy, man, and from what I've seen, his door is always open and he is always willing to sit down and address the issues," he said.

That is not to say the two completely see eye-to-eye: McNesby has objected to Nutter's choice of former public defender Everett Gillison as his deputy mayor for public safety, saying Gillison represented a man who killed a police officer.

Still, that fight has not seemed to color their overall amicable relationship.

It wasn't always this way with unions and mayors.

Rendell took office with the city on the verge of bankruptcy, and seemed focused more on bending the unions than befriending them.

John Street, who as City Council president was a key player in the Rendell reforms, acted to keep those sweeping changes in place, further frustrating the unions.

With Rendell, "it was a very nasty, hostile environment because he ran on a platform of givebacks by city employees," said Cathy Scott, a member of the negotiating team for AFSCME District Council 47 since 1982, and now the union president. "That was an extremely contentious and confrontational time."

And with Street, she said, "There was a feeling of concern, but it was more of a wait-and-see attitude."

The real test of the current cordiality will come in the next few months as serious bargaining gets started.

Contracts with all four unions are set to expire June 30.

At issue is the city's long-term fiscal health, as pension and health-care costs are projected to consume an increasingly bigger chunk of the city budget.

The unions recognize the financial challenges, but maintain that their contracts must be fair in both wages and benefits - something Nutter acknowledged, too.

Nutter has identified $403 million in the budget to spend on increased costs in new contracts - but union leaders are uncertain what that figure actually means in terms of specific wage and benefit increases for their members.

The unions also back Nutter's proposal to issue a $4.5 billion pension obligation bond, which would help ensure the security of their members in retirement. But they question what the mayor might seek in exchange.

"Until we really see specifics concerning the budget, and their proposals, I really am not in a position to draw any conclusions," Scott said.

In one step forward, the Nutter administration has hired a team to represent it at the bargaining table. City Solicitor Shelley Smith said the city has appointed as its chief negotiator Shannon Farmer of the Ballard Spahr law firm. Kenneth M. Jarin, of the same firm, will lead arbitration efforts on the police contract, and probably the fire contract.

"Our collective best chance for doing some good," Smith said, "will be if we try to maintain that mutual sense of respect."


Teachers strike for tax hike

Despite cold weather conditions, teachers and staff in Hardin County (IL) took to the picket line on Tuesday, the first day of their official strike during a lengthy contract negotiation. Superintendent Ernie Fowler said negotiations started in June and for the first time included educational support staff and not just Hardin County teachers.

In an official release by the school district, it was noted that major contract negotiation obstacles have centered on finances. The release states that the union is demanding the school board raise one specific employee's salary from $13.33 per hour to nearly $20 per hour, a $10,000 pay raise. The union is also demanding, according to the release, that the district pay 100 percent of health insurance costs for new educational support staff. That addition would cost the district $250,000 over the three years of the contract.

"The board has taken a very firm position," Fowler said. "We are not going to the taxpayers for a big increase in property taxes to support employee salary and benefits. We asked them how much their proposal was going to be."

Fowler said the increases proposed by the union would mean an additional $1 million over the next three years.

"I don't see anyways possible a school district of our size and with our finances can meet that demand," he said.

Marinus Van Kuilenburg works through the Illinois Communication Association and has been acting as a field representative for the Hardin County Teachers Association and the union, in cooperation with the Illinois Education Association.

"We disagree with the way that the district portrays the finances that would be necessary to fulfill our demands," Kuilenburg said. "This $1 million figure is not a very correct figure."

Kuilenburg said the union has made changes to its proposal, changes that are not reflected in that million-dollar figure.

"We are ready to go back to the negotiating table but the board doesn't want to meet with us until Monday," he said.

The next negotiation meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday.

Fowler said there are approximately 650 students, 47 teachers and 32 support staff at the one school building that houses students in grade levels kindergarten through high school.

In an official release, the school district alleged the timing of the strike was an attempt by teachers to use students as "pawns."

"The employees have worked all year without a contract but decided to go on strike on the first day that students are to be given the Illinois Standardized Assessment Test schedule," the release stated. "You also have to question why teachers would go on strike at the same time the Scholar Bowl, WYSE Academic Team and FFA Team are scheduled for state competitions."

Kuilenburg said it is a mere coincidence that the strike takes place during those academic activities.

The superintendent said school will resume on Tuesday if an agreement is reached in time to notify parents and students. School has been called off until then.

tara.fasol@thesouthern.com / 351-5824


In an official release by the school district in Hardin County, the various items involved in contact negotiations were outlined. Those items include:

Union demands for an increase in sick leave from 10 days to 18 days, for any educational support staff hired after July 1, 2004.

Union demands of a 6.5 percent pay raise for educational support personnel in the first year of the three year contract.

Union demands a pay raise of $1,900 to $2,600 per teacher and for each year of the three-year contract. The board offered a salary increase to teachers between $1,300 and $1,600 a year for each teacher.

Union demands for 100 percent of health insurance to be paid for 16 additional support staff, costing the district $250,000 over the three years of the contract. The board offered to pay $395 a month for each employee's health insurance.


UAW officials hit with penalty for illegal strike

Five truck manufacturing workers who were fired last year have to win the hearts and minds of local residents before they’ll get their jobs back. That was the assessment of a South Carolina union leader who spoke to a crowd of about three dozen people in Rowan County on Tuesday night. “And to accomplish that, you have to run a campaign,” added Kenneth Riley, president of an International Longshoreman Association in Charleston, S.C.

The crowd was gathered in support of the so-called Cleveland Five, who were officers with the United Auto Workers Local 3520 at the Freightliner plant in Cleveland, N.C., when they were fired last spring for calling a strike, which top UAW officials said was unauthorized.

Riley knows the feeling.

He called a strike at the loading docks in 2000 in Charleston that was broken up by hundreds of state and local police officers.

“It was overkill,” Riley said. “But the state was trying to hold down the union.”

Riley said that was a common theme in the Carolinas and throughout the south, where only about 3 percent of the work force is organized.

Riley said members of his group not only lost their jobs for a time, but they were charged with inciting a riot.

“They were trying to make an example of us,” Riley said.

He said the “campaign” he led to get the jobs back and mitigate the criminal complaints against his group - which was called the Charleston Five - was akin to a “run for public office.”

Riley said his group and its supporters blanketed Charleston with bumper stickers, billboards, placards and yard signs.

“You could hardly go down a street and not see five or six or more signs with our logo and ‘Free the Charleston Five’ on it,” he said. “Then the public began to wonder, ‘Who’s the Charleston Five?’ And then they would find out and find out what happened to us.”

He said after a while, the tide began to turn in his group’s favor.

“And the pressure began to mount on the city,” he added. The charges were eventually reduced and the Charleston Five ended up with misdemeanor charges and $100 fines.

“But just like us, you have got to win over this community and that plant,” Riley said. “And all five of these brothers and sister have to get their jobs back. That is how this thing has to be won, and losing is not an option.”

Robert Whiteside, one of the fired Freightliner workers and the former shop chief of the UAW local, said it boils down to one concept.

“We’ve heard a lot about solidarity,” Whiteside said. “And that’s what we have to have in this local. We have to be in solidarity, or this will not work.”

Woody Woodard, president of the Statesville Branch NAACP, was at the Tuesday’s meeting and said cohesiveness is the only thing a union has.

“And if you are familiar with the workings of a union,” Woodard said, “it’s easy to see these five have been mistreated.“

Woodard said the organizers of Local 3520 have been courageous in their attempts to solidify the union.

“It’s a struggle,” Woodard said. “But you gain very little without struggle.”


AFSCME swallows dues hit in labor-state

DeKalb (IL) City Council voted during Tuesday’s special meeting to take action and avoid the 10 layoffs city employees are facing. Assistant City Manager Rudy Espiritu said jobs will be preserved through a series of steps including a reduction in force, reorganization, expense cuts and tax increases. During a presentation to the council, Espiritu explained the reasons DeKalb ended up with a half million dollar deficit in 2007, and how the city can stay out of debt over at least the next four years. “This is by no means a perfect plan,” Espiritu said, “but it’s a plan that gets us through.”

The reduction in force, aimed to save the city $810,000, is already underway with five employees retiring and five positions being eliminated as they become vacant.

Reorganizing in the city’s Community Development and Public Works Departments will allow money for salaries to come from sources other than the general revenue fund.

Expense cuts will hit all city departments in the form of a 10 percent cut on non-personel expenses, cuts in non-essential overtime and a hiring freeze with the exception of police and fire department personnel.

Second Ward Alderman Kris Povlsen, who voted against the last proposed sales tax increase in 2004, said he will support these increases this time because the city has a plan for reining in spending as it raises revenue.

“I’ve seen the city step forward,” Povlsen said.

Though he did express concern over rising health care costs and salary increases and said tax increases are never popular, Povlsen said they are necessary at this time.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) local 813 president Mike Taylor said he hopes for quick action by the council and city. He said he feels positive about interaction between the city staff and AFSCME members.

“We’re blessed that the council acknowledged that there was a lot of hard work by AFSCME,” Taylor said. “We’ll be working together for years to come, trying to be better stewards.”

The plan presented for the council’s approval is a “Memorandum of Understanding” between the city and local AFSCME chapter 813 members. Tax increases and other budget items will still need to go before the council individually for approval.


Discouraging non-union labor in Massachusetts

With Shire Pharmaceutical's recent announcement of a $394 million expansion in Lexington (MA), growing consensus around a $500 million bond authorization for the Commonwealth's life sciences industry, and the prospect of three new resort casinos, Massachusetts is likely to see a lot of new construction in the coming months and years. That's good news - unless the vast majority of the Commonwealth's construction industry is excluded from participating.

Construction unions will no doubt lobby to put project labor agreements in place for the new projects. Under such an agreement, owners agree to use exclusively union labor in return for the unions' pledge not to strike.

New data from Unionstats.com highlights one of the shortcomings of project labor agreements. It shows that the unionized portion of the Massachusetts construction industry fell from 20 percent in 2006 to around 16 percent in 2007. Their finding corroborates the one arrived at by the Patrick administration's Department of Labor and Workforce Development. According to an official there, "the percentage of construction industry union members. . . might fall in the 15-17 percent range."

The dearth of union construction is at the heart of why the labor agreements are such a bad idea. It's important for the Commonwealth to maximize return on investment when it spends taxpayer dollars to spur economic development. More competition means lower prices and better quality. Excluding over five-sixths of the industry simply because of labor affiliation has exactly the opposite effect.

In recent years, the merits of competition have been demonstrated numerous times in Massachusetts. In 2006, Fall River announced it would build four new schools using a project labor agreement. But after two rounds of bids, prices were still 25-75 percent over budget. When the city rebid the project without an agreement, costs came down 15 percent and the number of bidders nearly doubled.

When Worcester and Lowell each needed new parking garages, Worcester went the project-labor-agreement route and Lowell decided to open competition to all qualified bidders. For the same $21.5 million, Worcester got a 500-space parking garage and Lowell will get one with 900 parking spaces.

A 2006 Beacon Hill Institute study confirmed what common sense tells us. Its review of school construction in Massachusetts found that project labor agreements raised the price tag by at least 12 percent, a differential that can only rise, given that the reduction in union construction workers will yield fewer bids on projects using such agreements.

And while unions will try to say that the savings come on the backs of workers, all the companies working on those school projects - both union and open shop - were subject to the prevailing wage laws that govern public construction in the Commonwealth.

Last year, Bristol-Myers Squibb chose to build a new pharmaceutical manufacturing plant at Devens using a project labor agreement. With such a small percentage of Massachusetts construction workers affiliated with a union, the first major contract on the job was awarded to an out-of-state firm. As Massachusetts slips into recession, we can't afford to be an exporter of good construction jobs.

The unions claim the agreements promote higher-quality construction. But the shoddy work that plagues the Big Dig - which was built using a project labor agreement - belie that claim.

Although open shops represent the vast majority of the state construction industry, open-shop firms make no effort to exclude the union firms and workers with whom they routinely work side-by-side. When a project is bid without a project labor agreement, all contractors - union and nonunion - can participate.

But unions take a different approach. Under the project labor agreements they advocate, the open shop workers that make up nearly 85 percent of the industry are locked out.

New investments aimed at boosting the state economy will result in a surge of new construction. Allowing all qualified bidders to compete for the new jobs brings important benefits for the Commonwealth. Companies like Shire will get better quality at a lower price, and more of our construction workforce will be on the job, even as the tide of recession rolls across Massachusetts.


WV takes 'step backward' in labor relations

West Virginia's labor movement has struggled the last few years to win battles in the Legislature. Its biggest defeat was the privatization of the workers compensation system. But this session, labor has gotten some traction with a controversial proposal. It's called the "captive audience" bill. Labor leaders and other supporters say it keeps employers from requiring employees to attend meetings where the boss's views on politics or unions are forced down their throats.

They back up their arguments with anecdotal horror stories of workers being threatened for trying to form unions or forced to sit through employer anti-union diatribes.

The bill is halfway home after passing the House of Delegates this week 64-33, but it faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

The legislation, I believe, is fundamentally flawed, both for technical and philosophical reasons.

First, laws, rules and regulations governing labor relations are already covered by the federal government. Courts don't allow state governments to pass laws that would preempt federal law.

In other words, even if the captive audience bill did become law, a federal judge would probably strike it down.

Second, the existing rules already prohibit the kind of workplace abuse that labor complains about. If I fire you because you're trying to organize a union, then the National Labor Relations Board will protect your rights, and I'll be in a lot of trouble.

Third, the legislation would have a chilling effect on employer-employee meetings.
No, the boss should not be able to subject a worker to intimidation, but managers need the ability to call workers into meetings to discuss operations without worrying that they might be sued.

And finally, no other state in the country has a law like this.

West Virginia has been scraping and clawing the last few years to improve the business climate.

The privatization of workers comp and the scaled reduction of taxes represent progress.

This bill could easily be perceived as a step backward.

The labor leaders pushing this bill are sincere. They have a healthy skepticism of employers' intentions that has been forged by a lifetime of experiences with nasty bosses.

It's reasonable and appropriate for employees to be able to go to work with an expectation that they will not be subjected to intimidation or worse.

But the captive audience bill is an overreach, a can of worms that, if passed, will ultimately do more harm that good.

- Hoppy Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.


Sick-or-not mandate law coming to labor-states

The District of Columbia became the second jurisdiction in the country to mandate paid sick leave for almost everyone who works within the city. The city's "Sick & Safe" bill requires that up to seven days of annual paid leave be offered to workers at companies of 100 or more employees, up to five days for those at companies of 25 to 99 employees and up to three days for those at companies of 24 or fewer.

The bill incurred seven changes and three hours of debate before the D.C. Council unanimously passed it. San Francisco is the only other place in the country to mandate paid leave for workers, but D.C. became the first to provide leave to employees should they or their families fall victim to domestic violence.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, speaking before the vote, said he opposed the idea but would sign it if it passed. Speaking inside the new Target store to commemorate its opening March 5, Fenty said he had made it clear to the council that he "did not support moving forward" with the legislation. Nonetheless, Fenty said he did not oppose the idea so strongly that he would veto it.

"If it passes, it will become the rule of law and we will respect it as that," Fenty said.

The local director of SEIU Local 32BJ, a union representing 100,000 commercial office building employees -- including cleaning, security and maintenance workers -- from Virginia to New York, applauded the vote.

"The D.C. Council took a bold and important step today to ensure that more than 200,000 D.C. workers will get the paid sick and safe leave they deserve even if they must wait a year for it," said Jaime Contreras, Capitol Area Director of Local 32BJ.

Barbara Lang, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, who had strongly opposed the measure, said she was glad the new law included changes that reflected the difficulty for local businesses to compete in a dour economy. The law does not provide leave for bartenders and waiters, health care workers who participate in "premium pay" programs or workers who have been with an employer for fewer than 1,000 hours.

"This is just not the time to burden the business community and make us less competitive with Maryland and Virginia," said Lang.


School bus service privatized, union furious

Mixed emotions filled the cafeteria of Ballard Elementary School Monday evening after the Niles (MI) Community Schools Board of Education voted unanimously to privatize its bus service. Niles Community Schools bus drivers held up signs in the back of the cafeteria at Ballard Elementary School during the meeting. All 28 drivers, including several residents and parents, attended the meeting. All 28 bus drivers, as well as many concerned parents and residents, packed the cafeteria, all not in favor of privatizing bus transportation.

Some were sad and expressed it in their tears and hugs with the current bus drivers after the vote was made.

Others were angry, frustrated and let their voices be heard. But in the end, everyone was left with one question - why?

"It just doesn't make any sense. They did not even let the public know this was going on. I found out Friday (about a decision being made) and here we are, three days later, finding out we probably won't have our jobs anymore. It's sad," said Janice Murphy, a three-year driver for Niles schools.

Before the actual meeting began, the board gave those in attendance a chance to express their concerns in front of the board. More than 20 individuals, including students who attend Niles schools, explained why they thought privatizing would be a bad idea.

Union President Pat Furner was the first to speak and asked the board to seriously reconsider their decision.

"This all has happened so fast ... the Grand Rapids school board made this same decision a few years go and they cannot keep up with hiring new drivers. They cannot find enough to replace the ones who are leaving. If a larger city like that is having a hard time finding drivers, how will Niles? You should take time to reconsider your decision," Furner said.

He also added that the district seems so concerned about money, "but what happens when 30 students leave this school district next year and go elsewhere? All that money you are trying to save is gone. No more state aid, now you're back in the hole again," Furner added.

And Mike Morgan is one parent who is already considering taking his children out of the school system.

"Our economy is already struggling, and now you want our tax dollars to go out of the country? I'm already thinking about pulling my kids out of Niles and sending them to Edwardsburg. How many other parents will do that?" Morgan said.

School board members said the choice to privatize busing was an effort to save the district money after facing a $750,000 to $1 million dollar deficit in the 2008-09 school year.

The school board voted to privatize their bus services through First Student, Inc., a company from the United Kingdom. This again had many parents and drivers outraged.

First Student, Inc. said they could save the district around $250,000 a year and offered $1 million dollars up front for the school bus fleet. School bus drivers offered the district a $150,000 concession package, but the board said that kind of money cannot compete with what was being offered.

"Outsourcing transportation was a very difficult decision. Ultimately it was made in the best interest of the district. It will help us reduce our operating costs and free up funds for use in core educational activities," said Scott Tyler, school board president.

But many disagreed.

Ramona Minisee is a teacher in Benton Harbor who has lived in the community for 30 years. She said she decided to show her support after receiving a flyer about the issue while driving through town Sunday afternoon.

"I am not even part of this school system, but I was touched by what I was told. These bus drivers see these children everyday, they live in Niles, they pay taxes, including Mr. Law's salary and they own homes in this community. How many of these new bus drivers will live in Niles or ever care about this community like these drivers do?," Minisee questioned.

She encouraged bus drivers and members of the community to organize a recall, which is something that may be done as drivers chanted "recall, recall," after the board made its decision.

Gabe Casey is a sophomore at Niles High School and said his bus driver is like his second mother.

Dan VandenHeede, a teacher at Dowagiac Union High School, coach at Niles High School and Niles resident and Niles City council member, also expressed his concerns.

"We always seem to balance the bucks on those people who can least afford it. First it was with our kitchen workers, now with our bus drivers. It shouldn't be about the money. We are known as Niles Community Schools, not Niles Corporate Schools," he said.

Chris Peterson, who also has children in the school district, got a standing applause when he suggested that other school district employees take pay cuts.

"It's always about the money and the lowest people always take the pay cut. If we need to save money this bad, if we need to find ways to trim the budget, then I suggest you, Mr. Law, take a pay cut too. Are you willing to do that, like these bus drivers are?," Peterson said.

Others who had a chance to speak talked about their relationships with the bus drivers. Some parents had the same bus drivers when they were in school as their children do now. Some talked about how safe they feel knowing their children are in good hands and questioned if new drivers would be the same.

"It makes you sick to your stomach. It's very said," Cheryl Curran, a 27-year driver with the district said. Curran said she is planning on retiring after this year, but still wanted to show her support to "my dear friends."

"They knew this would happen before this meeting even took place and they did not let the community know because they knew there was no way we would go for something like this," Shirley Townsend said. "This is the worst administration I have seen in years."

Superintendent Doug Law said in a previous interview that hiring this new company does not mean bus drivers will lose their jobs, but they will have to be interviewed for their positions.

"That means we have to start all over again," Murphy said.

"It's so sad. If they were really concerned about our children like they say, they would find other ways to save money. These bus drivers are the nicest people. If you look at other school district in the area, I bet their drivers do not even compare to ours," Townsend said.

The contract with First Student Inc., is expected to begin in July.


SEIU's Rivera takes advantage of strike chaos

The Teachers Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR) called a strike February 21 for a new collective bargaining agreement after the government of Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá cancelled the previous contract.

The Department of Education (DE) dragged out the negotiations for over 30 months and systematically refused to negotiate the main teachers' demands. On February 17, more than 25,000 teachers marched in San Juan to demand accelerated negotiations and an end to the government's foot-dragging.

Teachers' demands include a raise in the salary of new teachers, which has been frozen at $1,500 a month for more than a decade; a maximum class size of 15 students to combat overcrowding; and democratic participation in the organization of schools.

The previous contract included the COEs, or School Organization Committees, that allowed teachers a say in the numbers of teachers and classes offered by the school. For years, the DE has refused to comply with the determinations of the COEs and unilaterally appoints the number of teachers and classes that it wishes, often creating chaos in the schools.

In its first two weeks, the strike was a resounding success, stopping classes in the majority of schools, mainly because students haven't attended. About 21,000 teachers have been absent from work, and about 9,000 have been active on the picket lines.

The strike has been called a peoples' strike, as teachers are asking for the active participation of students, parents, workers and university students. In Rio Piedras, university students clash almost daily with riot police to prevent strikebreakers from entering a vocational school.

The government has declared the strike illegal and decertified the union, thus justifying their refusal to negotiate. This move is not a surprise. A decade ago, the legislature passed Law 45 to make public employees strikes illegal and give the government the power to repress any attempt to break this prohibition.

When the present leadership within the FMPR was elected, their platform included the defense of the right to strike for all workers, and their intention to challenge Law 45. In this sense, the present strike is also a massive civil disobedience movement for the scrapping of Law 45 and the recognition of the right to strike.

The FMPR is also challenging Law 45 in courts. As a consequence, the Puerto Rico Senate approved an amendment to the law that would save most of it in the event that one of its sections was found to be unconstitutional in a court of law. At present, the whole law would be nullified if one of its sections is declared unconstitutional.

AT THE same time, the government is seeking to replace the FMPR with a bosses' union. The Puerto Rico Teachers Association (AMPR) is an association that includes school principals, area supervisors and teachers in the same organization. The AMPR has created a "trade union," the Union of Puerto Rican Teachers, to challenge the FMPR in union elections.

According to a recent exposé by El Diario-La Prensa and Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News, the AMPR has a deal with Acevedo Vilá and Dennis Rivera, chair of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Health Care, to replace the FMPR now that it has been decertified.

Another important demand of the FMPR is a stipulation in the contract against the privatization of the public schools system. Already, some programs, like Escuela Abierta (afternoon tutoring) are being phased out and substituted with private programs.

The government envisions a combination of charter schools (as defined by the No Child Left Behind law), municipal schools and services outsourced to private companies. The city of San Juan has already established a pilot program of municipal schools.

In Puerto Rico, the legacy of privatization is appalling. For example, in the 1990s, the public system of treatment centers, municipal and regional hospitals offered emergency care 24/7 and free services for those who could not pay.

After privatization, many treatment centers went bankrupt and are now rat-infested buildings. Some have limited hours and are closed at nights and on weekends. Hospitals are overcrowded, and health services are available only to those insured. The FMPR is fighting to prevent the same from happening to the public education system.

The government is also seeking the privatization of the electricity utility. Last year, the contract of the electrical workers was cancelled as part of the anti-union tactics of the Acevedo Vilá administration.

While the electrical workers' union, UTIER, support the teachers' strike, they have not mobilized their membership to the picket lines. UTIER is fighting for a collective bargaining agreement, but it isn't taking on the political aspects of the struggle.

The teachers' strike is more than a labor dispute. It is a political strike against an attack by the bosses and the government on the labor movement.

Like the 1998 Peoples' Strike initiated by telephone workers, but joined by thousands of working people, this struggle challenges the government's policy of privatizing public services--in this case, education.

Plus, the teachers are fighting the government's determination to outlaw the right to strike for public employees--and its practice of canceling collective bargaining agreements of independent unions as a means to their replacement with bosses' unions.

The teachers' strike is about to enter its third week. It deserves and needs the active support of all workers and their organizations. It represents an important defensive action at a time that so many other unions have opted to give concessions and keep quiet.

This strike is the most important contribution to the rebuilding of Puerto Rico's labor movement in the last decade.


No punishment for illegal teacher strike

Public school teachers will face no disciplinary action for joining what is now an 8-day island-wide strike if they abandon picket lines and return immediately to work, the island's top education official said Monday Teachers who have defied previous government warnings to end their strike will not be dismissed or suspended if they return to classrooms right away, Education Secretary Rafael Aragunde told reporters.

He had recently warned that teachers who skipped more than five days of work during the strike were effectively abandoning their posts and faced expulsion from the public education system. Teachers Federation President Rafael Feliciano has painted Aragunde's warnings as "irresponsible" threats.

The union declared the strike on Feb. 20 after 30 months of negotiations to increase teachers' salaries and address shortages of books, computers and other materials reached a deadlock.

The U.S. territory's government has refused to negotiate until the walkout ends, but Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila said he was willing to meet with leaders of the now decertified union in an informal sitdown to encourage an end to the strike.

Puerto Rican public school teachers, who have been without a contract for more than two years, earn a starting yearly salary of US$19,200 - 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.

Meanwhile, a federal judge on Monday dismissed a case by union leaders who had sought a judicial ruling validating their strike.

U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Dominguez rejected the union's request, saying that Puerto Rico's Supreme Court has made clear since 1993 that public workers do not have the right to strike or carry pickets.

About 82 percent of public school teachers went to class on Monday, along with 68 percent of the public school system's 500,000 students, Aragunde said.


Criminal police protected by union, arbitrator

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they wear uniforms, flash badges and work for the city? In the last year, four city police officers have been implicated on corruption charges, from embezzlement to accepting bribes to forgery. So for months, city officials have worked to restore the image of the New Haven Police Department by cracking down on corruption in its ranks.

But two weeks ago, an arbitrator delivered a blow to these efforts when he ruled that the NHPD could not terminate two of the charged officers, Lt. William “Billy” White and Detective Clarence Willoughby, because they had already filed for retirement, which takes effect immediately. The decision means White and Willoughby are entitled to full pensions from the city, an outcome City Hall officials have said undermines its efforts to overhaul the department.

Following the ruling, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Board of Police Commissioners Chairman Richard Epstein have called for a “bad-boy clause” in the police union contract, the first of its kind in Connecticut, which would limit officers convicted of corruption having access to their pensions and retirement funds. While some aldermen have been pushing for a similar measure that would apply to all city employees since White’s arrest in March, and while Democrats in the Connecticut legislature have called for the revocation of corrupt state officials’ pensions, DeStefano has yet to disclose publicly the details of the contractual clause he wants police to adopt.

City administrators argue that corrupt officials should receive no benefits whatsoever because they committed their crimes while on the job. But some, including members of the NHPD and union affiliates, argue that revoking benefits would unfairly punish family members of officers convicted of corruption and deny officers the money they contributed to the city’s pension fund out of their paychecks. Members of the police union currently pay out 8.75 percent of their paychecks to the pension fund, which is then managed by a group of investors, Union President Sgt. Louis Cavaliere Sr. said.

City Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 dismissed claims that a bad-boy clause would harm officers’ families, arguing that, as soon as city employees commit to a contract that requires proper behavior, they effectively waive their right to pensions if they break the law in service of the city.

“It’s all determined by the agreements that we enter into with them,” he added. “My point of view is that we shouldn’t have to pay pension for someone who engages in egregious violations of the public trust.”

City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said the mayor will wait until formal negotiations over the police union’s contract are underway before discussing the details of what he wants included in the bad boy clause.

Willoughby, who was charged with larceny and forgery last month, had his $58,541 in annual pension approved by the Police & Fireman’s Pension Board last week. White is currently receiving $91,000 annually and, now that his termination has been overturned, is eligible for roughly $5,000 more for the unused sick time he accumulated during his career, Mayorga previously told the News.

Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, chairman of the Board of Aldermen’s Finance Committee, said because funding for police comes from taxpayers, salaries and pensions should be more stringently awarded.

“That’s money that homeowners paid for,” he said.

The Local 530 police union’s contract with the NHPD, which expires June 30, is already in the beginning stages of negotiation. Cavaliere said union representatives and city officials from the Labor Relations department have already met twice, but the two camps have not yet put forward specific proposals.

Epstein said he thinks union members, aware that the few officers who betray public trust and denigrate the work of the “highly honorable” do not deserve the same benefits as others, will understand the need for a bad-boy clause in the new contract.

But Cavaliere, though conceding a bad-boy clause of some sort will probably appear in the union’s contract, said he is surprised by how many union members are opposed to the inclusion of the clause.

“We have a job to uphold the law, and it just seems funny to me that we don’t want to give [the city] that clause,” he said. “If you look at the downside, people might be thinking, ‘I might get caught up in a crime someday and I just don’t want to lose my pension.’ ”

Cavaliere said he will not just “sit there and give up” and allow the city to impose harsh punitive measures on NHPD officers, but he said he will consider the city’s proposals with an open mind.

The details still have to be ironed out, Cavaliere said, and the two sides have to agree on questions such as what kind of on-duty or off-duty crimes would justify the city revoking an officer’s pension, and what percentage of his total pension the city can deny.

But both the city and the union said they think negotiations will produce an outcome acceptable to both sides.

“Everything comes with a price,” Cavaliere said. “It’s going to be a give and take process.”

While the city is unlikely to give the union “a candy shop” in return for a bad-boy clause, reasonable wage increases, more vacation time and lower medical premiums are among the union’s potential demands, Cavaliere said.

For the time being, the police union’s contract is the only union contract up for renegotiation, but Smuts said the city may pursue a bad-boy clause in its contracts with the fire department and municipal employees as well.

Like Local 530’s contract with the city, the fire union and the municipal employee union contracts expire every four years. Inserting a new clause into those contracts would require both sides to agree to open their respective contracts before they are due to be renegotiated.

Shah said the Board of Aldermen has investigated the plausibility of a bad-boy clause at a municipal level since March. In September, Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 offered the aldermen a template for drafting an ordinance that would revoke the pensions of corrupt city officials.

But to date, no aldermen have introduced a plan to implement a municipal bad-boy clause, according to Shah. Such an ordinance, he said, would likely provoke heated debate and would take months to implement.

Emmet Hibson Jr., director of labor relations for the city who negotiates union contracts, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Yale Police Department officers have a contract with their own private union, and it is unclear whether they too will pursue a bad-boy clause. Officer Carlos Perez, president of Yale Police Benevolent Association, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

On Monday, Democrats in the state legislature introduced a bill that would retroactively revoke the pensions of state officials convicted of corruption charges in the last 10 years. The legislation is a subsection of broader ethics-reform legislation Democrats have proposed.

Republican officials in the State House of Representatives also put forward an ethics-reform package that mirrors many of the initiatives the Democrats have proposed. Gov. M. Jodi Rell has said she will sign pension-revocation legislation if it lands on her desk.

Detective Justen Kasperzyk, who was also implicated in the March corruption probe, had $41,013 in annual disability pension approved in September. Detective Jose Silva, who was later arrested for his involvement with Kasperzyk, was denied his attempt to resign to avoid termination and was not eligible for retirement.


President of the United States of Labor?

The television images are striking. A handsome young candidate, an adoring audience, a beautifully delivered speech in which he offers to bring us together as a nation, and speaks of his "movement for change:" "I don't want to spend the next year or the next four years" he says, "re-fighting the same fights that we had in the 1990s. I don't want to pit Red America against Blue America, I want to be the President of the United States of America." Nice rhetoric. Is it real or is it theater? Relax: it's theater.

A visit to Barack Obama's website reveals that this is not a candidate who is offering a new left-right synthesis--a new way of looking at our politics and bridging the old Red-Blue divide. Instead, what we see in 60 pages of policy proposals and commitments are the same old ideas of the Democratic Left. Even the rhetoric is old.

The Obama program has been attacked with the slogan "Where's the beef?" This attack is misplaced. There's plenty of beef; the problem is that it's very well-aged.

On economics: "I'm in this race to take tax breaks away from companies that are moving jobs overseas and put them in the pockets of hard working Americans who deserve it. And I won't raise the minimum wage every ten years--I will raise it to keep pace so that workers don't fall behind. That's why I am in it. To protect the American worker."

The same old disputes come back to us with this on unions: "Obama will ... fight for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act" (this is the failed proposal to eliminate the secret ballot on unionization, of which Obama was a co-sponsor). And this on Social Security: "Obama will protect Social Security benefits for current and future beneficiaries alike ... he does not believe it is necessary or fair to hardworking seniors to raise the retirement age. Obama is strongly opposed to privatizing Social Security." And this on taxes: "Obama is committed to repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans."

On foreign policy: "Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months." On Iran: "Obama believes that we have not exhausted our non-military options in confronting this threat; in many ways, we have yet to try them." And of course the belief that we can talk our enemies out of their hatred: "The United States is trapped by the Bush-Cheney approach to diplomacy that refuses to talk to leaders we don't like."

In the 60 pages of words, there's hardly a major new idea or an idea that departs significantly from the Democratic Party's agenda since the New Deal. It's all here: the activist government, the ambitious programs without reference to costs, the appeal to some people's sense of victimization. There is also one striking omission--a list of anything that Senator Obama has actually done in the course of his brief career to advance any of these goals.

The point is that there is nothing here to back up a candidacy that is based on bringing the nation together to effect change. It's a rehash of the same policies and programs that the Democratic Left has been pushing--largely without success--for the last 40 years. For some people, as least, the era of big government is not over.

What appears to qualify this candidacy as a candidacy of change is not the policies or programs it relies on but the fact that the same old ideas are coming from a new and telegenic messenger. It is no wonder, then, that this messenger has excited and attracted young people. If you've never heard this message before, and if you don't have any background in the politics of the last two generations, you might think these ideas will be generally accepted. But anyone who has followed American politics over more than the last year knows that there is real disagreement in this country about the role of government, about trade, about taxes, about confronting the nation's enemies. If Senator Obama is ultimately elected, and if his program ultimately adopted, it will certainly bring about change, but no one should be under the illusion that this is a message of reconciliation, or that the American people as a whole will rally around these ideas. Ask George McGovern.

The Obama program has been attacked with the slogan "Where's the beef?" This attack is misplaced. There's plenty of beef; the problem is that it's very well-aged.

- Peter J. Wallison is the Arthur F. Burns Fellow in Financial Policy Studies at AEI.


AFL-CIO delivers on promise to left-wing Dem

Despite a well-financed, aggressive opposition campaign and the distractions of a failed presidential bid, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich appears to have survived a strong primary challenge. The 10th District Democratic congressman was facing his first threat of losing the seat he has held for 12 years. Kucinich spent thousands of dollars on television ads and agreed to debate his opponents - chief rival Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman and three other candidates.

The 61-year-old former Cleveland mayor said he was encouraged by the results. "I am also encouraged because I know of all the hard work you have all put in," he told supporters at the North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor union hall.

Cimperman hammered away at Kucinich's second long-shot presidential bid, constantly citing votes he missed in Congress while running for the White House and the financial support he received from Hollywood stars like Sean Penn.

Cimperman, 37, spent at least $500,000 trying to win the seat and gained the endorsement of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.

"We took someone who ignored the district for 12 years and made him pay attention," said Cimperman, speaking from Around the Corner in Lakewood.

Cimperman, who lives outside the district, said it was too early to say whether he would consider another run for the 10th District seat. The district encompasses Cleveland's West Side and Cuyahoga County's western suburbs.

While Cimperman said he always considered the campaign a two-way race, the crowded field did not help his chances.

Rosemary Palmer, campaigning in the HopeMobile bus, entered the race after her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Edward "Augie" Schroeder, was killed in Iraq.

Barbara Ferris, president and founder of the International Women's Democracy Center, was trying for a third time to unseat Kucinich.

During the campaign, North Olmsted Mayor Thomas O'Grady cited his military career and blasted Cimperman.

Kucinich probably will face Republican Jim Trakas, a former state representative from Independence who had to give up his seat because of term limits.

After 36 years, residents of the 16th Congressional District will have a new representative in November with Republican Ralph Regula's decision to step down.

State Sen. Kirk Schuring and Ashland County Commissioner Matt Miller were in a close race for the Republican nomination. Democrat John Boccieri, a state senator, was leading.

The 16th District covers all of Stark and Wayne counties and parts of Ashland and Medina counties.

Democratic Rep. Betty Sutton, who represents the 13th District, appears headed to a race against David Potter in November. Rep. Steve LaTourette, a Republican in the 14th District, will face Bill O'Neill, a former appeals court judge.


Change: To a pro-union agenda

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