Two unions slapped with new RICO lawsuit

Cintas Corp., the nation's largest uniform supplier, fired back Wednesday at two unions' five-year "corporate campaign" to win exclusive bargaining rights for its employees by accusing the unions of an "extortion scheme." In a 100-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in New York, Cintas accused Unite Here and the Teamsters of violating federal and state racketeering laws, allowing recovery of treble damages if the company prevails.

In response, Unite Here said it hadn't seen a copy of the lawsuit, but noted it was filed on the first anniversary this week of the death of a worker at Cintas' Tulsa, Okla., laundry.

The suit, the union said, "appears to be a continuation of the company's attempts to harass, bully and repress all who want to help workers gain better jobs and better lives."

The lawsuit, which consolidates information in a defamation suit filed four years ago by Cintas against the unions, accuses the unions and named and unnamed individuals of a two-step extortion scheme: first, a series of actions and tactics by the unions to cripple and interfere with Cintas' business, and second, making clear they won't stop until the company accepts the unions as bargaining agent, the lawsuit said.

Cintas has maintained that employees should have the right to vote in federally-supervised elections whether they want union representation.

A Cintas spokeswoman said the suit was filed "to protect our employees' rights and hold the unions accountable for their actions."

The suit also includes several claims for violation of Cintas' trademarks.


Dems redefine 'free-choice' as 'no-vote'

We haven't written much about the card-check issue since the Senate stopped H.R. 800, the Employee Free Choice Act, last June by failing to invoke cloture. The bill was dead, no reason to keep restating how undemocratic it was, how much abuse employees would face if they were robbed of their right to a secret ballot in the workplace.

But since then, organized labor has been tireless in promoting -- and misrepresenting -- the Employee Free Choice Act, making it a matter of faith on the political left. Just one example: In Minnesota, the Minnesota Machinists Union endorses Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken, proclaiming, "Al will carry our voice to Washington and not only vote for the Employee Free Choice Act he will proudly co-sponsor it."

That's no surprise, but neither should the unions and candidates simply get a free ride on the issue, claiming card check would "protect the rights of the 60 million people" who supposedly want to join a union. If by "protect" you mean open up to flagrant intimidation by union organizers, sure.

Anyway, we promise renewed attention. And to fire up the effort, an observation from the former top man at GE, Jack Welch, talking to Larry Kudlow on CNBC.
And I think people, the market, is usually ahead of things, are seeing some of these crazy proposals that are out there from these people. We’d be the only country in the developed world that’s raising taxes, not lowering taxes. And there’s a whole series of programs here. And Larry, we haven’t even talked about yet, the first thing they’ll do is pass that damn [Employee] Free Choice Act. And if you want to see jobs escape, in a country where [American workers] don’t have a secret ballot for voting, you’ll see it happen here.
Earlier posts on card check are here.


The rise of a hard-left union front-group

The Nation has been covering the ascendancy of The Working Families Party since it was started in 1998 by a group of labor and community activists who wanted to end the rightward drift of the Democratic Party and reinvigorate the fight for economic and social justice in New York. In fact, The Nation actually played a small but significant role in the birth of the WFP, running an editorial calling on our New York readers, who then numbered over 20,000 (now we've grown!), to vote for the WFP candidate on the party's ballot line. Based on a sophisticated statistical analysis of our subscribers' zipcodes and the 1998 voter precinct results, I like to claim that the WFP owes its ballot line to The Nation!

But The Nation is "the organ of no party," as our founders wrote back in 1865. And we've demonstrated our independence of the WFP by running critical articles of it. The WFP, in turn, has demonstrated its independence of us by writing letters to the editor taking issue with those articles, and sometimes endorsing candidates that we've criticized.

That said, The Nation and the WFP support the same things for our society: jobs for all that pay a living wage, universal health care, quality public education, a revived role for organized labor and a real voice for average people in the decisions that affect their lives, deep campaign finance reform, tolerance for and celebration of our diversity. And we both believe that the path to a revived progressive politics runs through a revived labor movement and must be built on a multiracial foundation.

I also admire the WFP for showing progressives-- with its in-the-trenches, savvy organizing and sophisticated policy ideas-- what "The left wing of the possible" looks like in these turbulent years.

In these last days, The Working Families Party of New York continues to impress with its combination of electoral savvy and policy ambition. After playing a major role in last week's State Senate upset victory in the North Country, the WFP has turned its attention to re-framing the state debate on taxes.

So, it was very good to see the WFP get its due in the New York Times. Today's paper has a big story about how "the politically influential Working Families Party" is pushing a proposal to simultaneously provide serious property tax relief to middle and working class New Yorkers while also closing the budget gap. How? By repealing some of the huge Pataki-era tax cuts. It's so obvious, but of course it goes against 30 years of right-wing orthodoxy on taxes, so it takes actual muscle to move such an idea forward.

Will Governor Spitzer weigh in in favor? That's the million-dollar question.

Meanwhile, you can learn more about the WFP here.


Union organizers swarm Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Democrats hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite presidential candidate shouldn't have to worry. Hillary Clinton's first campaign visit to Pittsburgh could be next week. "It will be within in the next five to seven days," her Pennsylvania spokesman, Mark Nevins, said Wednesday. And it’s likely voters "will be able to have breakfast with Barack Obama at your local diner," said state Democratic chairman T.J. Rooney.

By winning Tuesday's two big primaries in Texas and Ohio, Clinton kept alive her campaign and snapped Obama's string of 11 straight victories. That shifts the battleground to Pennsylvania in the weeks leading to the state's April 22 primary.

"Pennsylvania is about to become a marathon that may turn into out-and-out war between Clinton and Obama," said University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato. "It will be a long twilight struggle with millions and millions of dollars spent."

After a caucus Saturday in Wyoming and Tuesday's Mississippi primary, Clinton and Obama will face a six-week stretch of bare-knuckle campaigning in the Keystone State -- the last big prize of the primary season and another "must-win" for Clinton who still trails Obama in the delegate count, Sabato said.

Pennsylvanians should prepare for an onslaught of robo-calls, targeted direct mail, e-mails, invitations to town hall meetings and campaign signs on every street corner, said Democratic strategist Mark Siegel.

It's the kind of hand-to-hand, delegate-by-delegate combat that makes Republicans giddy.

"She can’t put him away, and he can’t put her way," Sabato said. "Meanwhile, while nobody is looking, John McCain will be organizing, raising money and preparing for the fall."

McCain clinched the Republican nomination Tuesday as his last remaining opponent, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, dropped out of the race. McCain, an Arizona senator, yesterday visited the White House to accept President Bush's endorsement.

The last time the Pennsylvania primary made a difference was in 1976, when former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter's victory cleared the way for him to win the nomination and, in turn, the presidency.

Pennsylvania's unexpected relevance -- after a failed effort last year to move up the primary -- will pay dividends for residents. The candidates will be forced to focus on issues important to the people, and they'll give the tourism industry a boost as campaign operatives and members of the national media snap up hotel rooms across the state, said Brian Schaffner, a political science professor at American University.

The nation's sixth most populous state, Pennsylvania bears many similarities to Ohio, where Clinton defeated Obama by 10 points Tuesday. It's a Rust Belt state largely abandoned by the once-mighty steel, coal and railroad industries.

"Look for lots of talk about NAFTA," Schaffner said.

Obama and Clinton have both said they want to re-evaluate and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which became a contentious issue in the final days of the campaigns in Ohio and Texas.

Pennsylvania's comparatively high union membership -- 13.5 percent of state wage earners, compared to 12 percent nationally -- and large elderly population make it fertile ground for Clinton, whose political base is anchored by older white voters and blue-collar workers. The state AFL-CIO estimates a third of registered voters live in union households.

Clinton's daughter Chelsea campaigned for her mother in Philadelphia yesterday. The campaign was setting up a headquarters in Pittsburgh, operating out of a temporary office in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees building Downtown.

Obama likely will not visit Pennsylvania until after Tuesday's primary in Mississippi.

"After that, expect to see him non-stop," said Obama spokesman Sean Smith.

Obama campaign workers have been meeting for training sessions and canvassing Pittsburgh neighborhoods in recent weeks. Hanna Spearman, 70, of Monroeville started volunteering about a month ago. She makes calls and does campaign research each day after waking up at 5 a.m.

She spent Wednesday afternoon with several other volunteers making calls on cell phones from Obama’s Pittsburgh headquarters in East Liberty. She spends about 6 hours a day calling people from there or trying to talk friends into voting Obama, she said.

"My friends are just sick of me because I talk about him every day. It’s just Barack Barack Barack," Spearman said. "I’m in love with him."

Clinton volunteers planned to start calling local residents last night after spending recent weeks making calls in Ohio and Texas. In the afternoon, workers were making campaign signs and talking about how to coordinate college voting groups.

Courtney Pellegrino, 43, of the South Side, traveled in recent weeks to volunteer for Clinton in Ohio.

"We have real problems here: job loss, lack of infrastructure, cost of gas, cost of food," said Pellegrino, who put up several signs outside Clinton's temporary headquarters on the Boulevard of the Allies. "I think she’s shown she can get results and has the skills to get her plans through."

Political observers expect Obama to do well in Philadelphia, the state's Democratic hub, where more than 40 percent of residents are black, and among the younger, better educated voters in the city's suburbs. Clinton, they say, might do better among more conservative, working-class Democrats in northeastern and southwestern Pennsylvania.

The state has a slim track record of electing women and blacks to public office -- relevant in a year when Democrats likely will have either the first female or first black nominee for president. Women comprise just 13 percent of the Legislature, in contrast to the national average of 23 percent. Blacks hold 8 percent of the seats, equal to the national average.

Most polls show Clinton leading in the state, but the margin has shrunk in recent weeks. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed Clinton with 49 percent of the vote and Obama with 43 percent.

Because Democrats mete out delegates proportionately, it is unlikely that either candidate will gain much ground in the battle for Pennsylvania's 187 delegates.

Despite her wins Tuesday, Clinton picked up just 12 delegates out of about 370 at stake, according to The Associated Press.

Obama's overall delegate lead stood at 1,566 to 1,462 as he and Clinton looked ahead to the final dozen contests on the calendar. It takes 2,025 to win the nomination, and neither candidate is likely to reach that milestone with the other still in the race.

So both campaigns are intensely lobbying party leaders, the superdelegates who attend the convention but are not chosen in primaries or caucuses.

About 350 of them remain uncommitted, enough to swing the nomination. Those who have endorsed a particular candidate can change their minds.


Bargaining fails with collectivists on both sides

The financial disasters faced by several cities and, in particular, Contra Costa (CA) County have their principal source in the political power of government employee unions. Having spent many years in labor relations, it is simple to point out that the outcome of labor negotiations is usually determined by bargaining strength, sometimes economic, sometimes dependent on the wisdom and fortitude of the negotiators, and sometimes on public opinion. There are no cases where the result is fair to both sides if the negotiators supposedly representing both sides are in fact controlled by only one side.

Unfortunately, the California Legislature adopted laws several years ago giving government employee unions rights they were not entitled to, but which they established through their political influence.

Now those unions have built such machines that they largely control city and county elections by supporting candidates whom they control after elections.

Then, when negotiation of a labor contract for government employees comes up, the elected officials who are supposed to represent the public interest pay off their election obligations to the unions by granting high salaries and grossly exaggerated pension arrangements. Who is looking out for the public when both sides of the bargaining tables are controlled by the unions?

- Sam Holmes, Lafayette, CA


Dems' food-fight fueled by Collectivist cash

Some people think the ongoing struggle between Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton is about, well, Democratic presidential politics. Silly them! The campaign is also a titanic battle among unions, as newly filed financial figures revealed today to the expert eyes of The Times' Dan Morain.

The American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees spent $1 million on ads supporting Clinton in Texas and Ohio recently. The money went through American Leadership Project, a newly formed organization backing her candidacy. Altogether, AFSCME has spent $5 million on Clinton’s behalf since December.

AFSCME delivered its latest $1 million on Feb. 29. The late surge wasn't revealed until the American Leadership Project made its first campaign finance filing with the Federal Election Commission today, the day after Texas and Ohio voted to keep Clinton in the race.

The American Leadership Project aired $833,000 worth of pro-Clinton television ads in Texas and Ohio and has $300,000 in the bank for a new round of TV messages likely in Pennsylvania for its April 22 voting. The project disclosed it had raised $1.16 million overall.

But even at that significant rate, AFSCME was outspent by the rival Service Employees International Union, which backs Obama. Since January, SEIU and its affiliates spent $5.4 million to help Obama win the nomination, with the bulk of television and get-out-the-vote efforts pouring into Texas and Ohio.

Four years ago, both AFSCME and SEIU backed Howard Dean's failed bid. Since then the labor groups have gone their separate ways. In fact, they’re now fighting each other over representation of many of the same workers, particularly those in healthcare and home care.

Notwithstanding its name, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees represents more federal workers than any other union.

The head of AFSCME is Gerald McEntee, a longtime Clinton friend. McEntee’s union remained part of the AFL-CIO when SEIU pulled out of the national organization in 2005 and created Change to Win with a few other smaller unions that also have endorsed Obama, including the Teamsters and Unite-HERE, the culinary workers’ union.

SEIU is the nation’s largest union. Among its top issues, SEIU has been urging an overhaul of the healthcare system that would include more government involvement. So guess what's near the top of the agenda of both candidates?

SEIU, meanwhile, is already aiming at the general election Nov. 4. Along with billionaire George Soros, the Service Employees Union is taking a leading role funding Democracy Alliance, yet another newly formed independent group that gave $400,000 to even another group, the Campaign to Defend America.

And you'll never guess which Republican presidential nominee named John McCain that group began advertising against.


Union organizers need legalized compulsion

Just 3.7 percent of Virginia's wage and salary workers were union members in 2007, placing the state next-to-lowest in the U.S. in that category. The number of Virginia workers who belonged to a union declined 10,000 to 129,000 last year, according to a recent news release from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. An additional 38,000 workers were represented by a union at their main job but were not union members themselves.

At 3 percent, North Carolina had the lowest union membership rate in the U.S. last year. Membership in South Carolina, Georgia and Texas also was less than 5 percent. New York had the highest membership rate at 25.2 percent.

AFL-CIO Virginia President Jim Leamon attributed much of last year's decline in Virginia to the closing of the Ford plant in Norfolk and general downsizing in the auto industry.

But declining union rates in Virginia--and the U.S. as a whole--are not a new thing. In 1992, Virginia's union membership rate was 9.3 percent.

Leamon said long-term declines are due to the fact that manufacturing jobs--which are often heavily unionized--are leaving Virginia. Many new jobs have been in technology and defense in Northern Virginia; those sectors don't have a heavy union presence.

"It's a trend that's been going on for many years," said Keith Cheatham, vice president of government affairs for the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

Virginia is one of 22 "right-to-work" states. Workers in these states cannot be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join a labor union or pay dues. The country's right-to-work states are clustered in the Southeast and Midwest.

Cheatham said the state's right-to-work status is a selling point for companies looking to locate here. Forbes magazine has named Virginia the country's best state for business in each of the past two years. The next three states on the 2007 Forbes list--Utah, North Carolina and Texas--also are right-to-work states.

Cheatham added that the state's low unemployment rate and good wages have made it hard for unions.

"When you have a diverse economy that seemingly is doing pretty well, it's a tough sell," Cheatham said. "It's not a very exciting place for labor unions, which is fine for us."

In addition, Virginia and North Carolina are the only two states in which public-sector employees can't collectively bargain, although they can unionize.

Leamon said the scales are tipped in Virginia in favor of business and management. It would take an act of the General Assembly to change Virginia's status as a right-to-work state, but that's not something the AFL-CIO is lobbying for. It's focusing on benefiting union members and nonmembers through worker compensation, labor, unemployment and other laws.

"It's very hard to organize [in Virginia]," Leamon said.


Voters seek to curb compulsory union-payments

The next showdown between Colorado's labor movement and various business interests may be decided by voters in November. Conservatives have been collecting signatures for a "right-to-work" initiative that would outlaw arrangements requiring all employees to pay fees for union representation, whether they are members or not.

A coalition backed by labor organizations is behind two other recent proposals - one to restrict the ability of companies to fire workers and another targeting corporate fraud.

The three ballot proposals aim to alter Colorado's Constitution and promise to further politicize the labor environment in a state that's increasingly a battleground for labor issues, despite the lower-than-average percentage of residents who actually belong to unions.

"Colorado has long occupied a middle ground on labor issues, and recent efforts to change that balance are only stirring the pot," said William Berger, a Denver attorney who represents management in labor matters. "We shouldn't use the constitution to voice shifting political agendas."

Former Qwest employee Larry Ellingson, who signed on as one of the main proponents of the corporate liability measure, said, "I don't see how anybody can be opposed to holding people accountable."

But Denver-based business groups oppose the two measures being floated by the organized labor advocates. "They're just anathema to our notion of how business should operate in Colorado," said Dan Pilcher, a spokesman for the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry.

Tamra Ward of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce described the labor-backed measures as "a direct assault on our business climate. It's critical we do everything possible to keep them from moving forward."

An attorney hired by the Denver chamber has been challenging the two labor-backed issues in the ballot-approval process. The opponents say the "just cause" measure eliminates the "at-will" system of employment that governs working in Colorado. The fraud initiative could be a bonanza for attorneys who could clog the courts with suits against business.

CACI has supported the right-to-work concept in the past, but its position on the ballot measure has been "neutral" so far, according to Pilcher. The Denver Metro Chamber hasn't taken a stand on it, either.

The effort to get a right-to-work measure on the ballot gained momentum last year after Gov. Bill Ritter signed an executive order giving state workers the right to organize, which some say makes Colorado look like a less friendly place to do business.

"The unions are in the process of gaining more and more ground," said Curt Cerveny, the political consultant who is running the campaign for the constitutional amendment. "This is all about making Colorado a business-friendly state."

But Colorado AFL-CIO Executive Director Mike Cerbo dismissed the argument that the amendment could bolster the business environment.

"Businesses are moving here," Cerbo said. "I've never heard a prospective business come in here and say, 'How hard can I screw my workers if I come here?' That's not on their list of needs."

Supporters of the labor-backed initiatives have been moving ahead on two fronts: vowing to fight the right-to-work measure - which they've dubbed the "work for less" measure - while they push to get the two others on the state ballot this fall.

"We plan on raising enough money to actually pass these two measures into law," said Mitch Ackerman, Colorado State Council president for the Service Employees International Union. "Those very legitimate economic concerns are what we want to be spending our time on. We want to be helping working families."

Ackerman said labor unions have provided the seed money for two of the ballot proposals, but he expects a grass-roots fundraising effort will emerge through the efforts of a loose coalition calling itself "Protect Colorado's Future."

Documents filed with the secretary of state's office say that group was registered by Julie Wells. According to documents at the office and the Web site CampaignMoney.com, Wells is also the registered agent for New West Fellowship Group and the Alliance For Colorado's Families, two 527 political-issue committees funded in part by wealthy progressives Tim Gill and Pat Stryker.

Via e-mail, Wells declined to comment, saying her work is confidential and that she is "a bookkeeper/campaign compliance person who has numerous clients."

Ackerman said the group has yet to tap those particular activists for financial support but said they might be approached as the campaign moves forward.

Some labor leaders say the ballot proposals detract from more pressing issues.

"People aren't talking about unionism, one way or the other," said John Fleck, who recently took over as head of the Denver Area Labor Federation. "When contract negotiations come up, people want to know, 'Are we going to get a raise? Or is it all going to go to health care?' "

Most employees covered by labor contracts already have protections against "arbitrary and capricious" firings, Fleck said.

"There's other public policy we need to be working on," Fleck said. "Workers aren't talking about the 'right to work.' They're talking about health care."

Still, he said he expects labor unions "to get behind the (labor-backed) proposals 100 percent."

In a letter to members, the president of the Colorado arm of the American Federation of Teachers cautioned that a right- to-work constitutional amendment would override majority decisions in the workplace.

"We once again must fight a ballot initiative that would undermine our union contracts," Dave Sanger wrote in his Feb. 11 letter. "We should let employees and employers negotiate what's best for them in the workplace."

kelleyj@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-5068

Proposed initiatives

Right to work

* Who's behind it: Chief proponent is Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier.
* Where it stands: Moved to the petition phase; signatures are being collected.
* Details: Would forbid workers from being forced to join unions as a condition of employment, even though federal law already prohibits such agreements. It would outlaw "union shop" agreements that require employees covered by collective bargaining contracts to pay fees for the union representation. Applies to new contracts and renewal of existing ones.

Just cause

* Who's behind it: Coalition of labor groups and individuals
* Where it stands: Hearings this week at the secretary of state's office and the legislature
* The details: Employees could be fired or suspended only if employer can prove: incompetence, policy violations, willful misconduct, conviction of a crime involving "moral turpitude," employer bankruptcy, or economic circumstances that provide for layoffs of 10 percent. Would apply to for-profit and nongovernment entities.

Corporate fraud

* Who's behind it: The same groups behind the "just cause" initiative
* Where it stands: Moving through the title-setting process and hearings
* Details: Private citizens could sue a business or its employees after a corporate fraud.


AFSCME takes dues hit

Citing a workload reduction and exhausting "all" other options, North Port (FL) City Manager Steve Crowell announced today layoffs of 13 city employees. Eleven were in the Building Department, including eight building inspectors and three other (support) employees. The other two were union mechanics in the Fleet Maintenance division. The decision will save the city approximately $480,000 in the Building Department and more than $60,000 in Fleet, during the current fiscal year.

It's the first time that North Port has ever laid off employees, Assistant City Manager Danny Schult said.

Sarasota County has laid off 79 employees over the last year, said county spokesman Warren Richardson. The most recent round happened in January with the elimination of 16 positions.

The North Port layoffs resulted from a decrease in building permit applications and related business decisions, Crowell said.

"With fewer building inspectors, that means there are fewer (city) vehicles being driven," he said. "That spilled over onto Fleet (not working on as many vehicles). It's a chain reaction."

"It's unfortunate when you have the lack of work like we've had over the past six-to-nine months," Commissioner Jim Blucher said. "I don't think we had any choice. We don't have work for them to do."

In 2006, the Building Department issued 2,111 new-home permits. Last year, the department issued 452 permits for single-family homes and Crowell doesn't foresee an uptick for at least the next year or more. City officials were hoping commercial permits would keep the Building Department busy this year.

"Unfortunately for the workers in the Building Department, it's based on a (special revenue) fund, which means the fees collected have to pay for the inspectors," Commission Chair Fred Tower III said.

"Since the fees weren't coming in due to lack of building permits, regretfully it was necessary to make this move. Otherwise the department would be operating at a loss, which it has the past few months," he said.

Prior to Tuesday, city officials avoided layoffs by reducing Building Department employees to 30-hour work weeks, reassigning duties and transferring some employees to open positions. The Commission also recently signed an interlocal agreement with Venice and Charlotte County to share Building Department employees.

"It just wasn't enough to be able to sustain the big decrease in building permits, particularly residential," Crowell said. "There are still a few commercial that are going through the system and we still have some building inspectors on (duty)."

Meanwhile, the city has some vacant positions that Crowell plans to fill and the laid off employees are welcome to apply for them, he said. The city has openings in the Solid Waste and Road and Drainage divisions of the Public Works Department and in the Utilities Department, according to American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union President Dominick Caravella.

"Every vacant position needs to be justified now," Crowell said. "The union positions have some bumping possibilities there, meaning the two mechanics may be able to fill other positions currently held by union employees with less seniority.”

Mark Thursby, a mechanic and eight-year city employee who was laid off today, said he was "not at liberty to talk about it right now and there is more going on right now than me being laid off."

Asked if that meant he would try to find another city job, he said, "I'm just trying to continue my employment with the city.

"It was a nice place to work."

This round of layoffs may not be the last. Crowell is quick to distinguish "workload" layoffs from those caused by a budget shortfall.

City commissioners gave Crowell "budget assumptions" last week. Working on the 2008-09 budget, they will proceed assuming that revenues from property assessment values will drop 20 percent.

"I'm still holding up that it will be more like 15 percent, but we're obviously going to have to cut in some areas," Blucher said. "We won't budget for those (building and fleet) positions next year, as far as I am concerned. It's too early to tell what else will happen."

City staff estimates an additional $1.14 million decrease in property tax revenue because of the passage of Amendment 1. Meanwhile, commissioners told city staff to make plans anticipating the millage rate will remain at 2.9805 next year.

The 13 laid-off employees were notified Tuesday at City Hall. The two Fleet employees are covered by a labor agreement. All 13 received 10 days paid "administrative leave."

Each employee will receive health benefits through April and other city benefits through March. Jobs Etc., which Crowell said comes to North Port on Wednesdays, provided each laid off employee with a packet of job-hunting resources. An employee-assistance program is available for counseling.

"We've tried to do this with dignity, out of concern for the employees," Crowell said. "Obviously it's a tough situation."

Building Department Manager Scott Williams said after 21 years as a city employee it feels odd to be laying off employees.

"We're always scrambling to find them," he said. "Personally, it bothers me. You become a family. Taking into consideration the livelihood of the individuals, it's not an easy thing."

Williams said any impact of layoffs on his department's ability to promote safety and uphold high community building standards "hurts the community."


American Axle strikers force misery on others

The wheels have been spinning in negotiations between UAW workers and American Axle. Union members at the Three Rivers plant say contract talks screeched to a halt because the company is trying to cut back their pay.

”A fourteen dollar an hour wage cut, plus very significant cuts in our benefits,” said Erv Heidbrink, president of UAW Local 2093.

Cuts they won't stand for, so the 800 workers have been standing in front of the plant in shifts on strike since February 26th. “We are picketing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They know we're fighting for something important, we're fighting for all working people,” Heidbrink says. The UAW’s presence here on the picket line at American Axle is affecting work on production lines at a growing number of facilities across Michigan.

Since they cannot get parts from American Axle, the H2 plant has shut down production.

About 400 workers were laid off earlier this week.

“The parts used in the H2 are unique to H2, not made by other suppliers, so there's no way for GM to go down street and get more parts,” Crag MacNab of GM says, explaining why the layoffs were necessary.

And GM's shutdowns mean there’s no use for other parts which are made just down the street at Nyloncraft.

“It’s scary. It’s real scary because they're not even negotiating now. We’re just waiting and praying,” Dorothy Neal, a Nyloncraft employee says.

She and 79 others were told today, not to come to work tomorrow.

But tomorrow is a new day; it’s the day UAW will be going back to Detroit for talks with American Axle.

“We really feel our workers deserve to continue their working life in dignity and not as part of the working poor. Which we have way too many of,” Heidbrink says.


UAW on strike v. Volvo, week 5

More than a month after members of United Auto Workers Local 2069 went on strike outside the Volvo Trucks North America plant in Dublin, union and company negotiators returned to the bargaining table Wednesday to discuss issues that for weeks have been aired in employee missives, media interviews and picket line chants.

Tim Barnes, UAW Local 2069 vice president, said union members were glad talks had resumed, but that it could be seven days or more before anything gets resolved. In the meantime, the union's roughly 2,600 members remain out of work and UAW Local 2069 President Lester Hancock said they would not return to the plant until they had a "reasonable contract."

Volvo spokesman John Mies said he could not comment on how talks were progressing thus far.

The decision to resume negotiations was announced Friday in a letter from Per Carlsson, president and chief executive officer of Volvo Trucks North America. In the letter, Carlsson refers to three topics likely to take center stage in current talks, among them "increased health care cost sharing" and "the exceptionally high degree of manpower movement and higher-than-average absenteeism in the factory."

"While we are encouraged that the talks will resume, it's important to note that there are still many challenges involved in making this facility a global leader in quality, on-time delivery and efficient production -- and all at a globally competitive cost," Carlsson wrote. "It remains the Company's major objective to arrive at a fair contract for all through the collective bargaining process. But it will require change to further develop this facility, move forward, and justify the Volvo Group's continued investment."

UAW Local 2069 went on strike Feb. 1 after the group's bargaining committee was unable to reach an agreement with Volvo regarding a new contract. In the weeks following, union members have taken turns picketing outside the Dublin manufacturing facility.

In an early letter detailing the union's reasons for striking, Hancock said members were upset by "unreasonable proposals that would erode the wages and benefits that we've fought so many years to achieve and protect" as well as management's failure to provide the union with a variety of health and safety data.

Throughout the strike, union members have also said Volvo was looking to dismantle recall rights and health and safety protections.

Volvo, however, has denied assertions regarding recall rights and health and safety issues, and expressed confusion about the union's decision to strike.

"We are a UAW company and we want to protect these jobs, but we have to change our way of doing business for these jobs to be protected," William Waters, Volvo's director of work force performance, said in mid-February. "I think we knew these would be difficult negotiations but we were confident we could work through the issues."

Throughout the strike, each side aired its frustrations and traded barbs about the other's willingness to continue negotiations in letters and media interviews.

Now that both parties have moved a step closer to resolution, it is unclear how the strike -- the first since 1991 -- will affect the relationship between Volvo and UAW Local 2069.

Kent Murrmann, an associate professor in Virginia Tech's Pamplin College of Business, said the effect will likely be minimal.

"To the extent the parties involved are experienced and professional at conducting negotiations on a businesslike basis, the strike shouldn't have any long-term impact on the quality of their relationship," he said.

However, Volvo and UAW Local 2069 haven't been the only ones affected by the standoff, which idled one of the region's largest employers for more than three weeks.

"Volvo has a lot of suppliers in the area," said Bruce Johannessen, manager of the Virginia Employment Commission's Roanoke Workforce Center. "There are a lot of employers who are adversely affected."

Johannessen would not disclose which suppliers in the region have had layoffs, but Salem Preferred Partners in Salem is one supplier in a position to be affected. A message being played on its phone said the plant is closed today and that an announcement would be made after 2 p.m. to tell employees whether to report to work Friday.

Also, Metalsa Roanoke, a Botetourt County producer of truck frame rails, is watching the strike closely. So far, the plant has not cut its 350-person work force but the situation could turn grave because half of the plant's output ordinarily goes to the Dublin Volvo plant.

"We're just hoping they come back to work soon," said Steve Helgeson, vice president for business development and customer service at Metalsa.


Teachers' union-dues to support AFL-CIO

The AFL-CIO and the National Education Association (NEA) announced affiliations today by six chapters of the California Teachers Association (CTA), the state association of the national NEA. The affiliation will encourage greater cooperation to meet the needs of working teachers, students, and their families, according to the participants. With the affiliations, there are now seven CTA associations affiliated with the AFL-CIO, more than in any other state.

At a meeting of the AFL-CIO Executive Council in San Diego, the president of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney, presented certificates of affiliation to the presidents of the affiliating associations.

“Today’s affiliations will mean stronger schools and a greater voice for working people,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. “As education cuts continue in Congress and across the country, working families are coming together to fight for quality public education for our children.”

The six thousand members represented by the CTA associations come from all along the Pacific Coast, from Oakland to Los Angeles, and represent teachers from elementary school to community college. The affiliations will facilitate greater cooperation among California union members in the fight for healthcare, retirement security, and good jobs. It will also further unify California teachers in the fight for quality public education and student and teachers’ needs in the classroom.

"CTA members have successfully worked with local AFL-CIO unions for many years in advancing quality public schools, affordable health care and a better California for all working families," said David A. Sanchez, president of the 340,000 member CTA. “The recent affiliation of these six local chapters will further strengthen our commitment to build a better California for all families - particularly as we work together to keep drastic state budget cuts away from our schools and communities."

The associations affiliating are Hartnell College Faculty Association in Salinas, Hayward Education Association, Oakland Education Association, San Leandro Teachers Association, Fremont Unified District Teachers Association, and Eastside Teachers Association in Los Angeles.

“The American Federation of Teachers has always believed that teachers and other school employees belong in the larger labor movement,” said AFT President Edward J. McElroy. “Working people are stronger together, and people who work in our public schools, which are so critical to the well-being of our children and the functioning of our democracy, gain much from being part of America's labor movement. We welcome these new affiliations, and we hope there will be many more to come.”

The affiliation comes as part of a groundbreaking agreement between the national AFL-CIO and NEA allowing for local arms of the NEA to affiliate directly with the AFL-CIO. The partnership is supported by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), a long-time AFL-CIO affiliate. The California members join teachers from Washington DC to Wisconsin to Washington in joining forces with the AFL-CIO. To date, over ten thousand NEA members across the country have joined the AFL-CIO through the partnership.


Curbing racially-balanced, non-union labor

Gaylord Entertainment's vice president, Bennett Westbrook, met Wednesday with the Black Contractors Association of San Diego to discuss the company's plan for a Chula Vista bayfront hotel and convention center, and its opposition to a union-only construction agreement.

Local unions want what is known as a project labor agreement, which would require construction workers on the $1 billion project to be union members or pay union dues. They say such an agreement is the only way to ensure hiring of local workers.

Speaking to about 200 people at the association's office, Westbrook criticized the Building and Construction Trades Council, saying the union made an "implicit threat" to block the project with environmental lawsuits if they don't get a deal. "It's through delays that they have their muscle," Westbrook said.

Abdur-Rahim Hameed, the association's president/CEO, said union deals are "discriminatory" against non-union contractors.

Union representative Tom Lemmon said, "We will continue to fight for local jobs." He added that the unions have a duty to weigh in on environmental issues - such as air quality - that have an impact on worker health and safety.


Teamsters target control of airport

Add Teamsters Local 445 to the list of businesses and organizations that regard Stewart International Airport in Newburgh (NY) as a site of untapped opportunity. The union ran several full-page ads in the Record earlier this week, encouraging airport employees to consider joining Local 445. Adrian Huff, the union's secretary-treasurer and principal officer, said they've been putting out some feelers and doing other behind-the-scenes work the past six months. "Now we are really going public," he said.

Stewart's work force does not include any one job classification that would seem to have significant enough numbers to attract a unionizing effort. But Huff said Local 445 is reaching out to "anybody and everybody" at Stewart who might be looking for union representation.

"I know the airport is going to grow," Huff said. "We want to be a part of it."

Potential union members at the airport could include everyone from baggage handlers to mechanics to the red-coated hospitality workers that were added to the airport scene after the Port Authority assumed operation of Stewart on Nov. 1.

Huff said they'll even talk with Transportation Security Administration workers, currently represented by the American Federation of Government Employees, if they're interested in switching.

"The sky's the limit for us," Huff said.

Local 445, which represents more than 3,000 workers in Orange, Sullivan, Ulster, Dutchess, Rockland and Westchester counties, has added about 1,100 of those members in the past two years. It's currently negotiating to add about 300 more workers.


Strike-happy union demands forced dues

Fremont-Rideout nurses are deciding whether or not to stage a third strike, five weeks after turning down a “last, best and final” offer from hospital administration. The polls close at 8 tonight, according to Dan Lawson, a California Nurses Association union organizer, and votes will be tallied to determine if a strike might occur. All of the more than 400 nurses at Fremont-Rideout facilities are eligible to vote. No potential strike date has been set, and union officials would not say how long a possible strike would last.

Tresha Moreland, vice president of human resources with Fremont-Rideout Health Group, said the hospital is sticking by its final offer.

In a prepared statement Moreland said, “The union is campaigning for a strike to further their goal of obtaining a mandatory dues clause. We hope RNs realize that voting for another strike won’t change our final offers including our commitment to an open shop.”

An “open shop” means paying union dues for RNs would be optional.

If the nurses do vote to walk out, it will be the third strike in less than a year. Nurses first walked off the job last August, then again in October. Replacement nurses were brought in to staff shifts.

Contract negotiations between the two sides began in late 2006 over issues including nurse-to-patient ratios, pay increases, benefits and “safe floating” practices, in which nurses work in areas other than their specialty.

The nurses in January rejected the hospital’s “last, best and final” offer, which included changes in the benefits package and addressed concerns over patient safety, saying it lacked union security. About two-thirds of eligible nurses took part in that vote, with 73 percent voting to reject the hospital’s offer.


Decertified teachers union suspends strike

Public school teachers voted Wednesday to suspend a 10-day strike in Puerto Rico that shuttered classrooms and sparked clashes between protesters and police. About 10,000 teachers nearly unanimously approved the recommendation of their union's leadership to suspend the weakening strike, which began Feb. 20 after 30 months of negotiations with the U.S. territory's government fell through. Teachers are seeking pay raises and better working conditions, including more books, computers and other materials.

Teachers Federation chief Rafael Feliciano, addressing union members packed inside a San Juan stadium, said he would keep pressing the government to meet their demands and warned a work stoppage could resume.

"This (vote) doesn't mean that the federation is abandoning the strike," Feliciano said of the union that represents the island's 42,000 public school teachers. "But a recess is recommended at this time."

Feliciano did not announce new deadlines for meeting demands. The government had refused to resume contract negotiations until the walkout ended. It also successfully decertified the union last week in court, arguing that the strike was illegal. The union is appealing the ruling.

The island-wide strike began with most teachers honoring the picket line and jeering colleagues who insisted on going to their classrooms, even as many youngsters stayed home.

But the action lost steam as the days went by, with an estimated 86 percent of teachers reporting to their jobs by Tuesday, along with 76 percent of the system's 500,000 students.

Many Puerto Rican public schools are in disrepair, said Hilda Davila, a Spanish teacher in Arecibo, a city along the northern coast. Teachers buy their own paper, pens and spend up to $200 a month on photocopies, she said.

Education Secretary Rafael Aragunde did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday. Earlier this week, he vowed that teachers would not face disciplinary action for participating in the strike.

Puerto Rican public school teachers earn a starting annual salary of $19,200 — lower than in any U.S. state.


Teachers union storms school board meeting

The San Leandro (CA) Teachers’ Association was out in full force at last Thursday night’s meeting of the school board. Over 200 teachers, parents, and students packed the auditorium at James Madison Elementary, many holding signs that read “Put your money where your mission statement is,” “Cut from the top down,” and referring to the superintendent, “Teachers are out on a Lim.”

The teachers came to the meeting to call attention to the fact that they have been working without a contract since last July. (The board had the budget on that night’s agenda.) Representatives from the teachers’ union have accused the district of unfair negotiating tactics.

On the agenda for the meeting was a discussion about how the governor’s proposed state budget cuts might impact San Leandro schools.

District representatives gave a video presentation about where some cuts may be made, drawing a strong reaction from the crowd. When the words “Morale is high” came on the screen, the crowd erupted in a combination of boos and laughter.

The district lamented the reduction in state funds and stressed that avoiding disruption to personnel is a priority for them. Superintendent Christine Lim suggested forming a budget advisory committee together with the SLTA, parents, leaders from the teamsters, and other concerned parties.

Measures to bridge the budget gap such as recalibrating and capping retirement benefits, revamping the alarm systems on school sites to prevent overtime response to false alarms, and renegotiating the leases on copy machines for better rates have already begun, according to the district.

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Cindy Cathey presented the estimated amounts that would need to be cut from each program, but she reminded the audience that many programs have carry-over money from past years that would reduce the financial impact.

Making Cuts Among the biggest cuts would be $39,331 from the instructional material fund, $77,234 from the Regional Occupation Program, and $80,558 from economic impact aid, which included programs like summer school, English language coaches, and stipends for teachers to attended training.

Several teachers who spoke at the meeting said that district administrators should be the first to feel the budget crisis, with cuts coming from the top down. Others suggested that money might be saved if district employees gave up their cell phones and gas cards.

SLTA President Jon Sherr asked that the district keep its financial problems outside of the classroom. “We have suggested that cuts must be made far away from the children,” Sherr said. “These cuts are being proposed under the worst case scenario. When the actual budget is passed in June or July, it may not be as severe but if this money goes, it is not going to come back.”

In addition to wanting more influence as to where cuts might be made, the SLTA also wants to settle its ongoing contract dispute with the district.

Sherr said that the district is using the state budget issue as an excuse for not increasing teachers’ salaries, but the budget the district was working with before the governor’s proposal didn’t have room for an increase anyway.

“To suggest that new teachers making $45,000 a year, less health benefits, can go three years without a pay raise is ludicrous,” said Sherr. “Morale is at an all-time low. Turnover for teachers has been 68 percent in the last five years. We need a fair and equitable settlement now. This is a district in crisis.”

No vote on the budget issue was taken at the meeting, but a forum to speak was opened and over a dozen speakers addressed the board of trustees regarding both the budget and the contract dispute.

Teacher Gives School Board Low Marks Steve Craig, a teacher at Washington Elementary, reminded the school board that they are supposed to be in charge, not the superintendent’s office.

“In case you guys have forgotten, you guys don’t work for the district or teachers, you work for the voters,” said Craig. David Corea, a parent, said that he doesn’t feel that the district is open enough with parents and teachers.

“My feelings are that if we are trying to be about equity and equality, we also need to be about transparency,” he said. “I want to know that our money is going to the students.” Teachers’ union local 856 representative Peter Finn said that the district is subverting the collective bargaining agreement and using union busting techniques during the negotiations.

Finn said that the district called him after the last negotiation sit-down and asked him to retract his charges of unfair labor practices. He replied that he would not and added that his dealings with the SLUSD are unlike any he had in his entire career working with unions throughout California. Finn drew a standing ovation when he said “We stand in solidarity with the teachers.”

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