Union coalition to defend racketeering charges

An ongoing dispute between Cintas Corp. and union organizations UNITE HERE, the Teamsters and Change to Win has culminated in a racketeering lawsuit by the uniform company. Cintas, in a suit filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, claims the unions have mounted negative and false attacks on the company as part of an "extortion" campaign, trying to force it to make concessions in the unions' efforts to represent Cintas workers.

The 104-page complaint details activities by the unions that, Cintas alleges, violate federal anti-racketeering law and infringe on the Cintas trademark.

The unions' extortion campaign has consisted of two steps, Cintas said. "First, defendants engage in a series of actions and tactics ... designed to cripple or materially interfere with Cintas's business," it said. "Second, while pursuing the actions and tactics referenced above, defendants have made clear to Cintas's management that defendants' campaign of extortion would cease only on the condition that Cintas enter into a card check and neutrality agreement."

Cintas contends that such an agreement with the unions would deny its employees the right to decide for themselves through secret-ballot elections whether they want a union.

The federal complaint also consolidates a lawsuit Cintas filed against UNITE HERE in 2004 in Warren County Common Pleas Court, claiming that the union sent out a news release accusing Cintas of labor violations, which falsely appeared to have come from the federal government. That lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial later this year.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday seeks an award of three times the compensatory damages to be determined at trial and other legal remedies.

A Wednesday statement from UNITE HERE said the lawsuit "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."


NLRB curbs UAW harassment of dues-objector

An administrative law judge has sided with a Colt's Manufacturing Co. employee, ruling that the United Auto Workers Union cannot require its members to file objections every year if they don't want some of their dues used for union political activities. George Gally, a 40-year employee of West Hartford-based Colt, filed an unfair labor practice suit with the National Labor Relations Board in Hartford in March 2003.

Gally challenged the UAW's policy requiring him to file an objection every year if he didn't want a portion of his dues used for union political activities. The UAW represents Colt workers. In a ruling issued this week, Judge Joel P. Biblowitz ordered the UAW "to cease and desist" from requiring employees to file annual objections, and to notify nonmember employees of the change.

The judge's ruling, however, is nonbinding and can only be enforced if the union agrees to it, said Jonathan Kreisberg, regional attorney for the NLRB in Hartford. The UAW has 30 days to appeal the decision, and Bob Madore, the UAW's regional director, said Thursday the union plans to do so.

"If they don't file an appeal, then the board would simply adopt the decision," Kreisberg said.

The "ruling is a change to the NLRB's 1988 guidelines, which we have been following since 1988," Madore said. "It is not a final determination, and is subject to review by the full labor board in Washington, and then the federal courts."

Gally was unavailable for comment Thursday.

In his suit, Gally alleged that the union's annual notification requirement violated the National Labor Relations Act. In 2003, UAW officials rejected Gally's request that his objection be considered continuous for three years.

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation Inc. is providing Gally with free legal help. The foundation noted that the courts have said workers can withhold dues that support "ideological activities." The definition of those activities has been the subject of several suits, according to the foundation.


Union-only 'labor peace' pact ruled illegal

A judge Thursday said Broome County (NY) did not meet the standards required for a project labor agreement that would have limited work on the George Harvey Justice Building to 90 percent union labor. State Supreme Court Justice Ferris Lebous voided the agreement as inconsistent with competitive bidding standards in New York. Bidding for the second part of the $16.9 million renovation of the building for county office space was halted by Lebous in December after local non-union contractors challenged the legality of the agreement in court, saying it was unfair to local non-union contractors.

The judge said the agreement, approved by county legislators in November, failed to provide a required in-depth study and financial analysis and could not be based on loose projections and unverifiable calculations.

"Here, the legislature when adopting this PLA, based its decision on unverifiable dollars, lack of a history of labor unrest, and the lack of showing of any type of unique complexity to this project," Lebous wrote in his decision.

Broome County Executive Barbara J. Fiala said she would recommend that the legislature proceed with the renovation project as soon as possible without a PLA, although she said she still remains committed to a project labor agreement as a way to promote local jobs.

"Now that we have a ruling, we need to move this project forward without a PLA to avoid financial penalty," Fiala said. Broome County Attorney Joe Sluzar will recommend that lawmakers hold a special legislative session to discuss rescinding the project labor agreement.

Because the county is using tobacco settlement money to pay for renovation of the George Harvey Justice Building, built in 1939 in downtown Binghamton, officials must complete the bidding process by November or face financial penalties, county officials said.

Local non-union contractors welcomed the judge's decision, emphasizing that the decision to fight the PLA was a group effort to keep the playing field level for union and non-union shops in the bidding process for public projects.

The fight wasn't over pay. New York's Prevailing Wage Law requires that tradesmen on public projects be paid union wages, whether or not they are union-affiliated.

Three Binghamton businesses filed the lawsuit. The owner of one who fought the labor agreement said it was time to move forward.

"We welcome bidding on this project and look forward to continued work with the county," said Luciano Piccirilli, owner of Piccirilli, Slavik & Vincent Plumbing & Heating Inc. in Binghamton.


Wealthy leftists, unions test anti-GOP ad

The ad portrays McCain as a continuation of the presidency of George W. Bush — with a narrator calling him "McSame as Bush." The ad emphasizes its point with a Burger King tried new french fries in the Erie market. McDonald's tested a pocket sandwich here called McStuffin.

Now here's something else you can chew on: A liberal group is testing an ad on Erie's local television stations that takes aim at John McCain, who clinched the Republican nomination for president on Tuesday.

The ad portrays McCain as a continuation of the presidency of George W. Bush -- with a narrator calling him "McSame as Bush." The ad emphasizes its point with a photo of McCain, in which his face is clipped out several times and replaced by Bush's face.

McCain spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker could not be reached for comment but she told the Associated Press that similar groups spent "tens of millions of dollars in 2004 against President Bush, and he won re-election. It didn't work then, and it won't work now."

Right-leaning groups are expected to mount similar campaigns against the eventual Democratic nominee, whether it's Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The anti-McCain ad is the work of a nonprofit called the Campaign to Defend America, which this week announced its ad buy will surpass $1 million. The ad has aired in Ohio and Pennsylvania, with Erie being one of the markets.

National Public Radio ran a report about the ad on its "Morning Edition" Thursday. NPR quoted Ken Goldstein, director of the Wisconsin Advertising Project, as saying the ads in Erie appear to be a test.

"If you're looking for the sorts of swing voters that have decided the 2000 and 2004 elections -- white, working-class, independent, perhaps economically liberal, economically distressed but more socially conservative -- you will find those sorts of voters in droves in a place like the Erie media market," NPR quoted Goldstein as saying.

The Erie Times-News could not reach Goldstein for comment Thursday. He was said to be traveling.

Since 1998, the Wisconsin Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin in Madison has researched how candidates, political parties and special-interest groups communicate with voters.

Erie has long been a test market for some new products.

"Test markets are a smaller sampling of what the bigger world looks like. We kind of look like Middle America," said Anne O'Neill-Klemensic. She is an instructor and director of the advertising and communications program at the Dahlkemper School of Business Administration at Gannon University.

O'Neill-Klemensic said products are tested in smaller markets to determine the potential of their working on a larger scale. And the Erie media market is cheaper than, say, Philadelphia, she said.

"It's a good opportunity to expose goods and services, and in this case, a political product," she said.

Robert Speel, an associate professor of political science at Penn State Behrend, said the group likely has decided that Ohio and Pennsylvania will be battleground states in the Nov. 4 election. Erie County tends to follow the presidential voting pattern statewide, he said.

In 2000, Democratic nominee Al Gore won 51 percent of the state vote, including 53 percent in Erie County, Speel said. In 2004, Democratic nominee John Kerry won 51 percent of the state vote, including 54 percent in Erie County, he said.

"They're test marketing political advertising instead of french fries, and Erie is a fairly nice microcosm of the country as a whole. It contains people from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds and a variety of income and educational levels," he said.

"And politically, we're fairly close to the rest of the country as a whole, though we tilt slightly more Democratic," Speel said.

James Fisher, an associate professor of political science at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, said the ad campaign is targeting swing voters. "To me, it makes perfectly good sense that you try to link McCain to Bush because it undercuts the notion of McCain as a maverick," he said.

Fisher also questioned whether McCain should have gone to the White House on Wednesday, where he gained Bush's endorsement.

"Maybe that's something you can't turn down if you're John McCain, ... but McCain is only going to win this thing if he gets a sizeable number of independent voters to vote for him. It struck me as really tone-deaf," Fisher said.

The Campaign to Defend America is headed by Tom Matzzie, former Washington director of liberal activist group MoveOn.org, AP said.

AP also reported that the group has received at least $1.4 million from the Fund for America, a nonprofit set up in 2007 by John Podesta, a former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton; Anna Burger, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union; and Rob McKay, a California philanthropist.


Updating of labor laws infuriates unions

The Saskatchewan Party government has fired the chair and vice-chairs of the Labour Relations Board in a move organized labour says raises major concerns about the future independence of the board. A spokesperson for the government confirmed Thursday that the appointments of chair James Seibel and vice-chairs Angela Zborosky and Catherine Zuck, the only full-time permanent members of the board, were terminated by the provincial cabinet.

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich said the "vindictive" move to fire board members who were in the middle of hearing cases ties in with the new government's overhaul of labour laws.

He said the Sask. Party has long had it in for the labour relations board, which hears disputes between unions and employers around labour legislation, because it contended it was too friendly to labour.

"That is just false and it's based on sore losers within the business community who go to the Labour Relations Board and are found to be violating the law. Now the government has brought in a couple of pieces of legislation to make legal what was previously illegal and gut The Trade Union Act and that's not enough for them," he said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Seibel's term was supposed to end in October of this year. Zborosky's appointment was until July of 2009 while Zuck's was to run until May of 2012. None could be reached for comment Thursday.

Hubich said the government made the situation even worse in its timing, with one of the vice-chairs returning to a hearing from a lunch break to announce she had been sacked.

He said it was akin to firing a judge in the middle of a trial and adds uncertainty to more than 30 cases pending before the board.

Advanced Education and Labour Minister Rob Norris was in transit and unavailable for comment.

Kathy Young, executive director of communications for the Sask. Party government, said a new board chair will be announced Friday.

She described the move as routine for a new government and denied there was a political agenda. The chair and vice-chairs are being fired without cause and will receive compensation.

"We don't think it's vindictive at all. In fact, the person that's going to be replacing the chair is someone with a great reputation who has been around on both sides of the labour equation," said Young, who declined to name the new chair.

The board sits in three-person panels for hearings, with a chair or vice-chair on each panel along with two part-time board members, one representing employers and one representing employees. The part-time members will continue.

Young said The Trade Union Act provides for the chairs and vice-chairs to be able to continue to hear cases that were already ongoing when their term expires.

She said the three board members were verbally told by officials that they could continue their cases.

But labour lawyer Larry Kowalchuk, who was involved in one of the hearings affected Thursday, said the government's explanation doesn't hold.

He said the government provided no written notice that cases could be continued by the chair and vice-chairs, which could open up any decisions made by the panels with those members to future legal challenges.

He also believes there is a difference under the law between a board member's term expiring and having it cancelled.

"We were in the middle of a hearing that's gone on six months, it was in its final stages," said an angry Kowalchuk, the lawyer for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Local 454.

"At this point, the process is over. We can't have any hearings. That's confirmed. The government's not saying anything to disagree with that so we can't proceed with anything."

In Opposition, the Saskatchewan Party said the then-NDP government's decision not to reappoint vice-chair Walter "Wally" Matkowski to the labour relations board in 2005 was political interference.

Matkowski alleges in a lawsuit that he was asked to resign by the then-deputy minister of labour because some of his decisions had caused complaints by unions.

NDP Leader Lorne Calvert said the government's move is hypocritical given their past comments and he's concerned about the impact of the move.

"Mr. Wall has defined those who will occupy senior positions in the public service of Saskatchewan as those who agree with his philosophy. Is that the test now being applied to members of the labour relations board?" he said to reporters at the legislature.

Then-Opposition Leader, now Premier, Brad Wall, said in 2006 that "certainly you'll hear from the business community that they fear, they're not excited about going to the labour relations board because they don't think they're starting from a fair shake."

Since taking office after the November provincial election, the Sask. Party has been at odds with organized labour over its introduction of essential services legislation and amendments to The Trade Union Act.

Labour says the former gives the government sweeping powers to take away the rights of workers to strike while the latter is intended to make it harder for unions to organize and easier for decertification to take place.

The government has characterized the bills as necessary to protect public safety and a rebalancing and democratization of existing legislation.


Strike costs doom profitability

Juice and snack-maker Sun-Rype Products Ltd. (TSX:SRF) has reported a 36-per-cent profit decline for 2007, squeezed by a strike late in the year, and expects losses to continue this year. Sun-Rype's sales for 2007 were up 3.5 per cent to $135.1 million from $130.6 million. Net earnings of $4.6 million, 43 cents per share, compared with a 2006 profit of $7.3 million, 67 cents per share.

The fourth quarter produced a net loss of $200,000, two cents per share, down from year-ago net income of $1.2 million, 11 cents per share.

October-December sales declined 18.5 per cent to $27.1 million from $33.3 million, as 266 workers at Sun-Rype's Okanagan production complex went on strike Nov. 6.

The Teamsters members ratified a new contract in late February, providing wage increases of 12 per cent over four years retroactive to August 2006.

The company says it expects "significant losses" in the first half of 2008 because of ongoing labour-related expenses, along with higher commodity costs and spending to launch new products.

"A return to profitability is anticipated later in the year but this is not expected to offset the earlier losses," Sun-Rype stated.

The strike "compromised our abilities to manufacture, distribute and promote our products," said CEO Eric Sorensen.

"Despite this, overall sales of both beverage and food products increased in 2007 as consumers connected with Sun-Rype's emphasis on the wholesome goodness of 100-per-cent fruit juices and 100-per-cent fruit snacks coupled with continued product innovation."

Sun-Rype Products is headquartered in Kelowna.


UAW boasts: 'We got all the scabs removed.'

Ramona Walker stood crying in the freezing wind outside the Kohler factory Thursday at 4 p.m., waiting for her ride from Batesville. “They just terminated all of us,” Walker said. “They didn’t tell us anything.” Walker’s home on Academy Street in Searcy burned in May 2007, leaving her family temporarily homeless. Unemployed until hired by Kohler, Walker is now without a job once again. “We all went to the break room,” Walker said. “They said, ‘You’re all terminated,’ and, ‘Thank you,’ basically.”

The United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 1000 had announced earlier Thursday it had come to terms with the Kohler Company in its long-running strike and that replacement workers would be let go, allowing room for the union members to return.

“After 15 months of difficult struggles and tribulations, a contract was ratified,” David Smith, local union president, said in a statement released Thursday. “A great majority passed it and feelings were high among membership. Under the agreement, all replacement workers will be removed and members of the Bargaining Unit will be called back by seniority. After movement from Kohler and the UAW on important issues, the long-awaited agreement came to being.”

Sarah Duke of West Point, wife of UAW member and Kohler employee Ricky Duke, said her husband works on the wash line at the factory, which makes stainless steel sinks.

“All the scabs are leaving and our workers are going back,” Duke said. “It’s awesome. It’s been a long time coming.”

Duke, who said the family survived the strike by living on savings and budgeting their money, said she did not seek employment and that her husband was not employed elsewhere during the strike.

The UAW began their action against the Searcy Kohler factory on Dec. 9, 2006, with 220 workers voting to go on strike. Picketers continued to carry signs at the company until November, 2007.

“We had some disagreements on language on the subcontract work and we got that worked out,” Smith said. “We had some issues on the expiration date on the contract. We got the scabs all removed from the plant.”

The union originally had 13 issues which caused the strike, Smith said, and Kohler made concessions on nine of those.

“We thought that was pretty good,” Smith said.

Replacement workers will be in line behind UAW members for re-employment at the plant, Smith said.

“I think Friday will probably be their last day for employment. We go back Monday,” Smith said. “We have indefinite employment rights, so if it takes two years to get them in, we have priority.”

The vote to end the strike at Thursday’s union meeting was 140 to 16, Smith said, almost a 10-to-one margin.

Kohler made concessions on key issues, Smith said, including whether employees could have second jobs while working at Kohler, an issue governed by the corporate code of ethics.

“They actually clarified the language, and you can hold a second job as long as it doesn’t directly compete with them, like at another sink factory,” Smith said.

According to Smith, another Kohler concession concerned quantity standards.

“There was no definition of quantity,” Smith said, “So it was important to go back to the production standards.”

Kohler conceded on an issue involving insurance, Smith claimed.

“They reduced some of the percentages in some of the spousal insurance,” Smith said. “The premiums for the spouses went down.”

UAW concessions were also made, Smith said.

“We agreed to a stricter attendance policy,” Smith said. “With the Family Medical Leave Act, there were some moves we were asking for, but now were going to go by what the law allows.”

The terminated replacement workers plan to meet today at 10 a.m. at Ryan’s Restaurant in Searcy.

Kohler’s statements

Todd Weber, manager of kitchen and bath public relations for Kohler, confirmed a settlement had been finalized.

“Kohler Co. and United Autoworkers Local 1000 reached agreement today on a new three-year employment agreement, thereby reinstating the striking employees and bringing an end to a prolonged work stoppage,” Weber said. “With the new collective bargaining agreement in place, it also means that the union has agreed to drop its pending unfair labor practice charges filed against Kohler.”

Striking workers will report back to work on Monday, Weber confirmed.

“Under the terms of a settlement under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board, Kohler is required to release the replacement workers, who had been hired in 2007,” Weber said. “These individuals are now eligible to apply for unemployment benefits.”

Kohler released a statement which said negotiations resumed earlier this week following a February hearing in which an Administrative Law Judge, acting on behalf of the National Labor Relations Board, ordered the two sides back to the bargaining table.

The initial hearing was held to address charges the union had filed against Kohler for unfair labor practices.

“We are pleased to see this work stoppage come to an end, that the issues are resolved, and we are ready to move forward together,” said Paul H. Ten Pas, vice president of labor relations and security, and head of the negotiations team for Kohler Co.

Founded in 1873, Kohler promotes itself as one of America’s oldest and largest privately-held companies.


UAW strikers force industry-wide layoffs

The United Auto Workers strike against American Axle & Manufacturing will force the layoff of more than 1,000 workers from the DMAX plant. The layoff at the Dryden Road plant will begin Monday, March 10. The UAW struck Detroit-based American Axle Feb. 26. The strike has slowed or stopped production in at least nine General Motors Corp. plants typically supplied by American Axle, including the SUV assembly plant across Ohio 741 from DMAX.

Since the strike has also halted production at GM plants in Pontiac and Flint, Mich. — plants which DMAX supplies with truck engines — the DMAX plant is affected, as well, Strickler said.

"When our customers go down, that's kind of like a chain reaction for us," Strickler said.

Negotiators for the UAW and American Axle were to return to the table Thursday. About 3,600 UAW workers at five American Axle plants are striking.

"We will react when our customers are giving us orders again," Strickler said.

She said the $69 million expansion GM is building at the DMAX plant to prepare for production of a new engine is unaffected by the strike.

Assembly plants in Pontiac and Flint make the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Topkick, among other models.

Although the Associated Press has reported that auto parts producers Delphi and Tenneco have laid off workers as a result of the strike, Delphi spokesman Brad Jackson said Thursday the strike hasn't yet affected Dayton-area plants. He didn't know how long that would continue.

"All we can do is keep evaluating our schedules as they come in," Jackson said.


Gov't-unions forced to swallow huge dues hit

For schools, the California budget cuts will take a human toll: school counselors shutting their offices, nurses packing up their first-aid kits, young teachers culled from the payrolls. Facing a shortfall of nearly $80 million, San Diego Unified schools expect to lose between 600 and 1,000 positions. There's little else to cut: Employee expenses make up 80 percent of schools' budgets.

Talk of layoffs follows a winning year for school employees. Teachers negotiated a new, accelerated pay scale, along with a 4.25 percent increase in salaries -- 1.5 percent of it retroactive. Office workers are poised for a 3 percent salary boost. School police also got a pay hike of nearly 6 percent. Staffers estimate the raises' total cost at $20 million annually.

Now, as San Diego schools weigh layoffs, other efforts to trim employee costs are plodding. Slashing programs doesn't require the union's approval, even though jobs are lost; slashing pay does. The result is a school system that, in times of crisis, is more apt to cut employees than cut back on their pay. Rolling back those recently-won increases would require a lengthy back-and-forth with the unions, who defend their pay as average at best.

Officials say the length of time it would take to renegotiate employee contracts bars schools from using that option to help solve the budget crisis.

"Look at the writers -- how long did it take them to get a full contract?" said Willy Surbrook, director of labor relations for the district, referring to the recent Writers Guild of America strike. "It doesn't meet up with the timelines the state's given us to provide a balanced budget."

Both sides are coming to the table -- but neither expects to hatch an agreement before June 30, when San Diego Unified finalizes its budget. The teachers union is roughing out its proposed changes to its contract now, to be aired publicly later this month. San Diego Unified then responds with its own ideas, which the school board reviews, and later approves. Bargaining is unlikely to start before May, long after the school district is required to notify employees whose jobs are at risk.

Hamstrung by that lag, San Diego Unified ranked any cut that needs union approval at the bottom of the school district's priority list, behind unpopular items such as cutting librarians and pink-slipping aides who work with disabled kids. Those cuts include a $12.4 million proposal to eliminate teacher planning time and a $4.8 million proposal to enlarge classes by a single student. Staffers also downplayed the idea of cutting all salaries 1 percent -- an option that could save schools $7 million -- dubbing it "not recommended."

Meanwhile, the school district struggles to control other worker costs. Overtime hours aren't being slashed outside the district's central offices; administrators say schools can't be forced to halt extra hours, which are paid from each school's individual budget. Salary adjustments that bump workers' pay when their daily tasks change are continuing despite their cost, lest an even pricier backlog build up. And school auditors continue to dig up instances of employee waste: A substitute aide who signed up for jobs, didn't show up, and got paid roughly $6,000 anyway; a vice principal who took home an extra $80,000 over two and a half years; a timekeeper who tallied up nearly $11,000 in overtime -- for herself.

When employees get caught skimming funds, the dollar amounts at stake are often small. But the abuses betray system-wide problems keeping tabs on employee costs. Frustrated auditors say a proposal to eliminate a senior auditor, slimming their staff to seven investigators, will hamper their efforts to catch waste.

"How many times have I heard about record-keeping problems?" asked Bill Wright, who sits on the district's Audit and Finance Committee. Wright lamented "the fact that someone can get paid, and not show up!"

Auditors also counted up more than $16 million in overtime last school year, when roughly 3 percent of San Diego Unified employees racked up 40 percent of overtime costs. Those charges come from a variety of employees: school police called to staff athletic events and part-time aides who have to stay late, for example.

Eyeing this year's budget, the school district halted overtime in central offices, along with travel and conferences. But at schools, overtime continues, paid out of each school's individual budget, over which the principal has discretion. San Diego Unified can't dictate an overtime freeze to schools, said Bill Kowba, the district's interim superintendent and chief financial officer.

Unions that represent school workers, unlike airline or automotive unions, often fight pay cuts even if layoffs are likely to result, said Mike Antonucci, a union critic who leads the one-man Education Intelligence Agency in Elk Grove. Unlike a tanking company, a public school must survive, and must be staffed, he said. As a result, employee unions are less likely to trade away their salaries for jobs, knowing the enterprise itself will survive.

"We're not talking about the massive kind of layoffs that some private companies have gone through -- layoffs where you lose 20, 30 percent of the workforce," Antonucci said. "In those cases, unions tend to negotiate, in terms of reducing pay and keeping people on."

Some charter schools in San Diego are taking the opposite tack, preferring to target salaries over cutting staff. Publicly funded but independently run, most charter schools aren't unionized. Salary cuts don't need to be negotiated with employee unions. Nor do other changes, such as increasing class sizes or eliminating preparation time, when teachers plan lessons. Instead, any changes go before the school's board.

At San Diego Cooperative Charter School, for instance, principal Wendy Ranck-Buhr may freeze salaries to keep costs down. Ordinarily, the school pays its teachers along the same scale as San Diego Unified staffers. Ranck-Buhr usually budgets for an 8 percent increase in salaries each year as teachers move up on the salary schedules, she said. If the school decides to freeze pay, Ranck-Buhr expects to save $103,000, preventing layoffs.

"It's not great, but at least everyone would have a job," said Ranck-Buhr. "Now, we're only dealing with a $200,000 cut. I think I can find $200,000 -- but I sure can't find $300,000."

In San Diego Unified, the teachers union agrees that schools are overspending on staff, but argues that neither layoffs nor pay cuts are the answer. Nor, they insist, are they a natural tradeoff. Rather, administrative costs are too high, said union president Camille Zombro. She questioned why the school district isn't closing severely under-enrolled schools to spare money on buildings and administrative staff, or consolidating more of its small schools -- large middle and high schools that have split into multiple schools, each with its own principal.

"There's clearly an increase in the amount being spent on administration," Zombro said, citing a union study that found administrative costs had risen from 3.8 percent to 5.3 percent of the school district's budget.

Closing tiny schools is a political hot button for the school board, which has shied from it. Instead, staffers suggested that tiny schools share principals, saving $1.11 million in costs.

Meanwhile, unions are arguing that schools can still be spared by lobbying state legislators to seek more revenue, and cancel the cuts. Faced with criticism of the recent salary increases, union leaders counter that employee pay is only average, compared to other San Diego County school districts. The blame, they say, should be aimed not at employees and their paychecks, but at Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who proposed the cuts to liquidate the state deficit, now estimated at $16 billion.

"There's nothing negotiated this year, last year or next year that's bankrupting this district," Zombro said. "They don't pay enough for their educators."

But with analysts predicting shortfalls for years to come, and little hope from legislators in Sacramento, even sympathetic observers are questioning whether schools should slim employees' pay to help reduce layoffs, and keep class sizes from ballooning.

"My point of view is that teachers are underpaid," said Les Birdsall, past president of the Network for School Improvement, now defunct. "But you have to cut back money. And there's no painless way to do it."


Teachers union to take dues hit

Dark clouds are fast approaching for schools in Kern County (CA) who must prepare to layoff teachers and staff. But most painful to school districts will be enlarging class size to accommodate more students and fewer teachers. Sad news seems to travel all too fast, especially to the ears of parents who have already heard that their kindergarten teachers will suffer the deepest cuts in the Rosedale School District. Twenty teachers must go.

"Right now, my son is in kindergarten and if he has a lot of other students around him, it's going to make it more difficult for him to learn," said parent Robert Dick.

That’s the latest budget slashing approved Wednesday by the Rosedale School Board.

"I think it's very sad because we need support,” said Dehila Parsons.

It’s all part of the Governor’s budget plan to cut almost $4.5 billion statewide and more than $2 million for the Rosedale District alone.

About a dozen kindergarten teachers are expected to get pink slips, which means the number of students in kindergarten classes will jump from 20 to 30 students, and parents are not pleased.

"It's the pure foundation of education when they learn the basics of education...and it's going to be pretty hard," said parent Ivan Mendieta.

Rosedale Union School District Superintendent Jamie Henderson said parents should contact their legislators since the schools have done their part to maintain high academic standards.

"Our teachers have been working very, very hard and our students have been learning and progressing and now when we have things going in a direction,” said Henderson. “We're going to come in with severe cuts.”

The diminishing budget will soon strike every school district, including the Kern High School District, which can expect to lose almost $17 million this fall.

"Figuring out those significant cuts as they apply to programs and people and then implementing them quickly is very, very difficult," said John Teves from the Kern High School District.

Some school districts will be working through the weekend to inform those teachers who will be laid off by March 15.


Right To Work aids Tennessee business climate

Tennessee has the country's 5th best economy, according to a state economic competitiveness ranking released by the American Legislative Exchange Council. The report from ALEC, which bills itself as the nation's largest nonpartisan individual membership organization of state legislators, ranks the economic competitiveness of each state. The state's top marginal personal income tax, a low state minimum wage and its right-to-work status helped place the state high in those rankings. Tennessee ranked 1st in those three of the 16 categories examined.

According to the authors, Tennessee ranks below 20 other states in seven other categories, including top marginal corporate income tax, low property tax burden, debt service as a percentage of total tax revenue and state tort liability system.

Areas for needed improvement include lowering sales taxes and workers' compensation costs, according to ALEC.

Utah's economy was ranked the best followed by Arizona and South Dakota. Vermont was last.

"The historical evidence is clear: States that keep spending and taxes low exhibit the best economic results, while states that follow the tax-and-spend path lag far behind," Jonathan Williams, director of ALEC's tax and fiscal policy task force, said in a statement.

The report's official title is Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index.


Crime-riddled police union

Following an embezzlement scheme that landed a former Beaumont (TX) police officer in federal prison Thursday, the local police union will revise its bylaws to make internal fraud more difficult. "No more one-party checks. We've already taken care of that," Sgt. Mike Mills, president of the 250-member Beaumont Police Officers Association, said Thursday.

Earlier in the day, 54-year-old Paul Perritt was sentenced to four months in federal prison and four months of home confinement or house arrest. A plea agreement with federal prosecutors requires Perritt, whose 30-year career with the police department included about 13 years as union treasurer, to repay the union $141,942.

He also has lost his certification as a Texas peace officer and must also pay a $1,000 fine.

Convicted of a felony, Perritt can never again legally own firearms.

Perritt has already repaid $100,000 of the required restitution with funds from his department retirement fund, according to his attorney.

"He had sole control of the union funds, but we're going to change the union constitution and bylaws to make this type of fraud more difficult," Mills said. "For one thing, we want to institute some term limits."

Addressing U.S. District Court Judge Thad Heartfield at Perritt's sentencing hearing, Mills urged the judge not to grant Perritt a sentence reduction because he had been a police officer.

"When this began to come to light, we gave him months and months to help us discover these problems," Mills said. "He denied it over and over until he learned we had requested federal assistance in investigating."

Perritt retired from the department in May 2007 while under federal investigation.

"He not only broke the law while serving as a police officer but perpetrated the offense over a significant period of time," Heartfield said after pronouncing Perritt's sentence and denying a sentence reduction.

Perritt's attorney, Kent Adams, had asked that Perritt be given probation. He argued that Perritt's service as a police officer, his cooperation with federal investigators and his poor health should spare him from incarceration.

As treasurer, Perritt could write checks from union accounts containing funds deposited directly from member paychecks.

Court papers indicate at least some of the money Perritt embezzled was used to pay personal credit card debt.

He is not the first Southeast Texas peace officer to run afoul of the laws they have sworn to uphold.

* Vidor police officer Chad Everette Bourque was sentenced in November 2006 to five years' probation and a $1,000 fine after pleading guilty to felony child pornography charges.

* In July 2006, disgraced Jasper County Precinct 6 Constable Fred Peters resigned from his office while in the Hardin County jail where he was held on delivery of controlled substance charges.

Peters previously was arrested on charges of theft by check and public intoxication.

* Former Beaumont policeman Michael Siebe received a 40-year prison sentence in October 1994 for stealing $30 million worth of cocaine from the Beaumont Police Department and laundering money from drug sales.

* Convicted of charges including conspiracy to make and sell drugs, embezzlement of county funds and obstruction of justice, Orange County Sheriff James Wade was sentenced in 1988 to 20 years in federal prison.

Wade was released in 2005 after serving 17 years.


Police union in pay hassle at City Hall

Union negotiations between the Police Benevolent Association and Fort Pierce (FL) City Hall are proving difficult as city officials struggle to find money to give raises. The union, which represents 106 police officers, sergeants and lieutenants, has been in labor negotiations with the city since November, and the two are at impasse.

The union sent a formal notice to the state's Public Employee Relations Commission declaring an impasse and asked for a list of special magistrates for a hearing. A magistrate would make a non-binding ruling, but neither party has to adhere to it.

Labor negotiations broke down Thursday as the union proposed 3 percent pay raises retroactive to Oct. 1 and an additional 4 percent increase when an officer reaches his or her anniversary date — the date of hire or the date of promotion.

"At this time, because of economic conditions of the city, we have a no wager offer on the table," said Nick Pellegrino of Cody & Associates, the city's union negotiator. "(Officials) are not sure if there are any revenues coming in to give a raise. We're at zero now. There's just very little funds to go around."

With Amendment 1 approved by the voters in January, officials are projecting the city will lose a minimum of $1.5 million in tax money next year and that figure could be as high as $6 million. Officials will meet at a March 25 budget workshop and will make decisions on budget cuts, including the possibility of eliminating positions.

Pellegrino said the union wants more time awarded for sick leave, vacation, bereavement and holidays. The union also wants increases in starting salaries and pay ranges to be competitive with surrounding agencies. A starting salary for a police officer is $36,940. The union wants to increase that starting salary to $41,008.

"Police officers are risking their lives in this city, and the city won't even agree on a contract," said Stephen Micciche, labor negotiator for the Police Benevolent Association.

The union's three-year contract expired Sept. 30.

Micciche said city officials won't agree to language in the contract prohibiting the city from subcontracting any work out to the Sheriff's Office or Florida Highway Patrol.

"These officers may lose their job to sheriff's personnel or FHP," Micciche said. "The city is offering absolutely no money and no economic benefits. We don't have anything to talk about."

Recently, the city agreed to give employees represented by the Teamsters Union across-the-board 3 percent raises retroactive to Oct. 1. Those workers include code enforcement officers, public works employees and members of the police department's crime scene unit.

"We told them today we'd take what they gave the Teamsters," Micciche said.


AFSCME official brags about Clintons' revival

Among those breathing a big sigh of relief -- and crowing a bit in vindication -- after Hillary Clinton's victories in Ohio and Texas this week is Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the giant union that endorsed Clinton last fall. A week ago, it looked like AFSCME might be on the verge of again going down with a losing candidate, as it did when it backed Howard Dean four years ago. On top of that, the union was facing an internal rift, with seven of its board members objecting to aggressive radio ads the union had run against Barack Obama.

Now AFSCME's candidate is back in the hunt, and McEntee couldn't be more pleased. In a telephone interview from San Diego, where he is attending the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting this week, McEntee said Tuesday had set Clinton on a path to winning the nomination, had badly undermined Obama's case for being the Democratic standard-bearer, and had made it all the more crucial for Democrats to seat the delegates won by Clinton in Florida and Michigan.

"It was truly a turning point in the election. Her message is really starting to reverberate with the voters, with the populace. I think that the experience factor, the national security factor, all of that is beginning to mold into what is a good campaign and a good way to go into November....She truly demonstrated that she was a fighter and that was what people want," he said. "And some of the gloss is appearing to come off of Senator Obama."

McEntee said Clinton's strength in Ohio had "knocked this idea of [Obama's] electability into a cocked hat." Her winning Ohio should matter far more to Democrats than Obama's wins in red states like Kansas or North Dakota. "A Democrat has to be able to carry Ohio. She demonstrated that she can change it from red to blue," he said. "Not to belittle Alabama or Utah or Nebraska, but these are red of the darkest color." He dismissed Obama's wins in other swing or borderline swing states such as Colorado, Virginia and Wisconsin. "I don't see Minnesota being a swing state, and he won Missouri by a feather," he said.

How will Clinton win the nomination when Obama's gap in pledged delegates may be hard to close? "I think Pennsylvania is a big contest and I think she wins it and she picks up some delegates there," he said. "And then of course they've got to sort out Florida and Michigan....Almost two million people voted, [the candidates] all followed the rules and she won it going away....They all treated [Florida] the same, nobody campaigned there, it was almost like a Democratic political laboratory and people made up their mids and voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton."

Should there be a revote? "I don't know if they should have revotes," he said. "The Democratic Party has an obligation to truly settle this on terms that are fair to the people who participated. If they don't satisfy the people of Florida, there is a possibility that we lose Florida" in November.

Beyond that, he said, "we've still got Puerto Rico and the superdelegates as well, put all that together and there are a lot of delegates in flux. It'll be hard for him to get to [a delegate majority] and hard for her too, but when you put that whole package together it's possible for her, sure," he said.

Did he feel any vindication given rival unions that endorsed Obama when it appeared last month like he might be coasting to victory, such as the Teamsters and Service Employees International? "Yeah, we do."

Does he worry that the drawn-out fight for the nomination will hurt the party in the general election? "I think it's called the Democratic Party for a reason, there'll be debate and discussion, but you know, the biggest thing we have going for us is the record of George W. Bush," he said. "If I was John McCain going to have lunch at the White House, I'd ask for take-out rather than go there be with [Bush] with his approval ratings around 29 percent. I don't know about that endorsement at all. The angst created by eight years of George Bush and Dick Cheney will go a long way toward uniting the Democratic Party."


Union official takes politics personally

Electricians' union leader John J. Dougherty took his long-running feud with State Sen. Vincent Fumo (D., Phila.) to a more personal level yesterday, officially launching a campaign to unseat his former ally. But in an 11-minute speech at a rally at the South Philadelphia rec center where he played as a child, Dougherty did not once mention Fumo by name.

Instead, surrounded by children from throughout the First Senate District, he spoke about the need for change and vowed he would revise state gun laws so that Philadelphia could regulate weapon sales on its own.

He even questioned legislation to limit gun sales to one a month, saying, "What the heck do you need a gun a month for?"

"I'm looking forward to that fight," Dougherty, 47, said to cheers of about 400 people - mostly members of various labor unions - packed into Edward O'Malley Athletic Center in Pennsport.

Dougherty had planned to hold the rally Tuesday, but postponed it after Fumo was hospitalized Sunday night with a heart attack.

Dougherty, the business manager of IBEW Local 98 known as "Johnny Doc," was once close with Fumo, but they have been at odds for years.

Two other candidates - grassroots activist Anne Dicker and Center City lawyer Larry Farnese - also are seeking the Democratic nomination for the First District seat Fumo has held for 30 years.

The district stretches from the International Airport to Fairmount to the west and Port Richmond on the east side, with Center City and all of South Philadelphia in between.

Much of the talk yesterday was about the neighborhood where Dougherty grew up and still lives. Several speakers at the rally said it had been transformed through his efforts.

There also was talk of support and money - and with Dougherty and Fumo expected to slug it out with TV and radio ads, building trades leader Pat Gillespie told the rally the challenger got a big boost earlier in the day when his campaign raised $250,000 at a union breakfast meeting.

Gillespie said unions outside the city also were expressing a desire to help.

During the rally, the campaign screened a television ad that shows Philadelphians talking about the need for change and Dougherty being the man to make it happen.

While Dougherty did not mention Fumo by name, he said he decided to run while attending a coffee klatch in Point Breeze and being told "they haven't seen a senator in 20 years."

Speakers, including his daughter, Erin, repeatedly mentioned how Dougherty's history showed that he would work for the people, "not himself," a veiled reference to Fumo, who is facing trial in September on federal fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges.

Prosecutors allege the powerful senator used his state staff and funds from a neighborhood charity to support an opulent lifestyle.

The only speaker to mention the incumbent's name was City Councilman Bill Green, who said Dougherty was "tougher than Fumo and more honest than Lincoln."

Candidate Farnese, in the meantime, called on Dougherty to release documents relating to FBI searches of his home and union in 2006.

Dougherty has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Asked about the FBI investigation after the rally, Dougherty said, "There's nothing hanging over my head."

"I'll tell you what . . . I've been subpoenaed for 15 years, being a labor leader. It's a tough environment when you're aggressive and take on big business," he said. "I've always fought for the little guy - and I'll continue to fight for the little guy, even if it means 15 more years of subpoenas."


Organized labor takes back Maryland

After what union representatives describe as four years of chilly reception from Maryland’s Republican governor, the state has begun warming up again to labor issues. During his 2006 election bid, Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) curried the favor of unions who had supported Robert L. Ehrlich’s predecessor, Democrat Parris N. Glendening, by voicing his support for working families and the middle class, and labor officials say O’Malley has kept his commitment.

"We were big supporters of Governor O’Malley to get him elected," Rod Easter, president of the AFL-CIO Baltimore Building and Construction Trade Council, said Wednesday. "Governor Ehrlich didn’t really have an ear to organized labor. We feel like we’ve had a better time getting our issues addressed."

The Maryland State and D.C. AFL-CIO, which endorsed O’Malley for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, held a rally in front of the State House in Annapolis on Monday night that drew hundreds of building and construction union members, and the Metropolitan Baltimore Council of AFL-CIO Unions will be back to make itself heard March 31. O’Malley and various state and county officials stated their support for various labor issues Monday to loud cheers from the crowd.

In his first month in office, O’Malley appointed Thomas E. Perez, a pro-union former Montgomery County councilman, to head the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and supported a successful living wage initiative. A living wage bill passed the General Assembly in 2004, but supporters were unable to override Ehrlich’s veto.

‘‘The biggest thing that’s noticeable for us is the change in attitude from the previous administration,” Sue Esty, assistant director of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 92, said Wednesday. The group is scheduled to rally in Annapolis on Monday. ‘‘Ehrlich was kind of like slash-and-burn with state positions.”

Also improving the state landscape for labor proponents is the presence of six freshmen delegates who were either raised in union households or worked for unions.

‘‘I think that we have the largest number of pro-labor delegates that I can remember,” said Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Dist. 45) of Baltimore, who is political director for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters.

‘‘It feels like labor has gotten a much bigger seat at the table,” said Del. Todd L. Schuler (D-Dist. 8) of Overlea, whose father lobbies for a plumbers and steamfitters union in Baltimore County.

One labor-friendly bill now on the table would require contractors to pay employees a prevailing wage for work on all state or local public works projects costing more than $500,000. Current law applies only to projects that receive at least 50 percent of funds from the state.

Other measures focus on workers’ compensation, labor standards, medical insurance, the misclassification of independent contractors, collective bargaining procedures and better on-site restroom facilities for construction workers.

Racetrack slots, which have drawn controversy for years, would benefit labor by creating new jobs, both during construction and after, according to Schuler and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.

But slots or no, one of the biggest threats to the state’s job force is a dearth of positions for skilled workers, said Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Dist. 6) of Dundalk. O’Malley contended at Monday’s rally that Maryland would pull through its recession more quickly than other states thanks in part to organized labor.

‘‘I came from a labor area and unfortunately, most of the jobs there years ago are not there anymore,” Stone said Wednesday, citing steel as an example. ‘‘... We just don’t have that kind of industry anymore. There are lots of jobs, but a lot of them are not particularly skilled.”

However, embracing unions is not the best way to bring in businesses, according to Robert O.C. Worcester, executive director of Maryland Business for a Responsive Government.

‘‘Unions are the ones that brought O’Malley to the dance, and business is clearly not something that he’s interested in,” he said Wednesday, citing the new computer services tax as an example of an initiative that has hurt industry. ‘‘... Businesses that are in the private sector and have little relationship to the government are the ones most affected.”

Unions have not been totally in line with the governor during his term. Representatives from the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO Union testified against the Global Warming Solutions Act, a proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions strongly supported by O’Malley, at a hearing before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee last month. The ambitious bill, which died in committee last year, would reduce 2006 levels of greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2020 and 90 percent by 2050, but the AFL-CIO said it could cost the state jobs.

The Maryland State and D.C. AFL-CIO also came out last month against an O’Malley-backed banking bill that would give banks permission to charge fees to recapture closing costs if a borrower pays back a loan early, which it described as anti-consumer.

Budget woes have also plagued the state, which faced a $1.5 billion structural deficit in November. But lawmakers have not placed an undue burden on workers, union leaders say.

‘‘Things have not been as plentiful as they were, but they have been very reasonable, I believe,” Easter said.


UAW organizers harass, intimidate, coerce

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